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Contributor: KC Scannell

For years and years, the only way to enjoy the wealth of benefits that cannabis can provide was limited to smoking and eating. I mean, those options are pretty great, I’m not going to lie, but until the 2000s, those were the only ways to reap any THC-infused rewards. However, that was all before the innovation of the vaporizer.

At first, these vaporizers were fairly large. So big, they would often dominate the limited real estate of a coffee table. Using a specific chamber, consumers would toss in some finely ground bud, and place it atop a heater to allow the innards to slowly release their THC contents into an attached bag. Once that bag was full, the chamber would be removed from the heat source, and in its place, a custom mouthpiece would be attached to the bottom of the bag. Then, all the consumer had to do was puff on it at their leisure. This was considered the purest form of cannabis inhalation.

But that was before the vape pen came into play.

Vape pens, either cartridge-based or disposable, contain a much more potent THC concentrate. These concentrates, essentially, look like syrup and they are far stronger than flowers. Their condensed nature and goopy consistency made them ideal for vape pens. Gone were the days of firing up a large device in order to slow cook some bud. Now, you could carry a pencil-sized object on your person at all times, and take a toke here and there, without anyone being any the wiser. It was truly revolutionary – and the cannabis community took to it like bees to pollen.

Those in the marijuana industry noticed a spike in THC vape carts and pen sales, as well. Which is why they started to dedicate a majority of their business plans and models on the creation and distribution of various strains and flavors. Which is another aspect that made vape pens and vape carts so desirable to the public. Not only were they strong – they tasted great. There really was no downside to these products.

That is…until the black market got involved.

As I’m sure most of you know, there was a recent vape pen crisis that claimed the lives of 39 innocent cannabis enthusiasts, and injured thousands more. It was all because these folks had purchased illegal, non-tested, highly-tainted, black market vape carts and pens. While they assumed they were simply scoring a deal on a cheap THC cart, they were actually en route to a trip to the hospital. Because all of these folks wound up suffering from a severe acute respiratory distress syndrome. While some were able to catch it early and take care of it, others weren’t so lucky.

Needless to say, this sent a ripcord of panic throughout the entire cannabis community, and the country, as a whole. For years, we had trusted any and all things cannabis-related – especially vape pens. We were under the impression that these products, more than anything, were safe for consumption. To be honest, they still are – but these particular items were tainted in a way that nobody could have recognized until it was too late.

One of the key similarities in all of these cases was where these people bought their tainted vape carts: from illegal storefronts and unlicensed shops. These places are too greedy to acquire lab-tested goods, so they opt to pay for unregulated items, and sell them to unsuspecting people. Which, in itself, is a horrendous crime. But the utter disregard for human life in this instance makes it worse than ever.

These illegal, black market THC vape pens were full of a lethal add-on that ultimately caused all of these illnesses and deaths. That element, my friends, was Vitamin E oil.

While Vitamin E oil is perfectly fine to use as a topical, it has nothing but negative results when inhaled or ingested. These black market criminals wanted to maximize their profits by pretending to have the most potent, thickest concentrate on the market. Such an aesthetic would catch the eye of any smoker, seasoned or otherwise. They were able to acquire such an appearance by thickening their substandard concentrate with this vitamin.

If you, or anyone you know, has purchased a vape cart from an illegal storefront or unlicensed shop, they should throw it away immediately – if they haven’t already done so. Also, if you are curious as to whether or not you are affected by this respiratory distress syndrome, you should see if you have any of the following symptoms.

In the majority of instances, a lot of patients were showcasing symptoms that were abundantly similar to an ailment known as, lipoid pneumonia. In fact, most of these people were initially misdiagnosed with that, before additional information became known to the public about the vape pen crisis that was claiming more victims each and every day.

If you have suffered from dizziness, nausea, shortness of breath, and/or tiredness following the use of one of these illegal, tainted vape pens, you should consult your physician right away. Be sure to be forthright with them about your vape pen usage. Such information could help them reach a diagnosis much quicker than without. In this case, time is essential.

Also, if you feel like you’ve bought a legitimate vape pen from a reputable company, but are still feeling any of those aforementioned symptoms, go to your doctor. The majority of these black market operations sell knock-offs to local establishments. They’ll even use the exact same packaging and everything. So, even though you feel like you bought an “above board” vape pen from an illegal location, you’re still better off throwing it away, going to the doctor, and never buying stuff like that off the street ever again.

To be completely honest, the only way to buy safe products is through state-approved and regulated dispensaries and cannabis clubs. If you live in a state that hasn’t legalized marijuana yet, but there’s some head shops in your town that you have heard sell some THC vape carts for cheap – avoid them at all costs. In fact, you may even want to get the local law enforcement involved. Though “snitching” is never going to be considered “cool”, these products have been known to kill innocent people. So, you would basically be a lifesaver for doing so.

Like we just mentioned, if you are hell-bent on continuing your vaping career – by all means, go for it. But don’t be cheap or idiotic when it comes to where you pick up your product. It simply isn’t worth it to save a couple bucks by buying a questionable vape pen from an unlicensed store. Those products haven’t been regulated in any way, shape, or form. The chances of it containing at least some contaminants are through the roof.

So, say goodbye to those sketchy retailers, and say hello to your local dispensary. Here, you can ask budtenders about when and where they get their vape pens from, and they’d be more than happy to calm any and all fears you may have about vaping. Cannabis clubs are the best way to go in this regard. But, until more news and regulations start to come out, I think it’s safe to assume that a lot of people are going to be leaving their vape pens at home for awhile – if not forever.

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