What is the Cartdemic?

In recent years, the cannabis community has witnessed an emerging phenomenon known as the "cartdemic," a term blending "cartridge" and "pandemic" to describe the surge in popularity of unlicensed THC vape cartridges among Generation Z users. This trend gained prominence between 2019 and 2021, coinciding with the rise of discreet THC vapes and the absence of strict regulation in the booming North American cannabis market​​.

During this period, reports of lung illnesses and other health risks linked to additives in black-market THC vapes brought attention to the potential dangers of unregulated products. As social media platforms became spaces where users could share their personal experiences, the "cartdemic" became a topic of heated discussion. Users began reporting troubling symptoms like slowed speech, stuttering, and impaired cognitive function, attributing these effects to prolonged use of illicit THC vape cartridges​.

In this blog, we'll explore the origins of the cartdemic, delve into the reported symptoms and their implications, and examine how this phenomenon has shaped public discourse and regulatory measures around cannabis products. Join us as we unpack this unsettling chapter in modern cannabis culture and consider the lessons learned about the importance of safety and regulation in the cannabis industry.

Origins and Timeline

cartdemic generation Z

The cartdemic has its roots in the late 2010s, a period marked by growing interest in THC vape cartridges due to their ease of use and discreet nature. As cannabis became increasingly legalized across several states in the U.S., the market for THC vape pens expanded rapidly. By 2019, the rising popularity of these devices, particularly among younger users seeking a convenient and less noticeable method of cannabis consumption, led to an influx of unregulated products entering the market​​.

As more unregulated products entered the market, illicit THC vape cartridges became a significant public health concern due to their lack of regulatory oversight and testing. Many of these unlicensed products were found to contain harmful additives like Vitamin E acetate, which were associated with cases of a severe lung illness known as EVALI (E-cigarette or Vaping-Associated Lung Injury). This outbreak caused several deaths and a multitude of hospitalizations, prompting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to issue a warning against using unlicensed vape cartridges​.

As the cartdemic continued to unfold, Generation Z teens who had used unlicensed THC cartridges began reporting long-term side effects, such as slowed speech, impaired cognitive function, and stuttering. Social media platforms played a pivotal role in bringing attention to the issue as videos featuring users discussing their experiences with unregulated carts and the perceived consequences of the cartdemic quickly went viral, sparking a broader conversation about the safety and regulation of cannabis products​.

Despite efforts to increase regulation and educate consumers on the risks of unlicensed THC vapes, many young people continued using these products as they were often unaware of their potential dangers. This period marked a significant chapter in the history of cannabis consumption and served as a wake-up call to consumers, industry professionals, and regulators alike about the importance of prioritizing safety and transparency in the evolving cannabis market.

Symptoms and Effects

symptoms of using illegal THC cartridges

The most commonly reported symptoms of those affected by the cartdemic include slowed speech, stuttering, and a noticeable decline in cognitive processing abilities.

Mental Processing and Speech Impairment

One of the primary concerns was a noticeable delay in mental processing and speech. Users described struggling to find the right words or complete sentences without stuttering, even years after the onset of the cartdemic.

Memory and Concentration Problems

Another effect frequently mentioned was a decline in memory retention and concentration. Many individuals reported a foggy state of mind, affecting their ability to focus on daily tasks and articulate their thoughts clearly. These cognitive symptoms were shared humorously on social media but raised genuine concerns about the long-term effects of using unregulated vape cartridges.

Respiratory Issues and EVALI

In addition to cognitive symptoms, some users developed respiratory issues linked to E-cigarette or Vaping-Associated Lung Injury (EVALI). This condition was largely attributed to the presence of Vitamin E acetate and other additives in illicit THC vape cartridges, which posed a significant health risk. Several cases of EVALI resulted in hospitalization, bringing further scrutiny to the dangers of black-market products​ ​.

Despite these warnings about unlicensed cartridges being spread around, some continued to use them, often due to a lack of awareness about their risks. These symptoms and side effects underscored the need for better consumer education and stronger regulatory measures to prevent future incidents and promote safer cannabis consumption.

Public Response and Discussion

social media hashtag cartdemic

The cartdemic sparked widespread conversations on social media and prompted various responses from both the public and regulatory bodies. TikTok, in particular, became a platform where Generation Z users shared their experiences with unlicensed THC cartridges. Videos under the "cartdemic" hashtag humorously yet pointedly highlight issues like stuttering, brain fog, and slowed speech, using popular audio clips and text captions to emphasize these effects​​.

Memes and Trends

Memes and trends surrounding the cartdemic reflected a mix of humor and genuine concern. Creators would often post videos showing the difficulties they faced with speech and cognitive processing, framing their struggles in a comedic way that resonated with others. These videos gained traction quickly, sparking a broader conversation about the safety of THC vape cartridges and how the cartdemic impacted mental health.

Media and Regulatory Response

Traditional media outlets picked up the topic, highlighting the severity of the risks associated with unregulated THC cartridges. Reports on EVALI and the dangers of additives like Vitamin E acetate increased public awareness of the potential health risks. Regulatory agencies responded by warning consumers against using unlicensed THC products and emphasizing the importance of purchasing from reputable sources.

Consumer Education

The cartdemic also prompted greater efforts in consumer education. Brands began to emphasize the importance of third-party testing and transparent labeling, while some dispensaries provided information on the benefits of purchasing from licensed sellers. Additionally, guides on finding high-quality vape cartridges and choosing safe products became more prevalent, helping users navigate the complex landscape of cannabis consumption safely​​.

Overall, the public response to the cartdemic emphasized the need for better regulation and greater consumer awareness to prevent the same issues from recurring in the future.

Regulatory and Market Implications

only buy thc cartridges from legal sources

The cartdemic brought to light significant challenges related to regulating cannabis products, particularly THC vape cartridges. Health risks associated with illicit products underscored the need for stricter oversight, and the widespread reporting of adverse effects catalyzed several changes in regulatory approaches and market practices.

Regulatory Measures

Government agencies, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), launched investigations into the causes of vaping-related illnesses, urging consumers to avoid using black-market THC vape products. In addition, several states implemented stricter regulations on cannabis cartridges, mandating comprehensive lab testing and clear labeling to ensure transparency​​. Manufacturers are now required to disclose the contents of their products and ensure they meet specific safety standards.

Market Response

The industry responded by emphasizing safety and quality assurance. Many brands began to adopt third-party lab testing as a standard practice and developed clear labeling systems that outlined ingredients and cannabinoid levels. Some businesses have even established partnerships with certified testing labs to bolster consumer confidence​.

Consumer Education

Education campaigns promoting awareness of the risks associated with unlicensed THC vape products became more prominent. Cannabis companies highlighted the importance of sourcing products from reputable, licensed dispensaries, and guides on selecting high-quality vape cartridges began to circulate​.

Growth of Legal Market

The cartdemic has also influenced the growth of the legal cannabis market, driving consumers away from illicit products and toward regulated options. This shift has led to an increased demand for transparency, quality control, and innovative safety measures, such as improved cartridge designs that prevent tampering or contamination.

Overall, the cartdemic marked a turning point in cannabis regulation and market practices. It emphasized the importance of robust quality standards, public awareness, and reliable product sourcing to foster a safer and more trustworthy cannabis industry.


The cartdemic highlighted both the potential dangers of unlicensed THC vape cartridges and the importance of maintaining strict standards in the evolving cannabis industry. As Generation Z users recounted their experiences and shared the cognitive and respiratory symptoms they attributed to these unregulated products, it became clear that a lack of oversight and transparency posed significant health risks​.

In response, government agencies, the cannabis industry, and consumers themselves sought ways to address the issue. Regulatory bodies tightened testing requirements, brands prioritized quality and transparency, and consumer education became more widespread to prevent future incidents​​. These changes have helped guide consumers towards safer products while fostering an environment that prioritizes health and safety.

The lessons learned from the cartdemic serve as a wake-up call for the entire cannabis industry, emphasizing the need for rigorous quality standards and better consumer education. By addressing these challenges head-on, the cannabis market can continue to evolve in a way that ensures the safety, satisfaction, and well-being of consumers.