Get high or die trying

In the past, smoking cannabis had a particular routine: finding a private space, packing a bowl and praying authorities couldn’t smell, see or sense your smoke signals.

Some modern stoners use new technology to get high discreetly. Dab pens, also known as wax or vape pens, allow smokers to partake more conveniently than ever before.

As the popularity of vaporizing THC grows across the country, certain health risks are surfacing at alarming rates. As of Wednesday, the CDC cites an outbreak of over 450 cases of lung illness potentially linked to vaping in the U.S. The reported cases are spread across 33 states, often among teens and young adults.

Six people have died from vaping-related lung disease in the U.S. in less than 20 days, spanning from Aug. 23 to last Tuesday. 

Symptoms such as shortness of breath, nausea, fever, coughing and chest pain are surfacing mostly among “… young men with a median age of 19,” according to The Washington Post.

Nineteen-year-old Helmut Lord arrived at Georgia State as a freshman with little knowledge about cannabis. Two years later, vaping THC oil with a dab pen is his favorite way to get high.

“I’ve never packed a bowl or rolled a joint. The convenience and discretion afforded by a dab pen is the biggest attractor to me,” Lord said. “It’s made getting high more mainstream.”

Consumers use vape pens to get high by purchasing disposable cartridges, often called dab carts, pre-filled with cannabis oil that is then vaporized and inhaled with the press of a button. The device produces a cool mist resulting in no smoke and little to no odor.

The biggest threat to consumers is a lack of regulation standards. Recent warnings by the FDA and the CDC advise smokers to throw out disposable THC oil cartridges immediately if they purchased the substance from underground traffickers. Vaping products bought from street sources are at risk of being tainted by illegal distributors. 

The FDA reports that almost all samples of vaping fluid from lung disease patients in New York included vitamin E acetate, a toxic thickening agent often used by illicit distributors to dilute THC oil. While the exact cause of illness is yet to be identified, researchers are closely analyzing the chemical as a major contributing factor.

In the meantime, black market entrepreneurs in Atlanta are placing their own controls to mitigate risks. A Georgia State student who sells illicit dab carts pays close attention to his products to avoid spreading inauthentic vape fluid.

“It makes it scarier for me as a plug because customers are more hesitant after hearing about people getting sick when they buy illegal fake s–t,” the dealer said, who wished to remain anonymous. “It’s up to the judgment of the dealer. Unless you’re a person who’s made a cart or gone to a location and seen them made, you’ll never be 100% about knowing what’s fake and what’s real.”

According to the dealer, black market distributors are copying the packaging of reputable THC oil manufacturers from states with legalized marijuana to sell fake or diluted carts for low prices and high profit, tricking unsuspecting buyers. He advises users to look out for signs of tainted products.

“Stay up to date on the format packaging of authentic brands to tell the difference. In a lot of fake carts, the oil gets dark over time, and something doesn’t taste right,” he said. “It’s a judgment call.”