Fear has swept the nation. It is now common knowledge. Vape smokers will get popcorn lung. Even doctors are saying it. So let’s take a deep breath (of fresh air) and see what the science says.

What is Popcorn Lung?

Normal chest CT.
CT scan of a patient with popcorn lung revealing scaring of the alveoli and thickening of the bronchi.

Popcorn lung, more commonly known in medical circles as bronchiolitis obliterans, is when the small airways become inflamed. This inflammation becomes bad enough to block the airways and restricts air travel between the environment and the lungs.

People with popcorn lung will have  a dry cough and shortness of breath that gets worse with exertion. They have unexplained wheezing and fatigue. Symptoms generally occur 2 week to 2 months after a toxic gas exposure or several years after a lung transplant and they get progressively worse over weeks to months.

Who gets Popcorn Lung?

The workers of the popcorn factories have drawn all the media attention when hundreds of cases were associated with inhaling the chemical ‘diacetyl’ used in artificial butter flavoring. Cases have been associated with numerous other chemicals including ammonia, chlorine and mustard gas. More commonly, it occurs as a complication of lung disease, usually after a pneumonia, bronchitis or lung transplant. It can also occur due to rheumatoid arthritis.

So what is with all the Vape warnings?

A lot of the data was misconstrued. A Harvard study looked at 50 different vape cartridges. A whopping 39 of them caused the dangerous chemical diacetyl. An even more alarming 92% had at least 1 of the 3 dangerous chemicals looked at in the study! However, this study was looking at flavored e-cigarettes marketed toward youth with names like fruity this, and cupcake that. The diacetyl was associated with vanilla, maple, coconut, and caramel and others. These were not medicinal in nature, they were not regulated and they were not cannabis.

So…should I Vape or not?

Although there is some concern about popcorn lung, and these concerns should be taken seriously, with the proper precautions you can vape without fear. Make sure to get American made, regulated vapes from your dispensary. They are not permitted to use the term organic due to the federal regulation, so look for terms like solventless and pesticide free. And make sure it is a pure medical marijuana extract without the addition of any artificial flavors. 

If you have any concerns about popcorn lung, seek medical care early. The damage caused is permanent, and there is no cure. But the damage can be slowed down or even halted early in the course of the disease.