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Digging Deeper: Fake THC vape carts bring real danger

TUCSON – Some may think vaping is harmless, however, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have data to prove otherwise.

Health issues are not the only concerns surrounding vaping.

Here in Pima County, the Counter Narcotics Alliance said violence is often associated with the cartridges, or carts, being sold and used.

News 4 Tucson’s Digging Deeper team uncovered disturbing information about several recent cases here in Tucson which reveal just how widespread the problem has become.

In January, three masked individuals went to a southeast side home where fake carts were being manufactured by the homeowner.

Counter Narcotic Alliance, or CNA, officers said the masked individuals beat and robbed the homeowner of cash and marijuana and the illegal carts he was manufacturing.

“We’ve been to several home invasions this year where individuals have been shot because of cartridges,” said Sgt. Alfredo Mesa with the Tucson Police Department.

Mesa is assigned to CNA, and his unit investigates violent crimes associated with narcotics.

Mesa told News 4 Tucson, most of the time, the cart dealers are dealing in fake cartridges.

“A lot of times they are putting in unknown substances to cut it and to make a bigger volume and to make their money stretch,” Mesa told News 4 Tucson. “So we don’t know what is being but in those vials.”

Mesa also told News 4 Tucson that during one home invasion, the homeowner was shot, and CNA officers found evidence that he was making THC vape cartridges inside his apartment.

“There are not a lot of consistencies in the manufacturing of this stuff,” said TPD Cpt. John Leavitt, who heads the CNA. “There are no FDA regulations that go through.”

Leavitt told News 4 Tucson, in cases in California, illicit dealers have actually put cyanide into the vape carts.

“It’s extremely dangerous, it’s toxic to your system and it can not only make people sick but it also kills people,” Leavitt told News 4 Tucson.

According to the most recent statistics from the CDC, 2,290 cases have been reported from 49 states.

There have also been 47 deaths confirmed in 25 states and the District of Columbia

The median age of the people who have died is 53 years old.

“It’s an extreme health hazard and if you look at the guidance from the CDC they suggest you don’t vape,” Leavitt told News 4 Tucson.

Leavitt adds the active ingredient in the carts is THC that gives the people the “high.”

However, people are now adding other ingredients to the carts such as mineral oil and vitamin E., making the cart toxic.

It is a combination the CDC has discovered that is causing nearly 3,000 people across the U.S. to have lung issues.

“All we know so far is that in its infancy it has caused some problems for a lot of people and it’s destined to do even worse,” Leavitt told the Digging Deeper team.

Investigators said the raw THC oil is sometimes purchased in California because it’s legal there, and then transported to Arizona where the fake carts are manufactured.

CNA officers recently arrested a man at the Amtrak station who was headed to New Orleans, La. with raw THC oil.

Just days ago, police said a dealer tried to sell some fake carts to a 17-year-old.

Somehow, the teenager realized they were fake, there was a dispute and shots were fired.

The 17-year-old is in critical condition.

Paul Birmingham

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