DEA lab offers look into testing vape cartridges for THC


CHICAGO — Thirty-seven people have died and nearly 2,000 people in almost every state have gotten sick after vaping or using an e-cigarette.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, many of those who have gotten sick used illegal vape cartridges that were laced with THC, which is the active ingredient in marijuana.The DEA is trying to crack down on those illegal cartridges.

In rare access, the Drug Enforcement Administration allowed Crimetracker10's Lacey Crisp into their lab where they test the cartridges.

They were made popular with those looking for a healthier alternative to smoking. Now, the Centers for Disease Control has issued warnings of the dangers of vaping.

“There's no quality control on the streets. You never know what you are getting. This is the root cause for the trouble that exists in the drug business," said DEA Lab Director, Melanie Domagala.

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In several states, including Ohio, there have been arrests because people are lacing vape cartridges illegally with THC. Three people were indicted in May in Cleveland, where the DEA confiscated at least 1,700 THC laced cartridges.

“Most of the vapes I analyze have THC,” said forensic chemist Tycho Spadaro.

The DEA lab in Chicago gave 10TV exclusive access to show how they test the cartridges to see if they are laced with THC.

“There wasn't someone with a depth of vape analysis experience here before me,” Spadaro said.

Just a year ago, the DEA wasn't testing vape cartridges. Now, they say the number of cartridges laced with THC has exploded.

“Within the past year, we've gone from zero to we have enough to assign a chemist, this is the job they have to do,” Domagala said.

Meet Tycho, or as he's known in the lab, “The vape guy, yeah,” he said. smirking.

He has had to get creative to find a way to test the liquid inside the cartridges.

“I just use a binder clip and set it in there to let the sample come out,” Spadaro said.

It's a slow and tedious process to remove the liquid and test the product. For his own safety, Spadaro places the sample inside a hood so the vape gets swept away and doesn't make him sick.

According to the CDC, 86% of those who got sick using vape cartridges say they used products laced with THC.

After he extracts the liquid, the test tubes go into this machine that separates all the chemicals in the sample. It tells the forensic chemists exactly how much of each chemical is in the product.

“I enjoy that we are making a difference. There are the news stories of the harms that come, especially from illicit THC vape cartridges,” Spadaro said.

The former chemistry teacher turned forensic scientist said he enjoys his job, knowing he is making an impact on people's lives and on an issue that is only growing.

“To know that we're working to counter the global drug threat and especially the drug threat that's here in the north central region in America, I think is important,” Spadaro said.

The Chicago lab is just one of eight DEA labs across the country that tests vape cartridges for THC.