Your Cannabis Detective: Can You Spot a Fake Vape Carts?

How to spot fake vape carts

Vape pens are the go-to choice for most cannabis consumers. However, in the past couple of months, fake vape carts have been linked to a multistate outbreak of acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) among vapers.

It is for this reason that vapers are on high alert asking: Will my vaping pen make me sick? How can I tell if a vape cartridge is fake? In short, how do I keep safe?

Unfortunately, for the most part, it is a case of buyer beware. As a vaper, it is your responsibility to do due diligence before making a purchase. 

Here is a rundown of boxes you need to tick to protect yourself from buying a fake vape pen:

1. Buy from licensed businesses

This is the “it” in keeping safe. When you buy from licensed cannabis businesses, you have the guarantee that the vape cartridges have undergone rigorous health and safety testing and they have complied with required state law to be in operation.

Furthermore, to be sure if a business is licensed you can do an online search. For those in California log onto; type in the name of the business, license type/number, or location into the search criteria and then run your search.

While there, you can also file a complaint through the provided form in case you have been sold counterfeit products. 

Keep in mind; if you choose to use other websites and apps, some may list illicit stores. Therefore, it would be safe to only verify through the cannabis regulatory agency in your state.

Apart from this, in California, stores are required to post their license number. So be on the lookout next time you visit.

In case you visit a store and it does not have the license number posted, take note that the store is not part of the regulated market.

 On the contrary, it could be licensed but it’s not adhering to the rules of licensing. This is prevalent in Los Angeles.

It is also important to note that the cases of ARDS have been reported on illegal vaping products. Linda Robinson, executive director of California Cannabis Industry Association has pointed out that, “While investigations are ongoing and a cause has not yet been identified, it is important to note that no cannabis vaping products purchased at licensed cannabis businesses have been linked to these illnesses.”

2. If it’s too good to be true, it’s probably fake

If you come across a big brand name but it has a low price, it’s probably fake.

 For instance, a half-gram vape cartridge bought from a legal Los Angeles cannabis shop costs around $45. In the black market, a counterfeit of the brand vape cart is sold for $20. With such price disparity, it is safe to say it is fake. 

So, how do fraudsters pull off this scam?

 First, they buy branded vape cartridges on sites like Alibaba. Second, fill them with the black market distillate and then sell them off claiming to be original. Be on the watch.

3) Spot the real one

i) Look out for California’s THC warning label 

If the labeling doesn’t have the California THC warning label, it is probably fake. Nevertheless, some fake vapes may have the label. Therefore, it is not foolproof.

california thc warning label

ii) Manufacturer stamp

Check your cartridge to see if it has a manufacturer stamp. This will distinguish it from fake carts.

iii) QR code

Inspect the vape cart to see if it has a QR code.

However, just like the California THC label, it is not full proof. Some fake vape carts have QR codes which are not hard to obtain.

Fortunately, innovations in the cannabis industry are catching up to this fraud. For example, StrainSecure a Canadian tech company is waging the war on fake cannabis products using blockchain.

It gives an immutable QR code to a cannabis product. The code will then trace the product throughout the supply chain from the seed-to-final sale. 

Consequently, it will guarantee traceability and accountability throughout the supply chain.

iv) Check the packaging

When shopping keep an eye out for the manufacturing date, packaging date, a batch number and a lot number on the packaging. If either of the information is missing, it is probably a fake.

v) Compare and contrast

If you feel the vape cartridge might be a knockoff, look up the manufacturer’s website or Instagram. Compare what you have with the photos on the site. If they do not match it can possibly be a fake.


If the taste is off toss it off. It is not worth the risk and could be fake.

4) Stick to known brands

Though it may sound bigoted, stick to known brands. Major brands have built a reputation over the years and are cautious not to injure it. To be sure your brands are legit, look up their licenses in BCC.

5) Check the lab results

Ask your budtender for the product’s COA (certificate of analysis). Though some fake vape pens may have fraudulent photoshopped COA’S. 

You can further check with the lab that tested to make sure the results are real.

6) Look out for the numbers

Do they add up? Look out for red flags on test results. If the lab results have particularly low THC percentages less than 60% or exceptionally high THC say 99% approach with care. They are most likely fake.

 7) Trust your instincts

If it’s off, it is off. Stay away from it.

8) Brands outside cannabis legal states

It is important to bear in mind that big brand-name companies don’t sell outside licensed shops. If you’re buying vape carts from the black-market and your dealer is offering you brands like Kingpen, PAX Era and Stiiizy, 9 out of 10 they are counterfeit.

Moreover, if you are going to buy vape carts from the black market do a bit of research. First off, check to see if the packaging for it is available. If it is, run and don’t look back.

In conclusion

 As a vaper strive to be proactive about your lifestyle. Empower yourself with the right information and exercise due diligence when buying vape cartridges.

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