CBD vape users thought the product they puff could grant them a soothing feeling but instead caused them to take a trip to the ER. It’s because what they inhaled contained a tinge of synthetic marijuana, which caused bouts of hallucinations and seizures.
As soon as the outbreak ended last year, more than 50 individuals in Salt Lake City were poisoned by the vape brand ‘Yolo!’, which colloquially means ‘you only live once’.
There are some hundred or so vape users who are reported to have developed strange lung diseases, with around 30 deaths resulting from the incident. Users attribute this unfortunate circumstance to Yolo.
Law enforcers and public health officials made investigated, yet there is little information about the substance or where it came from.
The Associated Press digs deep
With the event of CBD vapes being illegally spiked and causing psychoactive effects on users, The Associated Press investigated on the matter to understand the Yolo story.
They traced it to an entrepreneur from a Southern California beach town who made a career change following her vaping habit. It is also what led her to a change of scenery, from Hollywood parties to a Manhattan federal court.
In 2010, Janell Thompson moved to San Diego from Utah and found the roommate whom she first met online. She also vaped.
Thompson and her roommate’s shared interest in vape soon turned into a business. Using her financial services background, Thompson founded Hookahzz, an electronic cigarette company.
The company showed promise and early success as they distributed Hookahzz products during a pre-party at the Emmy Awards. Their vape products were also included in gift bags for Oscar nominees in 2014. An industry insider called them the ‘divas of CBD’ in a video filmed at a particular trade show.
Hookahzz is one of the first companies to market vapes infused with CBD or cannabidiol. Nowadays, CBD is mixed as an ingredient for many products such as gummy bears and creams, which used to be illegal in some states and virtually unknown during that time.
The business partners also developed other CBD brands that sold edibles, capsules, and pet products. Thompson pitched their CBD pet items with the story of her dog’s tumor being treated by the substance.
Selling the spiked vapes
In the autumn of 2017, Thompson and partner founded Mathco Health Corporation, a new CBD company. In just a few months, their Yolo product was being sold in stores around Salt Lake City. The said product contained K2 or spice, also known as synthetic marijuana.
Significantly cheaper, manmade synthetic marijuana is commonly extracted from hemp.
Samples sent to a lab in Utah showed that Yolo has synthetic marijuana and no trace of CBD at all. It is responsible for the death of at least 11 people in Europe.
Authorities figured that some users tried Yolo to get high, while others were unaware of the presence of synthetic marijuana in the product. However, they were boggled about the product’s source. The Utah Bureau of Investigation were grasping at straws since no seller would talk about Yolo. The packaging also doesn’t have any contact details.
Come summer of 2018 when a former bookkeeper from Mathco prepared a workplace retaliation complaint and gathered evidence of the corrupt business practices she believed the company did. Tatianna Gustafson did her research and got ahold of online pictures showing Yolo as the culprit in Salt Lake City poisoning.
In the complaint she submitted to the Department of Industrial Relations in California, Gustafson wrote that Mathco excluded how Yolo was manufactured in the product’s promotional material. It was missing contact information and ingredients list on the label.
Another former Mathco employee named Justin Davis stated to AP that Yolo profit margins were more substantial than other products.
Implications of the ex-employee complaint
Gustafson’s filing of the complaint showed that Mathco, with incorporated company JK Wholesale, manufactured and distributed Yolo. Thompson’s initials were found in the company’s financial records, signing as the chief salesperson for transactions.
Records also showed Yolo being sold in six more states, including South Carolina. A case reported one college student going into a coma after vaping the said product.
Gustafson also tipped the Utah Poison Control Center regarding the people behind Yolo in her complaint.
Barbara Crouch, director for the state’s poison center, confirmed getting the tip that she passed to the Utah investigations bureau. Christopher Elsholz, SBI agent, made contact with the tipster who revealed that Yolo was distributed by the company she was working for. Since the company was out of their jurisdiction, Elsholz forwarded the statement to the DEA.
DEA Spokeswoman Mary Brandenberg took no action despite offering help. The agency considers spiked CBD as a low priority since they face more significant issues like the opioid epidemic.
How Thompson was caught
It wasn’t synthetic marijuana that ultimately led Thompson to the federal court.
Vape brands Black Diamond and Black Magic had reportedly sent 40 North Carolina residents to the hospital, including military men and school students. Investigators linked Thompson to the said outbreak due to a guilty plea of the spiked vape distributor who insisted it was Thompson who supplied the vape liquid.
Thompson also pleaded guilty to charges by New York prosecutors concerning the distribution of K2 and money laundering. They cited Yolo as the spiked brand.
US Attorney Geoffrey Berman labeled Thompson as a drug trafficker who distributed large quantities of K2 through JK Wholesale since 2014. She is facing prison time of up to 40 years.
Katarina Maloney, roommate and business partner, excluded herself from Yolo and Thompson in an interview last August at Mathco headquarters. She received no charges in the federal investigation.
A supplementary email from Maloney stated that the Yolo found in Utah did not come from their company. She wrote that their corporation does not engage in the illegal product market. She also insisted that their CBD products are 100% law-abiding.
However, Maloney denied requests to show lab results for their Yolo products.
Health Watchdog in Finland pulls CBD Off Store Shelves
The Finnish Food Authority has ordered shops to stop the sale of several cannabis-derived CBD or cannabidiol products. The agency cited that the products do not have the right authorization to be marketed as a foodstuff.
Cannabinoid extracts are considered novel foods in the EU, according to the Finnish Medicines Agency (FIMEA). Substances classified as such cannot be sold without a novel-food authorization. Additionally, CBD cannot be promoted using medical claims.
CBD in Finland
CBD-containing dietary supplements have been marketed across Finland in several health food stores, yet CBD oil is classified as a medicine by FIMEA. CBD or cannabis light as it is often called does not have the psychoactive component in marijuana, which is the tetrahydrocannabinol or THC.
Hamppumaa (translated as Hempland), a Finnish company manufacturing hemp product, plans to file a case against the Finnish Food Authority. It cites the decision of the agency to pull out the brand’s Sana CBD products off the marketplace as the main reason.
Finnish citizens may also encounter a legal gray area when ordering cannabidiol products online. FIMEA has given caution to CBD buyers using any online platform to buy their favorites since there is still a lot to be learned about the legalities.
CBD oil is a compound derived from cannabis, which is widespread across the US and Europe as a therapeutic cure-all against stress, pain, and other medical conditions. The CBD industry is now regarded as a high-value market amounting to billions of euros.
The World Health Organization recognizes the non-addictive property of cannabidiol and its potential to be included in the treatment regimen for drug addiction.
More on CBD
While CBD has amassed a considerable following over the past few years, there is still much confusion over the substance. It is closely related to marijuana, which is the addictive substance derived from the same plant species as hemp-derived CBD, Cannabis sativa L. The main difference is that CBD oil has minimal amounts of THC, while marijuana exceeds the legal THC limits.
Despite initial hesitation, many users have found CBD products to be somewhat effective in alleviating or curing several health issues with varying degrees of severity. Some of the common alleged therapeutic benefits include reduction of pain, anxiety and stress and promotion of sleep. It is also said to work for persons who have multiple sclerosis, cancer and more.
There are few pieces of evidence and studies about CBD, but many countries all over the world, particularly the US and Europe, are set on discovering more about the compound. However, consumers are warned to be careful about their purchase, because the industry is still troubled by unclear regulations.
As of writing, the only available CBD-incorporated medication legally sold in Finland is Sativex, an oral spray to treat muscle spasms that multiple sclerosis patients manifest. Other medical applications of CBD are handled on a case-to-case basis by FIMEA.
One-stop CBD Store Opens in Downtown El Dorado
After the three-year legalization of medical marijuana in Arkansas, long-time cannabis activist Michael Cary opens his CBD franchise at a prime location in downtown El Dorado.
Cary opened his first enterprise in a shopping center located at Madison Avenue and Fifth Street in 2002, naming it At Ease Licensed Massage Therapy Clinic. It was during these years when medical marijuana made an early buzz across the US.
In 1996, medical cannabis became legal in California and was followed by seven other states in 2002, advancing the popularity of medical marijuana.
How it started
Cary suffered from a form of epilepsy back in the late 90s, taking 29 pills daily as part of his drug regimen to treat aphasic seizures. He made the switch from pharmaceuticals to cannabis after reading reports that the substance is shown to treat symptoms of epilepsy.
As a Nazarene minister’s grandchild, Cary didn’t want to live life taking medication like Lorazepam and Klonazapam, especially since he was in college at that time. Cannabis had become his primary treatment until 2000.
Cary has been a cannabis advocate ever since he started his journey as a business owner. He moved to gather signatures for the legalization of medical marijuana through Arkansas for Compassionate Care Campaign in 2011. While it failed to pass that year, Cary refused to give up. He joined the Drug Policy Education Group that advocates the reform of drug policies in the state, which was also the organization that helped marijuana to be legalized eventually in 2016.
Cary now serves as the Arkansans for Cannabis Reform vice president. It is a committee made by DPEG to push two new cannabis-related initiatives the group wishes to include in the 2020 ballot. Cary said that the two initiatives would help eliminate ambiguity in cannabis laws.
The proposed initiatives
The Arkansas Marijuana Legalization Initiative, or Adult-Use Cannabis Amendment as it’s also known, targets the authorization of recreational marijuana to adults over 21 years old. It proposes procedures and rules for the regulation of marijuana cultivation and sale. Also included are guidelines for the allowable volume of cannabis in possession, and tax revenue issuance from the sale to school programs from the pre-kindergarten level and the University of Medical Sciences.
Cary believes that this initiative will ease the burden on law enforcers relating to the incarceration of marijuana cases, which uses up a lot of police funds.
The second proposal, Arkansas Marijuana Expungement Initiative, moves to allow individuals charged with a minor marijuana-related offense like possession or sale of not more than one pound of cannabis to make a petition for expungement on the record. The initiative includes measures relating to the restoration of voting rights, reduction of sentence, release from incarceration and expungement of a conviction. It also drafts the Cannabis Conviction Relief Court.
Expanding to CBD
After advocating medical marijuana for years, Cary expanded his enterprise to include several cannabidiol products that he found to help clients who suffer from pain and tension.
CBD or cannabidiol is a compound derived from cannabis but does not cause the high associated with tetrahydrocannabinol or THC. The Arkansas law only allows CBD with no more than 0.3% of THC.
Cary offered topical treatments and homemade lotions incorporated with CBD at the start, which later drew waves, enabling him to open a second franchise called At Ease Essentials, which is a Mellor Park Mall kiosk. Fulfilling a need for quality CBD items is what drove Cary to establish the second At Ease. He also stated that consumers need to check for things like a Certificate of Analysis and labels when buying CBD products.
This year, Cary’s new store will serve as the El Dorado headquarters for his brand, At Ease. The storefront is located at 209 Main Street and will be a welcome addition to the other storefront on Jackson Street in Magnolia. The new store has its fulfillment center for orders made online, and as well as a showroom, laboratory, and a massage clinic using CBD products.
Cary is also eyeing to build more storefronts in Texarkana, Texas, and Ruston, Louisiana. The At Ease products will be sold to adults over 18 years old only, but minors are welcome to go inside the stores. He reckons that the El Dorado store could have been a hemp-selling establishment back in 1927 when the crop was still legal for sale until 1937.
Unregulated Wellness Chemicals Find Acceptance from Americans
Americans easily recommend cannabidiol or CBD, even to strangers they meet on an errand or travel. Shops have popped up here and there, selling a broad range of CBD products, from tinctures to gummies to oils and vapes. Even celebrities like Kylie Jenner has endorsed a CBD-infused product, drawing many fans to try it out as well.
CBD is lauded by users for its alleged therapeutic benefits from alleviating anxiety to curing cancer. There are also varying levels of evidence to back up the different claims.
Hitting peak popularity
According to Google Trends data, CBD has hit its peak in the US last May. The search engine giant recorded more than thrice the queries for CBD than Beyoncé.
Cannabidiol is a compound identified as a cannabinoid, which are chemicals found in hemp and marijuana plants. It was largely unknown a couple of years back, but the legalization of hemp as an industrial crop in the 2018 Farm Bill has catapulted CBD to its popularity today.
Hemp is a cousin of marijuana, the substance infamous for being addictive. Both plants are from the same plant species, Cannabis sativa L., but hemp is considered as the safer, non-psychoactive compound of the two.
Although studies regarding CBD are lacking, consumer interest hasn’t dwindled. Manufacturers have already taken the initial steps to experiment with some less popular cannabinoids like CBN or cannabinol. Salespeople find it easy to market cannabinoids since there is still little information about them.
Before CBD, tetrahydrocannabinol or THC was the most recognized cannabinoid, mainly because it causes the high in marijuana. THC levels in cannabis-derived products draw the line between what is legal and what’s not. With hemp becoming legal to grow and process, the US now has its homegrown supply for CBD production.
Lack of official regulation
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is yet to provide detailed rules on cannabidiol, including the labeling and quality testing of the many CBD and CBD-infused products out in the market today. As of writing, CBD products are still illegal to sell as dietary supplements and as a food additive, although such product forms are widely sold domestically.
The FDA still has not provided nuanced rules, due in part to the lack of academic research on cannabis. Permission and funding to conduct cannabis studies are limited, and scientists have a hard time securing such provisions.
Ether Blessing, New York University Langone Health researcher, believes that it might take a decade to establish FDA approval of CBD as a drug. She warned that the current condition makes it difficult for consumers to know the quality and CBD content of the product they are buying.
National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine published research in 2017 that concludes cannabinoids as a useful substance for chronic pain, nausea, and multiple sclerosis symptoms. It is one of the very few studies made on the compound.
No waiting for Americans
Despite the very little information on CBD, Americans don’t wait for formality to set in, which is why the CBD industry has flourished in a couple of years. With the cracks in the health care system, CBD products have filled the needs of the average consumer. The substance is said to be effective in alleviating several health conditions, including anxiety, nausea, pain, MS, and cancer.
However, the unique way in which cannabidiol is incorporated or sold does not necessarily mean that it is valid or if there is any CBD in the product at all. What retailers do is satisfy the consumer’s curiosity by developing novel ways to market the compound, even at the expense of the buyer.
Much like vitamins and supplements, CBD and other cannabinoids are mostly untested and unregulated, yet many Americans purchase such products. The more or less have the same reasons, such as distrust for pharmaceuticals, lack of medical care access, or curiosity about the new product.
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