Adding to the list of potential health hazards of “vaping,” a research team at Harvard University's T.H. Chan School of Public Health has discovered a biocontaminant in JUUL vape oil that can lead to serious, long-term respiratory damage.
The contaminant is known as glucan. A form of sugar (as the name suggests), glucans are found in the cells of bacteria, fungi, and plants. Glucans are used in a number of medications. Taken orally, these drugs can help to manage conditions such as elevated cholesterol levels, hypertension, and type-2 diabetes. Inhaled in fumes, however, glucan can cause chronic inflammation of the air passages of the lungs.
It is not the first time that such biotoxins have been found in “vape juice.” In April of 2019, the same research team published a study in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, which found bacterial and fungal contamination in a number of popular vape products that had been sold in 2013, two years before JUUL was in operation. The current study focuses on JUUL products since they have come to dominate the U.S. e-cigarette market.
Of 54 JUUL cartridges that were analyzed, nearly half were found to contain glucan. Interestingly, tobacco and menthol flavors contained significantly higher levels of glucans than the fruit and candy-flavored vape cartridges (which, in response to accusations of fueling youth addiction, JUUL has stopped selling).
David C. Christiani, one of the authors of the current study, says that the glucan contamination does not appear to be connected to the recent lung disease EVALI (E-cigarette and Vape Associated Lung Illness), which is suffered primarily by people who used black market cannabis vape containing Vitamin E acetate. Neither is Christiani certain how glucan came to contaminate vape pods but theorizes that it may have to do with the raw ingredients used or a problem with the manufacturing process.
The discovery of glucan adds one more item to the list of health risks associated with vape, not the least of which is nicotine itself. JUUL has acknowledged that a single vape cartridge delivers as much nicotine as an entire pack of traditional cigarettes. It has been known to cause users to experience seizures. Other chemicals found in vape oils include propylene glycol and aldehydes that include acrolein, a common herbicide. There have also been indications that vape oils leech heavy metals from the e-cigarette mechanism themselves.
The recent Harvard study was published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine in December.