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Plants of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden

The oldest public wildflower garden in the United States

Common Name
Indian Hemp (American Dogbane, Black Indian Hemp, Hemp-Dogbane, Prairie Dogbane)

Scientific Name
Apocynum cannabinum L.

Plant Family
Dogbane (Apocynaceae)

Garden Location

Prime Season
Early to Late Summer Flowering

The Dogbanes are plants with a milky juice, short tubular or bell-shaped flowers with five lobes, widely branched at the top with the flowers in clusters.

Indian Hemp is a native erect perennial growing from 2 to 5 feet high. The main stem is branched toward the top with ascending branches; stems take on a purplish color with maturity and contain a milky juice as do the leaves. Dry stems in Autumn produce a tough fiber.

Leaves: The 2 to 4 inch long leaves are opposite, oblong to ovate with the lower ones rounded at the base and stalked. Tips taper to a point with the main vein sometimes extending to a sharp point. Margins are smooth as is the upper surface. The leaves turn a brilliant yellow in the fall.

The inflorescence is a branched cluster (a cyme) at the top of the stem with additional clusters rising from the upper leaf axils. There are short bracts at the base of the cluster.

The flowers are small with a white to greenish-white corolla (1/8 to 1/4 inch long) with 5 erect to slightly spreading lobes forming a tubular-bell shape. There is a tinge of pink inside the corolla. The green calyx is very short with 5 pointed lobes. There are 5 stamens with orange anthers that form a cone around the style. The nectaries are at the bottom of the corolla, total 5, and alternate with the stamens.

Seed: Fertile flowers produce pairs of seed pods that are very thin and long – up to 8 inches long, which, when split open (usually in the spring) release many brown narrow 3/8 inch long seeds, each with a tuft of long white hairs at the top, resembling Milkweed, for easy transport by air currents. Unlike Milkweed, the seed tips face the top of the pod.

The plant is toxic. See notes at bottom of the page.

Habitat: Indian Hemp grows from rhizomes and has a taproot, forming colonies from the spreading of the rhizomes, and also from seed production. Being a prairie plant it prefers full sun, loamy soil, wet-mesic to dry-mesic conditions. Indian hemp requires cutting of stems in the fall or burning to stimulate vigorous spring growth. The Upland Garden at Eloise Butler produces many more of these plants following a prairie burn. It also is more abundant in years with moist spring weather.

Name: Indian hemp is a member of the Dogbane family, a family well known even to the old Greeks. It was the Greek writer of the 1st century, Dioscorides, who provided the Greek name “apokynon” from which comes the generic name Apocynum, and means "away from dog" – referencing the plants toxic nature if eaten by dogs. The species name, cannabinum, means “of cannabis” or “of hemp”, referring to the woody outer fiber of the stem. It was for the use of these fibers that the common name of Indian hemp is derived. The author name for the plant classification – ‘L.’ is for Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778), Swedish botanist and the developer of the binomial nomenclature of modern taxonomy.

Comparisons: A plant with somewhat similar flowers and seed pods, but different growing habit is Spreading Dogbane, Apocynum androsaemifolium. Young sprouts can be confused with Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) which is also toxic but less so than Prairie Dogbane. It comes up at the same time and also has milky sap. Milkweed stems however are green, less tough and usually hairy and milkweed is usually unbranched. The uninformed may confuse a young shoot with the edible Asparagus (Asparagus officinalis) but there again, the young shoot is more greenish.

See bottom of page for notes on the Garden’s planting history, distribution in Minnesota and North America, lore and other references.

Above: 1st & 2nd photos – The inflorescence is a branched cluster (a cyme) at the top of the stem with additional clusters rising from the upper leaf axils. The green calyx is very short. 3rd photo – Fall color with a pair of seed pods.

Below: 1st photo – The long seed pods appear in pairs. 2nd photo – The prior years seed pods splitting in the spring and releasing seeds. Note – seed tips face top of pod, opposite those of milkweed. 3rd photo – An individual seed, 3/8 inch long with many white hairs for wind dispersion.

Below: 1st photo – The corolla has five erect spreading lobes forming a bell shape when viewed from the side. 2nd photo – The opposite leaves are rounded at the base with pointed tips with a projection point. Lower leaves may have stalks.

Below: Young shoots have a resemblance to those of Milkweed and Asparagus, but the young shoots of those plants are much more greenish.

Below: 1st photo – The dry stem has fine fibers that can be stripped off to produce fine threads, fishing line, etc. 2nd photo – Nez Perce people with Friendship Bags, originally made from Indian Hemp fiber- see details at page bottom.

Below: In the autumn, Indian Hemp can make a colorful field when the leaves turn a brilliant yellow: These photos from 1999 show a hillside in the Upland Garden in early October when the plant formed a mass of color.

Below: Drawing of Indian Hemp from Britton, N.L., and A. Brown. 1913. An illustrated flora of the northern United States, Canada and the British Possessions. 3 vols. Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York.


Notes: Eloise Butler introduced Indian Hemp to the Garden on April 24, 1913, with plants collected at Fort Snelling, near Minneapolis. She added plants from Brownie’s Pond in Aug. 1915. ON July 3, 1917 she noted ‘discovering’ it in another section of the Garden. It’s possible it was there all along or generated from the seeds of the plant she planted 4 years earlier. Additional plants were collected in 1919 from the Franklin St. Bridge area.

Indian Hemp is native to most counties in Minnesota except for a scattered few in south central and absent in the Arrowhead. This is one of the few plants that is native throughout the United States and all Canadian Provinces except the far north. Their are 4 species of Apocynum listed as native to Minnesota. A. cannabinum and A. androsaemifolium, Spreading Dogbane, are the most common. The other two have no current populations listed by the MN-DNR. These are A. sibiricum (which many sources list as a synonym for A. cannabinum) and A x floribundum, a hybrid known as Many-flowered Dogbane. At one time a number of varieties of the species were classified but those are not recognized today.

Toxicity: Plant material can be toxic if ingested without proper preparation. Plant chemicals are cardiac glycosides. They are also toxic to grazing animals.

Lore and Uses: Indian Hemp is one of those native plants with a lot of folk attribution for its medicinal values. When white settlers first arrived, they learned of this plant from the natives who boiled roots for a laxative tea (Blackfeet), dried the sap for a chewing gum (Kiowa) and other sundry uses from making sewing thread to a hair loss treatment! Once the white settlers got familiar, the plant became a remedy for dropsey and other things. Early, somewhat trained, local physicians found favor with the plant and employed it in general practice. Dr. John Lloyd (Ref. #22) recounted it’s history in his writings. This all led to its listing in the U. S. Pharmacopoeia from 1831 to 1916 and thereafter in the NF (National Formulary) until 1960 where it was regarded as a cardiac stimulant. As late as 1981, the plant was still used in Appalachia as a tonic for migraine, cold, pleurisy and constipation. Even so, the early users were aware that it was toxic in large doses. Roots were recommended to be gathered in the fall.

Chemical analysis reveals that the toxicity and major medicinal component comes from the constituents “cymarin” and “apocannoside" (apocynamarin). Both are cardiac glycosides, toxic normally, but in controlled doses have been shown to have anti tumor activity on human carcinomas (cancers). Constituents of the plant have specific effects on the heart as the chemicals in A. cannabinum are considered some of the most powerful cardiac stimulants of North American plants. Large doses can be a deadly and only an expert should attempt to use the material. Cymarin is also toxic to grazing animals but they find it distasteful and avoid it. Here then we have a plant with chemical makeup that actually does have effects on the human body – good and bad.

A practical use: It is well established that Native Americans used the woody fibers of Indian Hemp for everything from baskets to fishing lines to sewing thread, hence the common name of ‘Indian Hemp’, but until recently another use was almost forgotten. Every Plains Indian woman, young or old, had to have a corn husk bag, sometimes referred to as friendship bags or "wapanii sapk’ukt" (twined bag). Early surviving examples have provenance dating back to the 1830s. “Corn Husk” is a later term as the Indians who made them did not have easy access to corn in those early years as they did later when they actually used corn husks to weave the bag (and then yarn even later). It has been discovered by Joice Overton, an expert on the Ne-Me-Poo (Nez Perce) that while the style of making the bags has not changed, the materials have. The early material that was used was readily available to the plains and western Indians – Apocynum cannabinum – Indian hemp! Today, special ceremonial bags are still made with Indian hemp.

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This is not a garden plant as it can be invasive with moist conditions as anyone observing local populations, including those at Eloise Butler, can attest. The flowers are attractive to bees and butterflies. The large root system does provide erosion control.

Harvest: Indian hemp is harvested in the fall when the stems are cut, split open and the long, silky fibers removed. After the winter, the fibers have disintegrated and are not useful. Cutting in the fall seems to stimulate better spring growth, Also, burning off the old stems also stimulated better growth. Burning causes newer growth to have straighter stems, taller, and with more fiber. It takes many plants to gather enough fiber to produce the cordage needed to make something like a Sierra feather skirt. Each foot of cordage requires about five stalks, and the skirt uses 100 feet of cordage. A 1933 study on the making of a deer net found that it required 7000 feet of cordage – which required 35,000 stalks.

Ref. #’s 7. 12, 14, 26, 30.

References and site links

References: Plant characteristics are generally from sources 1A, 32, W2, W3, W7 & W8 plus others as specifically applied. Distribution principally from W1, W2 and 28C. Planting history generally from 1, 4 & 4a. Other sources by specific reference. See Reference List for details.

Identification booklet for most of the flowering forbs and small flowering shrubs of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden. Details Here.

The ultimate guide to weeds: What to yank, what to leave and what you should never ever touch

A plant expert answers questions about every gardener’s nemesis

I'm lucky. I get to spend most mornings strolling through my garden, coffee in hand, admiring my plants and pulling weeds that dare to raise their unwelcome heads. I find that weeding regularly makes gardening less of a chore and it's an effective way to stretch a little before breakfast as well.

But no matter how many weeds they've plucked, even veteren gardeners get stumped at times trying to determine what is, and what is not, a weed — particularly in the spring when everything is just beginning to peek out of the soil and your winter brain has wiped all your geographical gardening memories clean. "Is this where I planted a patch of Primrose or are these weeds that need to be annihilated?"

When you're unsure, you can text an image of the suspect to a friend and ask for their opinion (which my friends often do), or, you can use these tips from Jon Peter, the curator and manager of plant records at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Hamilton, Ontario. Then you can make the call to yank it or leave it all by yourself.

What makes a weed, a weed?

Jon Peter: All weeds are plants — they're just plants in the wrong location. Weeds are generally classified by their life cycle. Annual weeds are plants that grow from seeds that are dispersed by a parent plant each spring. Biennial weeds are plants that grow marginally in the first year, then flower, produce fruit, then die in the second year, and perennial weeds, such as dandelions, lay dormant in winter and return in spring. Weeds are often classified into general categories including lawn weeds, garden weeds, noxious weeds and invasive weeds, as well as their undesirable qualities, including aggressiveness, low aesthetic value, toxicity, etc.

Are they definitively different from plants we buy at garden centres?

JP: No, all weeds come from the kingdom of plants and all weeds will produce flowers (or equivalent reproductive organs). They're definitely the underappreciated relatives of some of our most beloved garden plants. For example, what may be considered a weed in British Columbia might be considered a garden gem in Ontario. On a larger scale, a beautiful culinary herb that is desirable in Europe and brought to North America for its desirable characteristics can become a menace — even invasive. Such was the case with Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata) which is now a common unwelcome resident in many Ontario gardens.

What makes weeds so prolific?

JP: There are some commonalities which weeds possess in order to gain advantage over desirable ornamental plants. First, they reproduce in a variety of ways. They can spread sexually by seed as well as asexually via rhizomes — a stem that runs underground and shoots out roots like tentacles. Second, some weeds outcompete other species by leafing out earlier and blocking the sun to slower growers. Also, they often hold green leaves later in the fall as well, giving them more time for photosynthesis which ultimately provides them more time and energy to grow, create more seeds and reproduce. By thriving in a multitude of conditions, rapidly establishing and spreading, and by populating areas during droughts, floods and other extreme conditions, weeds have cornered the market on survival.

How do weeds move around?

JP: Weeds can move around in a variety of ways — sexually and asexually, as discussed above, but they can also travel by wind, water, birds, insects, animals and even by hitching a ride on garden tools, power equipment, the mud on your boots or the tires on your truck. When a weed spreads asexually like this, it only requires one parent and the offspring is genetically identical to that parent.

Do weeds serve a purpose? What can they tell me about my garden?

JP: Weeds can tell you a lot about your soil because all plant species prefer specific environmental conditions in order to thrive. Does the soil have too little nitrogen or is it eroded or too compacted? Spotting weeds that signal these issues can help you make helpful changes such as tilling and/or adding organic matter. Some 'weeds' such as Goldenrod (Solidago species) and Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium purpureum) are native species which support Canada's pollinating insects and birds and contribute to the ecosystem. Milkweed (Asclepias species), for example, provides a nursery for the offspring of Monarch butterflies. Also, Queen Anne's Lace (Daucus carota) is also considered a weed but can be beneficial in that it attracts predatory wasps, flies and lady beetles which prey on garden pests such as aphids.

Do weeds harm the garden?

JP: Weeds can be detrimental in the garden in a number of ways. Some are aggressive and choke out expensive garden plants. Some are allelopathic which means they produce biochemical(s) that influence the germination of seeds and hamper the growth, survival and reproduction of other plant species, which gives them the advantage over more desirable plants. Others, such as Giant Hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum), an invasive species which can grow over 12 feet tall, are extremely dangerous in that they cause burns, blisters and even scarring on the skin when touched. And some, such as Water hemlock, Cicuta species are toxic and deadly when ingested.

What are the most common weeds a Canadian is likely to encounter?

JP: Weeds vary dramatically within small areas so every region of Canada is unique. However, from province to province and within each local ecotype, certain weed species will be more prevalent than others. Many common weeds and invasive species are thankfully more prominent in agriculture (Lamb's-quarters — Chenopodium album) and in natural areas (Common Reed — Phragmites australis) than they are in our gardens; however, there is some crossover between those areas and our gardens.

Bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis) is a weed which you definitely want to avoid. Although this Eurasian species does feature beautiful morning glory flowers, it's not welcome in the garden because of its aggressive growth and its ability to resist containment because of its extensive root system. Some reports have said that the roots can grow as deep as 6-30 feet and have seeds which can germinate decades (more than 20 years) later. This vining species twines and climbs up and amongst garden plants and competes for sunlight, moisture and nutrients. If even the smallest piece of root is left remaining in the soil, a new plant will form.

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Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) is most prominent within our over-abundance of turfgrass but are prevalent within our garden beds as well. A plant which needs no description and is one of the most easily recognized plant species in Canada, dandelions can grow in a variety of conditions and are very successful in their reproduction and dissemination via wind dispersed seeds. Their thick taproots can make them virtually impossible to pull and eradicate and dandelions provide early food sources for pollinators in spring, so some Canadians have learned to live with them. Interesting that they were probably brought to North America as a medicinal herb and are again becoming popular as a culinary superfood.

Purslane (Portulaca oleracea) is one of the most common garden weeds and you'll also find it creeping along the cracks of your driveway and between your interlocking brick work. This 'annual' weed whose origins are debated features fleshy, flat reddish-green leaves which creep along the soil on thick prostrate stems and small yellow flowers which open only on bright sunny mornings. The fleshy leaves and stems are basically organs for water and nutrient storage which can give them an advantage in dry soil and drought conditions and help them tolerate compacted soils. The fleshy nature of purslane enables it to continue to flower and produce seeds for several days after being pulled and it is important to get every part of the root removed as it will re-establish quite effectively from even a small portion of root remaining in the soil. Just like dandelion, this species has a long ethnobotanical history and is becoming popular once again in the culinary world.

Canada Thistle (Cirsium arvense) sounds like it's native to Canada however, it's actually a descendent from Asia and Europe and should be called 'Creeping Thistle' or 'Field Thistle' in order not to confuse us. This "noxious weed" reproduces by wind-dispersed seed and by a colonizing root system which allows it to form dense patches or monocultures. Canada Thistle is a ruderal species — a species which is first to colonize disturbed land. The spread by an underground network of roots, along with the spiny leaf edges and stems, make this weed difficult to deal with in any situation. Though it's a pest in the garden, this species also plays an important role in the ecosystem. Its purple flowers are visited by a wide variety of insects, the seeds are an important food source for birds like goldfinch and its leaves are used as food by many species of butterflies and moths.

Plantain (Plantago major) is a Eurasian-native species which only reproduces via seed and is commonly found in many gardens because it does well in compacted as well as disturbed soils. It was likely one of the first plant species brought to the new world as it is prized for its medicinal and culinary uses. Plantain has anti-inflammatory, analgesic, antioxidant, antibiotic and astringent properties and its leaves are very high in vitamins A, C, K and calcium. Plantain forms a basal rosette of large oval shaped leaves with prominent leaf veins and a taller flower spike containing many small greenish flowers. Although this plant is small in scale (generally reaching 6 inches tall and leaf spread of up to 12 inches) it reproduces on a large scale, with one plant producing up to 20,000 seeds, ensuring its survival and ongoing spread.

Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) is an example of a North American native plant that gained a negative 'weedy' reputation. However, with the renewed interest in the health of pollinators (bees and butterflies) and the challenges they face, this species is finally turning around. Milkweed is now recognized as a desirable species to cultivate in the garden because the benefits it provides to the ecosystem far outweigh its aggressive tendencies. This beautiful perennial plant which features large rounded leaves, spherical clusters of pink flowers, and unique seed 'pods' will spread and colonize an area via its horizontally spreading underground roots. All parts of the plant contain a thick, white, milky sap which can be toxic to animals but provides benefits to the insects which feed on it — the monarch butterfly perhaps being the most famous. The monarch lays its eggs exclusively on Milkweed leaves and when the larvae hatch, they feed on the leaves until they're ready to become a chrysalis and, ultimately, a butterfly. Adult monarchs get energy-rich nectar from the flowers of the plant.

Which Canadian weeds are particularly dangerous and/or invasive?

JP: There are a number of weeds which are considered noxious or invasive and they are generally defined as species whose introduction or spread threatens the environment, the economy, or human health. In Ontario alone, there are over 400 species considered to be invasive. In Canada, invasive plants cost an estimated $2.2 billion each year by reducing crop yields and quality and increasing the cost of weed control and harvesting.

Species like Dog-Strangling Vine (Vincetoxicum rossicum and Vincetoxicum nigrum), Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata), Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica), and Japanese Knotweed (Reynoutria japonica) threaten biodiversity and have adverse effects on the environment. Species like European Water Chestnut (Trapa natans), Water Soldier (Stratiotes aloides) and Common Reed (Phragmites australis) have adverse effects on recreational activities like swimming, boating and fishing and on reproductive strategies of fish, turtles and birds. Species like Giant Hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum), Poison hemlock (Conium maculatum) and Poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) can be detrimental to human health with exposure causing allergic reactions and dermatitis.

In spring, it can be difficult to determine what is a weed and what is a flower, especially when things are just emerging. Do weeds have certain tell-tale characteristics that make them easier to identify?

JP: In a garden setting, it can be unclear which plants are meant to be there and which are invaders. Mark the locations of your desirable plants so that you know approximately where they will emerge. Anything that emerges in other locations may be a weed. There aren't specific morphological characteristics within these plants that tell you they are weeds. If you see lots of seedlings emerging in mass or clusters, they could be weeds. If you see plants emerging or greening up earlier than our native species in spring, they could be weeds. Take pictures of the difficult ones and send to your local public garden or a friendly gardener you know — hopefully they will help you identify them.

What should you do if you aren't sure if it's a weed or a flower?

JP: First, remember that all weeds are plants too. Best advice is to be patient, sometimes the identity of the plant can't be guaranteed until the plant is flowering so waiting is often the best thing to do. Proper identification is the most important step in determining what you'll need to do to either abolish or control a plant. And some plants can be toxic to humans, so it's important to know what things are before dealing with them. Wear proper protective gear if you are uncertain.

What weed-killing options can you recommend?

JP: There isn't one solution for dealing with every weed. The most important thing is to properly identify the weed in order to figure out the best method(s) of control and to check which pest control products are legal to use in the province you live in. Knowing the identification of the weed will allow you to learn about the lifecycle and therefore when/how to best use your control methods. Often multiple methods of control will need to be used over a number of years in order to get a handle on the problem.

It really comes down to hard work. Hand pulling is my go-to control method — I like to provide some irrigation or wait until after a good rain to pull weeds while the soil is moist so the pulling is easier. Also, try to find time to pull weeds regularly as the smaller they are, the easier they will be to remove. Timing of pulling some weeds is also critical. You want to ensure you pull them before they set seed so that the problem isn't persistent. Also, remove all pulled weed debris from the garden and do not incorporate it into your compost bin. Other methods of control can be used at the proper time of year (and some with guidance recommended) including: cultivating and tilling the soil, solarisation (using polyethylene sheets laid on the soil surface to cook the weeds and their seeds); adding nutrients (as many weeds prefer nutrient poor soils); and by planting a plethora of desirable plants. By filling the empty spaces with desirable trees, shrubs, perennials and groundcovers, you will eliminate the soil space and sun exposure available for weeds to germinate and multiply.

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Do you think gardeners are too touchy about weeds — should we be more forgiving?

JP: Yes, people are probably too touchy about weeds. Our need for perfection leads to an intolerance of weeds. Some weeds add benefit to our gardens and ecosystems so it's important to be informed and know what to yank and what may be worth leaving alone. That being said, we do need to be careful to not let things get out of control.

What is your personal favourite weed and why?

JP: In my job at Royal Botanical Gardens, I'm always working with the scientific binomial names of plants and I love the scientific names of a bunch of weeds. Medicago lupilina commonly known as Black Medic for example, is a common weed in lawns and gardens and I just love the way it rolls off the tongue.

What are the best resources for information on weeds?

JP: Since every province is unique, it's wise to refer to websites with information specific to the province you live in.

Do you have a good tip for reducing weeds? Tell us about it in the comments below.

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How to Spot a Bootleg Cannabis Vape Cartridge

Illicit cannabis cartridges are being blamed for a rash of severe lung illnesses across the US. How do you know your vape cart isn’t counterfeit?

Mary Jane Gibson
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Vape pens are increasingly the go-to choice for cannabis consumers, both in states with legal cannabis, and on the still-thriving black market. Even in places where you can purchase weed legally, some people are still buying black-market vapes to avoid the steep taxes that come with retail pot. However, as we reported in 2017, the scariest thing about the health effects of using oil-filled weed vape pens is how little we know.

In California, seven people have been hospitalized since June with Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS), prompting a warning from the Department of Public Health urging consumers not to purchase cannabis vape cartridges from unlicensed retailers. And a rash of illnesses in states including New York , New Jersey , and Utah have been linked to illicit weed vapes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report this week stating that 193 cases of severe lung illness have been identified in 22 states, linking many of them to cannabis vapes, although the report notes that no specific THC product has been identified as the cause.

Counterfeit Weed Vape Cartridges Are Everywhere — and They're Making People Sick
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While researchers race to identify the long-term health effects of vaping, concerned consumers are wondering if their weed vapes will make them sick. How can you tell if a vape cartridge is contaminated? It’s very much buyer beware, but here are a few things to consider.

Get Weedwise
California’s Bureau of Cannabis Control recently kicked off a public education program called “Get #Weedwise” to inform consumers of the potential health impacts of ingesting untested cannabis. The main takeaway? The only way to make sure you’re consuming safely is to buy your weed legally from a licensed shop. California consumers can search for licensed retail locations on . The BCC also set up a form for online complaints about counterfeit products, which is kind of amazing when you think about it. Complaining about the illegal weed you bought to a government agency is so 2019.

If you’re buying a vape in a legal state , make sure it’s properly labeled with manufacturer info and lab results. Some cannabis brands are even incorporating QR codes into packaging — consumers can scan the code for info on product tracking, ingredients, testing history and more. And, tempting as it may be, don’t buy weed vapes from pop-up stores. Get thee to a dispensary.

If it’s too good to be true, it’s probably fake
If you’re buying vapes on the black market in a state where cannabis is illegal, it’s unlikely that the product you’re getting has been lab tested, says Sean Black, former director of the High Times Cannabis Cup competition: “Companies that are legit aren’t risking their licensing by sending their product to non-legal states.”

Dealers buy branded empty vape cartridges on sites like Ali Baba, and fill them with black-market distillate, Black says. A couple of characteristics of illicit carts that are easy to spot: recognizable big-brand names, and a low price. Black laughs, “You think Nintendo is making weed vapes? And a cart that costs $20 is just too good to be true.”

Comparatively, a half-gram vape cartridge bought from a legal Los Angeles cannabis shop costs double that — around $45, including nearly $13 in tax.

You can even fake a QR code and website, Black says: “It’s not hard. If you’re going to make $150,000 selling your product, you can spend $20 to do that.”

One Canadian tech company is fighting back against the fakes by using blockchain to verify legitimate cannabis products. The StrainSecure verification creates a cryptographically secure record of the seed to sale chain, so you can trace your weed purchase back to its point of origin through an immutable QR code. Crypto-cannabis has arrived.

Do your research
Black-market shoppers aren’t left with much of a choice — they have to rely on their supplier being trustworthy to ensure they’re not buying a vape that could land them in the ER.

One New Jersey woman we spoke with gets her THC vape carts through the mail from a legal state. “I think they’re legit,” she says. “The girl I buy them from works in the weed industry. She makes it look like she’s shipping perfume from a beauty brand, with pink wrapping.” The carts are labelled as “100% solvent-free premium distillate,” and cost about $40 for one gram. They taste fine, she tells us: “Compared to vapes I’ve bought in Colorado, some are indistinguishable in high and flavor.”

Another person we spoke with gets THC Juul cartridges through her dealer in New Hampshire. “I got a cookies-and-cream one that I hated the taste of,” she says. “I wondered about what they used to flavor it.” She was impressed with the high, however — and she’s unconcerned about black market vape carts making her sick.

If you’re buying weed vapes on the black market, do a bit of research first. Check Leafly for updates on illicit carts. There 420-friendly Facebook groups that offer valuable info — Facebook bars groups with the words “cannabis” or “marijuana” from cropping up in searches, but if you do a little digging using other keywords (like stoner ), you’ll find plenty of online weed communities sharing information. And MassRoots is a social network exclusively for the cannabis community, billing itself as “a judgment-free zone where like-minded people can freely share their experiences.” Download the app on iOs or Android to connect.

A few pro tips: if you’re buying black-market cartridges, remember that big brand-name companies like Kingpen , PAX Era and Stiiizy don’t sell outside licensed shops in states with legal cannabis — if your dealer is offering them, there’s a good chance they’re counterfeit, and filled with possibly contaminated distillate. If you’ve bought a branded cartridge, check out the manufacturer’s website or Instagram and compare your cartridge with legit product photos — you may be able to spot a fake just by looking. And always trust your tastebuds. If it tastes bad, throw it away. It’s not worth the risk.