Shady CBD Products Are Being Spiked with Synthetic Marijuana
As the lung illness caused by black market vapes continues to grip the nation, there’s another vape-related danger that hasn’t been getting nearly as much attention.
Published on October 22, 2019

Some CBD products available at places like corner markets and gas stations may be spiked with “synthetic marijuana,” a series of Associated Press investigations discovered. Synthetic marijuana (or synthetic cannabinoids) — which are not derived from cannabis, at all — can cause seizures, hallucinations, respiratory failure, coma, or even death.

AP’s trail on spiked CBD vapes started in May 2018 with Jay Jenkins, a military college student living in South Carolina. After completing his freshman year at school, Jenkins decided to try a blueberry-flavored CBD vape offered to him by a friend. 

After two puffs, Jenkins’ head began spinning into a surreal, absurdist nightmare. Once he started regaining consciousness, he realized he couldn’t move his body.

“I thought that I actually was already dead,” Jenkins told AP. Friends rushed him to a hospital.

According to AP, Jenkins’s medical records stated that he experienced “acute respiratory failure,” then slipped into a coma. After the coma ended, hospital staff released him the following day.

The CBD vape that sent Jenkins into a near-death experience came from a brand called Yolo!, which, ironically, stands for “You Only Live Once.” 

Jenkins wasn’t the only victim of Yolo!’s synthetic marijuana. Around the same time he hit that blueberry CBD vape, 40 other people got sick from vapes branded Black Magic and Black Diamond. Also in 2018, at least 50 people in Utah became gravely ill after consuming Yolo! CBD vapes, and at least 30 of those people were hospitalized. 

Typically, authorities would track down a company’s executives or owners when that company’s tainted products send a consumer to the hospital. But Yolo! wasn’t traceable. No one knew who ran the company, or who was spiking Yolo!’s CBD vape oil with synthetic weed.

Gallery — Here's What Fake Vapes Actually Look Like:

Yolo!’s Poison Was Sold Coast to Coast

An AP report published Monday followed up on the Yolo! mystery: Authorities traced Yolo! back to one of the CBD vape industry’s pioneers, Janell Thompson, who cofounded Hookahzz, considered one of the first CBD vape companies.

Thompson had been identified by illicit vape dealers who were arrested in New York as the person who supplied Yolo!’s CBD vape oils. A guilty plea from a vape distributor in North Carolina connected Thompson to the 2018 synthetic marijuana outbreak there, as well. 

Thompson is currently in federal custody for money laundering and distribution of synthetic marijuana charges. She faces up to 40 years in prison.

Spiked CBD Vape Problem May Just Be the Beginning

While Yolo! may now be history, it wasn’t the only company spiking its CBD products with lethal synthetic marijuana. AP commissioned several lab tests for 30 “suspect” CBD vape products, in other words, products that did not list ingredients on the labels, had no company contact information available, or had bad reputations among vaping communities.

Of the 30 products tested, 10 contained synthetic marijuana. Some of the products contained no CBD at all. 

Granted, AP noted the test results are not representative of the CBD vaping industry as a whole. AP’s analysis included a small sample size, and it only analyzed CBD brands with obscure or shady reputations.

Regardless, AP’s findings confirm older studies that concluded CBD products are often not what they’re sold as. Since CBD products are not regulated by the FDA, there are no federal restrictions or requirements regarding the CBD vape oil’s ingredients. So, before you decide to pick up some gimmicky CBD product at a gas station or head shop, maybe reconsider and just stick with smoking weed instead.

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Randy Robinson
Based in Denver, Randy studied cannabinoid science while getting a degree in molecular biology at the University of Colorado. When not writing about cannabis, science, politics, or LGBT issues, they can be found exploring nature somewhere in the Rocky Mountains. Catch Randy on Twitter and Instagram @randieseljay
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