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Hawaiian Cannabis Vape Cartridges Are Contaminated With Ethanol and Lead, Tests Find

By Leo Bear-McGuinness

Published: Jun 09, 2020   
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Vape cartridges sold in legal dispensaries in Hawaii contain dangerous levels of ethanol and lead, according to a Hawaii News Now report.

The HNN investigation found that many of the cartridges would be banned in other US states for failing to meet safety standards.

The contaminants may even be linked to a spate of lung illnesses in the state, according to a local doctor.

Hawaii BHO

Following a tip-off from a state health department manager, HNN sourced nine cannabis vape cartridges from three different licensed dispensaries on Oahu island. These products were then independently tested at a Steep Hill lab in Honolulu.

The results showed that four of the nine cartridges contained ethanol at levels exceeding 5,000 parts per million – concentrations so high the products would be illegal in states like California, Colorado, and Washington. In Colorado, for example, ethanol limits for vape cartridges are capped at 1,000 parts per million.

But Hawaii doesn’t require cannabis companies to test for ethanol at all.

While research into the long-term effects of ethanol inhalation is scant, one experimental study from 2016 found that vaping high levels of the alcoholic substance can negatively affect an individual’s psychomotor skills, such as their ability to drive.

It’s also thought that inhaling such high levels of alcohol can cause irritation to the eyes, lungs, and throat.

Speaking to HNN, Dr Clifton Otto, a certified cannabis physician practising in Hawaii, claimed to have seen these symptoms in dozens of patients who vape cannabis.

“At least a third of my patients are coming to me with concerns about the cartridges,” he told the local new program.

“Not all of them experience the burning or the strange taste. But the majority of them do.”

Dr Otto claimed to have brought the issue to the attention of the state health department, but to no response.

After HNN brought its findings to the state Department of Health, officials said they were unaware how so much ethanol was ending up in the cartridges and why one was contaminated with lead. Nevertheless, the department said it stood by the dispensaries.

“They are as safe as we know. You know, based on current information,” Michele Nakata, a supervisor for Hawaii’s Medical Cannabis Dispensary Licensing Section, told HNN.

Peter Oshiro, the original whisteblower from the health department, disagreed.

“They (Hawaii’s Department of Health) have no clue how to regulate this industry,” he told HNN. “And the sad fact is they don’t want to learn.”

In response to the investigation, one of the implicated dispensaries disputed the test results provided by Steep Hill Labs. Yet, its own counter results still showed ethanol levels above 5,000 parts per million.

The company now says it’s working with another manufacturer to develop new cartridges, which are set to launch next month.


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