In the few years since vape cartridges have become popular for both nicotine and THC vapers alike, many alert users have noticed an odd phenomenon: vape oil turning different colors inside the cartridge. Ever since the vape lung health epidemic, vape users are especially wary of vape oil that appears to have something wrong.
We’ll give you a complete guide to cannabis products vape oil discoloration here to the best of our present research. Through this guide, you’ll hopefully know when and when not to be concerned.
Bottom line: Some discoloration is normal, more is a problem
Vape oil comes from the cannabis plant and other sometimes hemp, or plants in the case of botanical terpenes. Like any organic compound, these various cannabinoids, terpenes, and other bioactive chemical agents can be affected by a number of factors. Chiefly, vape oil can discolor due to any of these reasons:
- Time – Vape cartridges actually have a shelf life! Over time, the oil in a cartridge left to sit will just change on its own due to oxidization
- Temperature – Heat is the number one factor in most chemical changes
- Sunlight – Like any extract from plant matter, sunlight can affect it
- Moisture – Plain old water vapor can also play a role in breaking down organic compounds
- Contamination – Other agents such as mold, mildew, bacteria, or invasive chemicals or additives, can all affect the appearance of the oil
So, to avoid cartridge discoloration and protect the ingredients of your cartridges, you should store them in a cool, dry, place out of direct sunlight. By “cool” we mean normal home temperature. A drawer in your air-conditioned home is ideal. However, do NOT freeze a cartridge! Not only will this cause moisture to form inside, but taking a cartridge from the freezer to vape it can cause it to heat up too fast and break.
Experienced coffee drinkers know the drill: Treat vape cartridges like coffee beans and they’ll stay fresh longer.
The ordinary electric lighting in your room should have no effect, as the light that can break down your ingredients is UV radiation from sunlight. However, you’re still better off keeping your cartridges in the dark if you use tanning beds or sunlamps, or have windows nearby.
As for the time factor, this varies. Extracts (for dabbing) last three to six months when properly stored. Vape carts may last up until one year.
See also: This comprehensive study on “Long-Term Storage and Cannabis Oil Stability.”
What does vape oil discoloration mean?
Most of the time, cart oil changing color is a sign that the oil is losing its potency. THC and THCA may degrade into to CBN or delta 8 THC. Delta 8 THC has a decreased psychoactive effect while CBN does next to nothing at all. This process is most commonly caused by sunlight and oxydization.
Furthermore, terpenes can also be separately affected by the same environmental factors. For instance, humulene has a boiling point of only 223°F (106°C), while also reacting quickly with ozone in direct sunlight. So the terpenes can be affected even if the THC is still potent, resulting in less flavor and entourage effects.
So it’s not like an older cartridge showing discoloration is going to hurt you. It is, however, likely to lose its potency.
Discoloration happens more often when you buy a cartridge on sale!
Let’s think this one over: Your local dispensary has a sale going on a cartridge brand. More likely than not, this is because the carts are going to expire soon. Dispensaries, like any retail business, have to manage their inventory and be careful not to overstock. When a brand doesn’t sell as fast as they’d hoped, they have extra sitting around and when that batch is getting near the end of its shelf life, they price it to move.
Some dispensaries might also be less aware of how cartridges are handled. So they might have carelessly left a case in the sun too long or transported it in a hot van, and other mishaps. Some dispensaries might have inexperienced employees that don’t know better. So if you add these affects together, an improperly stored and handled cartridge that’s six months old might deteriorate further than a year old cartridge that has been properly stored.
Cartridge discoloration affects all cannabis and hemp by-products
Not only THC vapes, but CBD and delta 8 vapes, can also become discolored. In most cases, the best color for cartridge oil is a transparent hue of light yellow or amber color, close to the shades of lemonade to honey. Some vape oils, particularly delta 8 THC cartridges, are as clear and colorless as water.
Things to watch out for in vape cart oil:
- Banding or stripes
- Gradient color (darker at the top, clearer at the bottom)
- Specks or grit floating in it
- Bitter or sour taste
- Extremely harsh on the throat when vaping
One rule of thumb is that if it looks extremely weird or tastes nasty, there’s probably something wrong with it. Logically, any full-spectrum cannabis derivative should have some marijuana flavor to it. With experience you can quickly tell when something is off.
Things to never do with a cartridge:
- Leave it in the car on a hot summer day
- Leave it on a sunny windowsill
- Carry it around in your pocket, since that is also warmer than 70°
- Keep it in the freezer (this is bad for coffee too, which is where this urban myth comes from)
- Store it someplace damp or frequently moist like a sauna, poolhouse, bathroom, or greenhouse
- Leave it sit for a whole year
- Leave it sit attached to the battery for an extended time of weeks or more
- Vape at too high a temperature
If you do have to transport vape carts on your person or in your car on a regular basis, consider investing in a carrying case. Carrying them in an external pocket, such as a coat pocket or tote bag, is preferable to cramming them in your jeans pocket.
Readers, share your other safe handling tips – or horror stories about mishandled cartridges – in the comments or in our forum.