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Many Vaping Illnesses Linked To Black Market 'Dank Vapes'


Investigators who are trying to get to the bottom of the outbreak of vaping-related lung illnesses uncovered some new clues this week. Many of the patients who've gotten sick have vaped THC. And it turns out many say they've used products labeled as dank vapes. What are dank vapes? NPR's Allison Aubrey tried to find out.

ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: If dank vapes were one brand or one company that produced a single product, the outbreak may be closer to being solved. But turns out dank vapes seems to be a catch-all label used on a bunch of counterfeit products. Earlier this week, police in Waynesboro, Va. arrested three men who were selling THC vapes on the black market. Here's Captain Mike Martin.

MIKE MARTIN: We certainly knew they existed, but we'd never seen a haul like this.

AUBREY: Martin says they recovered over a thousand cartridges from a residence the men were operating out of.

MARTIN: They're labeled, dank - D-A-N-K - vapes. The packaging indicates that they contain 90% THC.

AUBREY: But Martin says what's really inside is not known yet. They've sent samples out to the state's forensic lab for testing. From the outside, the products look legit.

MARTIN: They appear professionally packaged. They have a variety of - it looks like different flavors. They come in a three-pack. And it's just a standard looking brownish oil.

AUBREY: But it's not clear who made the product or what's in it. And that can be the scary part, says Jeffrey Kahn. He operates a medical marijuana dispensary in Washington, D.C.

JEFFREY KAHN: Dank vapes sounds like a really cool name. It sounds like it would be a real product. And it looks like legitimate packaging.

AUBREY: Kahn says, unlike the regulated products he sells, the dank vape containers could be sold as empty cartridges to black market operators who then fill them with whatever they want and pass them off as pure THC.

KAHN: If there are one or two or hundreds of people who are unscrupulously filling them with dangerous material, then people will suffer.

AUBREY: As the CDC's investigation continues into the more than 800 cases of serious lung disease, officials are warning about the risks of vaping, including the risk of buying products off the street. Allison Aubrey, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF ORGONE'S "LOOKOUT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Allison Aubrey is a correspondent for NPR News, where her stories can be heard on Morning Edition and All Things Considered. She's also a contributor to the PBS NewsHour and is one of the hosts of NPR's Life Kit.

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