How to Spot Fake Vape Carts & Buy the Real Thing

Many counterfeit vape products are bought and sold online or through the in-person illegal cannabis market. Unlicensed dispensaries in legal cannabis markets have also come under fire for selling counterfeit vapes. 

Extract oil in vape pens close up picture Source: iStock

Vaping is a booming sector of the cannabis industry and it shows little sign of slowing. According to Forbes, US cannabis concentrate sales are expected to reach $8.4 billion by 2022, with roughly 58% of these sales coming from pre-filled vape cartridges—and that’s just the legal market.

Unfortunately, the market for counterfeit vape carts is also growing, though it’s harder to quantify. We’ll take you through how to spot fake vape carts and why you should avoid them.

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What are counterfeit vape carts and why should you avoid them?

When we talk about “fake vape cartridges” we’re referring to cartridges that were not sold from a licensed, legal dispensary and those that are not adequately lab-tested to ensure safety.

Many counterfeit vape products are bought and sold online or through the in-person illegal cannabis market. Unlicensed dispensaries in legal cannabis markets have also come under fire for selling counterfeit vapes. 

USA today reported that California’s Bureau of Cannabis Control seized nearly 10,000 illegal vape pens from unlicensed retailers in only two days in December 2019.

Often, these products look and taste authentic, but can contain harmful ingredients and may be labeled with misleading information. 

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Fake vape carts can contain contaminants.

Most states with legal cannabis markets require thorough lab-testing of cannabis products to promote consumer safety.

These tests usually check for the presence of heavy metals, mold, residual pesticides, and microbial impurities. Without lab testing, it is nearly impossible to tell if your vape cartridges contain contaminants.

Lab-tested products offer more accurate dosing.

Lab tests also verify cannabinoid concentration. This is extremely important, particularly for medical patients who require accurate dosing to manage their conditions.

It’s also important if you’re sensitive to THC or you’re using CBD vapes and wish to avoid THC altogether. Many fake vape carts do not offer the cannabinoid concentration promised on the label.

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Avoid banned and questionable ingredients.

There are a number of additives that may be present within vape cartridges, and researchers are finding that some of these fillers can be harmful to human health.

For example, the CDC has recently linked several cases of vaping-related illness to vitamin E acetate, a common cutting agent used in e-cigarettes and counterfeit THC cartridges.

While lab-tested and verified products must comply with state regulations on potentially harmful ingredients, you cannot ensure the same for counterfeit vape carts.

Real Vape Carts vs. Fake Vape Carts: How to Spot the Difference

This cannot be overstated: your best bet is to always purchase vape carts from licensed, legal dispensaries. Reputable retailers must offer measures of quality control and product safety in compliance with state laws or risk losing their license.

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Someone holding up a fake Marlboro vape cartridge pack

A fake vape cart. Source: Reddit (/r/fakecartridges) by user xBlackShadowsZz

Still, it never hurts to hone your skills at spotting fake vape carts, in case you’re ever offered one. 


Legally distributed cannabis products have a number of strict requirements regarding their packaging. According to the California Department of Public Health, compliant vape cartridges must contain the following:

  • The product identity—it must say “vape cartridge” on the primary label.
  • California’s universal symbol for cannabis. 
  • The product’s net weight or volume.
  • Manufacturer’s name and contact information.
  • Date of manufacture or packaging.
  • Government warning statement for cannabis products.
  • UID number—A tracking number issued by Track-and-Trace.
  • Batch or lot number.
  • Instructions for use.
  • List of all ingredients.
  • “FOR MEDICAL USE ONLY” if applicable.
  • Cannabinoid content in milligrams.

In addition to what these labels MUST contain, they also may not:

  • Be attractive to children, i.e. use cartoons or other imagery commonly used to advertise to children, imitate candy labeling, or use the term “candy” or any variation (kandeez, kandy, etc.)
  • Make unproven health claims. 
  • Include false or misleading information.
  • Use California county names unless 100% of the cannabis was grown in the county of the same name.

Note that these labeling requirements only apply to vape products sold legally in California and requirements may vary in your state. Labels that are missing critical information or that include unapproved claims may very well be counterfeit and of lower quality.

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If you’re looking for labeling info for other states, consider this resource.

Vape Cartridge Ingredients

It’s important to know what’s in your vape cartridge before you take the first puff. Make sure the ingredients are listed, as this is an important safety requirement for compliant vape cartridges. Some states have recently banned certain additives commonly found in fake vape carts. While not every state has banned the use of all of the ingredients, we strongly caution you to avoid the following ingredients in your vape products: 

  • Polyethylene glycol(PEG) or propylene glycol(PG): a recent study found that these ingredients degrade into known carcinogens, formaldehyde and acetaldehyde, when vaped at high temperatures.
  • Vitamin E acetate: Linked with recent vaping illnesses.
  • MCT oil: can also produce potentially harmful substances when vaporized.

Price as a Quality Indicator

You have heard the old saying “you get what you pay for.” In this case, it’s probably true.

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Prices can vary by location and demand, but if the price for your pre-filled THC vape cartridge is significantly cheaper than what you would pay for a reputable brand at a dispensary, think long and hard before purchasing.

Lower prices could indicate cheap fillers, less careful processing, and an absence of thorough lab testing.

How to find high-quality vape cartridges

Now that you know how to spot a fake vape cartridge, you may be wondering: how do I find the best vape cartridges? Here are a few tips:

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Verify the dispensary license: As we have mentioned, the most reliable place to find legal, compliant vape cartridges is at your local dispensary. It’s important to make sure that the dispensary you buy from is up-to-date on their license and regulated by the state. Many states require the dispensary’s license to be clearly posted in plain view of the customer. 

Choose established brands: Professional vape cartridge producers take pride in using quality ingredients and benefit from a clean reputation. Before purchasing, it may be a good idea to research the manufacturer. Established companies with a longer history, many positive reviews, and a large social media following are often a better choice.

Check out lab tests: Brands that offer transparency regarding their lab-testing procedures usually offer higher quality. Some of the best brands allow you to easily access the lab results for the specific lot or batch number printed on the label. 

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Beware of knockoffs: Copycats abound in the fake vape cartridge world, and it can take a keen eye to spot them. There are a number of online retailers who make a living by imitating the packaging of established brands, faking lab tests, and using cheap, low quality ingredients. Avoid third-party online distributors. 

The long-term effects of vaping have not yet been proven. While we can never guarantee that any kind of vape cartridges are totally safe, we hope you’ll use these tips to find the safest products based on existing research and regulation.

How to Spot Fake Vape Carts & Buy the Real Thing was last modified: by