Black market cannabis vaporizer cartridges tainted with a potentially deadly toxin found in the lungs has been sending Americans to hospitals with pneumonia-like symptoms across the U.S., a recent spate of reports has shown.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control reported Saturday it is investigating a “cluster” of cases of Americans with lung illnesses — 94 in total — across 14 states since June 28 that the agency is linking to e-cigarette use.
The CDC is working with health departments in California, Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin and Minnesota on the investigation. And although the federal agency said more information is needed to link the lung illnesses with vape use, several reports from various states have shown a number of tainted cannabis vape cart poisonings are coming from the illicit market.
In Hanford, California — a small city with a population of 56,499 — the King County health department issued a rare warning last week to consumers to avoid the black market for cannabis vape products after seven locals were hospitalized for using those products.
The King County investigation found that each of the seven residents purchased the cannabis vape cartridges from illegal ‘pop-up shops.’ The health department warned: “if you are going to use cannabis or CBD oil or a combination of both, be cautious, and only purchase from a licensed retailer.”
In the legal market in California, cannabis products are required to go through rigorous testing, while street products are rushed to market for profits and require no testing.
— CBS 4 News (@cbs4rgv) July 29, 2019
In America’s Midwest, an unnamed Wisconsin man made headlines across America late last month after suffering life-threatening heart and lung damage caused by vaping illicit cannabis oil and was put into a medically-induced coma.
As of Aug. 15, Wisconsin health departments are investigating a total of 30 cases of people with severe lung diseases, with 15 of those cases including confirmed reports of recent vaping or dabbing marijuana concentrates from the shadow market.
Illegal ‘Dank Vapes’ brand linked to hospitalizations
The brother of the Wisconsin man in the coma, Patrick DeGrave, showed Fox News television reporters his brother was using an illegal vaporizer product containing THC called Dank Vapes, which he blames for causing his sibling’s near-fatal illnesses.
“These street vapes are very, very dangerous. My brother nearly lost his life,” said DeGrave.
An exposé report published by online magazine Inverse revealed Dank Vapes is an elusive black market brand that poses as a cannabis company, but actually is not. Dank Vapes only sells the packaging and because the brand is so popular, drug dealers often choose it to fill vape carts with illegally made cannabis oil from make-shift labs, which can contain a slew of heavy metals and toxins — some being deadly.
“They act like a cannabis company but they actually don’t exist. They’re in the packaging industry,” Mark Hoashi, founder of Doja App, which exposes dangerous, illegal cannabis products, told 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.”
When Hoashi took a Dank Vapes product to BelCosta Labs, a cannabis testing lab in California, it tested positive for fenhexamid, a synthetic fungicide that causes severe damage to the respiratory and central nervous systems.
BelCosta also told Inverse it often finds black-market products that contain unsafe levels of myclobutanil. When heated, the fungicide releases toxic fumes including hydrogen cyanide, which is a major component of Zyklon-B, the gas used in Nazi gas chambers.
Consumers need to be aware legal products are safer
One of the most alarming parts of the Inverse report wasn’t only how illicit cannabis vape extracts contain ingredients used during the Holocaust, but the fact the problem is only growing.
The host of the Stay High, Stay Humble podcast, who requested to remain anonymous, told Inverse he expects Dank Vapes brand will continue to grow especially in illegal U.S. markets.
“They are cheaper, and even in legal states where legal meds are taxed very high, some people still prefer the cheaper options on the black market,” he said.
A major benefit to legalization is how a regulated cannabis market provides consumers with the comfort of knowing products are thoroughly tested, safe and come as advertised.
The California Bureau of Cannabis Control launched a statewide messaging campaign recently titled “Get #Weedwise,” to warn consumers how using the marijuana black market can put you in the hospital.
“There are things out of your control when you decide to purchase cannabis from the illegal market. Your health is more important than cost,” Alex Traverso, communications chief for the bureau told Leafly.
In Canada, federal authorities said they haven’t seen the same spike in evidence of clusters of pulmonary disease cases related to vaping, but are monitoring closely and will work with the CDC as it conducts its investigation.
Vaporizers will become legal in Canada by October and available for sale by the end of the year. The CEO of Canadian pot producer Aphria (TSX:APHA)(NYSE:APHA) Irwin Simon, told MarketWatch earlier this month “there’s probably $1 billion worth of vape sales in the black market” in the country.
The Ontario-based pot firm, along with three other Canadian companies, have teamed up with vape industry giant Pax Labs Inc. to develop cannabis vape products. The industry has poured resources into researching and developing sophisticated new vape technology that it is banking consumers will be drawn to because of the rigorous testing required.