Over the past few months, there have been a number of illnesses and deaths associated with vaping. Approximately 380 people have become sick and 7 people have died after complications resulting from vaping-associated pulmonary injury (VAPI). This outbreak has caused alarm in people all over the country to the point of government entities calling for a ban on vaping.
Before you decide to throw out all of your vaping hardware and equipment, consider why all of these issues have arisen. Most credible vaping companies have procedures in place to ensure that they only sell the safest equipment and product available. In fact, Lindsay Robinson, the California Cannabis Industry Association Executive Director, states that, “It is important to note that no cannabis vaping products purchased at licensed cannabis businesses have been linked to these illnesses.”
The real danger being faced and the cause of these deaths and sickness is black market vaping cartridges. To be more specific, the exact reason is the use of Vitamin E acetate as an additive in the vaping cartridges.
What Are Cannabis Vaping Cartridges?
Cannabis vaping cartridges are cartridges that are filled with an oil that includes THC. These cartridges can be connected to vaping hardware that allows the user to vape their cannabis. Many people prefer vaping because it gives a more intense high, is incredibly convenient and discreet, and doesn’t give off a smell.
How Are Cannabis Vaping Cartridges Made?
When cannabis vaping became popularized, there were many questions surrounding how it was made. Essentially, all cannabis vaping oil is made using the same process.
- Cannabis that is too weak or unattractive to sell on its on is put into a tube.
- A filter is attached to one end of the tube.
- Lighter fluid is poured into the tube over the cannabis to drain out all of the THC.
Once the resulting oil, which is commonly called butane hash oil (BTO), is made, it undergoes a purifying process. This purification can be done in many ways. Legit companies will use vacuum ovens or ethanol soaking to purify their BTO. However, not all makers of cannabis oil are trustworthy and reliable.
The sad truth is that some people make BTO in their backyards and basements and “purify” the oil with less effective methods like freezing or placing it over boiling water. Because these self-titled entrepreneurs aren’t required to follow any kinds of rules or regulations, their products are not as safe as the products that an actual cannabis oil company will produce.
Black Market Cannabis Cartridges
Black market, or illicit market, THC cartridges typically make their way to the United States from China, picking up dangerous levels of lead, pesticides, additives like vitamin E oil, and butane. In the case of Jon Doneson, a 52 year old man from New York, who fell victim to a tainted black market cannabis cartridge, the batch of cartridges was traced from China to wholesale markets in downtown Los Angeles to regional operations to Doneson’s hands.
How to Spot a Black Market Cartridge
Cannabis oil cartridges aren’t the only fake vaping cartridges that are circulating through the streets of America. There are also counterfeit nicotine cartridges and CBD cartridges. If you are diligent and do your research, you can prevent falling victim to a tainted vaping cartridge.
Some factors to look for when deciding if your cartridge is legit or not are:
- Ensure that the license actually exists. Licensed stores are required to display their license number publicly. If you do not see a license number, then the store is not part of the regulated market.
- Check the packaging for regulation information like a manufacturing date, a packaging date, a batch number, and a lot number.
- Some fake cartridges copy popular name brands. Make sure that the labeling on the package matches the state-mandated packaging for the brand. You can also look for the manufacturer stamp on the packaging to make sure it is a legit cartridge.
- Check the ingredients. Common diluents used in vaping oil are propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin, and medium-chain triglycerides (MCT) oil. Black market cartridges will cut the cost of their products by adding cheaper ingredients to them, like Vitamin E acetate, which causes the oil to become dangerous.
- Be aware of the major brands. Major brands will be safer because they are legitimate companies that have to adhere to safety regulations.
- Notice the lab results and the percentage of THC in the cartridges. If the percentage is below 60%, there is most likely some other material added into the oil to cut it. If the percentage is 99.9%, the number could be fraudulent.
The Issue with Vitamin E Acetate
While there are many contaminants that can taint a vaping cartridge, the main suspect in the recent vaping-related illnesses and deaths is Vitamin E acetate. Vitamin E oil is commonly used in topical cosmetic creams, but it is not made for inhalation. Vitamin E oil is a tocopherol, and all tocopherols interfere with the fluid lining that is on the surface of the lungs. There are 8 different forms of Vitamin E oil, and every single one is unsafe for inhalation.
The result of inhaling Vitamin E acetate is that lung cells die. This damage can cause sickness that mimics lipoid pneumonia. Essentially, inhaling Vitamin E oil is like “saran-wrapping the inside of your lungs.”
The Bottom Line
The cannabis vaping black market has thrived because of the high taxes that are added to retail cannabis products. Consumers ignore the red flags that tell them they are dealing with a shady business in order to purchase their cartridges at a fraction of the cost of safe and regulated products.
If you prefer to vape your cannabis, it is important to be diligent in determining whether or not you are consuming safe cannabis oil. The only true way to know that you are buying safe cannabis oil is to purchase it from a licensed shop. Be smart, and do your research. Cannabis oil is a relatively new product, and there is still much that is unknown about it; therefore, the best way to ensure your safety is to stick to licensed shops and regulated products.