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How to spot a fake vape cartridge

One way to spot the real item: Look for state-mandated packaging icons like California’s THC warning sign. If the labeling doesn’t match the required packaging standards, that’s an indication that the product might have come from an illicit manufacturer, and isn’t subject to the state’s purity and potency safeguards. That’s not foolproof, though. The fake Cookies package, above right, also contains the California THC warning sign. Jason Guillory, marketing director for NUG, a California-based cannabis company, advises consumers to look for other marks of authenticity as well. “Most certified carts contain manufacturer stamps,” he says. You can check your favorite cart brands to see if they have a stamp that distinguishes them from fake copycat products. You might also find additional help from brands that add QR codes, which can be scanned for verifying information. Look at the ingredients Many vape tanks contain diluents such as propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin, medium-chain triglycerides (MCT) oil. These oils are sometimes added to give cannabis extract a more liquid consistency so they vape more easily, or to simply make the product less expensive by adding cheaper ingredients. These cutting agents, particularly a new thickener called Vitamin E acetate (also known as tocopheryl-acetate) are currently under investigation as a potential cause of the sudden breakout of vaping related illnesses. California Department of Public Health officials state that the cause of these illnesses are still not known, but avoiding these diluents might be a good precaution to take while things are being sorted out. Experts have had concerns about them for a long time. “Honestly, it’s been my biggest concern about the vapor cartridges from the very beginning,” explains Samantha Miller, chief science officer and founder of cannabis testing lab Pure Analytics. “You’re turning that material into super tiny droplets and then inhaling them deep into your lungs. I started to wonder aren’t people’s alveoli just laminating shut from this? Apparently they are.” Related Amid vape pen lung disease deaths: What exactly is vitamin E oil? Diluents: Legal, but maybe not healthy Miller has begun offering vitamin E acetate testing through Pure Analytics for those who request it, but currently all of these diluents are still legal in the regulated cannabis market—if listed on the label as an ingredient—and testing for them isn’t required by state law. Miller warns in particular that CBD pens (which many think of as especially safe) are always made with diluents because CBD is crystalline and needs to be suspended in something to be vapable. While the jury is still out on which, if any, of these diluents are problematic, those who want to be cautious should avoid them entirely. This doesn’t mean giving up on all vape pens. Some, like those designed by Miller for the brand Dosist, along with pens from brands like Jetty or Nug, are made from 100% cannabis-derived extracts. Some brands even carry out additional testing as part of their brand promise. At Jetty, Luna Stower, director of marketing and business development, explains the company “goes above and beyond the legal requirements for testing, by screening our products three times for potency, pesticides, heavy metals, molds, and other foreign contaminants.” Know your brands Now is not the time to experiment with new or unknown brands. Seek out well-known brands with good safety records and protocols. “Stick to major brands,” suggests Miller. “Look for brands that have been in existence for a number of years, that have an established reputation, and had a significant presence on social media,” suggests Miller. These brands have a reputation to uphold and are under particular scrutiny from the BCC. Unlike new brands or those in the illicit market, they can’t just “cut and run”—putting dangerous substances in their tanks, wholesaling them to unsuspecting retailers, and then disappearing when things go wrong. You can look up brand license numbers on the BCC’s website as well. Check the lab results Licensed brands provide test results to retailers, so ask your budtender for the product’s COA (certificate of analysis). Some illicit market brands may fake lab results with fraudulent photoshopped COA’s. Licensed dispensaries should always check these but enforcement may be spotty, so some buyers could be fooled into thinking fake COA’s are legitimate, and put illicit market products in regulated shops. Still, you can always check with the lab the product was tested at to confirm the results are real. Do the math Look for red flags on test results, as well. Do the numbers add up? Are there any particularly low THC percentages? According to Miller, anything below 60% THC in a vape cartridge is likely cut with some other material. Exceptionally high numbers like 99.9% THC should also be approached with suspicion. Trust your instincts Beyond all these suggestions, if you think something is off with your tank, trust your instincts and stop using it. As Stower points out: “Most of these diluents are tasteless, odorless, and colorless, which makes them almost impossible to detect without lab analysis.” Taste or smell alone often won’t alert you, but sometimes it will. If something smells or tastes wrong, don’t take the risk. Switch to rosin, sift, or flower Of course, if you really want to play it safe, stay away from tanks and distillate right now. There are so many alternative types of extract you can enjoy. Solventless options like rosin, live rosin, and dry sift are fantastic options because they aren’t processed with any harsh chemicals. Of course, you can always go back to good old fashioned flower. For those outside of California, these same basic suggestions apply—but you may have different state regulations on packaging or different ways of confirming someone is a licensee. Check with your state’s cannabis program to learn more about these details. How to survive the street market Given that four of every five cannabis dollars spent in California is on illicit market products, and many outside of regulated states don’t have easy access to cannabis, we also have a few suggestions for those still buying cannabis from the street.