After years of loose regulatory oversight, the days of laissez-faire may be coming to a close when it comes to vaping. There’s been an increasing awareness of vaping as being less healthy than it had been portrayed. Of course, the theory is vaping — particularly nicotine-based products — was safer than smoking. Now it’s becoming clear that isn’t always the case, especially when what’s in the cartridges might not be entirely safe to begin with. This has led to calls for more regulation on an industry that has exploded in a short time.
In particular, the FDA is warning consumers about vaporizer products with THC in them. These are in sealed cartridges, and have become a popular method for medicinal and recreational users due to their convenience. Before you think the FDA is picking on THC vapes due to their content, know that the numbers don’t lie. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 18 deaths have been reported and over 1,000 people have become sick. Of the nearly 600 cases the CDC has investigated, 78% involved THC products.
However, it isn’t the THC that’s the problem. It isn’t most vaporizer cartridges sold in dispensaries, either. No, despite the FDA warning everyone to stop everything, everywhere, what scientists have found is that the problem appears to be with illicit vapes. Cannabis vapes actually do have a considerable amount of regulatory hurdles. Unregulated, black market vapes do not. And there’s the issue.
Experts are now pointing to adulterants like vitamin E acetate, which is used to thicken oil in cartridges. By using chemicals that are designed to make fake vapes look like the real thing, they’re offering up a less-safe knockoff version. Sound familiar? It seems any time you have a product that requires oversight, you find a black market to provide fakes. OK that’s also true in fashion, which doesn’t really have much “oversight” unless you count Fashion Week in New York.
If you read this account of counterfeit vapes, it sounds reminiscent of illicit drugs being “cut” with adulterants. Making an oil as thick as properly concentrated THC isn’t easy, let alone one that isn’t just chock full of glycerin. So, fake cartridges started filling up with this vitamin E oil to give it the proper consistency, or close, to the real stuff. Like with baby laxatives and cocaine, it’s an old trick dealers have been doing for years to make their stock last longer. Except in this case it’s causing regulators to shine a light on this corner of the industry. We could very well see draconian regulations descend upon the industry in short order.
Scientists are still pinpointing what caused all these lung issues as the FDA, CDC and others sound alarm bells and caution everyone to cease and desist. This won’t stop everyone, but it does seem to have become an inflection point for this relatively new business.