In the midst of investigation, the CDC has declined to say which brands of vape cartridges are the most compromised.
An 18-year-old was admitted to NYU Winthrop Hospital six weeks ago, presenting with chest pains, nausea, fever, and shortness of breath. Doctors there diagnosed him with a condition related to acute lung injury before setting him up with a breathing tube and putting him in a week-long induced coma.
The doctors were baffled as to how he became so sick so quickly, until his mom found something in his trash: a marijuana vape cartridge with branding from TKO Extracts, a California-based THC company. As it turns out, the cartridge in question wasn’t theirs, but a knockoff.
The teen made a full recovery, but his case is not unique as doctors would encounter a similar patient just one day later.
A 19-year-old who showed up complaining of coughing, rapid weight loss, and chest pain, was found to have nodules in his lungs. These symptoms had appeared within a span of two weeks, so fast that the doctors at first thought he may have a fast-moving cancer. However, they eventually figured it out—black market THC cartridges.
The hospital’s chief of pediatric pulmonology, Melodi Pirzada, had never seen such young and healthy patients become so desperately sick in such a small amount of time.
“It’s becoming very scary. Every day, new cases are adding up,” she said. “Because we didn’t have this problem three months ago.”
Pirzada is far from the only health care practitioner who is concerned with the acute health effects of counterfeit THC vape cartridges. Across the entirety of the United States, there have been 193 cases of severe lung afflictions in 22 states that have been linked to vaping.
28 Cases In California
In California, where recreational marijuana is legal, hospitals have taken on at least 28 cases wherein patients suffered from acute lung damage as a result of vaping THC.
The problem has gotten to the point where the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) released a health alert regarding these counterfeit, black market THC vape cartridges.
The problem extends beyond California as well, including the states of Wisconsin and Utah that have seen severe lung ailments come about as a result of questionable vape cartridges.
“Within the last few months it’s amazing how many cases from around the country have come into the spotlight,” said Dr. Raj Dasgupta, the pulmonary and critical care physician at the University of Southern California.
In the midst of investigation, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has declined to officially state which brands of vape cartridges are the most compromised.
“The investigation is ongoing. We cannot provide this information at this time,” a CDPH spokeperson told Rolling Stone. The problem seems isolated to only counterfeit THC vape cartridges and not vapes in general, according to Pirzada. “E-cigarettes cause their own problems. But this is a totally new issue,” she said.
For now, vape enthusiasts may have to depend on one another to protect themselves from these knockoff THC cartridges. The Instagram account Dankbusters Official or the Reddit community “cleancarts” offer tips on how to identify authentic products, but they admit that there’s no way for a home user to know for sure.
“Unless you’re spending $800 on every cartridge to get it tested, there’s no way to 100% know,” said the anonymous administrator of Dankbusters Official.