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Health Department warns medical marijuana patients about recent vaping issues

Updated: September 11, 2019 10:12 PM

The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) has a warning to patients in the state's medical marijuana program. In response to the national and statewide concerns with vaping, MDH wants people who vape cannabis to take precautions.

Vaping is one of several ways you can use medical marijuana in Minnesota.

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For Katie Kennedy, it's been three years since her son, Tyler, started in the state's cannabis program.

"We've had our ups and downs," said Katie Kennedy. "The medication has been fantastic."

Tyler has severe autism and can hurt himself if he's not properly medicated with the oil three times a day. But sometimes Kennedy uses a vape pen with her 13-year-old if it gets bad.

"If he is beating himself, I will run and get my vape pen, get him in a safe spot, blow it toward his face," Kennedy said.

But as a medical cannabis patient, Kennedy just received a notice from MDH. It says "MDH cannot give complete assurance of the safety of any specific vaping product until investigators determine a cause of the lung injuries."

"We have been very concerned about these recent cases," said Dr. Ruth Lynfield, with the Minnesota Department of Health.

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS talked to Lynfield on Friday after the state reported its first death associated with vaping. She said that incident and dozens of illnesses are all associated with illegal THC. But, Dr. Lynfield believes no vaping of any kind is safe until they figure out the cause.

Health officials confirm first Minnesota death linked to vaping

"It's a very big issue and it's one where we need to examine and get more data and look at carefully," Lynfield said.

"Not worth the risk," Kennedy said.

Now, Kennedy is hesitant to use the vape pen.

"I won't give it to him anymore because I don't want to cause more damage to my son," Kennedy said. 

She believes the answer is allowing the sale of raw plant or flower with prescriptions. It's something lawmakers debated last session.

"Vaping works, vaping flower would be our ultimate," Kennedy said.

In the meantime, Kennedy will continue to give her son the drops, but hopes medical experts get answers soon.

"This is a great medication that is benefiting them greatly and now they have to wonder if that's safe," Kennedy said. 

Dispensaries in Minnesota say they're monitoring the situation closely.

Leafline Labs released the following statement:

"As a leading provider, manufacturer, and distributor of medical cannabis, LeafLine Labs' top priority is providing the highest quality medicine and care for our patients. In light of recent illnesses and deaths related to vaping nicotine and/or marijuana-based substances, we are closely monitoring statements, such as those released by the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) on Friday, September 6, 2019.

"At LeafLine Labs, our extraction protocols and established pharmaceutical methods allow us to achieve unrivaled purity, consistency and safety in our extracts. There are no pesticides in our growing process, and we have never added any Vitamin E acetate, diluting agents or other solutions to the medicine used in our vape cartridges. Our cannabis vaporization oils are 100% cannabis oil. While we are confident in the quality and safety of our medications, we have commissioned additional testing to further validate our formulas. 

"Concerned patients or their families may contact their LeafLine Labs' care center to discuss alternative products or treatment options."

What is vaping and how does it work?

Minnesota Medical Solutions also released a statement:

"MinnMed is greatly concerned with the recent wave of vaping-related lung problems. Our heartfelt condolences go out to the affected patients and their families. Vireo is led by a team of physicians, pharmacists, and scientists dedicated to patient safety.

"Since 2015, Vireo Health has produced more than 100,000 vaporization cartridges in accordance with strict state-based regulations.

"Every product Vireo sells goes through strict, third-party safety testing to ensure that it does not contain contaminants like mold, fungus, pesticides, and heavy metals. 

"Moreover, patients using Vireo products have 24/7 access to a third-party adverse event call center to report any product related issues. Fortunately, to date, none of our patients have been affected by this emerging threat.

"MinnMed continues to monitor the situation in partnership with public health officials and applauds all efforts to eliminate illicit market products that are untested, unregulated and potentially unsafe."

Health officials warn if you do vape and experience any issues breathing, contact your doctor.

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Brett Hoffland

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