Vapes spiked with illegal drugs show dark side of CBD craze

  • This May 2018, photo provided by Joseph Jenkins shows his son, Jay, in the emergency room of the Lexington Medical Center in Lexington, S.C. Jay Jenkins suffered acute respiratory failure and drifted into a coma, according to his medical records, after he says he vaped a product labeled as a smokable form of the cannabis extract CBD. Lab testing commissioned as part of an Associated Press investigation into CBD vapes showed the cartridge that Jenkins says he puffed contained a synthetic marijuana compound blamed for at least 11 deaths in Europe.  (Joseph Jenkins via AP)

    This May 2018, photo provided by Joseph Jenkins shows his son, Jay, in the emergency room of the Lexington Medical Center in Lexington, S.C. Jay Jenkins suffered acute respiratory failure and drifted into a coma, according to his medical records, after he says he vaped a product labeled as a smokable form of the cannabis extract CBD. Lab testing commissioned as part of an Associated Press investigation into CBD vapes showed the cartridge that Jenkins says he puffed contained a synthetic marijuana compound blamed for at least 11 deaths in Europe. (Joseph Jenkins via AP) Associated Press

  • Jay Jenkins holds a Yolo! brand CBD oil vape cartridge alongside a vape pen at a park in Ninety Six, S.C., on Wednesday, May 8, 2019. Jenkins says two hits from the vape put him in a coma and nearly killed him in 2018. Lab testing commissioned by AP showed the vape contained a synthetic marijuana compound blamed for at least 11 deaths in Europe. Jenkins was interviewed as part of an AP investigation into the dark side to the booming CBD industry, in which some people are cashing in by substituting cheap and illegal synthetic marijuana for the natural cannabis extract.

    Jay Jenkins holds a Yolo! brand CBD oil vape cartridge alongside a vape pen at a park in Ninety Six, S.C., on Wednesday, May 8, 2019. Jenkins says two hits from the vape put him in a coma and nearly killed him in 2018. Lab testing commissioned by AP showed the vape contained a synthetic marijuana compound blamed for at least 11 deaths in Europe. Jenkins was interviewed as part of an AP investigation into the dark side to the booming CBD industry, in which some people are cashing in by substituting cheap and illegal synthetic marijuana for the natural cannabis extract. Associated Press

  • A Yolo! brand CBD oil vape cartridge sits alongside a vape pen on a biohazard bag on a table at a park in Ninety Six, S.C., on Wednesday, May 8, 2019. Jay Jenkins says two hits from the vape put him in a coma and nearly killed him in 2018. Lab testing commissioned by The Associated Press shows this cartridge and several other vapes marketed as delivering CBD instead contained synthetic marijuana, a street drug commonly known as K2 or spice.

    A Yolo! brand CBD oil vape cartridge sits alongside a vape pen on a biohazard bag on a table at a park in Ninety Six, S.C., on Wednesday, May 8, 2019. Jay Jenkins says two hits from the vape put him in a coma and nearly killed him in 2018. Lab testing commissioned by The Associated Press shows this cartridge and several other vapes marketed as delivering CBD instead contained synthetic marijuana, a street drug commonly known as K2 or spice. Associated Press

  • Researchers work at Flora Research Laboratories in Grants Pass, Ore., on July 18, 2019. The Associated Press commissioned the lab to test vape products as part of an investigation that shows a dark side to the booming industry selling the cannabis extract CBD. The lab tested 30 vape products sold around the country as CBD that AP chose by targeting brands that law enforcement authorities or users flagged as suspect. Ten of the 30 samples contained synthetic marijuana, a street drug commonly known as K2 or spice.

    Researchers work at Flora Research Laboratories in Grants Pass, Ore., on July 18, 2019. The Associated Press commissioned the lab to test vape products as part of an investigation that shows a dark side to the booming industry selling the cannabis extract CBD. The lab tested 30 vape products sold around the country as CBD that AP chose by targeting brands that law enforcement authorities or users flagged as suspect. Ten of the 30 samples contained synthetic marijuana, a street drug commonly known as K2 or spice. Associated Press

  • A Yolo! brand CBD vape oil cartridge is examined at Flora Research Laboratories in Grants Pass, Ore., on July 17, 2019. The Associated Press commissioned the lab to test that vape and 29 others as part of an investigation that shows a dark side to the booming industry selling the cannabis extract CBD. The Yolo cartridge and nine other samples contained synthetic marijuana, a dangerous street drug commonly known as K2 or spice.

    A Yolo! brand CBD vape oil cartridge is examined at Flora Research Laboratories in Grants Pass, Ore., on July 17, 2019. The Associated Press commissioned the lab to test that vape and 29 others as part of an investigation that shows a dark side to the booming industry selling the cannabis extract CBD. The Yolo cartridge and nine other samples contained synthetic marijuana, a dangerous street drug commonly known as K2 or spice. Associated Press

  • A Green Machine brand CBD vape pod is weighed during testing at Flora Research Laboratories in Grants Pass, Ore., on July 18, 2019. As part of an investigation into CBD vapes, The Associated Press commissioned the lab to test vape products purchased around the country, including seven Green Machine pods bought at stores in California, Florida and Maryland. Four of the Green Machine pods contained synthetic marijuana, a dangerous street drug commonly known as K2 or spice.

    A Green Machine brand CBD vape pod is weighed during testing at Flora Research Laboratories in Grants Pass, Ore., on July 18, 2019. As part of an investigation into CBD vapes, The Associated Press commissioned the lab to test vape products purchased around the country, including seven Green Machine pods bought at stores in California, Florida and Maryland. Four of the Green Machine pods contained synthetic marijuana, a dangerous street drug commonly known as K2 or spice. Associated Press

  • Pierce Prozy uses a centrifuge for CBD vape oil test samples at Flora Research Laboratories in Grants Pass, Ore., on July 18, 2019. The Associated Press commissioned the lab to test vape products marketed as delivering the cannabis extract CBD. AP chose the samples by targeting brands that law enforcement authorities or users flagged as suspect. Ten of the 30 samples contained synthetic marijuana, a dangerous street drug commonly known as K2 or spice.

    Pierce Prozy uses a centrifuge for CBD vape oil test samples at Flora Research Laboratories in Grants Pass, Ore., on July 18, 2019. The Associated Press commissioned the lab to test vape products marketed as delivering the cannabis extract CBD. AP chose the samples by targeting brands that law enforcement authorities or users flagged as suspect. Ten of the 30 samples contained synthetic marijuana, a dangerous street drug commonly known as K2 or spice. Associated Press

  • This Wednesday, July 17, 2019, photo shows a Green Machine "Jungle Juice" flavored CBD vape pod and its packaging in Los Angeles. As part of an investigation into vapes that promise to deliver a smokable form of the cannabis extract CBD, The Associated Press commissioned a laboratory to test CBD vapes purchased around the country. That included seven Green Machine pods bought at stores in California, Florida and Maryland; four of the pods contained synthetic marijuana, a dangerous street drug commonly known as K2 or spice.

    This Wednesday, July 17, 2019, photo shows a Green Machine "Jungle Juice" flavored CBD vape pod and its packaging in Los Angeles. As part of an investigation into vapes that promise to deliver a smokable form of the cannabis extract CBD, The Associated Press commissioned a laboratory to test CBD vapes purchased around the country. That included seven Green Machine pods bought at stores in California, Florida and Maryland; four of the pods contained synthetic marijuana, a dangerous street drug commonly known as K2 or spice. Associated Press

  • Pierce Prozy examines a Yolo! brand CBD vape oil cartridge at Flora Research Laboratories in Grants Pass, Ore., on July 19, 2019. The Associated Press commissioned the lab to test vape products marketed as delivering the cannabis extract CBD. AP chose samples by targeting brands that law enforcement authorities or users flagged as suspect. Ten of the 30 samples contained synthetic marijuana, a dangerous street drug commonly known as K2 or spice.

    Pierce Prozy examines a Yolo! brand CBD vape oil cartridge at Flora Research Laboratories in Grants Pass, Ore., on July 19, 2019. The Associated Press commissioned the lab to test vape products marketed as delivering the cannabis extract CBD. AP chose samples by targeting brands that law enforcement authorities or users flagged as suspect. Ten of the 30 samples contained synthetic marijuana, a dangerous street drug commonly known as K2 or spice. Associated Press

  • A researcher holds a Yolo! brand CBD vape oil cartridge and its packaging at Flora Research Laboratories in Grants Pass, Ore., on July 17, 2019.  Authorities blamed Yolo for sending people to emergency rooms in Utah, saying it contained a dangerous synthetic marijuana. The cartridge pictured here was provided to The Associated Press by a South Carolina man who says he nearly died after puffing it. Testing commissioned by AP shows it contained the same synthetic marijuana that caused the illnesses in Utah.

    A researcher holds a Yolo! brand CBD vape oil cartridge and its packaging at Flora Research Laboratories in Grants Pass, Ore., on July 17, 2019. Authorities blamed Yolo for sending people to emergency rooms in Utah, saying it contained a dangerous synthetic marijuana. The cartridge pictured here was provided to The Associated Press by a South Carolina man who says he nearly died after puffing it. Testing commissioned by AP shows it contained the same synthetic marijuana that caused the illnesses in Utah. Associated Press

 
 
Posted9/16/2019 7:00 AM

Jay Jenkins says he hesitated when a buddy suggested they vape CBD.

"It'll relax you," the friend assured.

 

The vapor that Jenkins inhaled didn't relax him. After two puffs, he ended up in a coma.

That's because the vapor he inhaled wasn't CBD, a natural compound that marketers say can treat a range of ailments without getting users high. Instead, the vape was spiked with a powerful, man-made street drug.

Some operators are cashing in on the CBD craze by substituting cheap and illegal synthetic marijuana for real CBD in vapes and edibles such as gummy bears, an Associated Press investigation has found.

Spiked vapes have sent dozens of people like Jenkins to emergency rooms over the last two years. Yet people behind the products have operated with impunity, in part because the business has boomed so fast that regulators haven't caught up while drug enforcement agents have higher priorities.

AP commissioned laboratory testing of the vape Jenkins used plus 29 other vape products sold as CBD around the country, with a focus on brands that authorities or users flagged as suspect. Ten of the 30 contained synthetic marijuana, which is commonly known as K2 or spice.

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One brand, a pod compatible with Juul electronic cigarettes called Green Machine, contained a different kind of synthetic marijuana depending on the flavor and even location of purchase.

"It's Russian roulette," said James Neal-Kababick, director of Flora Research Laboratories, which tested the products.

The results of AP's testing echo what authorities have found, a nationwide survey of law enforcement agencies shows.

At least 128 samples out of more than 350 tested by government labs in nine states, nearly all in the South, had synthetic marijuana in products marketed as CBD, according to information the states provided AP. Gummy bears and other edibles accounted for 36 hits, while nearly all others were vape products. Mississippi authorities also found fentanyl, the opioid involved in about 30,000 overdose deaths last year.

Because testing by both authorities and AP focused on suspect products, the results are not representative of the overall market.

Vaping in general has come under increased scrutiny recently because hundreds of users have developed mysterious lung illnesses, and several have died. The AP's investigation focused on yet another set of cases, in which psychoactive chemicals are added to products presented as CBD.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

CBD, short for cannabidiol, is one of many chemicals found in cannabis, a plant known more commonly as marijuana. Most CBD is made from hemp, a cannabis variety cultivated for fiber or other uses. Unlike its more famous cousin THC, cannabidiol doesn't get users high. Sales of CBD have been driven in part by unproven claims that it can reduce pain, calm anxiety, increase focus and even prevent disease.

Jay Jenkins says he tried CBD because he was bored. He had just finished his freshman year at The Citadel, a South Carolina military college, when he decided to try CBD in May 2018. He said a friend bought a blueberry flavored vape called Yolo! - the acronym for "you only live once" - from a convenience store in Lexington, South Carolina.

After Jenkins became unresponsive his friend drove them to the hospital, where Jenkins suffered acute respiratory failure, his medical records show.

"I thought that I actually was already dead," Jenkins said.

By the next day he had recovered, and as he left hospital staff gave the Yolo cartridge back Jenkins, who provided it to AP.

Lab testing found a type of synthetic marijuana that has been blamed for at least 11 deaths in Europe.

Yolo products containing the same drug were implicated in rash of illnesses in Utah several months before Jenkins was poisoned. Authorities never caught anyone.

The people behind spiked vapes leave few clues about who makes them or what's inside.

Packaging doesn't identify the companies and their brands have little online presence. Newcomers can simply design a label and outsource production to a wholesaler that deals in bulk.

The opaque system of manufacturing and distribution hampers criminal investigations and leaves victims of spiked products with little recourse.

And there's a financial incentive to cut corners. One website advertises synthetic marijuana for as little as $25 per pound - the same amount of CBD costs hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

"People have started to see the market grow and there are some fly-by-night companies trying to make a quick buck," said Marielle Weintraub, president of the U.S. Hemp Authority, an industry group that certifies CBD cosmetics and dietary supplements.

While synthetic marijuana is a concern, Weintraub said the industry has many reputable companies.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved one CBD-based medicine for treating seizures associated with two rare and severe forms of epilepsy, but says it cannot be added to food, drinks or dietary supplements. FDA is considering new regulations.

Because CBD is the active ingredient in an FDA-approved drug, FDA is responsible for regulating its sale in the U.S. But if CBD products are found to contain narcotics, the agency considers the investigation a job for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

But DEA has to prioritize drugs causing more severe problems, said spokeswoman Mary Brandenberger, such as fentanyl and methamphetamines.

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Contact AP's investigative team at Investigative@ap.org.

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Mohr reported from Carlsbad, California; Panama City, Florida; and Jackson, Mississippi. Contributing to this report were Allen Breed in Lexington and Ninety Six, South Carolina; Juliet Linderman in New York, Philadelphia and Towson, Maryland; Reese Dunklin in Dallas; Krysta Fauria in Carlsbad and Los Angeles; Carla K. Johnson in Seattle; Justin Pritchard in Washington and Los Angeles; Rhonda Shafner in New York; Ted Warren in Grants Pass, Oregon; and Mitch Weiss in Lexington, South Carolina.

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People experiencing problems with a product labeled as CBD can reach a local poison control center by calling 1-800-222-1222.

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