Cannabis vaping products have been steadily rising in popularity and gaining ground on flower sales for several years. Due to the nationwide emergence of a vaping-related respiratory condition, however, cannabis consumers may be starting to avoid vapes as fears of contaminated products grow.
Since the outbreak was announced in August, at least 805 cases of illness and fourteen deaths have been attributed to complications associated with vaping. Health officials are still working to determine the cause of the epidemic. While some of these cases may yet be linked to electronic cigarette consumption, many of the incidents are thought to be related to THC vape products, especially those purchased on the black market or through unregulated storefronts.
So far, only one death has been linked to a THC vape purchased at a legal cannabis dispensary. The Associated Press (AP) also unraveled another component of the epidemic—contaminated CBD products. With CBD products showing up on shelves all over and including unregulated businesses, some items seem to be using substandard components. The AP investigation found that some of these CBD products contain very little of the cannabinoid and actually include synthetic cannabis, like the compounds found in products such as K2 and Spice that have been known to cause health complications, especially in teens.
Headset, a leading cannabis data analytics firm, recently released sales data showing a decline in the market share of vape products. The firm collected data from California, Colorado, Nevada, and Washington.
In all four states, vape sales remained steady for most of August, though a slight decline was noticeable for the last week of the month. Throughout September, with the exception of Washington which saw only a modest decline, vape sales dropped substantially as media coverage of the crisis increased. Vaping products’ market share in Washington only dropped from 17.6 percent to 16.4 percent from the week of August 5 through the week of September 23, though these number dipped as low as 14.6 percent during the week of September 9. California’s market experienced the largest decline with vapes representing 32.4 percent of all legal cannabis sales during the week of August 5 but only 25.7 percent during the week of September 23.
David Alport, owner of Bridge City Collective in Portland, is witnessing the trend shown by Headset firsthand.
“It’s having an impact on how consumers are behaving,” Alport told the AP. “People are concerned, and we’re concerned.”
Although the source of sources of the vaping crisis has yet to be fully determined, many in the cannabis industry are trying to be proactive in helping to solve the problem. Medicine Man, a chain of cannabis dispensaries in Colorado, has stopped selling any vape product containing propylene glycol.
“The decision to take this particular product off our shelves was significant, as the confidence and trust of our consumers is paramount to our core values,” Medicine Man President and Chief Executive Officer Sally Vander Veer said. “Hopefully the rest of the industry will also conclude that removing these cannabis products with the chemical additives under scrutiny from the market is in the best interest of consumers and all of us as operators.”
Steve Marks, executive director of the Oregon Liquor License Commission, the agency that regulates the state’s cannabis sales, feels the industry could be moving at a quicker pace than regulations.
“We haven’t evolved our system that far to think about what we would test for in those products,” Marks said. “A lot of these additives were conceptual at the time when the [marijuana legalization] law passed and the program came into place. Figuring that out is part of the evolution that we have to do as a consumer protection agency.”