09/18/19 Michelle R. Peace

Century of Lies
Michelle R. Peace

This week on Century of Lies we look at vaping and ask the most important question of all: what's really in that stuff you're putting in your lungs? With audio from Michelle R. Peace, PhD, Assistant Professor of Forensic Science at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Audio file



SEPTEMBER 18, 2019

DEAN BECKER: The failure of the drug war is glaringly obvious to judges, cops, wardens, prosecutors, and millions more now calling for decriminalization, legalization – the end of prohibition. Let us investigate the Century of Lies.

DOUG McVEY: Hello and welcome to Century of Lies. I am your host, Doug McVey, Editor of drugwarfacts.org. I was originally going to be talking about vaping on this week’s show and then this morning I read the news that an Associated Press investigation has found that a number of CBD products that were available in their local area, in Taos in Maryland contained synthetic cannabinoids. If the contents are listed on a product then you can make an informed decision as to whether you want to take that. If you want the food that’s been heavily chemically processed and that has all of those chemical names that you have to find someone to pronoun, that’s your choice. If you read the list of products and they look like things you recognize and that you think of as safe, then there you go. When you get to things like artificial and natural flavorings – okay. What are those flavorings? What are these chemicals? Then it gets a little scarier when you consider that an illegal market doesn’t really worry about things like the FDA and truth in advertising. If you’re already committed to putting an illegal product on to the market than a warning letter is not really going to be much of a deterrent. I mean a jail sentence isn’t much of a deterrent. A warning letter is just a joke. So this investigation as I say, changed the tone of the show.

Rather than talking about the recent spate of illnesses and the state of the CDCs investigation, which frankly changes and is developing as we go we are gonna take a deeper and broader look at the problem of contaminated products.

Professor Michelle Peace, PhD., is an Associate Professor at the Department of Forensic Science, Virginia Commonwealth University. Dr. Peace has been doing quite a lot of research on these vape cartridges – on these e-liquids, and the e-cigarette phenomenon, in particular focusing on the liquids and the substances that are being consumed. She’s not looking at the public health aspect and the questions of harm reduction and addiction – that’s a separate thing. The question that she’s examining is what it is that people are putting into their bodies. Earlier this year she did a presentation – a webinar to the National Drug Early Warning System. That’s a project funded at the Center for Substance Abuse Research by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, it’s based at the University of Maryland and this is very informative, it’s very fast – there is so much information out there. Again, this was before we even started thinking about vaping deaths and Vitamin E and any of these other things. This is from earlier in the year before all of that happened. Again, there is so much about this that people need to know. So before any more ado can possibly be furthered, let’s listen to this presentation from Dr. Michelle Peace.

DR. MICHELLE PEACE: So we monitor a lot of websites, right? Drug forums, YouTube, Reddit looking for people who are advising how to best vape other substances and so of course we’re worried about teenagers. These are some of the details of the grants in terms of what we actually did in developing our methods. I want to show you a little bit of data and I am going to show this to you quickly so I can talk about the cases at the end.

One of our very first experiments was a truth in advertising initiative. So we went and bought a bunch of e-liquids and said okay, they have on their label how much nicotine is in there. Is it real? So what you see here is that the center line is if a product tested to be exactly what was on the bottle and you’ll see that only a couple could, and that the range of nicotine really ranged from minus -47% to +39%. Again, because this isn’t regulated there are no assurances as to quality. One of the other myths that popped up, I have already mentioned it a couple of times. If you turn the power up, you turn the voltage up on the side of the device, you’re gonna get more drug in the cloud. What we showed is that that actually isn’t true. Even though you see an uptick here in the concentration of the drug in the cloud there’s a lot of air – these are error bars. So this indicates to us that this is not a significant increase in drug, it’s practically not significant and the device doesn’t work that well. Those large error bars are an indicator that those concentrations at each of those voltages are different so there’s no consistency in the device.

We also looked at Ethanol. The story is I literally walked across the street to the 7-11, and noticed they had a whiskey e-liquid at the counter so I purchased it. I wasn’t sure if it had whiskey in it or if it was just caramel and vanilla flavoring. I brought it back and it had Ethanol in it and so I told my lab staff to test everything for Ethanol. What we found here is that essentially 11 products of the 63 that we had had more than 10% Ethanol in them. The question is why is there Ethanol in these things?

The first issue is that flavors are dissolved in Ethanol so this is probably why we see trace amounts of Ethanol in the e-liquids. If you look at the FDA, something like vanilla flavor has to be in a minimum of 35% as by FDA standards and so people are just dropping in vanilla flavoring into their e-liquids and there’s not a big volume there. They could be getting quite a bit of Ethanol. We know that some people are using vodka to thin their e-liquids so depending on what they want to do in some devices, they might want a thinner e-liquid so they just dilute it with vodka. We know that a lot of people are just opening up pills or crushing pills and mixing powders up in Ethanol and putting them into the e-liquid as well. Then of course there’s the intentional addition of Ethanol into an e-liquid so these things called “Vape Shots” are on the rise and it’s considered getting drunk without the calories. To that end, my concern and this is why I now am funded again is that the first concern is for the Preliminary Breath Test we don’t know if vaping is going to impact the Preliminary Breath Test or the Evidentiary Breath Test and so traditionally what happens in a field sobriety test is that when somebody is given a Preliminary Breath Test, they have an observed wait period where the police officer is watching the person who is suspected of being impaired – watches them for 15-20 minutes to make sure that they’re not belching, they’re not hiccupping, they don’t have anything in their mouth which might interfere with a Preliminary Breath Test. So if somebody has been vaping and all of that sticky stuff is in there now – we don’t know if that’s going to impact the Preliminary Breath Test. We also don’t know if it’s going to impact the people inhaling alcohol because they think that they are going to get drunk without the calories. We also then don’t know if their impairment is going to be elevated as well, so we are going to study that because we have some concerns about if you inhale Ethanol it’s going to bypass the gut and it might lead to more impairment.

We are also really concerned about the fact that we know there has been one study that showed that people who vaped 20% Ethanol had the metabolites of Ethanol in their urine so in instances where people are on probation or parole, or their in addiction centers where they have to submit for a urine test to show that they have not been drinking but they have been vaping – the metabolites, if they have been vaping Ethanol are going to be in their urine and might indicate to somebody who doesn’t know otherwise that they have been drinking. So we are concerned about that. We are concerned generally about people who are I alcohol addiction recovery centers that if they are vaping, they are unknowingly probably creating some subterfuge there for their addiction recovery process. For children under the age of 21, there is a Zero Tolerance Law, so any amount of alcohol that shows up is going to be an indicator that a kid was drinking. But if they have been vaping and they have been unknowingly vaping Ethanol, they might actually show that on a Preliminary Breath Test that they have been drinking. We don’t know that so these are issues. My biggest concern is for DUI cases and attorneys who are going to be able to easily confuse a judge or a jury and facilitate somebody who was legitimately drunk and get them off of their charges by confusing the fact that, ‘well, Officer, my client was only vaping and they didn’t know there was Ethanol in the e-liquid’, and then therefore they walk. I have concerns about what we don’t know.

I have talked a lot about user modifications here and a little bit about the inhalation of the aerosol. This is just to illustrate to you that the aerosol cloud is made up of a bunch droplets, and those droplets are lots of different sizes. This is the picture of the ones, and what I want to point out to you is down here in the bottom of your lungs at the very tips of your lungs are these Alveolar Sacs – these ducts, and if the question was for me, “are the droplets small enough to navigate all of these turns in the lung and then get to these ducts way out here at the end of your lung,” and the answer is yes, they do get that small. We did a lot of work to measure the size of the droplets and indicated that a significant number of the droplets are getting down there, which therefore means that electronic cigarettes are a great way to get any drug and the reason why inhalation is so effective is that this the inside of one of those ducts and that drugs are going to cross very easily across two cells to get in to the blood stream so inhalation – using electronic cigarettes is really effective to get drugs in to the system similar to injection and we’re gonna talk about actually eating it in ingestion. I want to talk about those cases.

Of course we are concerned that there’s been a lot of language in the blogs about being able to vape whatever drug you want in public, but secretly because electronic cigarettes are socially acceptable and cool in some situations. The concern is that there are lots of websites that are promoting other drugs in electronic cigarettes. We see quite a bit of language in user forums with regards to vaping at work, vaping at ballparks because again, nobody is really going to know the difference because it’s just an e-cigarette and any kind of weird smell that you might otherwise attribute with smoking a joint is not going to be there.

DOUG MCVEY: We are listening to a presentation by Dr. Michelle Peace, she’s an Associate Professor with the Department of Forensic Science at Virginia Commonwealth University. The title of this presentation is, The Electronic Cigarette Dragon – the Public Health Concern that Became a Criminal Justice Challenge.

Again, she’s a Forensic Scientist, she’s looking at the liquids in the substances that are actually being consumed with these devices. This is not a discussion about harm reduction and about addiction. This is about what are we putting in to our bodies and about the very real need to know what these things are.

Oh, by the way, you are listening to Century of Lies, I am your host, Doug McVey, Editor of DrugWarFacts.org.

The facts versus the lies and is it a lie if they just omit. I mean if you list ingredients and you leave off two or three that happen to be synthetic cannabinoid or some other drug. Why, is that a lie? Yes, Yes! It bloody was! If you put a Vitamin E oil in to your vape cartridge and then you just say, “non-cannabinoid derived terpenes” and don’t bother telling people what those are and then artificial flavors and artificial colorings – what are those artificial flavorings and colorings? Really we do want to know. It’s okay – we’ll look it up if we have to. There’s an internet now. But stop treating us like children. Now let’s get back to that presentation. Again it’s titled, The Electronic Cigarette Dragon – The Public Health Concern that Became a Criminal Justice Challenge, it was delivered by Michelle R. Peace, PhD., she’s an Associate Professor in the Department of Forensic Science at Virginia Commonwealth University and it was given to the National Drug Early Warning System, which is funded at the Center for Substance Abuse Research by the National Institute On Drug Abuse, its located at the University of Maryland. Let’s listen to more from Dr. Peace.

DR. DR. MICHELLE PEACE: These are a handful of the seizures that we’ve had nationwide. By no means is this even close to what has been confiscated which you will see here. This is out of Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics in 2016, thousands of syringes full of e-liquid with marijuana in them in Philadelphia in 2017. There was a Smoke Easy pop easy and Smoke Easy was a bunch of marijuana vendors who had taken over an empty warehouse and set up a bunch of booths for people to come by and try product. That was raided and a bunch of –liquids with marijuana was confiscated. These guys in Georgia in 2015 were arrested for distributing methamphetamine in electronic cigarettes.

What we have been able to do –these are a handful of cases that we’ve had. This is a case in which the – and you’ll see all of this residue here – this is a case in which somebody vaped and dropped dead almost immediately, within seconds of them vaping. The thought was that they had put Fentanyl in to the e-cigarette and vaped and at the time we did not have the right instrument to be able to evaluate for Fentanyl, but there was enough evidence around the case to support that.

This was a case that came in – you’ll see here somebody put a wax dab in this and it got really gunky so the user was complaining about it but it was confiscated. We tested that and it had THC in it. These are some of the manuscripts we have published on some of the things that we have found and again, I will talk about a few of these.

We do have a lot of questions around the incidents of these exploding. VCU has a trauma one center and a big burn center attached to the hospital and this was in a convenience store here in Richmond. You will see here, it’s caught on the security camera where the electric cigarette exploded on the person. These devices are cheap. The batteries are cheap. If somebody has one rattling around in their pocket and it comes in to contact with change. There has been all kinds of speculations as to why these things are exploding. They explode for the same reason why those IPhones exploded, and computers exploded, why people are concerned about us taking those products on the airplanes. It’s because the batteries are cheap, the devices are cheap. So it’s not surprising at all that they are exploding. You will see that there have been a number of deaths that have been recorded from exploding devices. I have seen cases in which somebody while they were vaping the device exploded and the atomizer went one direction and broke the guy’s neck and the battery went the other direction. They can create some trauma. These are the devices themselves.

With regards to the e-liquids – because they know that nicotine is toxic they are using the e-liquids to commit suicide and so this is an intentional ingestion. One of the things that I work with police officers now on is please collect the bottles. It might just look like vaping but there is a potential that there is something else in there or we need to test how much nicotine was actually in there. This was a situation in which a young woman – we believe she drank the entire two vials of concentrated nicotine and died from nicotine overdose. This is a situation in which a 29-year old man injected himself with the nicotine e-liquid and was successful in committing suicide.

Again, back to some cases that we have had. Liberty Reach is a manufacturer out of the Pacific Northwest and we had one of a sample that was submitted to us from their very first batch run. What I want to point out to you is two things. One is that it says that it’s 69% THC and you’ll see here that the liquid is really, really brown. I am gonna talk about that. This is the data that we got. So we have a screening process and we found this big peak here with THC and CBD in it and CBC and all of these other compounds. We think that those are the terpenes. They were. So what is a terpene? Terpenes are natural chemicals in the plant and you will see there that if they were in other products they would be herbal products. You will see here that this limonene is also found in juniper and peppermint and Thai Basil. These are compounds that contribute to the bouquet of the plant. They create the odor of the plant. They might have some pharmacological active component to it. What we are concerned about for this research is that it creates the traditional bouquet of marijuana. You will see there that there is this fragrance rail that people use to mix their own terpenes. What we saw here was that if somebody was vaping this substance – vaping this liquid, you would probably think you smelled pot. Somebody was smoking pot. However, it also had a flavorant on top of it so you smell vanilla very strongly but then you are like, is that also pot? I don’t know. What’s interesting is that there is now a process – Liberty Reach was one of the first go get on board with it – to clean the terpenes out because they want you to be able to vape your e-liquid with THC in it without anybody thinking is somebody smoking pot. So it’s clean now. They have cleaned the terpenes out so all you get in there is THC. So again people can clandestinely vape their drug other than nicotine out in public and you wouldn’t be the wiser.

We analyzed a handful of Kratom products and there have been a number of deaths attributed to Kratom. Kratom is legal now in the United States. The DEA is considering putting it on to a Schedule 1. They actually did and they had a public uproar about it and they took it back off of Schedule 1. You see here is a screenshot of a gentleman who was trying to deal with his opioid addiction with Kratom and he wound up dying of a Kratom overdose. We went literally down the street from my office to a headshop and purchased a bunch of products. What we have here – we had to ask for it. They didn’t want to give it to us that had the Matragaline – the Kratom in it so we asked for a bunch of things. This is supposed to have nothing in it. This is supposed to 12 ml of Kratom in it – nothing in it but 12 ml of Kratom. I am just going to show you the Zero King Kratom and what we have here is that it has everything in it actually. It has the active ingredient for Kratom in it, has nicotine in it. So we are not exactly sure what the “Zero” stands for except for the fact that we’ve got no truth in advertising here.

I promised you I would show you Buzz Juice. This is what the packaging looks like from Buzz Juice. It looks pretty sketchy to me. On the website you will see there is no indication as to what the drug that is in the product. What we know is that Buzz Juice changes their formulation about every three or four months so we try to keep purchasing it. In this lot that we purchased we found in all three bottles MDMB Fubanoka, which is a very dangerous synthetic cannabinoid. Again, not advertised on the website. All you saw on the website was that this is gonna be great for you. Just try it.

This is a case that came in to us – a kid called us and said, “I’ve been vaping CBD and I had a really hard high”. CBD is also a cannabinoid in the marijuana plant only it is not psychoactive. CBD is not supposed to make you high. You will see here on their website 100% Natural CBD Extracts – nothing synthetic. We are dedicated to the finest and purest CBD. There are the products that he sent us. We found a synthetic cannabinoid in it and we thought, did he put it in there? Did a buddy of his put it in there or did he buy it with it in there. So we went to the website and we bought a bunch of products and that is what CBD is supposed to look like. This is what we found in it; 54ADB, it is the most common synthetic cannabinoid right now in a lot of populations. We also found Dextromethorphan. Dextromethorphan is the active ingredient in over the counter cough syrups. No wonder this kid had a really hard high!

We just recently published this work that we had CBD purchased directly from the distributor and it was adulterated. This is what the benefit of Herbal Drops is supposed to be – it’s supposed to increase your wellbeing, pain relief, plus it is supposed to promote your health. By the way, there are no clinical studies to actually prove this, but this is what people think. This is what was in it: Dextromethorphan. If you take Dextromethorphan in high doses you will hallucinate. This is the same guy, and this is him on the synthetic cannabinoid. These are 54ADB is a terrifying synthetic cannabinoid that has sent thousands of people to the emergency room and killed probably 30 or so people in the United States. This is an opioid case that New York Post posted about where a man died – this was not the case that we had. This was a separate case. Armed Forces is reporting a lot of incidents of people getting sick so what we have here is they have found that a number of their soldiers adult – not to their knowledge, well, maybe not to their knowledge – and have been going to the bases hospital because of whatever it is that they have been vaping.

I have pretty much covered everything that we’ve had. We have also talked to the Armed Forces, the Navy about did they change their policy for vaping onboard. There is a big question in the Armed Forces right now where particularly the Marines, they are not allowed to smoke. The Marines are not allowed to smoke and now the question is do they stop them from vaping as well. For the Navy the question was, do we ban vaping on submarines and after a fast conversation with me at a conference – not to say that I influenced them, but a handful of months later they released that they were banning all vaping products on submarines. This is a situation that I had – I consulted on a case in which a professional athlete was positive for methamphetamine and he said, “I didn’t know I was vaping methamphetamine, I was just using somebody else’s kit”, and so the case came to me and said was this possible? Could he have vaped this and not known that there was methamphetamine in there and I said, “Yeah”, they don’t put what is in the bottle on the botte so there are a lot issues around this in terms of urine drug testing whether that is for work, for the Armed Forces, or for athletes and everybody else that has to have mandated urine drug testing.

DOUG MCVEY: And that’s all we have time for. Again, we have been listening to a presentation by Dr. Michelle Peace, and Associate Professor in the Department of Forensic Science at Virginia Commonwealth University. It was titled, The Electronic Cigarette Dragon, the Public Health Concern that Became a Criminal Justice Challenge. It was delivered earlier this year discussing some of the various concerns regarding the e-liquids and the stuff being sold to the public for consumption in these e-cigarettes.

This has been Century of Lies and I’ve been your host, Doug McVey, Editor of DrugWarFacts.org. Century of Lies is a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network on the web at drugtruth.net. The Executive Producer of the Drug Truth Network is Dean Becker.

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We will be back in a week with 30 more minutes of news about drug policy reform and the failed war on drugs. For now, for the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVey saying so long.