A vape cartridges is the portion of a vape pen which contains the liquid and a mouthpiece for inhaling. It is meant to fasten onto a vaping battery at the bottom. Vape cartridges are a popular way to consume cannabis products. Cannabis vapes have grown in popularity since their introduction in about 2015. They would have been even more popular right now if it hadn’t been for the black market vaping lung epidemic, but even than have held steady demand after falling from their peak.
What goes in a vape cartridge?
In cannabis products, vapes come in various forms:
- distillate– the majority of vape cartridges, AKA “oil” or “710”
- live resin – a more pure form of cannabis extract, nearly the same quality you would get from dabbing
- THC – carts may be concentrated extracts high in THC
- CBD – vapes also come in CBD form made from hemp distillate
- Delta 8 – a new kind which uses a companion cannabinoid to THC.
All cannabis products are derived from various extracts from the cannabis plant. There are several differences between live resin and distillate, all in the method of extraction. Because live resin is richer in terpenes and other natural cannabinoids, it has more of the full effect from the flower and contributes to the entourage effect.
What impurities can infiltrate a vape cartridge?
Beginning in about the summer of 2019, news broke out of a lung illness epidemic among vape users, which was traced back to black market vape cartridges. The cartridges in question were found to be cut with various third-party filler ingredients, some of which contained vitamin E acetate. There is a huge difference between something that’s safe to eat and something that’s safe to inhale the vapor from into your lungs.
The vaping lung illness crisis soon got swept from the news by the even bigger epidemic in 2020 which we now know as COVID-19. But the vaping lung injury epidemic is still ongoing. Unethical black market cartridge vendors, or plugs, may put any contents into a vape cartridge and unsuspecting buyers won’t know until they inhale it. Symptoms of lung injury from vaping continue to be reported.
In addition, a prefilled vape cartridge may contain other contaminants such as:
- residual solvents – solvents are used to extract compounds from flower and are then not properly flushed out
- heavy metals – these may be oil contaminants or come from the cartridge itself
- pesticides – an issue in any cultivated plant, but concentrated into oil form and vaped, they can reach critical levels
- formaldehyde – industrial contaminant
Most of the contaminated vapes found are produced by black market vendors, but even professional licensed vape cartridge production labs can make mistakes too.
What is the difference between “real” and “fake” vape carts?
A “real” cartridge is an actual brand owned by a company and sold only at licensed dispensaries.
A “fake” cartridge is a made-up brand produced by black market product counterfeiters in China. The cartridges and packaging are sold empty on Internet retail websites such as Alibaba, DHGate, and many others. Black market plug buy these empty carts and fill them at home from a basement or garage operation, sometimes called “honey oil labs.” There are several “brands” which consistently pop up in this culture.
A “fake” may also be a counterfeit of a real cartridge brand. Most popular licensed brands have a fake counterpart produced on the same black market channels.
There is also an in-between “gray market.” These are single-source vape cartridge markets who are close to “legit,” but merely don’t have the proper licensing. These brands are found on the “underground sesh” circuit or in markets deliberately kept legally gray such as Washington, D.C.
In the name of safety, you should only buy prefilled vape carts from a licensed dispensary. If you do not have access, such as living in a state where cannabis is still illegal, your next safest bet is to only consume flower, since the plant itself does not have nearly the hazards of contamination. Failing that, street vendors at underground seshes at least have a community around them and a reputation to uphold, so they’re less risky. Buying vape cartridges from an anonymous street plug is almost suicidal.