Some operators are cashing in on the CBD craze by substituting cheap and illegal synthetic marijuana for real CBD in vapes and edibles such as gummy bears, an investigation has found.

A vape shop worker consumes electronic smoking products in a local store in Jersey City, New Jersey, US.
A vape shop worker consumes electronic smoking products in a local store in Jersey City, New Jersey, US. (Reuters)

Jay Jenkins says he hesitated when a buddy suggested they vape CBD (cannabidiol).

"It'll relax you," the friend assured.

The vapour that Jenkins inhaled didn't relax him. After two puffs, he ended up in a coma.

That's because the vapour he inhaled wasn't CBD, a natural cannabis compound that marketers say can treat a range of ailments without getting users high. 

Instead, the vape was spiked with a powerful, man-made street drug.

Some operators are cashing in on the CBD craze by substituting cheap and illegal synthetic marijuana for real CBD in vapes and edibles such as gummy bears, an Associated Press (AP) investigation found.

Spiked vapes have sent dozens of people like Jenkins to emergency rooms over the last two years. 

Yet people behind the products have operated with impunity, in part because the business has boomed so fast that regulators haven't caught up while drug-enforcement agents have higher priorities.

Playing Russian roulette

AP commissioned laboratory testing of the vape Jenkins used plus 29 other vape products sold as CBD around the country, with a focus on brands that authorities or users flagged as suspect.

Ten of the 30 contained synthetic marijuana, which is commonly known as K2 or spice.

One brand, a pod compatible with Juul electronic cigarettes called Green Machine, contained a different kind of synthetic marijuana depending on the flavour and even location of purchase.

"It's Russian roulette," said James Neal-Kababick, director of Flora Research Laboratories, which tested the products.

The results of AP's testing echo what authorities have found, a nationwide survey of law-enforcement agencies shows.

At least 128 samples out of more than 350 tested by government labs in nine states, nearly all in the South, had synthetic marijuana in products marketed as CBD, according to information the states provided AP. 

Gummy bears and other edibles accounted for 36 hits, while nearly all others were vape products. Mississippi authorities also found fentanyl, the opioid involved in about 30,000 overdose deaths last year.

Because testing by both authorities and AP focused on suspect products, the results are not representative of the overall market.

Source: AP