Massachusetts cannabis regulators revealed Thursday that about a dozen vape cartridges tested earlier this month were positive for lead — results released just hours after the first marijuana dispensaries announced they were returning newly manufactured vapes to store shelves.
The cartridges tested were collected by the Cannabis Control Commission from a unique sampling of licensees in November and December, and they were screened for heavy metals and for vitamin E acetate, the latter of which has been linked to some vaping-related illnesses nationwide.
The results from November and December found no detectable amounts of vitamin E acetate in the cartridge samples, but the December tests released Thursday found 13 products with “impermissible levels of lead,” the commission wrote.
In the test results, the commission lists the product names but not where individual samples were manufactured.
“These findings make clear that the commission should, and will, continue its investigation into vaping products,” the CCC wrote in a statement. “As additional information and findings become available, the commission will continue to share them with the public.”
The acceptable threshold for lead in vaping products is 500 parts per billion, the commission said. Seven of the 13 cartridges tested had lead amounts between 500 and 1,000 parts per billion, and four had amounts between 1,000 and 2,000 parts per billion.
But two cartridges tested for particularly high amounts of lead: A product called UKU CO2 Double Dr m (H) tested for 29,814 parts per billion, and another called CuraSlim CO2 Strawberry tested for 17,353 parts per billion. CuraSlim is a product manufactured by Curaleaf, a Wakefield-based cannabis company that is one of the largest in the country.
Licensed companies in Massachusetts are required to have the marijuana concentrates in their vape cartridges tested for contaminants prior to packaging. It’s unclear whether the high lead levels found in the 13 products were present in that initial testing — somehow evading detection — or whether lead in the vape hardware leached into and contaminated the concentrate.
Curaleaf president Patrik Jonsson said in a statement Friday that the company only sells products that have passed Massachusetts’ testing requirements, and it is working with MCR Labs, which detected the lead in the CuraSlim product, to “better understand the testing procedure used for these tests.”
Jonsson also emphasized that none of the products from those batches are currently being sold.
“Because we use tamper-proof hardware, it is extremely difficult to test the filled products because they must be broken open, which may have contaminated the readings in this case,” Jonsson said. “In November 2019, Curaleaf proactively tested 3 out of the 4 same batches identified by the Cannabis Control Commission in its report using this same lab and these samples passed. We will be retesting these products with MCR labs as well as a second lab immediately.”
Jupiter, the company that manufactures all of Curaleaf’s vaping hardware, also questioned the validity of the testing results, calling them “out of the norm."
“We believe the testing procedure may have contaminated the test results in this case,” the company wrote in a statement.
But MCR Labs stood by its testing procedures Friday. CEO Michael Kahn said the lab “doesn’t have any reason to doubt the accuracy of the tests that were performed.”
“It would be irresponsible to speculate as to the cause of this issue until [a] more thorough investigation takes place,” he said.
The tests are part of an ongoing investigation by the commission into the safety of cannabis vapes in Massachusetts that are produced and sold by licensed companies. Last week, the commission amended a quarantine order that had halted the sale of any vaping products in stores, allowing companies to start selling vapes that were manufactured on Dec. 12 or later and tested for vitamin E acetate and heavy metals, among other things.
Companies began announcing Thursday that their newly manufactured vaping products had returned from state labs and could be sold.
Sira Naturals, which has medical dispensaries in Needham and Somerville, and CommCan, which has an adult-use store in Millis and a medical dispensary in Southborough, said they began selling vaping products Thursday.
Many other companies said Friday they are still awaiting results but expect to have products available to customers soon.
New England Treatment Access, which has adult-use stores in Brookline and Northampton, expects to begin selling vaping products Saturday. Insa, which has stores in Easthampton, Salem, and Springfield, also plans to begin selling by Saturday.