Nicotine vaping was once hailed as a “solution” to the problem of cigarette smoking. It provided most of the experience with relatively few of the health risks.
Several roadblocks eventually arose to widespread acceptance of vaping, though. One of the biggest was the discovery that a small number of vapers were suffering from serious lung illnesses.
Around the same time, weed vape carts were appearing on the street in large numbers. They were professionally packaged and marketed, and they delivered much the same experience as to smoking pot.
The timing wasn’t a coincidence.
It turned out that black-market and counterfeit cannabis vape carts, not nicotine carts, were largely responsible for the lung illnesses. And authorities were eventually able to track the cause of the problem to some widely-available brands of illegal weed carts.
The worst offender was a product called Dank Vapes.
What Are Dank Vapes?
On their surface, Dank Vapes look much like the weed vaping cartridges you can purchase at licensed dispensaries in legal states.
The carts fit onto standard 510-thread vape pen batteries and appear to be well-constructed. They come in colorful, professionally-printed packaging with appealing artwork and legitimate strain names prominently displayed.
But there’s no “real” corporate entity behind them.
The word on the street is that Dank Vapes was originally created by a shady company known as DankWoods, which had already been known for selling a street brand of pre-rolled blunts.
You can’t find those blunts in legal dispensaries, because DankWoods isn’t a legitimate company registered with state cannabis officials in any state. The same is true for Dank Vapes; they’re not a legal product recognized in any legal marijuana state. They’ve only been available from online and unlicensed vendors, and in a few less-than-reputable dispensaries.
In simple terms, Dank Vapes is a street product. And in one very important way, they’re no different than the flower a dealer sells: there’s no way to know exactly what you’re buying.
That can be dangerous.
Vaping Associated Pulmonary Injury
In the late 2010s, emergency room visits from patients complaining of serious lung and breathing issues became a nationwide issue. The problem was at its worst in the fall of 2019, and by early 2020 nearly 3,000 cases  had been reported to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
The CDC described the symptoms as EVALI or e-cigarette vaping-associated lung injury. It is characterized by breathing problems, vomiting and diarrhea, chest pain, and fatigue. In rare cases, it can progress to severe and even fatal illnesses like pneumonia. 68 deaths were definitively linked to vaping by early 2020.
However, the mainstream media’s haste to associate the lung issues with nicotine vaping wasn’t fair.
It turned out that virtually all of the patients who suffered from the illness had been vaping black-market THC cartridges; their problems had nothing to do with nicotine e-cigarettes. That’s why the vaping industry calls the lung issue Vaping Associated Pulmonary Injury, or VAPI — removing the word “e-cigarettes” from the name.
Investigators in a number of states have narrowed the field even further. Many of the patients suffering from VAPI said they’d been using street or counterfeit weed vape cartridges, and a few brand names kept coming up. They included TKO, Chronic Carts and Moon Rocks.
But the name most frequently mentioned was Dank Vapes. In fact, officials in Wisconsin and Illinois reported that two-thirds of the patients they interviewed said they’d been using Dank Vapes carts before they got sick.
What could be in Dank Vapes that would cause serious lung illnesses?
A Lack of Quality Control Invites Big Problems
States that have legalized weed, whether just for medical patients or for recreational use as well, have two things in common. They limit the sale of cannabis products to licensed dispensaries, and they require all products to undergo third-party independent testing before they can be sold.
Those tests are essential to a viable legal marijuana industry because they guarantee that products sold to customers are safe.
Naturally, street products (and those sold online) aren’t rigorously tested — so “anything” could be in them. That’s what happened with Dank Vapes and other problematic weed vape cartridges.
Some black-market carts have been found to contain common cannabis contaminants like pesticides and heavy metals; third-party testing looks for those contaminants before products are allowed to be legally sold.
A bigger problem concerns a product often sold as “Honey Cut.” It’s an additive and thickening agent that disreputable cartridge manufacturers can use to increase the volume of weed juice they have to fill cartridges with. And it’s been regularly found in Dank Vapes carts.
Products like Honey Cut are really vitamin E acetate, which has been shown to cause serious lung injuries and illnesses associated with the use of black-market vape carts.
Who would use hazardous products like that in their weed carts?
Where Dank Vapes Come From
As most readers know, some street dealers can be trusted but many can’t. The same is true for the people who produce black market products.
We’ve already explained that there’s no legitimate company behind Dank Vapes; here’s the other half of the story: anyone can make Dank Vapes.
The blank cartridges and their packaging are readily available from companies in China, who sell them on business-to-business websites. Some shady storefronts in America even sell them, and middlemen have been known to sell them on CraigsList.
You, your favorite dealer, and anyone who wants to make some quick money can all buy Dank Vapes-labeled carts, fill them with anything you have on hand, and resell them on the black market.
That’s just what people have done. Some have filled the cartridges with apparently-safe and potent weed oil. Others have used lower-quality oil, to make bigger profits. And some have used contaminated cannabis oil or diluted what they had with Honey Cut, so they could put as much product on the street as possible.
Those who’ve become ill after using Dank Vapes (and other black-market vapes) had no way to know what was in their weed carts until it was too late.
Police in states from Wisconsin and Oregon, to Minnesota, Ohio, and Virginia, have made arrests in cases involving the illegal distribution of tainted weed cartridges. Minnesota police alone have seized nearly 100,000 of the black-market carts, many in Dank packaging.
However, since all marijuana is illegal under federal law, there can be no comprehensive U.S. law enforcement operation to take products like Dank Vapes off the market.
That puts all consumers at risk.
Dank Vapes, and other black-market and counterfeit carts, may be less expensive than the high-quality, third-party tested weed cartridges sold in dispensaries. They’re also a crapshoot.
It’s easy for us to say “don’t buy weed carts from a dealer or online,” but that advice is a tough prescription to follow when you’re in an illegal state. So the decision is yours, but know this: there’s a possibility that Dank Vapes carts and similar products will put you into the hospital, or even into the ground.
The choice is yours. Choose wisely.
Dank Vapes: FAQ
Q: Are Dank Vapes still on the market?
A: Absolutely, and “Dank Vapes” carts and packaging can still be purchased on websites that allow Chinese manufacturers to sell their goods. If you do a Google search for “buy Dank Vapes,” there are thousands of sites that purport to sell the black market cartridges; that doesn’t mean, of course, that they’ll actually ship anything to you after they’ve gotten your money.
Q: Why would anyone buy these carts?
A: Those who are in “illegal” states are in a bind since there’s no reputable vendor they can visit to purchase weed vape carts. And even in legal states, Dank Vapes and similar products may sell for half the price of legitimate weed cartridges, sometimes even less.
Boudi, F. B., Patel, S., Boudi, A., & Chan, C. (2019). Vitamin E acetate as a plausible cause of acute vaping-related illness. Cureus, 11(12) .