An influx of vape-related deaths around the United States has set off alarms around the country, which have resulted in temporary state-wide bans, impassioned warnings from bed-ridden vapers, and even an executive order to cease the sale of flavored e-cigarettes. While the dust from the initial fallback is still settling, disturbing new details have emerged regarding black market vape cartridges.
A new set of tests recently revealed the presence of hydrogen cyanide within counterfeit vape cartridges, giving us a bleak, albeit rudimentary insight into some of the mysterious vape-related deaths and illnesses plaguing the country.
Hydrogen Cyanide Found in Counterfeit Vape Cartridges
NBC News released a bombshell report on Friday, which delved into the potential causation of a rising crisis that has taken 12 lives and hospitalized 805 people over 46 states over the last month. While the medical community has yet to come to an agreement on a single, underlying cause for these illnesses, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says most patients suffering from the harsh lung-illnesses have smoked black market vape cartridges containing THC.
For the report, NBC commissioned one of the country’s top cannabis testing facilities, CannaSafe, to test a total of 18 THC cartridges, obtained from both legal cannabis dispensaries and street dealers. The tests, perhaps unsurprisingly, displayed stark differences between the regulated product and the illictly-sold cartridges.
Three of the cartridges were purchased from legal dispensaries throughout California — none of them contained pesticides, heavy metals, or residual solvents like Vitamin E acetate, one of the major cause for concerns from health officials familiar with the outbreak. It has been suggested that dealers use the substance to “cut” cannabis for their cartridges.
However, CannaSafe determined the 13 of the 15 street cartridges did have traces of Vitamin E in them, raising a cause for concern. Additionally, 10 of the illicit vape cartridges were tested for pesticides, and all 10 tested positive.
All the products contained myclobutanil, a fungicide that has the ability to transform into hydrogen cyanide when it’s burned. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Cyanide can lower the levels of oxygen in almost every organ in the body, including the heart brain and lungs, and can be rapidly fatal.
“You certainly don’t want to be smoking cyanide,” CannaSafe vice president of operations, Antonio Frazier, told NBC. “I don’t think anyone would buy a cart that was labeled hydrogen cyanide on it.”
The FDA has struggled to properly police these cartridges, mostly because the fatalities have come courtesy of unregulated street products. The California bureau chief for the fellow online cannabis publication, Leafly, David Downs, says that fake packaging is being manufactured in China and making its way to Los Angeles. The empty cartridges are then being filled with bootleg THC oil and being packaged as branded products.
“This all starts in China where you can get the empty cartridges both for the THC market and the nicotine market, as well as the additives, flavorings, and thickeners that are being put into these cartridges alongside the THC oil,” Downs said.
This was further corroborated by NBC after the publication said one of the LA-based dispensaries sold packaging for Dank Vapes — a brand that has been oft-counterfeited and linked to some of the lung disease cases throughout the U.S.
For now, cannabis consumers are being warned to only buy regulated products from dispensaries.