KUALA LUMPUR, July 18 — Advertising and sale of vape liquids, supposedly with cannabidiol (CBD), proliferate in Malaysian groups on Facebook and Telegram, even though cannabis derivatives are illegal under the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952.
The widespread online distribution of e-liquids with so-called “CBD” – a marijuana compound that does not cause a high – complicates efforts by police authorities to crack down on adulterated e-cigarettes, especially after the federal health regulator, the Ministry of Health (MOH), removed liquid nicotine from control under the Poisons Act 1952.
The terms “CBD” and “FDA” (yes, the United States’ Food and Drug Administration) appear to be code names used online in Malaysia to market vape and e-cigarettes containing illegal drugs.
The March 31 order by Health Minister Dr Zaliha Mustafa to exempt liquid and gel nicotine from the Poisons List effectively legalised the sale of vape and e-cigarette liquids with nicotine to everyone in the country, including minors aged below 18.
Dr Zaliha’s predecessor, Khairy Jamaluddin, said last April that even though nicotine vape was illegal prior to the March 31 delisting of liquid nicotine, enforcement was difficult because the authorities could not confirm immediately during raids if the e-liquid products sold contained nicotine.
But now, with the Malaysian vape market likely to expand following the declassification of liquid nicotine, this could lead to an increase in adulterated vape products containing drugs.
CodeBlue’s recent investigations found companies from China and local manufacturers touting so-called “CBD” vape devices or liquids on Facebook and Telegram.
These social networks, with labyrinthine pages and groups, are used to hide the advertising and marketing of narcotic-infused vape liquids in plain sight, while WhatsApp, with end-to-end encryption, is used for sale of these products.
Empty ‘CBD’ Vape Devices From China Advertised on Malaysian Facebook
Facebook’s group pages in Malaysia are one of the easiest ways for vapers to become acquainted with illegal vape substances — the primary one being advertised is CBD.
While posts advertising the sale of drug-laced e-liquids are sparse on group pages (unless you know what key term to use for a search), posts from Chinese vape manufacturing companies soliciting wholesalers and retailers for empty “CBD” vape devices are common.
A representative who claims to be from Shenzhen Union Vape Technology and to be living in China boldly posts advertisements for the company’s CBD vape devices and welcomes messages from wholesalers to contact her on the Dunia Vape Malaysia group page.
According to the representative, the CBD vape market is “hot” and the company’s empty pens are a popular product. Although not selling CBD vape liquid – which is an illegal substance in Malaysia – the advertisement for these empty pens suggest that Malaysians do dabble in CBD oil vaping.
“Now that the CBD Vape market is hot, our empty CBD Vape Pens are top-rated, welcome inquiry, only wholesale, WhatsApp,” reads the representative’s post last February 22.
On the person’s profile page are numerous posts for the other empty CBD vape devices and some of the common ratios of CBD oil to vape liquid.
“Factory direct sale 5ml empty disposable vape, the common mix is 30% cbd oil + 70% vape e-liquid,” reads a post from May 8.
Another representative from China posted an advert last March 31 for empty CBD disposable vape and pod devices. Unlike Union Vape’s devices, Fei Zhu’s devices look polished and sleek, resembling many of the common vape pens on the market.
For curious Malaysian youths, this could be their first glimpse into the world of CBD vaping. The online promotion of “empty” CBD vape devices also appears to fall into a grey area of Malaysian law; it’s unclear if such devices are illegal under the Dangerous Drugs Act.
Suspected Homebrews Of Drug-Containing Vape Liquid Marketed As ‘CBD’
Having been exposed to empty CBD vape pens on the Malaysian market, all curious Facebookers need to do is to key in “CBD” into Dunia Vape Malaysia group page’s search bar and scroll a little to find the first seller of what appears to be CBD vape e-liquid.
The first result is a post last March 22 from a person advertising SuperHives vape, with images of four vape liquid products. The Facebook post also includes a WhatsApp link for orders and a link to a Telegram group with over 700 members.
Below each product pictured in the Facebook post is a tiny table of information telling consumers the flavour the product comes in, the claim that the product contains CBD, the level of “CBD” content in the product (the general descriptor used for this is “Supermax”), and the heads-up that this is only for “Hardcore Players”.
The SuperHives line of vape belongs to the King of Chill brand, one of two extremely popular brands for “CBD” vape e-liquid. Under this brand, there are many lines of “CBD” vape liquid, such as the extremely popular Reef line which includes Reef Hulk and Reef Spider.
As with the names, the packaging of the King of Chill line of products features popular characters from pop culture, such as Spider-Man, Thor, the Hulk, and Godzilla on its product packaging.
According to many of the product descriptions, the King of Chill brand contains CBD and supposedly originates from the United States. The packaging even features a purported US FDA approval stamp.
However, CodeBlue’s online check disputes such claims. Having gone through numerous American online stores such as CBD Fx, CodeBlue could not find the existence of the King of Chill brand; the same results turned up when looking through vape review platforms such as Oracle and Vape Passion.
The FDA said last February that the only cannabis-related treatments it has approved are Epidiolex (CBD), a cannabis-derived drug product, as well as three synthetic cannabis-related drug products: Marinol (dronabinol), Syndros (dronabinol), and Cesamet (nabilone). Epidiolex, which contains a purified form of CBD, is approved for the treatment of seizures associated with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome or Dravet syndrome
Many online sellers in Malaysia post claims for their so-called “CBD” vape products like “1 @ 2 puff only can go to the moon… very strong!! Trust me,” and “The Real Level Super Max!!! 100% Kuat, hanya utk Player heavy sahaja… (The real super level max!!! 100 per cent strong, only for heavy players).”
Such comments strongly suggest that these vape liquids may not actually contain CBD despite its marketing as such – as CBD is not a psychoactive substance – but that these products may contain drugs that produce a high.
Despite claims of these products’ origin in the US, it’s possible that these vape liquids are actually homebrewed in Malaysia.
In some online forums, Malaysians say that the use of #CBD or #FDA hashtags indicate that the vape liquids are homebrewed with drugs.
Vape Warning Label Hints at Drugs: Don’t Use While Driving
BTAB is another homebrew brand that is marketed as “CBD” vape liquid supposedly imported from the United States. Like King of Chill, the product packaging features famous comic book characters.
Although sellers claim and imply that these products contain CBD or other psychotropic drugs, there is nothing obvious in photos of product packaging that explicitly states the vape liquid contains narcotics.
The only warnings displayed are the nicotine content warning and other standard warnings: the product is not for those aged under 18 or pregnant women.
While these are common warnings found on conventional vape packaging, there is one element that stands out. Inconspicuously thrown in with the other labels is the warning that the product is not to be used while driving, simply depicted as a picture of a car with a line slashing through it.
No regular vape brands containing nicotine have that particular warning, indicating that the product possibly contains drugs.
Another peculiar feature of these “CBD” vape products is the strength level. On the side of the box are levels: low, normal, medium, high, and max. The packaging suggests that this is the nicotine strength of the product, as it is located just above the nicotine warning or next to the nicotine warning.
But regular nicotine vape products do not contain such levels to indicate nicotine strength; in fact, there is often no mention as to how much nicotine there is inside vape products. Thus, the only other thing this level could possibly be referring to is the amount or the strength of the psychotropic ingredients inside the vape liquid.
Both brands are sold only in 10ml bottles, and a single bottle can set purchasers back RM90 to RM180 – much more expensive than typical nicotine e-cigarette liquids that usually retail at about RM30 onwards for a 30ml bottle of e-liquid.
This is another sign that the products possibly contain illegal narcotics. Sellers offer a smaller quantity at a cheaper price and also the ability to make bulk purchases.
The Bsafe Group Malaysia Telegram group advertises the different prices of BTAB vape available to users depending on the amount they purchase. The post states that if users purchase one to four bottles, they will be charged RM120; if they purchase five to nine bottles, each bottle will only set them back RM115; but if they purchase 70 and above, they will only be charged RM95 a bottle.
National Anti-Drugs Agency director-general Sutekno Ahmad Belon told New Straits Times last April that based on their interviews with drug addicts undergoing rehabilitation, these narcotic-laced e-liquids contain drugs such as ice, syabu, methamphetamine, and synthetic marijuana.
‘Pening’ Or ‘Shroom’ Vape Flavour
Besides so-called CBD, the marketing of some vape products hint at magic mushrooms or psilocybin, which vapers call the “shroom” or “pening” (headache) flavour.
Magic mushrooms are a psychedelic drug with hallucinogenic effects. The key ingredient in magic mushrooms is psilocybin. When psilocybin is taken, it’s converted in the body to psilocin which is a chemical with psychoactive properties.
Padu Vape Sri Petaling posted on Facebook in 2021, informing users that vapes are not drugs and that it should not be lumped together with the pening flavour.
On TikTok, there are a plethora of posts that warn vapers to stay away from these drug-laced e-liquids as well.
TikTokker Izzad Daniel said trying the pening flavour could lead vapers down a road to drugs, beginning with drug-laced vape before crossing the line to heroin and other pills.
He urged parents to warn their children about the dangers of vaping and said that disposable pre-filled vapes are not the problem when it comes to drug-laced e-liquid, but pods and refillable devices.
The current market for drug-laced e-liquids only allows users with open-pod vape pens and refillable mods access to the drug, as the drug needs to be either dripped onto the cotton attached to the coil of the device or mixed in with regular e-liquid or be filled into an empty device or pod.
Many drug suppliers have posted pictures that their customers sent them to prove that their products are authentic, and in these pictures, the most common devices seen are open-pod systems.
This is unsurprising as open-pod systems are very common in the local market, with large varieties of easily maintainable vape pens.
However, the drug vape market could change with the influx of disposable devices that are a gateway for new vapers due to lower cost, especially since manufacturers from China have already begun advertising disposable empty CBD vape devices.
Telegram: Your Weekly Drug Newsletter
While Facebook is the billboard for drug-laced vape liquids, Telegram functions more as a daily or weekly newsletter for the latest batches of e-liquids, pricing, and out-of-stock products.
Consumers can gain access to these groups via Facebook or Instagram, where those touting so-called “CBD” vapes actively advertise their Telegram groups to potential customers.
Sellers even go the extra mile to entice potential customers to join these groups by posting special discount prices that can only be unlocked once users join the Telegram groups.
The groups on Telegram vary in size, with one group having 264 subscribers, another having 601 subscribers, and the largest one that CodeBlue has seen with 1,019 subscribers.
One large Telegram group going by the name Chill Premium Liquid sells huge quantities of vape liquid in 100ml to 1,000ml bottles, with prices starting at RM2,000 and ending at RM14,500. Some of the brands sold in the Telegram group claim to sell “CBD” vape, like BTAB.
The Telegram group uses the term “pati” to describe their products, a common term referring to so-called “CBD” oils and concoctions. Customers who purchase the oils will blend it with other vape liquids to create their own personalised blends.
Chill Premium Liquid’s Telegram Group also solicits retailers, with the group admins asking customers to privately message them if they want to become agents and sell their products, which consist of flavours, essential oils, and freebase liquid.
Bulk purchases are common in this group; and the admins regularly post wholesale promotion prices. They even uploaded an estimate of delivery dates for their goods during the Hari Raya Aidilfitri holidays.
Like with all other Telegram groups, subscribers cannot purchase their products through Telegram, but need to go through WhatsApp to place their orders and make their purchases. Sellers will then pack and send out orders through numerous delivery companies available, including Lalamove.
Most of the Facebook and Telegram groups and TikTokkers advertising so-called “CBD” vapes used Bahasa Malaysia in their posts. People responding to these posts also used the national language and appeared to be Malay, based on their profile pictures and names.
Vaping drugs is not a new trend in Malaysia. In November last year, the Royal Malaysia Police (PDRM) confirmed that drug-laced e-liquids were openly sold in Malaysia.
Last January, PDRM arrested 11 people and seized RM77,000 worth of drug-laced e-liquids following a raid in Jalan Klang Lama here. Brickfields police chief Assistant Commissioner Amihizam Abdul Shukor said police had found 494 grams of cannabis and 3,496ml of cannabis-infused vape liquid.