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Audicus vs. Nuheara: Field Testing New Hearing Assistance Products

The combination of loosened medical regulations for hearing aids and growing demand from an aging population has generated a boom in hearing and audio innovation. Although slowed down a bit by the COVID-19 pandemic, many of the major players in the market have finally launched their new products for 2020.

We’ve been using two of them over the last few weeks. First up was the consumer-focused, but still medical-device-approved, Audicus Wave ($ 899 per ear, before discount, or part of a full-service membership plan at $ 39/month). Audicus is able to offer lower prices than traditional audiologist-prescribed hearing aids by having its own in-house staff and dedicated stores. Next, coming from the other end of the spectrum we’ve been evaluating Nuheara’s IQbuds2 MAX ($ 349/pair). Nuheara’s products are built around the traditional concept of high-end consumer earbuds, but with the addition of a broad set of customization and hearing assistance technologies.

Due to the pandemic, all of the hearing tests I took for this purpose, and all of the audiologist consultations I did, were online. Hearing aids are yet another area where greatly expanded telehealth has been brought to bear. For the record, my online hearing test results were very consistent with previous in-person tests I’d received from an audiologist at Stanford Health. Fittings were also necessarily online. That can be a little tricky, and if you need to do it, it might require a bit of back and forth with a consultant to get the right earpiece style and size, along with the right lengths for any wires. For example, I realized after getting the Audicus Waves that I should have gotten the longer ear wire option. An in-person fitting would have sorted that out right away.

Audicus Wave: Premium Hearing Aid Without the “Middleman”

By marketing directly to consumers, Audicus aims to provide similar high-end hearing aids to those provided by companies like Widex and Phonak at a much lower cost. They are still medical devices, but the audiologist consultation and hearing test are done online with the company’s in-house staff, instead of which a local hearing center or medical facility. They also have a limited number of retail stores, for those who prefer an in-person experience. Recently they have introduced a new model, the Wave, that incorporates the increasingly popular Bluetooth integration. I’ve had a chance to evaluate a pair for several weeks, and overall am impressed.

Audicus waves come with open ear domes by default, as well as a selection of sizes and optional closed domes. When not in use they fit in the provided micro-USB-powered charging case

Audicus waves come with open ear domes by default, as well as a selection of sizes and optional closed domes. When not in use they fit in the provided micro-USB-powered charging case.

Using the Audicus Waves

Audicus provides excellent support for their products both before and after sale. Unlike a traditional hearing aid company, though, it is either through company-operated hearing centers or entirely online, depending on the customer’s preference. Once you receive the hearing aids they come with a brief set of instructions, and a set of replaceable ear tips (which it calls domes) in both “audio transparent” and “audio blocking” styles. Since my hearing loss is fairly minor, the company pre-installed the set that let me hear sounds around me in addition to the augmented audio from the Waves. The Waves come with a set of four pre-configured profiles customized for your hearing by their technical team. They include a general profile, one that is optimized for conversation, one for listening to music, and one for auditoriums. The company offers re-programming if needed.

For fun I took Resounds online hearing test with the Waves in. I did better than I would have, but it isn't a great benchmark since I had to use my computer speakers, as I didn't want to see what would happen if I put powered headphones on top of the active hearing aids.

For fun I took Resounds online hearing test with the Waves in. I did better than I would have, but it isn’t a great benchmark since I had to use my computer speakers, as I didn’t want to see what would happen if I put powered headphones on top of the active hearing aids.

Putting in the Waves was easy, although easier if I first took off my glasses. They fit nicely, and I frequently forgot I had them in. I first tried them with the general setting in typical indoor and outdoor environments. Indeed, many of the high-frequency sounds, or components of other sounds, sprang to life. That can be a bit disconcerting at first, but I definitely felt that I was hearing better than without them. When in conversation, the second profile did its job by improving the speech clarity of the person in front of me.

Thanks to their excellent audio, custom profiles, and receiver-in-ear design, listening to music with the Waves is a pleasure. I don’t have any really-high-end earbuds to compare with, but the Waves certainly put in a better performance than any other earbuds or even headphones I own. Using a blocking dome really adds to the presence of music, but of course, switching domes back and forth every time you want to listen to music isn’t very practical. The Waves also performed well when I used them for phone calls. If you fiddle with your glasses or sound sources get too close to your ears, you can hear some slight, spurious, “rustling” noise, but I didn’t find it bothersome.

Audicus provides a nice selection of different size and style ear domes to accommodate individual needs.Audicus provides a nice selection of different size and style ear domes to accommodate individual needs.For usability, there are two surprising shortcomings with the Waves. First, while you can change volume and profile with buttons on the earpiece, you can’t pause the music you’re listening to. So, if someone walks up to you and starts to speak (likely, since the Waves are essentially invisible), you have to pull your phone out of your pocket and pause your music in your application. Second, there isn’t any app for the Waves. So you only have the option of cycling through profiles or changing volume levels by pressing the ear buttons. Other than that shortcoming they were a joy to use. They’re easy to recharge in their charging case (the company also sells a more-traditional replaceable battery version of Wave).

Everyone Hears Differently: Don’t Get Hearing Aids You Can’t Return

Not only is everyone’s hearing different, but we all have different responses to what we hear. Some might delight in the restoration of high-frequency notes in music and bird songs, while others who have gotten used to hearing only a low level of background noise in an urban environment could find a sudden increase in auditory input disquieting — at least for a while. So you’re going to want to get hearing aids that you can get used to over time, but still have the ability to return them if they turn out not to work for you. Audicus, for example, has a 45-day return policy.

Unlike lots of other products, even reading reviews can only provide a limited idea of what you’ll experience. For example, I have generally pretty-good hearing, with some high-frequency loss. And since once upon a time I could hear those frequencies, I at least have some idea of whether they are being reproduced accurately or naturally. But I can’t tell you how the hearing aids I test would benefit someone with a large amount of hearing loss. Conversely, a reviewer with substantial hearing loss would have a hard time guessing how a set would work for someone with mild hearing loss. I can, of course, review the user experience, ergonomics, and give a general idea of the sound reproduction, custom modes, and special features.

Nuheara IQbuds2 Max: Earbuds With Custom Hearing Tech

Unlike the Audicus Waves, IQbuds aren’t medical devices or even true hearing aids. But they add a lot of impressive hearing-assistance tech to a pair of Bluetooth earbuds. So they may be a good choice for those who want a little help hearing what they want, and not what they don’t want, out of their regular earbuds. I’ve spent some time with their newest model, the IQbuds2 Max, and they’ve definitely improved quite a bit from the original IQbuds Boost I reviewed several years ago.

Getting Started with IQbuds2 Max

It’s entirely possible to use IQbuds exactly like a traditional pair of Bluetooth earbuds. They pair normally with your device (only one phone or other device at a time, unfortunately), and have a traditional charging case. They are ear-blocking and come with two pairs each of three sizes of ear tips. I found that for noise-canceling to work well, I needed to use the Large ear tips, even though the Medium tips were comfortable for general use. As you’d expect there is an app for managing the IQbuds, but thanks to their advanced functionality it does a lot more than a typical earbud app.

Using Nuheara’s Mobile App

Nuheara IQBuds2 MAX come with an app for customizationUsing the app you can control the ratio of device and ambient (called World) audio, turn active noise cancellation (ANC) on and off, adjust the overall volume, and tweak the tonal balance. You can also have the internal microphones focus on what is in front of you or have a 360-degree sound field. To save you the trouble of making all these adjustments every time, Nuheara provides a customizable collection of presets that you can flip between in the app or by touching your right earbud. For a start, they include defaults for generic Home, Driving, Restaurant, Workout, Street, Office, and Plane.

Speaking of the touch panels on the earbuds, you can assign commands to short press, double press, and long press for each of the left and right units. This is pretty handy, although I found my review unit somewhat finicky in identifying short, double, and long. My bigger problem with this system is left-over from the first generation IQbuds I reviewed years ago. You can’t bind any command to any touch combo. Instead, each possible touch command only supports a few of the possible options. I never got a great response on why from the company, but for example it means you can not have tap combinations for both changing the preset (called Location) and turning Focus on and off. You have to pick between them, while you can happily assign Google Assistant to work with both a left ear and a right ear tap.

Customizing IQbuds Using EarID

In addition to having a variety of sound modes that let you independently control your device audio and ambient sounds, what sets the IQbuds apart is the ability to customize their performance to your personal hearing profile. This is accomplished by having you take a 10-minute hearing test in the app. It’s not super-sophisticated, but it measures your ability to hear six different frequencies with each ear. My results were pretty typical for me, with some high-frequency falloff.

After you take the test you can turn on EarID in the app, and it will equalize what you hear to try and compensate. In my case, I could definitely hear a slight difference in the additional precision and attack it provided in musical high notes, and increased emphasis on high-frequency sounds around me (when “World” is turned on). In fact, if I had the ambient volume too loud, sounds like silverware clattering on plates could actually become jarring.

Is Either of These Devices Right for You?

If you’ve been saying “Eh?” a lot when people try to tell you something, you may need a real hearing aid. If you’ve balked at the high price of audiologist-distributed units from companies like Widex and Phonak, Audicus Waves are definitely worth considering. Note that another option is also slightly-de-featured versions of top brands sold for a lot less than “full retail” through Costco’s Hearing Centers.

However, if you just wish you had earbuds that gave you more control over what you hear and don’t, then IQbuds2 Max is well worth a listen. I don’t think I would want to wear them all day, but they are great for airplanes (simply tap the “World On & Pause” when you need to speak to someone), and similarly for outdoor activities. They are also helpful in restaurants and at conferences, but they aren’t invisible like the Waves, so whomever you’re with may look at you a bit strangely.

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Milk products recalled in Ontario, Quebec due to sanitizer contamination

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency says the Agropur Co-operative is recalling some of its milk products in Ontario and Quebec due to the presence of sanitizer.

The recall involves Sealtest brand products, including skim milk, one per cent, two per cent, and 3.25 per cent milk in various container volumes with best before dates of Feb. 8, 2020.

It also involves the L’ecole, c’est nourissant brand’s two per cent milk in 150 ml cartons, also with the Feb. 8 best before date.

Food contaminated with sanitizer may not look or smell spoiled, however, consumption may cause symptoms such as nausea, upset stomach or vomiting.

The CFIA says there has been one reported illness linked to the recalled products.

The agency says anyone who has the recalled milk should throw it out or return it to the store it came from.

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‘Start low and go slow’: New cannabis products could put party hosts at risk of liability

The holidays are here, meaning Canadians will be celebrating with family, taking some much deserved time off and gearing up for the new year. 

It’s also, coincidentally, when new cannabis products will be trickling onto the market. 

Edibles, beverages, vapes and topicals – such as lotions – became legal for sale in Canada on Dec. 17, but they all have different intoxicating effects. 

They also have wide ranging levels of potency, depending on whether you’re eating a cookie or vaping. 

And if you’re hosting a party you could be at risk of significant legal liability if you’re not careful, so experts have provided some tips to navigate this uncharted territory.

Uncharted territory

While no cases have yet been tested in court, legal experts say they expect cannabis liability to be similar to that of alcohol when it comes to impaired driving or injury in the home. 

“The way that it relates to alcohol is that it’s the person who’s hosting the party, it’s their responsibility to make sure that they’re monitoring everyone’s actions at the party,” said Harrison Cooper, an associate lawyer at Ontario personal injury law firm Oatley Vigmond. 

“And making sure that their guests aren’t going to do something stupid like get behind the wheel of a car when they’ve had too much to drink.” 

Cooper said the same obligation would exist with cannabis, but the issue is that while the use of alcohol is predictable for most people, cannabis use may not be.

If a host were to provide cannabis edibles to guests and someone had a “bad outcome,” Cooper said they could potentially be more liable than if someone brought their own to the party and used them there. 

“This adds a whole new layer of complexity,” said Brett Stephenson, a partner at Vancouver-based specialty insurance law firm Dolden Wallace Folick LLP. 

“How do you know what has been consumed either before or after someone’s been to your house? And how are these products interacting together? I think that’s the biggest concern.” 


Mixing alcohol and cannabis could create an entirely new area of legal exposure because of the uncertainty around how the substances interact in the body. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Stephenson said the mixing of alcohol and cannabis creates an entirely new area of legal exposure because of the uncertainty around how impaired a user can get when taking both.

Little research has been done on the effects of combining the two substances, but a 2015 study in the journal Clinical Chemistry found users had significantly higher amounts of THC in their blood after using both. THC the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. 

Last year, a decision came out of the Ontario Court of Appeal that Stephenson said anyone hosting parties over the holidays should be aware of. 

An Ontario man was killed in October 2011 after he drank heavily with a friend, walked home, then drove impaired and crashed his car.

The court later found the homeowners could be liable for damages because they breached a duty of care as hosts.

“This found that social host liability can arise even after one’s guest has arrived home safely,” Stephenson said. 

“So that’s a major concern that I don’t think most homeowners are aware of.”

‘Start low and go slow’

Robert Gabrys, a research and policy analyst at the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse and Addiction (CCSA), recommends people start off with low doses when it comes to cannabis. 

“Start low and go slow,” he said. “It does affect everybody differently and it’s hard to predict.” 

When it comes to THC, Gabrys recommends starting off with about 2.5 mg per product. 


While sales of edible products only became legal recently, there has been nothing to prevent people from buying legal cannabis and making their own. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press)

Edibles can take quite a bit of time to kick in, up to two to four hours in some cases, but the effects can last much longer – up to 12 hours for psychoactive effects and 24 hours for symptoms such as drowsiness. 

“Currently, there aren’t any specific time frames that are recommended for how long you should wait after consuming an edible,” he said. 

“One thing we always sort of say is just to clear your schedule for pretty much like an entire day.” 

Cannabis beverages have a similar effect, but the onset of symptoms can happen much quicker – in some cases about 30 minutes after drinking. 

“If you’re expecting your cannabis beverage to give you the exact same feeling or the exact same onset [as alcohol] and then you keep consuming it expecting it to be like alcohol – the result is not going to be all that fun,” said Abi Roach, the executive chair of NORML Canada and owner of the HotBox Cafe in Toronto. 

“You have to educate yourself. Different products have different strength onsets, and different reactions with your body.” 


Abi Roach has operated her cannabis lounge in Toronto’s Kensington Market for nearly 20 years. She urges new users to be cautious when trying new products. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Roach recommends researching brands, potencies and asking questions of suppliers so you don’t put yourself at risk of over-intoxication. 

“It’s very, very important that if you’re having a party and you’re serving edibles please find out what the actual onset effect is expected and maybe just put it on a little card by the item that you’re serving,” she said. 

The federal government has set strict packaging guidelines for edibles and beverages, with a limit of 10 mg of THC per package. 

But that’s considered a low dose for experienced users, and Roach said she is concerned that could mean high sugar content and added calories. 

“If you need to dose 100mg, you have to eat 10 units essentially to get one dose,” she said.

Topicals are another type of product where Roach believes there has been a “missed conversation,” largely because they doesn’t necessarily allow THC to enter the bloodstream. 

“Topicals work very, very differently. Even if they’re high THC, you’ll never really get ‘high’ from a topical,” she said. 

“It’s actually a wellness product. It should be sold over the counter in pharmacies.”

Vaping brings its own concerns

The release of cannabis vaping products comes amid an outbreak of vaping-associated lung illnesses across North America involving cannabis vapes and nicotine e-cigarettes

As of Dec. 10, 2,409 cases, including 52 deaths, have been reported to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in all 50 states this year. 

There have been 14 cases of vaping-associated lung illness reported to the Public Health Agency of Canada as of Dec. 10. Three occurred in British Columbia, two in New Brunswick, four in Ontario, and five in Quebec.


Health Canada has said it’s preparing to test the health effects of inhaling substances emitted from cannabis vapes, but the long term health effects of the devices are unknown. (Steve Helber/The Associated Press)

An additive called vitamin E acetate has been blamed for the majority of cases in the U.S., but little is known about the long-term health effects of vaping overall.

Health Canada has said it’s preparing to test the health effects of inhaling substances emitted from cannabis vapes, but did not do so prior to them being legally available.

The products are much more potent than anything else on the market, with a maximum THC amount up to 1,000 mg per package (a gram of dry cannabis has about 100 mg of THC).

The overall message is that we just don’t know, so people have to be careful,” said Gabrys at the CCSA. 

“There is a risk that you’re taking by by using these products – they’re not harmless.”

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Instagram bans influencers from promoting vaping products

Social media influencers will no longer be allowed to promote vaping, tobacco products and weapons on Instagram as the Facebook-owned platform doubles down on its existing ad policies banning the advertisements of such products.

Product endorsements are common on Instagram and celebrities and others with large followings, or so-called “influencers,” have struck deals to talk up clothing, food and other items. Tobacco companies have used celebrities like British singer Lily Allen and Oscar-winning actor Rami Malek in posts to promote e-cigarettes.

But an ongoing teenage vaping epidemic in the United States as well as recent deaths linked to vaping have brought additional scrutiny on the devices and the way they are being marketed.

Even though Facebook and Instagram have already banned regular ads for tobacco products that come from brand accounts directly, companies could turn an influencer’s post on Instagram into a sponsored content ad.

“Branded content that promotes goods such as vaping, tobacco products and weapons will not be allowed,” Instagram said in a post on Wednesday, adding that it would begin enforcement “in the coming weeks.”

The updated guidelines come on the same day the British Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) banned tobacco companies from promoting e-cigarettes on social media sites, following an investigation into their Instagram posts.

Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids welcomes move

The decision is unrelated to ASA’s move, an Instagram spokesperson told Reuters.

Instagram said this would be the first time the platform is implementing restrictions around the type of items that can be promoted for branded content.

“It is imperative that Facebook and Instagram not only swiftly enact these policy changes, but also see that they are strictly enforced,” said Matthew Myers, president, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

“Tobacco companies have spent decades targeting kids — social media companies must not be complicit in this strategy,” he said.

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Health Canada to start testing cannabis vape emissions from products already on market

Health Canada says it’s preparing to test the health effects of inhaling substances emitted from cannabis vaping products that are already legally for sale in Canada.

Agency spokesperson Eric Morrissette said in a statement this week it has “research underway” on the emissions of nicotine e-cigarettes and is now “expanding” its “laboratory capability” to include the testing of cannabis vapes as well. 

The statement comes after CBC News reported the federal health agency does not conduct emissions testing on cannabis vapes and one company pre-emptively pulled its product over health and safety concerns. 

Cannabis vapes are among a series of new products — including edibles, extracts and topicals such as lotions — that can be legally sold in Canada as of Tuesday.

Newfoundland and Labrador and Quebec have outright banned the sale of cannabis vapes, and Nova Scotia will not allow flavoured versions

The products have not yet appeared in legal cannabis stores or websites in Canada, but Health Minister Patty Hajdu said Tuesday they can now be legally sold by authorized retailers under “strict rules.” 

Cannabis vaping products have legally hit the market in most provinces despite the fact Health Canada hasn’t tested how safe they are. 2:55

“Licensed processors are responsible for ensuring that all their products meet safety requirements, and that none of their products contain anything that may cause injury to the health of the user,” Hajdu said in a separate statement.

“Given the recent cases of vaping-associated lung illnesses, Health Canada requested additional information from licensed processors on the ingredients and product formulation of certain vaping products they intend to sell in Canada’s legal market.”

As of Dec. 10, 2,409 cases, including 52 deaths, have been reported to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in all 50 states this year.

There have been 14 cases of vaping-associated lung illness reported to the Public Health Agency of Canada, as of Dec. 10. Three occurred in British Columbia, two in New Brunswick, four in Ontario and five in Quebec.

The majority of the cases of vaping illness are linked to illicit cannabis vapes. The CDC has not singled out any one brand but recommends that people not use the devices at all.

On Nov. 28, Health Canada sent out a request for “further information” on the 359 notices of intent to sell that it received from 34 licence holders or processors that had requested to sell the products and found two that may have already violated regulatory requirements.


The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people not use cannabis vaping devices at all. (The Associated Press)

That information request was not emissions-related, but instead asked for detailed measurements of each individual ingredient, their classification and composition and the name of the supplier. 

“The department has had subsequent communications with two licence holders, where examination of the additional information identified potential non-compliance with regulatory requirements,” Morrissette said in the statement. 

“In all these instances, the licensed processor in question has stated that they have chosen to voluntarily not introduce these products to the market at this time.” 

Morrissette said ethyl alcohol and medium chain triglycerides (MCT oil), a common extract from coconut oil, may have been found in the products but did not identify the licence holders in question. 

Canadian cannabis companies Canopy Growth, Aphria, Aurora Cannabis and Organigram said that they do not test the emissions of their devices, as it is not required by the federal government. 

HEXO, a Canadian cannabis company that made headlines after it announced in October it would sell cannabis cheaper for $ 4.49 a gram, said last week it will not yet release cannabis vapes because of concerns about their safety. 


A Hexo employee examines cannabis plants in one of the company’s greenhouses in Masson-Angers, Que. The firm said it’s holding off releasing its cannabis vapes because of safety concerns. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Similar to the rules for nicotine e-cigarettes, banned ingredients for cannabis vape oils include added vitamins or minerals, nicotine or alcohol, caffeine and added sugars, sweeteners or colours. 

That includes vitamin E acetate, which has been identified as a “chemical of concern” by the CDC in the vaping-related illness outbreak across North America but has not officially been confirmed as the culprit.  

But Health Canada will allow flavours, the use of which has been discouraged by the Canadian Paediatric Society in nicotine-based vaping products because of a fear that they will make the products more attractive to young users.

Flavouring chemicals, such as diacetyl (found in buttery flavours), are also associated with conditions, such as “popcorn lung,” and pulegone (found in menthol) can have toxic effects when vaped at high levels. 

Health Canada said it requires those licensed to sell cannabis vaping products to test vaping liquids for contaminants and to maintain records of the test results, which it can verify during inspections. The agency can also take samples for independent testing, it said.

In a previous statement, Morrissette said that diacetyl and vitamin E acetate have not been found in the ingredients of licensed processors to date, but did not provide details on other flavouring chemicals that may be present.

He added that providing legal access to regulated cannabis products “is one of the best ways to protect Canadians from the risks posed by products from the illegal market,” and Health Canada is in close contact with the CDC and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration “to better understand their investigations into the cause or causes of the illnesses.”

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Health Canada says it hasn’t tested health effects of cannabis vaping but will release new products anyway

This is an excerpt from Second Opinion, a weekly roundup of eclectic and under-the-radar health and medical science news emailed to subscribers every Saturday morning. If you haven’t subscribed yet, you can do that by clicking here.


The federal government will allow the sale of cannabis vaping products starting next week despite not having tested the health effects of inhaling substances emitted from such devices. At least one cannabis company has preemptively pulled its product over health and safety concerns, CBC News has learned.

Cannabis vapes are among a series of new products — including edibles, extracts and topicals such as lotions — that can be legally sold in Canada as of Tuesday. 

Newfoundland and Labrador and Quebec have outright banned the sale of cannabis vapes while Nova Scotia will not allow flavoured versions

Health Canada says that while it has tested the ingredients in cannabis vaping liquids, tests on the vapour emitted when those compounds are heated have not yet been done. 

“No legal products are on the market as of today,” Eric Morisette, a spokesperson for the health agency said in an emailed statement Thursday. “So, there has been no analysis done.”

Products released in midst of vaping illness outbreak

The release of the products comes amid an outbreak of vaping-associated lung illnesses across North America involving cannabis vapes and nicotine e-cigarettes

As of Dec. 10, 2,409 cases, including 52 deaths, have been reported to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control in all 50 states this year. 

“In the middle of an epidemic in the United States, they still somehow come to the conclusion that there’s nothing to worry about here and we can go ahead and sell cannabis vaping products,” said Dr. Matthew Stanbrook, a respirologist at Toronto Western Hospital and deputy editor of the Canadian Medical Association Journal. 

“It just really speaks to a complete lack of attention to providing any safeguards here.”


Health Canada says that while it has tested the ingredients in cannabis vaping liquids, tests on the vapour emitted when those compounds are heated have not yet been done. (The Associated Press)

There have been 14 cases of vaping-associated lung illness reported to the Public Health Agency of Canada as of Tuesday. Three occurred in British Columbia, two in New Brunswick, four in Ontario, and five in Quebec.

“It’s sort of like the worst time that you could release these products in Canada,” said Dr. Mangala Narasimhan, the regional director of critical care medicine at Northwell Health in New York City, who has treated close to 40 cases of the illness. 

“It’s crazy to me that they’re allowing this to continue and that they’re actually going to introduce it in Canada, knowing everything that we know.”

The majority of the cases of vaping illness are linked to illicit cannabis vapes. The CDC has not singled out any one brand but recommends that people not use the devices at all.

“If the leading authority in the world is making that statement, then who am I or others to challenge them?” said David Hammond, a professor of public health at the University of Waterloo who researches vaping.

“And I would suggest that the actions in Quebec, Newfoundland and Nova Scotia are more in line with that. They are still trying to figure out what is killing people and putting people in hospital.”


Read CBC’s special coverage on vaping:

Cannabis company holding back on releasing vapes 

HEXO, a Canadian cannabis company that made headlines after it announced in October it would sell cannabis for $ 4.49 a gram, says it will not release cannabis vapes next week as planned because of concerns over the safety of the products. 

“We understand that diluting agents found in some cannabis extracts are under increased scrutiny for having potential negative health impacts,” Isabelle Robillard, HEXO’s vice-president of communications, said in a statement. 

“As such, to produce quality vapes, and out of an abundance of caution, HEXO will not develop products that use these.”


A Hexo Corp. employee examines cannabis plants in one of the company’s greenhouses in Masson Angers, Que. The company said it’s holding off releasing its cannabis vapes because of safety concerns. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Diluting agents include propylene glycol, polyethylene glycol and vegetable glycerin – synthetic fluids that are found in the majority of cannabis vape oils and even nicotine e-cigarette liquids currently on both the legal and illicit market.

Health Canada says the liquids are considered safe in many consumer products such as cosmetics and sweeteners but that “the long-term safety of inhaling the substances in vaping products is unknown and continues to be assessed.”

Robillard said HEXO is working with a research organization to further study the safety of the products and the occurrence of adverse events with cannabis vapes. 

What’s allowed in cannabis vapes?

Under federal regulations, cannabis vapes cannot contain anything that may cause injury to the health of the user or anything other than “carrier substances, flavouring agents, and substances that are necessary to maintain the quality or stability of the product.”

Similar to the rules for nicotine e-cigarettes, banned ingredients for cannabis vape oils include added vitamins or minerals, nicotine or alcohol, caffeine and added sugars, sweeteners or colours. 

That includes vitamin E acetate, which has been identified as a “chemical of concern” by the CDC in the vaping-related illness outbreak across North America but has not officially been confirmed as the culprit.  

Health Canada will allow cannabis vaping products to contain up to 1,000 mg of THC, the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, per package (a gram of dry cannabis has about 100 mg of THC).

It will also allow flavours, the use of which has been discouraged by the Canadian Paediatric Society in nicotine-based vaping products because of a fear that they will make the products more attractive to young users. 

“There’s no question that flavours play an important role in the appeal of vaping products to youth,” said Hammond. 

“If you start adding flavours to THC vape oils or other cannabis products, it’s probably going to increase their appeal to non-users and young people. That is just common sense.”


David Hammond says there’s ‘no question’ flavours play an important role in the appeal of vaping products to youth. (Craig Chivers/CBC)

Making cannabis products more appealing to youth would contradict one of the federal government’s main stated reasons for cannabis legalization: to deter use among young people.

Flavouring chemicals such as diacetyl (found in buttery flavours) are also associated with conditions such as “popcorn lung,” and pulegone (found in menthol) can have toxic effects when vaped at high levels. 

Flavouring compound raises concern 

One way to flavour cannabis vaping oils is to use a class of organic compounds found naturally in cannabis called terpenes.

Terpenes, which Canadian cannabis companies such as Canopy Growth, Aphria, Aurora and Organigram have confirmed to CBC News they are using in their vaping extracts, are oils that gives cannabis strains their distinct smell and taste. 

But when cannabis is distilled into a vaping extract, the terpenes are removed, leaving an oil that is essentially odourless. 

When those terpenes are added back into cannabis vaping liquids as flavouring, they have the potential to produce toxic emissions when vaporized, including known carcinogens such as benzene, according to a new lab study published in the journal ACS Omega.

“The big take-home message as far as the terpenes go is that people shouldn’t add a large percentage of them to the formulations,” said Dr. Robert Strongin, lead author and professor of organic chemistry at Portland State University in Oregon.

“We just don’t know the full toxic toxicity.”


Health Canada says ‘relatively little is known about the pharmacological actions’ of terpenes, but it has not restricted the use of the organic compounds as a flavouring agent in the cannabis products that go on sale next week. (Steve Helber/Associated Press)

HEXO’s spokesperson Robillard says the company is also looking at the chemical stability of terpenes when they are converted into vapour.

“This will allow us to see if our compounds are degraded into potentially toxic products when atomized,” she said. 

“Once we are confident in the safety of our vapes and formulations, we will launch our products and conduct additional post-marketing studies.” 

Uncertainty over health effects

Health Canada says on its website that “relatively little is known about the pharmacological actions” of terpenes, but it has not restricted their use in the cannabis products that go on sale next week. 

The agency said in a statement to CBC News that it has received 48 applications from licenced cannabis producers to sell cannabis vapes in addition to 746 applications for cartridge-based vaping systems. 

It’s unclear how many will be available on the market, because that number includes instances where the same product is sold by two separate licence holders, as well as products that are essentially the same but contain different concentrations of THC. 

“The only thing we can say right now with certainty is that we really just don’t have a good understanding about what the health effects are of these products,” said Dr. Constance Mackenzie, a respirologist and toxicologist at St. Joseph’s Health Care in London, Ont. 

“It took decades to understand what the risks of smoking cigarettes were on the lungs. We probably shouldn’t be making the same mistakes again.”


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Proposed P.E.I. vaping bill seeks to strictly regulate products, raise age limit to 21

P.E.I. could soon have some of the strictest vaping laws in the country.

A private members bill from PC MLA Cory Deagle passed second reading in the P.E.I. Legislature Tuesday night. The bill would restrict where vaping products can be sold, ban certain flavours, and also raise the legal age to buy tobacco and e-cigarettes from 19 to 21.

Deagle said he wants to make vaping products less accessible to young people, especially teenagers.

“These substances, you become addicted to nicotine. In some cases there four or five, 20 times the amount of nicotine in an e-cigarette than there is in a regular cigarette,” said Deagle.

“Teachers, principals have told me it’s an epidemic in schools. And obviously with our youth tobacco rate double the national average and seeing a 74 per cent increase in vaping amongst youth in Canada, I think we have to do something.”

The vote on the second reading was unanimous, with MLAs from all parties speaking in support of it. The discussion included the possibility of new taxes being introduced in the spring budget.

If the bill passes third reading and becomes law, P.E.I. would have the highest age restriction in the country.

Deagle said the bans on flavoured products would not come into effect right away. Those would be done through regulations in cabinet, which he said would likely be a year-long process.

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