While vaping has been touted as a safe alternative to smoking, some of the news headlines around these days are telling a very different story.
The latest case from has seen seven people hospitalized in Hanford, California, due to tainted vape cartridges. According to reports, the cartridges contained a deadly lung toxin which causes pneumonia-like symptoms. The reports in California were so severe that the Kings County public health department was forced to issue a warning not to purchase cannabis vape cartridges from unlicensed sources, as they could be potentially deadly.
One Emergency Room Doctor spoke to reporters about the situation. “If you’re going to vape THC, get it from a licensed dispensary where you know there’s a certain amount of testing required,” said Dr. Milton Teske, from Adventist Health Hanford in California. At the same time, according to a Leafly report, Dr. Milton Teske, a health officer with the Kings County Department of Public Health, said, “Anyone that vapes THC they got off the street and has shortness of breath, tightness in the chest, and trouble breathing—go to the ER and tell them you’re vaping, and have heard about this acute respiratory distress syndrome developing from that.”
The new cases of vaping-related lung issues all involved THC cartridges purchased from street dealers or “pop-up markets”. Within just one month, at least seven people were admitted to Hanford’s intensive care unit suffering from some form of severe acute respiratory distress syndrome (SARDS). As Dr. Teske explained, “If they hadn’t been intubated, they wouldn’t have made it,” he said. “And if it got any worse, they wouldn’t have made it,” highlighting the severity of the incidents.
Unfortunately, the cases aren’t limited to California. CBD Testers reported recently that similar vaping-related issues had been forthcoming from Wisconsin and various states in the Midwest. The founder of SC Labs, a California lab-testing facility for cannabis products, also spoke to reporters about the situation.
“I had heard about the midwest outbreak this weekend and called my relatives in Wisconsin who I know vape and told them to stay away,” said Josh Wurzer. He pointed out that, “It was only a matter of time until something like this happened with the black market vape cartridges,” and that is a new reality on the ground that needs to be dealt with accordingly.
Having reviewed the seven Hanford cases, Dr. Teske found a common theme. All of the victims had purchased the vape cartridges from unlicensed sources and mostly had no idea what was inside the pods. In many cases, street dealers sell these cannabis cartridges for a lower price than the dispensaries, hence the interest from consumers.
Many of these inferior vape products come from China to California and other states and could contain ingredients that are dangerous for humans. The specific component which may have caused the problem is unclear, although it is thought to be some kind of “chemical additive.” “Whoever is mixing it up in their garage, they’re adding other flavors, I suspect, or it’s how they’re diluting it. I suspect it’s some type of hydrocarbon,” said Teske.
In issuing his own warning to the public, Teske said, in no uncertain terms “I wouldn’t take anything from a pop-up store, or friends, or strangers off the street, because where did they get it? If it’s a good price, it’s coming from one of these questionable sources,” he said. “It’s too high a risk. Just because you got good stuff from him last week doesn’t mean this stuff is good.”
Lab-testing for cannabis and cannabis products has been mandatory in California since 2018. Since then, thousands of batches of products have been flagged and banned for non-compliance, and that has kept many people safe. In recent years, many cases of tainted THC and CBD cartridges have been found, some containing cough mixtures and others including dangerous synthetic cannabinoids, nicknames “spice.”
For the time being, The Bureau of Cannabis Control is carrying out a national public messaging campaign called “Get #Weedwise.” This campaign is aimed at warning consumers about the potential dangers of vaping unregulated products. As Alex Traverso, communications chief for the California Bureau of Cannabis Control, explained, “This is the entire reason why we are running our get weed wise campaign. To educate the public about the importance of shopping from licensed retailers only.”