Seattle THC oil extractor shares process in light of growing vaping cases

SEATTLE — The number of vaping illness cases keeps growing. The CDC told Congress on Tuesday to expect hundreds more on top of the 530 cases already confirmed across the U.S. Nine people have died.

So far, there are six confirmed cases in Washington.

The mysterious illness had Heylo, a THC oil extractor in Seattle, posting on its website to address people's concerns.

Heylo's founder CEO, Lo Friesen, said she knows customers are worried. They've been getting calls and emails daily. That's why they want to share how their process works – and emphasize education and transparency more than ever, with all the vaping illness cases.

Their lab in the SoDo neighborhood uses a CO2 extraction system. The dried marijuana plant, or flower, is ground up, put through the pressure system that uses beverage-grade CO2 to extract the oil, gets refined in their lab, then put into cartridges.

"We always say, any time you're inhaling something that's not air, you're adding risk - so you want to make sure you're minimizing risk," Friesen said.

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The CDC said most of the cases have been tied with THC products, though some people who got sick vaped nicotine only. Others used both.

Many - though not all - of the vaping illness cases, have been tied with products that have additives, like Vitamin E, or flavors.

"When you add something foreign, you don't know how something is going to change when you heat it up," Friesen said.

The Washington State Department of Health also recently said in a press conference that FDA approved substances are given the green light on safety for eating – not vaping.

Heylo said that's why they don't - and have never - put anything besides what comes from the plant into their products.

"We don't release anything unless we're meeting our standards in house, above and beyond what the state requires," Friesen said.

On Monday, a Pierce County man who got sick after vaping filed a lawsuit against six the Washington-based companies that manufacture or sell vaping products – Canna Brand Solutions, Conscious Cannabis, Rainbow's Aloft, Leafwerx, MF used, and Janes Garden.

The suit also cites concerns about cartridges manufactured in China.

It says "The Chinese government has a consistent history of refusing to enforce judgments from courts in the United States."

Heylo says the cartridges it uses are also manufactured in China. But they work with a company that monitors production on-site to make sure standards are being followed, and that provides testing on the hardware.

"It is a risk point for us. So we're just doing whatever we can to go above and beyond to make sure we're testing the oil while it's in the cartridges and afterwards," she said.

In the testimony to congress, Dr. Anne Schuchat with the  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention emphasized  health officials still have no idea what's making people sick.

"What do we not know so far - probably the most important thing - we don't know the cause. No single product, brand, substance, or additive has been linked to all cases. This investigation is ongoing and it's very dynamic," Schuchat said.

Health officials are still recommending that you stop vaping anything until they figure it out.

Heylo and other retailers say if you do choose to vape, they recommend you ask  the retailer for the full test workup of the product you're buying.

Washington THC product manufactures are required to provide that information to stores, and retailers must make that information accessible to the customer.

That way, you can get detailed information on what's inside the cartridge.