How to Spot a Fake THC Vape Product

Vaping is seen as a safer alternative to smoking because it doesn’t have health risks that are associated with combustion. But that doesn’t mean all vapes are safe. In fact, the CDC in 2019 issued a warning to e-cigarette users about an outbreak of lung injuries associated with both fake THC vape products and nicotine products. Nicknamed EVALI (e-cigarette or vaping product use-associated lung injury), this unfortunate outbreak has brought the risks of using unregulated cannabis products to the forefront.

What Is EVALI and Why Should You Care?

After several hospitals in the U.S. reported an increase in visits from patients who were injured while vaping, the CDC got involved. They reviewed 86 reported cases of lung injuries, which involved both THC and nicotine vape products, and found: 

  • In 89% of the THC cases, the people obtained pre-filled vape products from informal sources (friend, illicit dealer, online, or off the street).
  • In 77% of the nicotine cases, the people obtained pre-filled tobacco vape products from commercial vendors. 

After investigating the cases, the CDC found that the additive vitamin E acetate was the common denominator and stated that it is “strongly linked to the EVALI outbreak.” This synthetic form of vitamin E is commonly used by illicit producers as a thickening agent to dilute concentrates, often leaving very little THC.

To date, approximately 2,711 people have been hospitalized across all 50 states and two U.S. territories (Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands), and there have been 60 deaths.

It’s important for cannabis consumers to be aware of the risks so they can avoid using counterfeit THC vape products altogether. 

Real vs Fake Vape Pens and Cartridges

The key to identifying fake pens and cartridges is to understand the materials and ingredients that go into high quality products, as well as red flags that indicate a product is fake. 

There are four things to consider when you purchase a vape pen: packaging, price, liquids and hardware.


Look for signals that a product is fake by inspecting the packaging. If information about the brand’s location, contact or ingredients is absent, consider that a red flag. 

Products that use characters from pop culture on their packages without licensing permissions are also likely imposters. Also, beware of packaging with spelling and blatant grammatical errors.    


One of the biggest red flags to low-quality and fake vape pens and products is the low price point. Counterfeiters have been selling fake designer clothing, accessories, and jewelry for decades. Thanks to the internet, the Dark Web, and nefarious websites, it’s easier than ever to find impostor products, and reputable vaping and cannabis brands are no stranger to these crimes. 

If you see a well-known, reputable brand being sold far below the average price, it’s likely counterfeit. For a list of brands that our Happy Valley Hosts recommends, view our live menu.  

Liquid ingredients

High quality THC vape pens will contain cannabinoids, flavonoids, and terpenes that are fully disclosed and safe to use. Also, quality cannabis oils tend to be thick with a strong, clear gold color; avoid oils that appear to be watery thin, artificially colored, or very dark.

Do not buy vaping products that contain these ingredients: 

  • Propylene glycol
  • Diethylene glycol
  • Vitamin E acetate 

Propylene glycol is a preservative that’s FDA approved for foods and other products; however, it’s known to cause headaches and other symptoms when inhaled. Diethylene glycol is an ingredient used in polyester and antifreeze. You don’t want to inhale it. And as mentioned above, vitamin E acetate is a synthetic form of vitamin E that’s safe when taken as a supplement, but not when it is smoked or inhaled.   

Vape pen hardware

The key to safe vape pen hardware is making sure the device doesn’t overheat. Again, price is a signal to the quality of a pen. Buy from a reputable, licensed vaping vendor, and look for devices that have features that avoid over- or under-heating. 

A good vaping vendor tests products themselves, before they add them to their inventory. Again, our experts can provide a list of approved brands that you can use to shop around, and we can explain how cannabis vaporizers work

How to Avoid Fake THC Vape Products

Follow these five steps to ensure that you are buying quality THC vaping products:

  1. Buy from a dispensary that is licensed to do business in a state where cannabis products are legal.
  2. Look for signs of fake packaging — check for missing labels, spelling and grammatical mistakes.
  3. Check the liquid. If it is the consistency of a thin oil or water, it’s likely been tampered with or lacks purity. 
  4. Research the brand. If there isn’t information about it, there is a reason.
  5. Look for lab test results. Any legal vape cart sold at a dispensary is required to have a label showing the total amount of THC. Some dispensaries also provide total terpenes, cannabinoids, as well as a statement letting consumers know that no Vitamin E acetate was found.

We know there is a lot of misinformation about vaping, THC, and cannabis online and anecdotally, which is one of the reasons we launched our resource center. We would love to have your business, but first and foremost, we want to educate consumers. As advocates for the legalization and safe use of cannabis, we have a lot at stake.

Update: COVID-19 has impacted nearly every American business. The content in this article discusses subject matter related to traveling, retail environments, events, and tourism, all of which have been impacted by COVID-19. As retail stores reopen, we recommend following the CDC’s recommendations for social distancing, sterilizing surfaces and equipment, and wearing cloth masks.

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