Vaping Crisis Update, and Don’t Fuck With Fake Cartridges

At a party this weekend, I set up a vaporizer station with different kinds of flower. A woman came up and asked if it was safe. “Because I keep hearing about hundreds of people vaping and ending up in the hospital, and I understand one just died, so I’m concerned…”

Yes, death by vaping is concerning, and the story has been trending hard last week. But there are still more questions than answers, which makes jumping to conclusions an easy exercise for leg days. Here’s what we know.

First of all, vaping flower is not the issue. Second of all, a lot some of the current news seems to be about e-cigarettes and tobacco vaping, as opposed to THC. [UPDATE: THC use has subsequently been confirmed in several cases.]

As of this writing, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has announced that between June 28 and August 20, 22 states have reported 193 cases of “vaping related” severe lung illnesses (they did not specify whether tobacco or cannabis products were involved).

Those afflicted reported symptoms such as shortness of breath, cough, fatigue, chest pain, vomiting, fatigue and diarrhea. Officials have determined that this isn’t an infectious disease.

Axios reports that “many of those cases involved teens and young adults,” and that “not all of the 193 cases have been confirmed.” One adult in Illinois recently died from what officials deemed a “severe respiratory illness after vaping,” which would be the first vaping-related death in the US.

While the Illinois death has not been directly linked to the use of a cannabis cartridge as opposed to an e-cigarette or tobacco vape, there are black-market THC cartridges out there that are very dangerous.

There have been at least seven cases of people using such products and requiring hospitalization. Leafly reports that in the northern California city of Hanford, the health department and area doctors determined the connection between the seven patients and illicit carts, the use of which resulted in the previously healthy patients developing Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS), a potentially lethal condition.

All the cartridges had been purchased at super-sketchy “Pop Up Cannabis Shops,” where vendors offer up all forms of untested products, including vape carts. These underground cannabis K-Marts are publicized by word of mouth, and feature products branded as if they were legitimate products available in actual dispensaries.

Merry Jane tells of one such brand, Dank Vapes, which has a sizable brand awareness and active social media engagement, but is actually a completely black-market brand.

“They act like a cannabis company, but they actually don’t exist. They’re in the packaging industry,” said Mark Hoashi, founder of the cannabis-rating app Doja, to Inverse. “These are just people filling cartridges as ‘Dank Vapes.’ It’s not a singular facility. It’s just people in their garages filling them and selling them.”

One doctor told Leafly that he “suspects the lung illness comes from an additive, though he’s not sure what. “Whoever is mixing it up in their garage, they’re adding other flavors, I suspect, or it’s how they’re diluting it. I suspect it’s some type of hydrocarbon.”

Maybe what I’m about to say goes without saying, but just remember that earlier this month, the FDA had to issue a warning that people shouldn’t drink bleach.

So—consider this my warning that it is very much in your best interest to purchase THC/CBD cartridges from a licensed retailer and make sure they have been tested by a laboratory. It’s the same reason people shouldn’t buy their insulin or seafood at a swap meet off a blanket from a sweaty guy in a tank top.

The seven users who suffered from black-market cartridges all reported that they made their purchases because they were cheaper than dispensary prices. This supports the assertion by some that California’s high cannabis taxes are encouraging the black market, and moving people to support these pop-ups.

Again, for the last time, don’t drink bleach, the guy in the windowless van hasn’t lost his puppy so don’t get in to help him look, and don’t buy homemade vape carts from cargo-shorts Carl in someone’s basement flea market.

Josh Taylor is a well-known and successful entrepreneur in the legal cannabis space, producing B2B and B2C cannabis events, "Backstage Budtending" and upscale concierge services through his companies and His weekly syndicated newspaper column and features about cannabis ran for five years until March 2020.

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