Minnesota health officials confirm first death tied to vaping

THC vaporizer products sit on a shelf
In this file photo, a display model single-use vaporizer electronic joint is is displayed with packaged marijuana oil concentrate cartridges at a pot shop in Seattle.
Elaine Thompson | AP Photo file

A hospitalized Minnesota patient with an underlying lung disease has died from a severe lung injury tied to “vaping illicit THC products,” the state Health Department said Friday.

Officials described it as the first death in the state associated with an outbreak of serious lung injuries related to vaping. The department did not identify the person, who was over age 65 and died in August “after a long and complicated hospitalization.”

News of the death comes a day after Minnesota health officials raised concerns about dozens of severe lung injuries they said were likely linked to vaping marijuana compounds.

“One death from this outbreak is one death too many,” Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said in a statement. “We are working with our partners around the state and the nation to find out everything we can as quickly as we can to prevent additional illnesses and deaths.”

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The health agency said Minnesota has 17 patients who have been classified as confirmed or probable cases of lung damage tied to vaping, while another 15 potential cases are under investigation.

Among those interviewed by investigators, “all reported vaping illicit THC products. Many also reported vaping other products including those that contain nicotine,” the department said.

Health officials said they continue to investigate the cases looking for a specific factor that might have caused the lung injuries, adding that at this point they’ve seen no cases associated with the use of cannabis vaporization products coming through Minnesota’s medical cannabis program.

They also begged people not to vape “illicit THC products” and said that people with a history of vaping who are having lung or breathing problems should seek medical care.

The New York Times also reported Friday that federal health officials believe the number of people sickened with a severe lung illness linked to vaping has more than doubled to 450 possible cases in 33 states. The Minnesota case may be the fifth such death in the U.S.