Pick up a joint instead, doc says: Vaping illnesses highlight flawed marijuana regulations – USA TODAY

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tallied six deaths and 380 probable and confirmed cases in 36 states as of Sept. 13, 2019. USA TODAY

DENVER — Cancer-care expert Dr. Diana Martins-Welch finds herself in an unusual position: Last week she started telling her medical marijuana patients to quit vaping cannabis and pick up a joint instead.

“I would never have thought I’d be in a position to tell someone to smoke marijuana. But if the choice is between smoking and vaping, smoke marijuana.”

Martins-Welch specializes in caring for patients with cancer and chronic pain, and she’s certified more than 700 of them to use marijuana under New York’s tightly controlled cannabis program, which permits vape extracts with THC, the component of marijuana that produces a high, but bans joints.

However, Martins-Welch is now worried more about whether any kind of vape products are safe to use, given the national outbreak of severe respiratory illnesses linked to vaping nicotine and marijuana. The Centers for Disease Control said Thursday there are 380 confirmed and probable cases and six people have died. No single substance or product has been pinpointed, but the leading suspected cause is chemical exposure.

More: Vaping lung illness: What we know about the recent spate of cases and deaths

“I tell them vape at your own risk, because we just can’t trust this mechanism,” said Martins-Welch, an attending physician in palliative medicine at Northwell Health in New Hyde Park, New York. The risk is so great, she said, she’s even telling Stage 4 cancer patients — people who may only have a few months to live

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