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Meet the Navy vet who was the first case of vaping illness in the Cleveland area

December 28, 2019

– This is the device
that would make you legal in Ohio to smoke flower. – [Interviewer] US Veteran Paul Lubell says he used to vape THC, but now he uses this
device to consume marijuana a different way. Lubell stopped vaping because
he was one of the thousands of people across the US
who became seriously ill after vaping THC. But, this 59 year-old
Cleveland area resident doesn’t fit the profile
of most of the people who have contracted
vaping-related lung injury. Most are young, under the age of 35. But some older people like Lubell are using e-cigarette devices
in search of pain relief. – You’re seeing me at a good day but yesterday I was a wreck. I was not able to function the entire day. – [Interviewer] Lubell says he’s not sure when his problems started but he wonders if it
is related to his days on a Navy helicopter rescue team. Do you miss those days? – I do. It was fun. I had a great time. And I was good at what I did. Everybody wanted me. – [Interviewer] Lubell says in trainings and offshore rescues, he sometimes jumped off the helicopter, smacking into the water. That could have been the genesis
of some of his back pain. He’s had two back surgeries and suffers from serious neck pain. Lubell says he’s tried many
medications looking for relief, including opioids like hydrocodone, but that’s not an option now. – So this is my battery
of pills that I take. The VA is not a friend of opioids at all unless you’re coming out of the hospital for surgery or something like that. They do not give vets opioids. – [Interviewer] After
he couldn’t get opioids, Lubell says he was a in tough situation having to decide how
to deal with his pain. He started using an e-cigarette device with pre-filled THC cartridges
that he got from a friend. – And when I say it took away pain, it was almost instantaneous. It made me capable of
doing my daily activities. It made me capable of doing
other things normally. – [Interviewer] When people vape, they attach a small cartridge that’s filled with THC on
top of an e-cigarette device. When they inhale, it pulls the THC and other liquids in the
cartridge over a heating element. When they exhale it
creates a cloud in the air, which is different from
smoking marijuana other ways. – It doesn’t have a stench to it. You could do it out on the streets. Again, it doesn’t have that, uh, what’s the word I’m looking for? Stigma. – [Interviewer] But in July, a few months after he started vaping
with the THC cartridges, Lubell ended up at
Cleveland’s Veterans Hospital Emergency Department. – He had this cough that was persistent. He just looked very, very sick. – [Interviewer] That’s Dr. Amy Hise, who was on the team of physicians that treated Lubell at the VA. – He was put on very strong
broad spectrum antibiotics. And yet he continued to have fevers, he continued to feel unwell, he had very flu like symptoms. – [Interviewer] Lubell seemed
to improve and was released. But then he grew ill again in late August. Dr. Hise says she was surprised when he came back to the
emergency department. By then, however, she had
seen a newly released alert from the Centers For Disease
Control and Prevention about the vaping illness. Lubell, had also seen reports in the media about this quickly spreading
problem related to vaping. – He was forthright
that he had been vaping, and indeed what had happened
is when he was in the hospital before he’d stopped vaping, he stopped for a period of time until he started to feel better. And then he started it up again and that’s when his
lung disease came back. – [Interviewer] Lubell
says even though vaping eased his pain, those two bouts
of sickness were too much. He won’t vape again. Dr. Hise agrees with that decision. – I think there’s just
too much that’s not known about what’s in these
products to safely use them. – [Interviewer] But Lubell is not alone in turning to marijuana
for pain management. Medical marijuana is legal
in Ohio for chronic pain, says Dr. Melinda Lawrence, pain management specialist
at University Hospitals. Many patients are telling
her they are trying it. – This is one in the most common questions that we get in clinic. I mean people ask us everyday about this. So I think patients
are really aware of it. But I think in terms of
from a medical standpoint, we don’t have those specific data, so I think there’s a lot of unknown in terms of marijuana and how it can play with chronic pain. – [Interviewer] Even though some patients say it works for them, there’s not enough research to prove it’s broadly effective, she says. Lubell, who has a medical marijuana card, is still planning to use
marijuana but he won’t vape. He gave his equipment and THC packets to health officials for analysis. As federal officials continue to search for the specific cause of
the vaping lung illness, they strongly recommend that
people don’t use e-cigarettes or vaping products that contain THC.

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