Anyone who says they know what is behind the recent outbreak of a vape related lung disease are lying, don’t know what they are talking about, or want to sell a vape cartridge on the black market.
Even the best doctors and scientists in the nation admit to being the cause of the mysterious lung disease that, claimed nine victims late last week and made at least 500 more sick with symptoms of chest pain, cough, nausea or fever.
The most terrifying aspect of this outbreak is that, apart from the fact that each of the victims had used an e-cigarette or vape pen to smoke nicotine or cannabis, the cause is unknown. While a popular theory puts the blame on a thickening agent in underground market vape oils called Vitamin E Acetate, not every vape cartridge or capsule that has made people sick contains this compound.
“We don’t yet know the specific cause of these lung injuries,” the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) said in their most recent announcement since a recent fatality. “The investigation has not identified a specific e-cigarette or vaping product (devices, liquids, refill capsules and/or cartridges) or substance associated with all cases.”
Even more disturbingly, the country’s leading health protection agency has said people should just stop vaping anything for now, be it Juul pods, e-cigarettes or cannabis vape products.
“CDC recommends that you consider refraining from using e-cigarettes or vaping,” the agency says.
So is it safe to smoke your most trusted THC vape cartridge brands that you’ve been buying legally from pharmacies for years, without ever getting sick?
“Since day one, we’ve put our products through testing beyond regulatory requirements,” said vape oil and pod manufacturer Jetty Extracts’ Director of Marketing and Business Development Luna Stower. “We test for potency, pesticides, heavy metals, mold and other foreign contaminants.”
The big question for weed smokers and cannabis vape enthusiasts is how many people got sick from THC and CBD vape products, as opposed to using regular nicotine vape capsules like Juul or VaporFi. The answer is a mixed bag.
“Most patients have a history of using e-cigarette products that contain THC,” the CDC says, after analyzing the histories of the hundreds of people who have recently become ill or have died from vaping. “Many patients have reported using THC and nicotine. Some have reported using e-cigarette products containing only nicotine.”
In other words, both cannabis and tobacco vaping have made people sick. But in many of these cases, the victim has smoked underground, black-market products purchased from the Internet rather than from legal stores and pharmacies.
Vaping is a pretty important part of the overall cannabis industry. Research firm BDS Analytics delivered SF Weekly an analysis that estimates that vaping sales make up 30 percent of all legal, over-the-counter marijuana sales in California. That’s not as high a volume as the most popular commodity flower (or marjuana plant buds), which make up 40 percent of all cannabis sales in the state.
But the vaping industry has taken a major blow from fears of lung disease. Seattle-based analytics firm Headset found that California vaping sales have fallen about four percent since the first death from lung disease was reported on Aug. 19.
Marijuana vape users can take comfort in the knowledge that there is little established connection between this mysterious disease and legal, licensed vape capsules and cartridges sold in pharmacies. Only one fatality was caused by a vape cartridge legally purchased from a pharmacy, and that was in Oregon — a state with many lax lab testing standards that don’t require testing for chemical additives, as California law does.
“When consumers shop outside of the regulated market, there’s really no way of knowing what’s in that cartridge or pod,” Stower says. “Things like artificial ingredients, cutting agents and pesticides may be present. Jetty products are pure cannabis oil and terpenes without cutting agents.”
Late last week, the most recent death in California occurred near Fresno in late September. That victim’s family said he used a vape cartridge called Lucky Charms, the fake packaging of which can be easily bought online from Chinese sites such as AliBaba, and then sold on the illegal market with underground, home-brewed oils in it. Other black market vape brands linked to the disease include brands like Dank Vapes and West Coast Carts.
This indicates that the “safer” route for vaping – again, the CDC says to abstain completely – is to only use products from reputable and legal companies, which so far haven’t had their products making people sick, at least in California.
It is impossible for a consumer to know how extensively a cannabis product has been tested and by whom just by looking at the packaging. But there are some clues that correlate with reputable vape brands.
Some vape companies’ packaging includes a sticker that tells you the “batch number” of the cannabis used to make the oil, so you can request independent third-party test results for their product or view state-issued certificates of analysis that show product test results for pesticides, contaminants or heavy metals.
The packaging of other cartridges lists all the ingredients in the oil. In cartridges such as Jetty Extracts’ and those of Oakland-based vape and tincture company Chemistry, the only two ingredients are cannabis oil and natural terpenes, without synthetic additives.
“We’ve been smoking cannabis terpenes for thousands of years,” said Jimmy Levi, Flower’s Director of Chemistry. “If you know it’s 100 percent cannabis, you can just go by the history of the plant. If you volatilize other types of oils, you don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Again, the fashionable culprit in the lung disease debate so far has been vitamin E acetate. Many underground vaping labs have used it as a thickener in their cartridges, as the substance has never shown any toxicity when taken orally or applied to the skin.
‘What does that do when you smoke it in a pen? I don’t know,” Levi says. “The CDC doesn’t know.”
Federal and state officials are now jumping on the bandwagon to establish some sort of solution to the vaping disease outbreak. Here in California, Governor Gavin Newsom has just pledged $20 million to tackle the counterfeit vape market. President Donald Trump has issued a nationwide ban on flavored vaping products, which may be an effective response to youth vaping, but may not successfully address the as-yet-unexplained lung disease.
So until we have a reliable explanation for this mysterious lung disease, if you insist on vaping cannabis, it’s probably a good idea to carefully examine the product packaging to see if there is any verification that there is a scientifically sound method. has been used in its production. Otherwise, if you visit a pharmacy, you might just pick flowers.