How cannabis vape companies can win back consumer confidence: Q&A with scientist Robert Strongin

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cannabis vaping | science, How cannabis vape companies can win back consumer confidence: Q&A with scientist Robert Strongin

The rate of people sickened or killed in the vaping health crisis has slowed dramatically since last year, but scientist Robert Strongin worries that vape companies and oil manufacturers might turn to pine rosin as a thickening agent.

A professor of organic chemistry at Portland State University in Oregon, Strongin says pine rosin has “some really bad inhalation toxicology.”

He was analyzing a pair of vape pens from the illicit market when he found vitamin E acetate, one of the commonly identified additives in black-market vape pens and a possible culprit behind the more than 2,700 people who have fallen ill and the 60 who have died.

But he also found pine rosin. Fumes from pine rosin are considered a workplace hazard when used for soldering and can potentially lead to asthma and lung damage.

According to Strongin’s research, one puff of cannabis oil that includes pine rosin could deliver 3,500 times the safe level of the toxin.

He’s concerned that the industry’s focus on banning only vitamin E acetate might push vape companies – both licensed and unlicensed – to use other thickening agents instead.

Strongin will be a featured speaker at the upcoming Emerald Conference, a science-focused convention and trade show for the cannabis industry that was recently acquired by Marijuana Business Daily. The conference is Feb. 26-29 in San Diego.

In this Q&A, Strongin shares insights with MJBizDaily about his theory on what caused the vaping health crisis as well as what cannabis vape companies can do to ensure consumer confidence.

What do you believe has caused people to get sick from vaping?

Something in the illegal vape carts. However, these symptoms have been seen before. I can show you a paper from 2000 where a young lady used vitamin E acetate and, believe it or not, petroleum jelly, and she extracted her own THC using ethanol and vaped it.

She was ahead of her time, but in a bad way. She died, unfortunately.

It’s well known that you can’t inhale certain things. You have to be very careful vaping certain oils. It causes lipoid pneumonia.

But we don’t really know. Vitamin E looks like it’s associated, and it’s there in a lot of the samples, according to the (Centers for Disease Control).

But you still don’t know how it’s associated because we don’t know how it causes the lung disease. We don’t know if people used that, but they used something else as well.

I think it could be caused by more than one thing, and there’s more than one manifestation of it.

It seems like the rate of people of getting sick and dying has slowed down. Do you know why that is?

It’s still above last June. People are still regularly reporting this. It’s not gone, but it seems to have moderated for now.

The CDC is saying that it’s because of heightened awareness. People are being more cautious. If it is vitamin E acetate, people have been cutting back on its use. But also they’ve been careful about cutting agents and other ingredients. 

What advice would you give business owners in the vape sector?

We’ve learned some lessons from the tobacco vaping industry. That’s a really strong industry, just like the tobacco cigarette industry.

And I hate to say this, but they’ll throw the cannabis people under the bus. They’re saying, “This is all THC stuff.” They might be right, but not everybody has used THC that has come down with the illness.

What I would say is to be a lot more forthcoming than that industry has been. They really overstated a lot of the safety of their products.

Even if this is all cannabis, the fact that they say everything is safe compared to cigarettes, it’s still not. It’s still not 100% safe.

I would go for transparency. Protect your business. If you make false claims and oversell safety, it’s going to come back to you.

What I think this business has better than the tobacco vaping business is thousands of years of people using cannabis and nobody gets acutely ill.

It’s not the base products themselves. It’s not the terpenes and THC that are causing anything. 

I would just hope they would be careful about additives. Even things like medium chain triglycerides

I would also hope the cannabis industry would like to partner with people like myself, with academics.

We’re all into harm reduction and not to hurt people.

Bart Schaneman can be reached at