A rash of vape-related sicknesses that has left one person dead and hundreds hospitalized is still raging across the country. But as local and federal health experts try their best to identify and corral the illness, a lack of authoritative cannabis industry knowledge has proven to be a significant barrier for doctors and officials.
And while cannabis advocates have been challenging state regulators and black market cartridge buyers to take a closer look at their vape products for nearly a year now, citing the use of counterfeit packaging, pesticide-ridden distillates, improper cutting agents, and heavy metals in cartridge hardware, America’s leading health officials still don’t know the difference between a THC cartridge and nicotine-rich e-cigarette juice.
In a press release from the Centers for Disease Control late last week, the department warned vape users to avoid buying vape products from the street, but also warned users to stop mixing up their own THC vape concoctions — a significant misunderstanding of how THC cartridges are purchased and distributed.
"Anyone who uses e-cigarette products should not buy these products off the street (e.g., e-cigarette products with THC, other cannabinoids) and should not modify e-cigarette products or add any substances to these products that are not intended by the manufacturer," CDC officials wrote.
Since the vape-related illnesses have become national news, the confusion about THC vape products has been reported by mainstream outlets, leading to headlines like a recent Yahoo story warning vapers to “Stop Adding THC to e-Cigarettes.”
Gallery — Here's What Fake Vape Carts Actually Look Like:
If the vape-related illnesses are, in fact, caused by black market cannabis products, it is most likely that the problems are being spurred by either residual pesticides in the untested cannabis oil, the presence of heavy metals like lead in the cartridge hardware, or due to unregulated cutting agents like artificial terpenes, thickening agents, or even synthetic cannabinoids.
Of course, all of those issues could be solved by a nationwide, regulated cannabis market. But without looking into the intricacies of the black market weed industry, America’s health experts have instead used broad, overarching terms that spark fear and confusion, but offer few answers.
And if you’re looking for a bit of real advice on how to avoid potentially tainted vape cartridges, we recommend a heavy dose of skepticism for any black market carts — no matter the packaging, color, or viscosity of the oil — and suggest only purchasing cartridges from state-licensed dispensaries with robust product testing programs.
Follow Zach Harris on Twitter