For many millions of former smokers around the world, vaping has proven to be a godsend. It’s a completely satisfying and enjoyable way to quit using tobacco without forgoing the sensation and ritual of smoking. But what's up with the recent vaping deaths?
Many thousands of cannabis vaping cartridges are being produced every day around the country—often for sale on the black market. Most people who buy these vaping cartridges have no idea what’s in them or who is making them. The problem? Some people have died from using them.
Although some websites like ECigarette Empire have reported the truth about the vaping lung illness and the deaths that have occurred from it, many mainstream media outlets have yet to report the full story because their writers don’t understand the differences between nicotine and THC vaping. So, are you a vaper wondering what’s going on with all of these people getting sick? It’s time for you to get the real story.
Nicotine E-Liquid Is Not the Cause of the Vaping Illness
If you’re a concerned former tobacco user, the first thing you need to know about the lung illness is that no mainstream commercial nicotine vaping product has been implicated as a cause of the illness. The cause appears to be Vitamin E acetate, an agent used as a thickener primarily in illicit THC cartridges from fake brands such as Dank Vapes. If you live in a state without a cannabis dispensary program and are buying products privately, you would be wise to avoid any liquid THC vaping product. No matter how much you may trust your supplier, you don’t know what’s in the cartridge. Even if you buy from a licensed dispensary, though, you’re probably safest buying nothing but whole flowers until the authorities complete their investigations.
How Common Are Illicit THC Vaping Cartridges?
As we mentioned above, black-market THC vaping cartridges are incredibly common. They’re small, easy to conceal, and easy to use discreetly. The sellers are so brazen that they advertise openly online. How many cartridges are out there? It’s difficult to say, but two major busts this month might give us an idea.
On September 16th, police in Wisconsin charged a man for running an enormous THC vape cartridge operation. Police seized more than 31,000 vape cartridges in the bust and said that the operation sold thousands of cartridges each day.
Just a few days later, police in Minnesota raided a suspected drug dealing operation and seized nearly 77,000 THC vape cartridges. Police said that the suspect was selling the cartridges on Snapchat.
In both cases, the cartridges confiscated were packaged in Dank Vapes boxes.
That’s nearly 110,000 THC cartridges seized by police in about a week, and there are likely other operations similar to those all over the country. Vape cartridges really are the new form of street marijuana distribution. The problem, though, is that when you’re buying a liquid-filled cartridge on the street, you don’t have any idea what’s in that cartridge—and we’re all finding out what a terrible risk that can be.
What Is Vitamin E Doing in Vaping Cartridges?
The first thing you need to know about THC cartridges bought on the street is that they probably don’t contain the amount of THC specified on the boxes. Dank Vapes, for example, is the most famous “brand” of THC cartridges. Dank Vapes isn’t a real brand, though; it’s just a box that you can buy from a variety of online wholesalers. Until recently, you could even buy the boxes on Amazon and eBay. Black-market sellers all over the country are making their own “Dank Vapes” cartridges in their garages. So, the THC concentration given on the box is completely irrelevant. What’s in a given cartridge is determined by the person who filled it.
So, let’s suppose you’re selling THC cartridges on the black market. You can get cartridges and boxes cheaply, but pure THC extract is expensive. If you want to fill thousands of cartridges, you need to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars. How do you maximize your profits? The answer is that you use the smallest possible amount of THC oil in each cartridge. THC cartridge makers often use terpenes to dilute their THC vape oils. Terpenes naturally occur in hemp, so adding more terpenes to cannabis distillate results in a mixture that remains homogenous and doesn’t separate easily. The problem, however, is that the more terpenes you add to a THC vaping cartridge, the thinner and more watered down the product begins to look.
Members of the cannabis vaping community have long known that black-market sellers tend to water their products down to increase profitability. Liquid terpenes are much thinner than hemp distillate, so the THC community developed what they called the bubble test. If you turn a THC cartridge upside down—and the air bubble immediately moves to the other side of the cartridge—you’ve got a weak cartridge that’s watered down with terpenes.
THC cartridge producers figured out that if you add Vitamin E acetate to the mix, you can thicken a watered-down vape oil and make it look as though the cartridge contains nearly pure THC distillate. The bubble test doesn’t work with thickened vape cartridges, and that’s why you have no idea what a black-market THC cartridge actually contains. Vitamin E has the same color and consistency as THC distillate. Lab tests have shown that some illicit cartridges actually contain far more Vitamin E than THC oil.
Is Vitamin E the Only Cause of the Vaping Lung Illness?
Health officials are looking strongly at Vitamin E as the primary cause of the lung illness. The type of Vitamin E oil that THC cartridge producers are using is normally used for health supplements and topical products. No one has ever inhaled Vitamin E vapor before now. Researchers think that the oil is settling in the lungs, where the immune system begins to attack it as a contaminant. The immune system response triggers an illness that’s like pneumonia.
Although a large amount of Vitamin E seems to be a feature that’s common among illicit THC vaping cartridges, that isn’t the only thing that could potentially cause illness. The THC distillate in these cartridges probably doesn’t come from cannabis that’s grown legally. The cannabis could be tainted with heavy metals, pesticides, and fungicides. Distilling cannabis concentrates everything that’s in it. When cannabis is grown for human consumption, the growing conditions are vitally important. Although the current information does suggest that Vitamin E is unsafe to inhale, it’s possible that a contaminated hemp supply has made the problem even worse. It’s a good idea to keep your eye on the news for updates, and in the meantime, stay far, far away from any THC vaping product that isn’t lab tested and purchased from a licensed and regulated dispensary.