Why Are Illegal THC Vape Cartridges Dangerous?

This recent surge of vape-related lung injuries has significantly sullied the reputation of vaping. There has been much misinformation spread about vaping and its apparent negative effects on health, and it’s mostly because of the upsurge in the usage of THC vape cartridges that were procured from illicit distributors.

Held to no standards other than profits, the THC formulas found in these cartridges tend to make use of ingredients that end up being directly harmful to the lungs. This is unlike commercial eliquid manufactured according to strict standards for safety.

The misinformation that has led to the ongoing issue of vaping bans has brought the vape industry and community to an existential crisis. That is why getting the right information is important. Here are a few things you should know about illegal THC vape cartridges.

Professor in the Department of Community Health Sciences at Boston University’s  School of Public Health published the findings from their study: 

“They tested lung tissue samples from 29 case patients and all 29 (100%) were found to contain vitamin E acetate oil. This finding does represent a major breakthrough for four reasons:

  1. The vitamin E acetate oil was detected in the actual lung tissue of the case patients.
  2. The vitamin E acetate oil was detected in every single one of the lung tissue samples from these 29 case patients.
  3. The samples came from 10 different states, confirming that the outbreak seems to have a common cause, rather than geographic variation.
  4. Three of the patients whose lung samples revealed vitamin E acetate had reported using only nicotine-containing products, thus confirming that there is significant under-reporting which may explain why about 11% of the patients do not report vaping THC.”

Why Do People Get Illegal Cartridges?

There is a lot of demand for THC vaping devices, in both legal and illegal markets.  A lot of people who get these illegal vape cartridges tend to be people in their late teens to early 20s,  many who aren't old enough to buy the product legally or, are just trying to save some money due to taxes and regulatory compliance by the legal companies. 

Vitamin E Acetate

This is where things get really bad. Manufacturers of illicit THC eliquid look for cheap and widely available ingredients to serve as the base, and what a lot of them have settled on is Vitamin E acetate. What makes it dangerous is that it's an oil.

When consumed orally or topically, oils are known to be not harmful to health in the short term. Vitamin E acetate is commonly used as a base for products meant for such applications as skin care products.

But when those oils are inhaled, it can actually be harmful as it may cause a lung illness known as lipoid pneumonia. Much of the symptoms found in vaping-induced lung injuries mirror lipoid pneumonia, which makes Vitamin E acetate as a primary culprit.

Mineral Oil

Similar to Vitamin E acetate, mineral oil is a commonly used base for various things, including cosmetics and skin care products. It’s inexpensive and readily available, making them a prime candidate as a base for illegal vape cartridges. However, when vaporized and inhaled, it can also cause lipoid pneumonia since it’s an oil.

The liquid bases commonly used for eliquid—namely propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin—went through tests and trials in order to prove their safety. But they may not be as widely available or as cheap as the other bases that are being used for illegal vape cartridges.

Other Additives

There are also other additives that may cause these severe respiratory maladies. Biopsies of 17 victims indicate “airway-centered chemical pneumonitis” from one or more toxic substances inhaled from illegal vape cartridges rather than exogenous lipoid pneumonia. That means there’s more than one cause for the illnesses.

However, the toxic substances causing them have not been identified yet. But they do seem to be additives in illegal THC cartridges that may be exacerbating these lung injuries. The trouble with illegal vape cartridges is not being sure what their ingredients are, unlike legitimate eliquid that contains information regarding their ingredients and even the ratio.


Vaping has existed for well over a decade and had become popular worldwide since the early 2010s, but only now have we encountered such severe acute respiratory injuries and illnesses. It’s up to us to be aware of the dangers of these illegal THC cartridges and spread the right information in order to preserve vaping as both an industry and an alternative to tobacco.

kurt sonderegger
kurt sonderegger


Founder/CEO of Cafe Racer Craft E-Liquid

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