Cannabis Safety: How to Tell if Your Vape Cartridge is Real

Things are a bit tense in the cannabis world right now. All across the country, hundreds of cases of serious illness—and over a dozen deaths—have been linked to vape cartridges. Some people have labeled it “legal weed’s first crisis” (although cannabis isn’t actually the common link in all the illnesses).

That said, this much is clear: Nearly all the cases we know about appear to be linked to counterfeit or black-market vape cartridges. We’ll tell you what we know thus far about the crisis, and share some tips on ways to tell real from fake cartridges. That said, that can be harder than it appears. It’s a reminder that your best line of defense is to only purchase cannabis products from trusted and legal dispensaries.

What’s the Story Behind the Vape Cartridge Crisis?

Thus far, respiratory illnesses related to vaping have been reported in some 46 states. Deaths—some 18 as of early October—have occurred in Illinois, Oregon, California, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Missouri. The symptoms are similar to pneumonia. Sometimes called “acute respiratory distress syndrome,” it’s a fast-moving and life-threatening disease that diminishes its victims’ capacity to breathe.

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What’s complicating the investigation is that, so far, there’s not a single ingredient or even additive that connects all the suspect vape cartridges. Additionally, not all the victims reported using cannabis products. Some had used Juul or similar nicotine vapes. However, nearly all the cases involve a common thread:

Nearly all those affected by the illness bought counterfeit vape cartridges from informal or black-market sources. The exception is in Oregon, where as of early October, it’s believed that five people became ill after using products bought at licensed dispensaries.

Obviously, we’re keeping an extra-close watch on that last detail. It’s supremely important to us that we safeguard our customers’ health. We make every possible effort to only source clean, safe and rigorously lab-tested cannabis.

The possibility that black-market vape cartridges made it into legitimate-looking packaging is disturbing. But given the scope of this crisis and the extremely low number of cases stemming from legal purchases of vape cartridges, we’re hopeful that in the vast majority of cases, this experience reinforces and validates the resilience of the legal and regulated cannabis market.

How to Tell if Your Vape Cartridge is Real

That’s the critical question right now, and unfortunately, there isn’t a single surefire sign that a cartridge is counterfeit. Some indications include:

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Price: If the cost of a vape cartridge seems too good to be true, it probably is. Beware of “crazy discounts” and seemingly impossible “special offers.”

“Open Box” Specials: Never buy a vape cartridge without its original packaging. Because all legal cannabis products are tested and carefully labeled to comply with the law, it’s exceedingly difficult to properly identify a product missing its box.

Only Buy From Licensed Dispensaries: As the cases in Oregon demonstrate, sometimes even legal shops make mistakes. But in the vast majority of cases, buying from a legal dispensary is your best defense against tainted black-market goods.

If you have any doubts about a vape cartridge, do a web search or visit the manufacturer’s website. That will help turn up important details, like “Is there a serial number or code?” or “Does the logo look a bit wrong?” Exercise caution and good judgement.

We’ll keep you updated about developments in this still-developing story. And if all else fails, remember: There are still plenty of other cannabis products to try besides vapes!

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