A new hypothesis about a causality link between mercaptan and the vaping crisis

By Dr. Olav Laudy

At Causality Link we develop an artificial intelligence that, among other things, extracts causal reasoning from documents. We combine the causal reasoning across documents and across authors into ‘chains of causality’. My work has made me sensitive to detect those causal chains in real life. Last weekend, when my vintage stove smelled of gas, I looked up the safety exposure levels and this is where I linked the exposure characteristics to the vaping crisis.

Our hypothesis involves mercaptan, a smelly chemical added to commercial heating and cooking gas such as butane in order to enable people to quickly detect a gas leak. The resulting gas is called “odorized gas”. The manufacturing process of THC oil sometimes uses solvents such as butane. Pure butane does not contain any mercaptan, but it is expensive or a controlled substance. Our hypothesis is that some (illegal) THC manufacturers use the cheaper butane containing “ethyl mercaptan”, also named “ethanethiol”. Because the boiling point of mercaptan is 95F vs 30F for butane, it could be that the process to get rid of the butane is not pursued long enough, leaving dangerous concentrations of mercaptan in the THC oil. The subsequent addition of a vape flavor to the THC oil is used to mask the foul smell of the mercaptan.

Breathing mercaptan can cause headache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle weakness, convulsions and tiredness. Higher levels can cause a buildup of fluid in the lungs (pulmonary edema), a medical emergency with severe shortness of breath, dizziness, lightheadedness, coma and death. These symptoms appear similar to the ones described by the medical community about the vaping crisis.

Since July 1, 2019, California will no longer allow sales of non-odorized bulk butane gas to the general public to reduce the number of fires started from butane THC oil extraction. It is conceivable that unlicensed producers start using odorized butane without being fully aware of its deadly contaminant.

In summary, the use of cheaper butane containing mercaptan and a sloppy process could leave mercaptan in the THC oil which would poison the vaping users of such oil. At this point, this causal link chain looks solid, but still must be validated by medical community. Given the lives at stake, both of current and (hopefully preventable) future victims, we felt we had to submit our hypothesis to the global community as soon as possible. We feel compassionate with the victims and hope that our hypothesis can contribute to a faster resolution of the vaping crisis.