Photography by Georgia Love for Herb
Vaping, especially pre-filled cartridges and disposable pens, are making consuming cannabis, easier, healthier, and more discreet than ever. In fact, data by BDS Analytics and ArcView Market Research recently found that thanks to vape pens, cannabis concentrate sales could overtake flower in five years. That’s because, without going through the laborious process of grinding up weed, rolling a joint, and smoking which can draw unwanted attention, with vape pen carts, you can just inhale and go without any smoke and hardly any smell. But what are vape oil cartridges, what’s the difference between them, and where do you get them? We tried a bunch of the best vape oil cartridges and single-use vape pens in California to give you the complete lowdown on this cannabis trend that’s here to stay.
Where do you begin when choosing a vape pen? Most cartridges are formatted with a “510” thread that screws into any battery with 510 threading. The number 510 refers to the size, but don’t worry because there aren’t a ton of different sizes to choose from. In fact, most batteries and carts are threaded for 510, so once you have one battery you can screw any vape pen cartridge into it. Sometimes the batteries come with the cartridge like when you buy a Bloom Farms Highlighter it comes with a cute battery and charger for free. But you can also buy the hardware online and at dispensaries and smoke shops for $20 or less.
The only exception to the universality of 510 vape products are brands that have created their own hardware and so require specialized cartridges. The most popular brand to do this is PAX, referred to by many as the “Apple of weed”. Pax makes a super smooth vaporizer with temperature adjustments that many people swear by. However, you need to buy specific PAX Era Pods for your PAX vaporizer. Pax Era Pods are made best farms in legal states, and while they may be more expensive than 510 cartridges, they are well worth the value.
Of course, there’s also disposable or “single-use” vape pens out there too. With these, you don’t need to screw the cart into the battery or even charge it. Single-use pens come pre-charged to last for the exact amount of cannabis concentrate it holds, which is often 0.5 grams. Because you don’t need any equipment, disposable pens are arguably the most convenient way to get high and are especially good for infrequent users and tourists. In fact, brands like Select have even begun making a disposable pen called the “Weekender” with only 0.3 grams of cannabis oil, making it perfect to bring to a party or to try at your first trip to a dispensary.
However, the most obvious con to single-use pens is how much waste they produce. Because you can’t recharge and reuse the pen, the whole piece of equipment is trash after its contents are used up. For someone buying vapes regularly, this is a major environmental hazard. However, as an introductory gift to a non-cannabis user, brands like Beboe, who make single-use 1:1 THC to CBD pens in gorgeous flavors and packaging, are sure to impress.
When selecting a vape oil cartridge to buy, you may notice there are a few different options, like CO2, distillate, and live resin, for different prices. So what’s the difference? It all lies in how the hash oil was made, which affects its taste and potency.
The most common type of concentrate cartridge is still made with CO2 oil. CO2 oil refers to the type of extraction method used, which, in this case, uses CO2 as the solvent. CO2 oil is extremely popular for vaping because it retains so much of the strain’s original flavor. You can read more about the pros and cons of CO2 oil in our explainer here.
The next most popular type of cart that’s quickly gaining on CO2 is distillate cartridges. Distillate is a new and potent form of cannabis concentrate. Distillates are made by taking winterized concentrates, which is CO2 or Butane Hash Oil (BHO) chilled at extremely low temperatures, and then distilling them, concentrating the THC even more. Basically, you can take a hash oil with 75 percent THC and turn it into a distillate with 95 percent THC, making distillates popular with frequent consumers or patients who crave a stronger product. Distillates also cost a little extra, but that’s because you’re paying for the extra strength, purity, and time it takes to make. Brands like Honey make distillate cartridges in all of your favorite strains, guaranteeing 75 percent or more THC.
Another new emerging trend is live resin cartridges. Although more rare and expensive, if you crave the full flavor of cannabis, live resin carts are the way to go. Live resin is created by flash freezing freshly cut (aka uncured) cannabis and then making a CO2 or BHO extract. This is done to preserve all the terpenes and flavor profiles of fresh cannabis because many terpenes are destroyed in the drying and curing process. It’s definitely the most flavorful way to enjoy cannabis extracts and a worthwhile treat for any enthusiast.
Another popular trend in the vape cartridge world is to infuse these strain or experience specific cartridges with terpenes. Brands infuse hash oil with terpenes for two main reasons: for flavor, and to enhance the oil’s viscosity. During the extraction process, many terpenes are burnt away and so much of a strain’s flavor is lost. But by re-adding terpenes back into cannabis oil, manufacturers can recreate a strain’s signature flavor. Plus, terpenes help cannabis oil reach a specific viscosity that functions best for vaping.
Brands like Legion of Bloom infuse their Terrapen collection with botanically derived terpenes to provide a specific effect. For example, some products are infused with linalool, making for an extra relaxing experience and a lavender-like flavor.
However, there a few cons to infusing terpenes into cannabis oil cartridges. For me personally, I feel like the taste is too artificial and doesn’t taste like the plant I know and love, but more like fruit, candy, or even soap. The other main issue people have is, often, the terpenes aren’t sourced from cannabis but are food grade terpenes derived from other sources. While there’s no proof that inhaling food grade terpenes is bad for you, there’s also not enough research into it at all. If you prefer the full flavor of the cannabis plant, read the packaging carefully or ask your budtender for a recommendation.
Other brands rely solely on the cannabis material to provide a specific effect. The most common use of this strategy is when brands label Sativa concentrate cartridges as “daytime” use and indica cartridges as “night time” use. Many brands do this in an attempt to help consumers choose the right cartridge for a desired effect. Especially for new consumers, labeling a cartridge with strain names such as “Girl Scout Cookies” or “Sour Diesel” doesn’t tell them much about how it will make them feel.
Vape cartridges and single use pens aren’t exclusively high-THC. In states where cannabis is legal at dispensaries for medical and/or recreational use, cartridges with different ratios of CBD to THC are becoming very popular. In my experience, 1:1 CBD to THC carts are the most prevalent at dispensaries, but other even less intoxicating ratios are available like 3:1, 10:1 and even 20:1, which shouldn’t produce any debilitating “high”.
Plus, hemp-derived vape pens and cartridges are also becoming popular all over the country. In fact, many trusted cannabis brands like Select, Beboe, and Wildflower are making CBD-only versions of their products to sell nationwide. We tried a few of these CBD-only pens to see how exactly they make you feel; you can read all about it here.
What’s more, many hemp-derived CBD brands make CBD vape oil you can buy to put into refillable vape tanks. While these are less convenient than single-use CBD pens you can order online and use as soon they arrive at your door, they’re also more affordable. Brands like Hemp Bombs sell these in a variety of sizes and strengths on their sites.
For some of you, this may seem too obvious. But for others, like me and my mom unwrapping our first vape a couple of years back, it can be a little intimidating. So if you’ve just unboxed your first battery and cartridge, this is for you:
Finding the correct temperature to vape at is both a personal preference and an art. Because different cannabinoids and terpenes evaporate at different temperatures, each cartridge will have its own ideal temperature.
There are some batteries hitting the market that will find each cartridges’ ideal temperature by measuring the viscosity and other factors of the cannabis concentrate inside, like the Vuber Pulse. There are also some batteries that don’t let you adjust the temperature at all but come set for the cartridge they’re sold with. Choosing the right temperature and battery will depend on your personal preference and needs, but a good rule of thumb is to start at a low temperature and increase slightly as needed.
Everyone seems to have a vape pen and a pocket full of unlabeled cartridges nowadays, but where do you get them? In legal adult use states, like California and Washington, you can buy vape cartridges at any dispensary. Vape oil cartridges are also available to medical cannabis patients in many states with medical cannabis laws, like New York and Florida. At the moment, vape oil cartridges are not yet legally available in Canada, although this will hopefully change when more regulations are laid out later on in 2019. While many black market dealers now carry vape cartridges as was beautifully shown in season 2 of the HBO series High Maintenance, anyone in the U.S. can order hemp-derived CBD vape pens and cartridges online.
If you’re still struggling on which type of vape oil cartridge to buy, try explaining your wants and needs to a budtender and I’m sure they’ll have something to recommend. Do you love vape oil cartridges?