Last week, 20 people were hospitalized in the midwestern part of the country — Illinois, Minnesota and Wisconsin — due to breathing complications as a result of vaping.
Vaporizers are one of the hottest trends on the legal cannabis market. They are a convenient, discreet and odor-free way for consumers to catch a buzz in almost any environment. But just like any other highly sought after product, they are also being counterfeited by criminal organizations.
There are now knock-offs of popular vape brands (King Pen, Brass Knuckles and Heavy Hitters, just to name a few) sold across the United States. What makes this so problematic is the manufacturing process that these black market groups are using to put this stuff on the streets could be poisoning users and putting them at risk of potentially life-threatening health conditions.
It was just last week that 20 people were hospitalized in the midwestern part of the country — Illinois, Minnesota and Wisconsin — due to breathing complications as a result of vaping. In some cases, young adults admitted to the hospital were thought to have respiratory infections, similar to pneumonia. But their condition later worsened to the point where at least one patient had to be put into a medically induced coma.
Doctors still haven’t identified the culprit responsible for the poisoning.
“We know there are certain characteristics in common with these cases, but we have not been able to get to the bottom of exactly what aspect of the vaping habit or product or solvent or oil is causing the injury,” said Dr. Emily Chapman, chief medical officer for Children’s Minnesota, a pediatric health system headquartered in Minneapolis, in an interview with NBC News.
Similar cases also broke out in California and New York. At least 17 people are said to have suffered from pneumonia-like symptoms and have been admitted to intensive care units due to a potentially fatal lung condition.
All of the patients affected had been using cannabis vapes or CBD oils within the past month, according to reports. But the most frightening detail in these cases is, much like the vape poisonings in the Midwest, doctors have not been able to identify the toxin harming people’s lungs.
Fake vapes could be the source of this plague. A recent study from Solo Sciences, a cannabis tech firm that created a “cryptographically-secure cannabis product authentication system” intended to prevent bogus pot products, shows that 80 percent of all packaged cannabis products are imposters.
“The world of cannabis is murky, unpredictable, and often not safe,” saidSolo CEO and founder Ashesh Shah.
States that have legalized marijuana for medicinal and recreational use require cannabis products to be tested before they are made available to the consumer. These tests are to ensure that the weed is free of pesticides and other contaminants. Of course, black market providers are not as diligent about protecting the health of their customers. There have been numerous reports over the years of vapes and other cannabis-related items, including CBD oil, containing all sorts of dangerous chemicals that have made people sick.
In ways, the problem with counterfeit pot products is similar to what happened back in the days of alcohol prohibition. Tainted liquor became so problematic during this time that around 1,000 people died each year as a result. Fortunately, no fatalities have yet been reported due to harmful vapes. But the deterioration in respiratory function that these products are causing can lead to death, according to a press statement issued by the New York State Department of Health.
Although cannabis is legal in a handful of states, many people are still opting to use the black market to save money. And in jurisdictions where marijuana remains an outlaw substance, the consumer often has no choice but to buy what is sold on the illicit market. Cannabis users are being reminded, however, that using unregulated pot products, such as vapes, could have severe health consequences.