Lab Test Finds Toxic Chemicals in Black Market THC Cartridges

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A test of more than a dozen THC vape cartridges by NBC News has some produced some sobering results: Every sample bought on the black market was tainted by at least one toxic additive, including a chemical linked to the mysterious vaping illness that has sickened hundreds.

The report comes amidst a growing health crisis believed to be vaping-related. On Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that it has recorded 12 deaths from the unusual lung disease that seems to be connected to vaping, and 805 confirmed probable cases of the illness.

NBC News highlighted the case of 19-year-old Fabian Castillo who suffered a nine-day coma due to severe lung damage sustained from several months of using what he now believes was a bootleg THC vape cartridge. He has been in recovery for eight weeks, but reportedly still has trouble taking deep breaths.


NBC enlisted cannabis testing facility CannaSafe to run tests on 18 cartridges of THC—the primary psychoactive compound in cannabis. While the three samples bought from legal dispensaries tested negative for pesticides, heavy metals, and solvents, 15 additional samples were obtained through unlicensed vendors. Of these black market cartridges, 13 reportedly contained vitamin E, 10 had traces of pesticides, and all of them had the fungicide myclobutanil, which can become hydrogen cyanide when it is burned.

CanaSafe vice president of operations Antonio Frazier shared the obvious observation that this is very bad. “You certainly don’t want to be smoking cyanide,” Frazier told NBC. “I don’t think anyone would buy a cart that was labeled hydrogen cyanide on it.”


Earlier this month, the New York State Department of Health said its own investigation into vape-related illnesses found that vitamin E acetate was in nearly every THC vape product used by sick patients it has tested. Little is known about the exact effects that vitamin E has on lungs, but Sven-Eric Jordt, a Duke University researcher who studies the health effects of nicotine vaping, told Gizmodo that there is enough evidence to show vaping vitamin E can be extremely dangerous. “If inhaled at sufficient amounts, it could certainly cause respiratory problems, maybe even lipid pneumonia, a lung inflammation associated with inhalation of oils,” Jordt told Gizmodo. “It is an antioxidant, and may burn and disintegrate when heated in an e-cigarette, releasing toxicants.”

As the health community continues to figure out just how dangerous vaping is, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that bootleg THC and cannabis vapes are a public health risk. The CDC reports that of all the people who reported having lung diseases that seem to be related to vaping, 77 percent of those cases reported using vapes containing THC. And we don’t know how many of the respondents simply didn’t want to admit to doing something that’s illegal or taboo. Perhaps these findings will encourage authorities to focus on regulating legalized marijuana instead of leaving safety up to black market sellers.