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This is just the beginning, pulmonary researchers caution.

By Alexandra Pattillo  on December 4, 2019

After using a marijuana vape pen for just six months, a 49-year-old retired dog trainer went to the doctor coughing and wheezing, reporting shortness of breath upon exertion. The woman had smoked off and on through her teens and twenties, but was healthy — other than her worrying throat symptoms.

Her doctors gave her a rare and surprising diagnosis: hard-metal pneumoconiosis — a lung disease known as “cobalt lung.”

Until now, this lung condition was most often seen in one particular group of people: metal workers. Typically, people who sharpen tools, polish diamonds, or make dental prosthetics are at risk of developing “cobalt lung,” not dog trainers.

So what caused the woman’s lung condition? Worryingly, it was probably her marijuana vape pen.

That’s the conclusion of a case study on the woman, published this week in the European Respiratory Journal.

Researchers analyzed the vape liquid from her “ZenPen,” finding toxic metals in the juice like nickel, aluminum, lead, and, you guessed it, cobalt. They also have a theory for how those metals might make their way from the vape into the woman’s airways in the first place — it may be to do with the way marijuana vape pens work.

“Exposure to cobalt dust is extremely rare outside of a few specific industries,” Rupal Shah, paper co-author and researcher at the University of California, San Francisco said in a statement.

“This is the first known case of a metal-induced toxicity in the lung that has followed from vaping and it has resulted in long-term, probably permanent, scarring of the patient’s lungs.

What is cobalt lung?

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