As regards the health hazards of vaping mount, the market for illicit cannabis extracts and counterfeiting tools is flourishing online.
On Instagram, consumers offer products ranging from cannabis oils to vaping devices and packaging materials,
third-party sellers hawk empty packaging for vape products and
Inc. Marketers are offering vaping products containing tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, the mind-altering ingredient in cannabis.
These and other technology companies claim to have a policy against any illegal or inappropriate sales and removal of intruders from their sites. They say they invest in technology and people to export illegitimate products.
Web sales of products used to make cannabis-containing cartridges are legal in certain circumstances, but doctors and industry experts warn of potential health risks from purchasing such products online, especially those that are ultimately fake .
Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns not to buy products on the street.
These days, the street has become a global digital marketplace full of materials used to produce cartridges, also called pods, and the cartridges themselves. This market is increasingly difficult for law enforcement and technology companies to police because of the geographical distribution of users, the number of publications promoting vaping products, and the use of private accounts and messaging applications to sell illegal products, according to licensed sellers and technology companies.
Vaping involves the inhalation of vapors from electronic cigarettes or pen-like devices that heat cartridges filled with ingredients, including nicotine and THC. Health officials have been investigating hundreds of vaping related lung diseases in recent weeks. They have not identified the exact cause, but most patients report vaping THC. Others claim to have only nicotine products in use.
To date, the CDC has identified 530 confirmed or probable cases of vaping-related pulmonary disease. There were eight deaths, announcing Thursday's death in Missouri. The Food and Drug Administration's Bureau of Criminal Investigation is conducting a federal probe that includes a look at the product supply chain. An FDA spokesman declined to say whether regulators look specifically at online providers.
Several states, including California, Colorado, and Washington, allow licensed retailers to sell THC-containing products for medical or leisure use. But such sales are a federal crime in the US, and it is illegal to sell THC-containing products online and ship internationally or internationally.
Licensed THC products in countries where sales are legal must undergo quality testing. Nails can contain ingredients whose effects are unclear, including pesticides and vitamin E acetate, according to industry experts. Vitamin E acetate, a common lotion supplement, is sometimes used as a filler in THC vape products, and has been identified by public health officials as a potential culprit behind the disease.
"We don't know what the exact ingredients are on the internet, unregulated sources," says epidemiologist at the University of Miami, epidemiologist Denise Vidot, who studies the effects of cannabis on health. People can use fillers that can be harmful, she said.
Tests conducted by the California-based CannaSafe testing laboratory show that THC cartridges on the black market – those that fail to comply with state regulations – in some cases contain more than 35% of vitamin E acetate and tested positive for pesticides, said Aaron Riley, President of CannaSafe. None of the licensed brands tested contained vitamin E acetate or exceeded the California limit for pesticides, he said.
Blank packaging and pods sold by the thousands are available in e-commerce platforms, including Amazon and China-based Alibaba and DHGate, according to a site survey. Black market dealers can then fill them with homemade THC oils whose ingredients have not been tested, according to industry officials and test lab operators.
"Resources to make it look like you have a legitimate product are easier to get" thanks to the Internet, said Vlad Valme of Portland, Ore. Thompson Duke Industrial, which manufactures vacuum pod filling machines.
Mr. Riley said he was receiving messages on LinkedIn from Microsoft Corp. offering packages for THC vape pods and pens. Many accounts list their location as China, a famous source of counterfeit cannabis-related goods, according to n Riley and other cannabis industry experts, one reported from April 12, reviewed by the magazine, offers a vape kit that "can fit Nicsalt / CBD / THC." Nicsalt refers to nicotine salts. CBD, or cannabidiol, does not create high, unlike THC.
"We encourage members to post any message that they consider inappropriate, illegal or in violation of our policies," says Madhu Gupta, LinkedIn's director of product management. The company does not monitor private communications, according to a LinkedIn spokesman. LinkedIn advertising policies prohibit advertisements related to illegal or recreational drugs, including electronic cigarettes or vaping products.
The LinkedIn user who offered Mr Riley the vape kit had numerous publications and listed locations in China. Other users' posts, also listing locations in China, upload photos promoting THC and nicotine pods, plus links to vape pens sold through DHGate and Alibaba, according to a Journal review.
Alibaba has long banned the sale of nicotine and other electronic liquids, according to a company release. "When such prohibited items are identified, the lists are removed. The same goes for lists that infringe on intellectual property rights, "the statement said.
DHGate did not respond to requests for comment.
On Facebook-owned Instagram, users are chasing vawk vape pens, empty and full cartridge fillers, dilution agents, and so-called filling pistols that can be used to quickly fill oil cartridges. Some sellers offer worldwide delivery and links to off-platform websites where illicit goods can be purchased, according to a magazine review. Instant messaging is used to connect with potential customers and suppliers, according to interviews with licensed sellers who have received offers through the Instagram messaging feature.
The Instagram Community Guidelines prohibit users from "buying or selling illegal or prescription drugs, even if they are legal in the [their] region.
On Facebook, containing THC pods and marijuana were offered through Marketplace, the online social media flea market. A recent user list by Lean Gawd was entitled "Apple Air Boxes", but vape cartridges were included in the photo. The seller, who did not respond to a request for comment via Facebook Messenger, had 10 listings as of September 12 at locations in New York. All were labeled as technology products. One GoPro Hero 6 label shows 13 boxes of different marijuana varieties; another with three THC-containing pods was designated "Xbox 1." GoPros are portable camcorders. The Xbox One is a game console.
Facebook downloaded these products after inquiring about the magazine.
Facebook prohibits "attempts by individuals, manufacturers, and retailers to buy, sell, or market non-medical drugs, pharmaceuticals, and marijuana," in accordance with community standards. Curating such content is a problem that Facebook takes seriously, though efforts are not perfect, a company spokesman said.
The company has recently banned the sale of alcohol and tobacco to individuals through separate posts. In the Marketplace sections or Facebook store, users cannot promote the sale of evaporated delivery devices and e-cigarettes.
At Amazon.com, third-party sellers sell bulk bulk packaging of screed pods. The fields sometimes state that the cannabis content is "100% lab tested", all are natural and have no fillers. Some of them are labeled for medicinal purposes only. While reviewing the magazine, some products were downloaded from the site. Others remained, but were removed after the Journal marked these lists.
Amazon does not allow "electronic cigarettes or narcotics in our store and our policy has been in place for many years," said an Amazon spokesman. "We are taking action against those who violate our policies, including the removal of privileges to sell and withhold funds." The company uses machine training to keep banned products off the platform, he said. which produces tolerant mixtures for cannabis products, said it was trying to get Amazon to download copies of its products. Terpenes are compounds that give cannabis strains their unique aromas. Buttons, sold by multiple sellers, have a similar packaging and use some of the same product names as legitimate True Terpenes products. Under the product name, some listings show a link that says "from True Terpenes."
"These are not our products," says Ben Disinger, marketing manager for True Terpenes, which is not for sale on Amazon. "Unless it is for sale by us, we cannot check what is inside it."
Amazon removed the elements that look like appearance. A spokesman said the company prohibited the sale of counterfeit products and carefully scrutinized claims, "including the removal of the property, the permanent removal of the bad actor, the prosecution or enforcement activities, where appropriate."
—Fanfan Wang contributed to this article.
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