Cannabis vape cartridges, also known as vape carts, are convenient, discreet, and potent cannabis-infused products that are popular among concentrate consumers. While vape carts may be one of the easiest consumption methods available, they are receiving negative press due to troubling reports that there are unsafe levels of toxic metals in them.

Ever since California rolled in their new testing regulations at the beginning of the year, “CCELL” vape cartridges have been failing the heavy metal testing requirements for lead. What’s even more concerning is that some of these toxic metals may be inhaled when vaping at high temperatures.

What Are Vape Carts And What Are States Testing For?

Vape carts have a small, tank-like design that contain cannabis oil (THC, CBD, etc). They can be made out of plastic, glass, metal, or a mix of all of these materials. Cartridges screw on a compatible vape battery that is typically powered by a single button. Cannabis oil seeps through small holes in the tank onto heating coils that can be made out of chromium, nickel, and other metals. The battery’s electrical current vaporizes the oil into an aerosol.

Because the cannabis market is so relatively new, there isn’t a standard operating procedure for testing heavy metals across all states. Some states are more strict on cut-off levels than others. Some states like Maine don’t require mandated testing. Starting January 1, California requires mandatory testing for lead, arsenic, cadmium, and mercury. Inhalable cannabis products shall not exceed the following action levels:

  • Cadmium: 0.2 micrograms per gram
  • Lead: 0.5 micrograms per gram
  • Arsenic: 0.2 micrograms per gram
  • Mercury: 0.1 micrograms per gram

Vape Carts Are Failing Heavy Metal Tests

Josh Wurzer, the founder of SC Labs, told Leafly that about 0.5% of the vape carts they have tested have failed for lead. This is worrying since the Centers for Disease Control states that there is no safe level of lead exposure. To be fair, lead contamination can also be found in water, air, and soil. Prolonged exposure over months or years can lead to no visible symptoms, but over time can develop into high blood pressure, pain, memory problems, irritability, headaches, and more.

Peter Hackett, vape expert from AiR Vapor tells Leafly that vape carts in California are failing tests at 0.6 or 0.7 parts per million (ppm) lead. In other states, these cartridges may have passed testing. In California, they are barely passing tests with 0.3 or 0.4 ppm lead. Test results may differ between analytical labs, so it’s unclear how much lead is actually in the vape carts. Additionally, lead found in carts does not mean that lead is present in the cannabis oil.

Made In China

According to Hackett, China includes lead in their brass and copper mixture to make their metals more malleable and affordable. China used to have some of the strictest regulations on lead, following European rules that limited lead in electronics to 4% or 40,000 ppm. That standard is now obsolete with California’s standard of 0.5 ppm lead in inhalable cannabis products, surpassing Washington state’s limit of 1.2 ppm.

Experts believe that vape cartridges are failing their tests because some of the acidic compounds in cannabis oil are drawing lead from the carts. SC Labs have even tested empty cartridges that have failed for lead, which may also indicate that labs are unknowingly contaminating cannabis products.

Studies On Vape Carts

This isn’t the first time vaping has been under scrutiny. A 2018 study by John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found “significant amounts of toxic metals, including lead” leaking from e-cig heating coils and in the aerosols. Researchers found unsafe levels of lead, manganese, chromium, and nickel. Long-term inhalation has been associated with organ damage and cancer.

There doesn’t seem to be a simple fix to the toxic metal problem in vape carts. Until manufacturers ensure consumers that there is no unsafe level of lead in their products, vape carts will continue to fail tests. As more consumers and regulators become aware of contaminated cartridges, manufacturers will have to pay up for lead-free cartridges.

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