A few months earlier, there were troubling signs of other contaminated CBD products, all the way on the other side of the country. A researcher at Virginia Commonwealth University heard about a person who felt extremely high after using a CBD vape pen. Alarmed, the researcher—Michelle Peace, Ph.D., associate professor in the department of forensic science—and her team decided to test the product to see what was going on.
“There was nothing unusual looking about the products,” she says. But her testing showed that, as in Utah, the vaping liquid contained a dangerous form of synthetic cannabinoid. In this case, it was 5-fluoro MDMB-PINACA or 5F-ADB, a compound that can trigger paranoia and panic attacks, increase heart rate and blood pressure, and cause convulsions, organ damage, and even death, according to the Drug Enforcement Agency.
And the test found something else, too: One product contained over-the-counter cough medicine dextromethorphan, which has a reputation, especially in teens, for being able to get users high.
“We were not that surprised by the synthetic cannabinoid, 5F-ADB, since the effects the person had were in line with what other patients have said [with that drug],” Peace says. “But the dextromethorphan was a surprise.” She and colleagues are testing additional samples of the same products now and hope to have results by this summer.
Those may be extreme examples, but adulterated, contaminated, or mislabeled CBD products aren’t isolated occurrences. A 2017 study published in JAMA by researchers at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine found that more than two-thirds of the products they purchased online were mislabeled, containing more CBD than listed on the label, less of it, or none at all. The tests also found some CBD products with more THC than listed on the label, sometimes much more.