Counterfeit Cannabis Vape Cartridges and How to Avoid Them

With the new-found popularity weed has enjoyed in the United States, vaping has taken center stage as perhaps the most popular method of consuming cannabis and extracts like CBD. As it turns out, however, not all vape pens and cartridges are made equal.

Poorly constructed counterfeit cartridges have raised concern among regulators due to health concerns posed by the materials they contain. It’s essential to identify them in order to avoid the litany of problems they cause when people are exposed to them.

How counterfeits came to be

The phenomenon is fairly recent

Studies focused around finding the origin of these fake vape pens have been able to get varying estimates of when they suddenly started to gain popularity. They all seem to suggest the unknown actors started gaining traction in the mid-2010s. However, with a budding population ready to consume CBD through them, the market has seen a sudden upshot in demand for the product.

The problem was, while being able to tell when they entered the market is a commendable achievement, it has been fairly hard to pinpoint who the players in this growing market are. All we know is that they piggyback on top of the cheap production costs that China offers and flood the black market with products not fit for human consumption.

The appeal of lower prices

Like most counterfeit goods, the main reason why people go after cartridges that they possibly don’t realize are fake is because they are much cheaper. Unlike the original products, counterfeit cartridges have their work cut out for them because they don’t need any money doing research, or spend any significant amount sourcing products for quality parts.

No money need to be spent on marketing either, since the original brand will have done all the work. In the end, these cartridges end up costing as little as half the original product.

Harmful substances in counterfeit cartridges

Regulation takes center stage when it comes to vape cartridges, for instance, as compared to other products with troves worth counterfeit goods like computers and watches. This is because it’s the government’s job to make sure that anything that enters the human body is safe.

Heavy Metal

Despite the appeal of lower costs, they don’t come without a price. One of the most important parts of manufacturing products that go into the human body is making sure they are in line with the FDA’s regulations. For instance, products containing lead or significant amounts of mercury, which is often used by some as a preservative, cannot gain FDA approval and won’t be legally allowed in the market.

Inhaling any product with a significant amount of heavy metals can lead to consequences as dire as metal poisoning or exacerbate existing conditions. Heavy metal poisoning can lead to liver failure, lung damage, damage to the central nervous system and bone marrow ailments.


Another worrying problem with products that have not gotten FDA approval is that they often contain pesticides. Normally, these products usually have to have tests conducted on them from an accredited lab or will be pulled off the supply chain.

Certain pesticides make food unfit for human consumption while even those that are approved often need to undergo further processing to limit our exposure to them. Of course, for a counterfeiter, simply introducing a cleansing phase into their production chain is a cost they would rather not bear.

Human-safe pesticides are especially worrying because they can only be detected in independent lab tests, which counterfeit products obviously skip. They do not have any color or odor, but if inhaled, the health implications include poisoning, which comes with its own fair share of complications.

How to avoid them

With that said, the general public has very limited ways of accurately detecting whether or not a cartridge is fake or not. The limited mechanisms we do have at our disposal, however, provide a viable blueprint of ways we can detect and hopefully avoid inhaling life-threatening substances. The first of these is cost.


Counterfeit goods don’t take much to produce, and when bought in bulk from overseas, they end up costing far less than the original product. This is because very little is put in the research and design of the counterfeit vapes themselves. If the product you’re off to buy is going for a price much lower than the original, it’s a glaring red flag.

Aside from the lack of research and development, the counterfeit cartridges also normally have much lower THC or CBD content than advertised. This spares them the cost of spending more money on raw materials that they could just redirect straight into their own pockets.


Other cartridge makers usually opt to sell their own goods using their own new brands. Quite often, they rotate brand names to confuse their target audience. The most common of these are those that keep popping up with some form of cartoon character on them.

It’s not necessarily always a well-known character, since these usually catch the eyes of the authorities, but they have been known to exploit the likeness of Looney Toons in the past, for instance. You will want to avoid unoriginal designs like these at all costs.

They will also usually boast of unprecedented concentrations of THC or CBD – usually 90% or more. This is just a terrible marketing ploy. Independent lab tests have proven such concentrations to be nothing but a farce.

Licensed Retailers

By far the most trustworthy way of making sure you get an original cartridge is buying them via licensed retailers. Black market dealers don’t care about the law – all they want is to make a quick buck by all means necessary. They may end up being hundreds of dollars cheaper than the original thing, but at the cost of developing health complications, it’s definitely not a deal you want to make.

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