Illegally-sold cannabis vape cartridges test positive for toxic chemical

Officials worry that the discovered chemical may be an underlying cause for the common symptoms experienced by vape-lung victims, including chest pain, shortness of breath and chronic cough

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Illegally-sold cannabis vape cartridges test positive for toxic chemical

Bethan Rose Jenkins, Cannabis News Writer/Editorial

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A cannabis testing facility in California has detected hydrogen cyanide in black market-sold cartridges.

The news, which was first reported by NBC News, has surfaced amidst the vape-lung crisis that has cost many Americans their lives and left thousands hooked up to oxygen machines in the hospital.

Cartridges being sold by illegal drug dealers returned positive results for the toxic chemical. Initially, the company was conducting tests to determine how much of the psychoactive cannabinoid THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) they contained. 

CannaSafe — the name of the testing facility — analyzed 18 samples from licensed and unlicensed sellers. 

Despite having a thriving legal market, California has struggled to curb black-market activity since legalization unfurled in November 2016, when voters approved the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (Proposition 64).

Eight legal cannabis products passed laboratory testing for pesticides, solvents and heavy metals. All 10 illegal cannabis products, on the other hand, were discovered to contact pesticides and myclobutanil. Myclobutanil is a fungicide that metamorphoses into hydrogen cyanide when it combusts.

“You certainly don’t want to be smoking cyanide,” said the vice president of operations at CannaSafe,  Antonio Frazier, during an interview with NBC News. “I don’t think anyone would buy a cart that was labeled hydrogen cyanide on it.”

Doctor says fungicide found in vape cartridges could cause toxicity in consumers

Had CannaSafe not tested the 18 cartridge samples, hospitals would likely have seen more patients being admitted. According to a pediatric pulmonologist at Long Island’s NYU Winthrop Hospital, the fungicide contained in illegal cartridges would have harmed consumers’ health.

Dr. Melodi Pirzada said that the discovery of illegal vape cartridges containing hydrogen cyanide is “very disturbing.” Presence of the fungicide would cause a toxic effect on anyone who consumed it, says Dr. Pirzada, who says he feels concerned about the fact that the samples contained vitamin E acetate, too. 

If inhaled, vitamin E acetate’s molecular structure could become hazardous. Officials worry that this chemical may be an underlying cause for the common symptoms experienced by vape-lung victims, including chest pain, shortness of breath and chronic cough.

Public health officials scramble to determine the root cause of vape-lung crisis

Based on data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1,299 cases of vape-lung had been reported to the organization as of October 8, 2019 from a total of 49 states, the District of Columbia, and one U.S. territory. As of the same date, the death toll had risen to 26 in a total of 21 states.

Although the root of the problem has not yet been confirmed, officials from the CDC have advised vapers to avoid unregulated vaping products for the time-being.

Following the vape-lung crisis that appears to be spreading across much of the U.S., sales of cannabis vaping products have reportedly plummeted 60 percent in a handful of states.