Fake Weed Carts and THC Vapes: What Are the Risks, and How to Spot Them

fake weed carts
By Rebecca Olmos Updated March 8th

Fact-checked by Alexandra Arnett, MS

Cannabis vapes have become increasingly popular due to their potency, convenience, and accessibility. These handheld portable devices come in various designs, but the basic setup consists of a reusable battery and a disposable cartridge, or cart, filled with concentrate. They are discreet and suitable for all types of cannabis users.

The rise in demand for vapes made them the second most purchased item at recreational dispensaries in 2020 and 2021. 

Unfortunately, vape pens have also become a prevalent counterfeited product.11 These fake vapes have already made headlines for their adverse side effects22 due to harmful additives (vitamin E acetate), which in turn has made the public weary of the safety and legitimacy of the devices available for purchase.

In order to be a savvy vape consumer, you’ll need to know how to spot these fake carts and steer clear. Thankfully, there are clear indicators to watch out for the next time you’re in the market for a new cannabis vape.

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What is a Weed Cart?

A vape cartridge, or “weed cart,” is the attachable portion of a vape pen setup. It is filled with cannabis concentrate, or oil, in different variations like distillate, live resin, or rosin.

The most common type of cart is the 510 thread, a classic screw-on cartridge that fits into a 510 vape battery. Some options are proprietary to the brand, like Pax or Stiiizy cartridges that only work with those specific brands’ batteries.

Once the cart is attached, the battery is activated, depending on the device, by either pressing a button and inhaling or just inhaling. The battery heats the oil, turning it to vapor as you inhale.

Cannabis cartridges are usually made of glass and are either see-through or have some sort of window that allows you to see the level of concentrate left. As it’s consumed, the concentrate will diminish. You’re ready for a new cart (or a concentrate refill) when the flavor changes and tastes burnt. 

The vape pen style is excellent for consumers whose sole method of cannabis consumption is vaping. There are endless options for the effects, flavors, and types of concentrates to suit a variety of needs. The effects of vaping are similar to smoking, and you should feel them within a few minutes. Vape pens are available in CBD-rich and THC-rich options, providing users with a discreet, portable, but versatile way to consume cannabis. 

Real vs. Fake Vape Pens and Carts: What are the Differences?

signs a vape pen or cart is counterfeit

It’s crucial to your health and safety that you only purchase legitimate vapes. Fake vape pens and carts are known to have the potential to cause harmful side effects. 

Below are some telltale signs to spot a fake weed cart or vaporizer. 

Real vs. Fake: Visual Inspection

It is easy for brand packing to be duplicated, so beyond just looking for notable trusted brands, make sure they are clearly marked. They should have package dates, manufacture dates, and brand license numbers, as well as testing information listed.

Note the quality of the cart material and the oil. The oil should be thick without too many air bubbles. Ensure it’s not leaking, cracked, or looks like it’s been tampered with. Real carts will come in a sealed package. The color of the concentrate inside the cart will vary, but it should be a variation of a light golden color. Old ones will be darker golden brown. Any other color should be a sign of a counterfeit product.

Real vs. Fake: Taste

Carts can have natural and artificial or terpene-enhanced flavors, so it may be hard to determine what a fake cart tastes like. The cartridge may be counterfeit if the inhale tastes burnt or like chemicals. If this happens, stop using the device.

Real vs. Fake: Effects

A THC vape pen will lead to intoxicating, psychoactive effects, which have the potential to lead to negative symptoms. This can make it complicated to determine whether you have consumed a fake vape pen. Symptoms associated with counterfeit vapes are often linked to the lungs, stomach, and head.

If you feel unwell after consuming a THC vape pen, especially if the symptoms last more than a few hours, seek medical attention. 

Fake vapes may also just not work. It may be a counterfeit product if you attempt to inhale it and can’t produce any vapor.

What are the Risks of Using a Fake Weed Cart?

Research on what fake vape carts do to the body is limited as the fake products only gained notoriety within the last few years. What is known about the adverse effects of these vapes is that, even in the short term, they can be detrimental to your health.

Common symptoms seem to be related to the respiratory and gastrointestinal systems. In 14 cases, the usage of tainted cartridges has even led to death.

These are just a few factors to be aware of when purchasing carts. Fake carts may look, taste, and feel just like real ones, which is why it’s important to only shop at licensed medical or recreational dispensaries. Contact a medical professional if you think you have consumed a counterfeit vape cartridge. 

What is a THC Vape Pen?

thc vape pen

THC vape pens are the same as other vape pens and cartridges, with a higher concentration of THC, making them intoxicating and psychoactive.  It may be possible that fake carts are mislabeled or filled with the wrong product, making purchasing real, tested products even more imperative.

‘Vape pen,’ ‘cartridge,’ and ‘cart’ may be interchangeable terms for many consumers. ‘Vape pen’ may also refer to disposable vape pens which do not have a detachable, replaceable cartridge or reusable battery. These pens are disposed of once the cartridge is empty.

How to Spot a Fake Vape Pen

Fake Vape Pen

The popularity and demand for vape pens have made them an easy target for counterfeit copycats trying to capitalize on the growing cannabis market. While the tips listed here are a good start to determining whether or not you’ve consumed a fake cart or vape pen, they are not the only ways to evade defective or tampered products.

Beyond the visual inspection, flavor, and effects, the best way to ensure your vape is legitimate is to purchase from a legal, licensed dispensary. These verified retailers should only be selling tested, safe vape products from qualified manufacturers. Since vapes and carts can be made from federally legal hemp, they are more widely available from online retailers. Reading reviews and ensuring you purchase from a vetted company will help avoid any faulty products.

While the price point isn’t always an accurate reflection of the product's quality, be aware of highly discounted or overpriced products. 

If you have concerns that you may have purchased a fake cart, consider contacting your local state-certified dispensary to speak with a budtender. And contact a doctor immediately if you experience any adverse effects after smoking a cart or THC vape, especially if they are associated with your heart, lungs, or head. 


  1.  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Outbreak of Severe Pulmonary Disease Linked with E-Cigarette Product Use.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC, 25 Feb. 2020, www.cdc.gov/tobacco/basic_information/e-cigarettes/severe-lung-disease.html.
  2.  Layden, Jennifer E., et al. “Pulmonary Illness Related to E-Cigarette Use in Illinois and Wisconsin — Preliminary Report.” New England Journal of Medicine, vol. 382, no. 10, 6 Sept. 2019, https://doi.org/10.1056/nejmoa1911614.

The information in this article and any included images or charts are for educational purposes only. This information is neither a substitute for, nor does it replace, professional legal advice or medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about laws, regulations, or your health, you should always consult with an attorney, physician or other licensed professional.

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