CARLSBAD, CA. (AP) – Some of the people who rushed into the emergency room thought the inhaled CBD vapour would help as a gentle medicine. Others puffed it for fun.
Instead, the fumes delivered a blast of synthetic marijuana, causing a heavy barrage of hallucinations and even seizures.
More than 50 people around Salt Lake City were poisoned at the time. The outbreak ended early last year, mostly by a vape named Yolo! – the acronym for "you only live once".
In recent months, hundreds of Vapus users have developed mysterious lung diseases, and more than 30 have died. Yolo was different. Users knew immediately that something was wrong.
Who was responsible for Yolo? Public health officials and investigators could not figure that out. As it seemed to come from nowhere, Yolo faded without a trace.
In an investigation into the illegal incitement of CBD vapes, which are said to have no psychoactive effect, The Associated Press attempted to understand the story behind Yolo.
The trail led to a beach town in southern California and a businesswoman whose habits triggered a career change that led her from Hollywood parties to Manhattan federal court.
When Janell Thompson moved from Utah to San Diego area in 2010, the roommate who found her online has also evaporated. Thompson had a background in financial services and the two decided to turn their common interest into a business and founded an e-cigarette company called Hookahzz.
There were first successes. Thompson and her partner distributed Hookahzz products at an Emmy Awards pre-party and their CBD vapes were inducted into Oscar-nominated gift bags in 2014. In a video shot at a trade show, an industry insider described the two women as "the divas" of CBD. "
In fact, Hookahzz was one of the first companies to sell CBAS, as the cannabis extract cannabidiol is known, and cannabidiol, a popular ingredient in skin creams and gummy bears, was little known and illegal at the time
The partners founded other brands that offered CBD capsules and confectionery, as well as pet products, and part of Thompson's bad luck was that CBD helped treat their dog's tumors.
In the fall of 2017, Thompson and her Partners another company, the Mathco Health Corporation. Within months, Yolo appeared on the shelves of Salt Lake City mixed with synthetic marijuana – commonly known as K2 or spice.
Synthetic marijuana is man-made and can be sold for a fraction of the time Usually produced from industrial hemp that needs to be bred.
The in Ut The samples tested on ah laboratories showed that Yolo contained synthetic marijuana, which was responsible for at least 11 deaths in Europe – and no CBD at all.
The authorities believed that some people sought out Yolo because they wanted to go high, while others unknowingly took a dangerous drug. What the authorities did not understand was the source.
State Bureau of Investigation investigators in Utah visited vape stores where Yolo was sold but nobody spoke. The packaging contained no contact information.
Until May 2018, the case was cold. But it was not dead.
This summer, a former Mathco accountant preparing to file a retaliatory complaint at work gathered evidence of what she saw as bad business practices.
During her research, Tatianna Gustafson saw online images According to the complaint she filed against Mathco at the California Department of Labor Relations, Yolo was the main cause of the poisoning in Utah.
Gustafson wrote that during her time at Mathco she was worried about how Yolo was made, that it was ruled out by Mathcos publicity material and that the "labels had no ingredients or contact list".
Justin Davis, another former employee of Mathco, told AP that "profit margins for Yolo are greater" than for other products.
Gustafson's complaint alleged that Mathco or JK Wholesale, another company founded, mixed and distributed by Thompson and her partner Yolo. The financial records in the complaint show that Thompson's initials are the main salesman for Yolo transactions, even with a company in Utah. Records also show that Yolo has been sold to at least six other states, including an address in South Carolina where a student said he vaporizes a cartridge that sent him into a coma.
The Former Accountant Also Tipped The Utah Poison Control Center According to her complaint, who she believed was behind Yolo.
Barbara Crouch, managing director of the Poison Center, recalled receiving a tip at the end of 2018 and forwarding it to the State Bureau of Investigation. SBI agent Christopher Elsholz spoke with the tipper, who told him she believed in the company she worked for and distributed Yolo. Elsholz said the company was in California and therefore outside its jurisdiction, and passed the reference to the US Drug Enforcement Agency.
The DEA offered to help, but did not take any prosecutions, said spokeswoman Mary Brandenberger. Spiked CBD has been a low priority for an agency dealing with major issues such as the opioid epidemic that has killed tens of thousands of people.
After all, it was not the synthetic marijuana drug in Yolo, Utah, that caught up with Thompson. It was a different kind of synthetics that was added to different brands.
At the time of the Utah poisonings, the Black Magic and Black Diamond Vapes had sickened more than 40 people in North Carolina, including students and members of the military. Investigators were able to link Thompson to this outbreak, in part due to a culpable plea from the distributor of spiked Vapes. One woman, who was classified by the authorities as Thompson, supplied the liquid that had entered her.
The prosecutors also accused her of dealing with traders in New York, where she pleaded guilty last month to distributing synthetic marijuana and a money laundering fee. The only brand named by the federal prosecutor was Yolo.
Attorney Geoffrey Berman called Thompson a "drug trafficker" who used JK Wholesale in 2014 to distribute "large quantities" of synthetic marijuana. She faces imprisonment of up to 40 years. Thompson declined to talk about Yolo and then hung up. In a subsequent text message, Thompson told her not to call and referred questions to her lawyer who did not respond to comments.
While Yolo was Thompson's project and she was the exclusive saleswoman, her business partner and former roommate was involved in the production, according to the complaint of retaliation in the workplace.
Thompson's business partner and former roommate Katarina Maloney distanced herself from Mathias headquarters in Carlsbad, California, from Thompson and Yolo during an interview in August. Maloney was not indicted in the federal investigation.
"Truth be told, that was my business partner," Maloney said of Yolo. She said Thompson was no longer her partner and she did not want to discuss it.
In a follow-up email, Maloney claimed that Yolo in Utah was "not bought by us" without any further explanation.
"Mathco The Health Corporation or one of its affiliates does not engage in the manufacture or sale of illegal products," she wrote. "When products leave our factory, they are 100% in compliance with all laws."
Maloney also said that all products were tested in the lab. She did not respond to requests for Yolo lab results.