Have you ever wondered what exactly is inside that wax cartridge you just bought? Especially since a lot of vape pen and pre filled wax cartridges makers are using fancy new marketing schemes that instead of being about the marijuana they pander to the feelings the oil cartridges deliver like “relaxation” or “Inspiration”. This is because a bunch of noobs are entering the market and unlike seasoned stoners they’re completely ignorant of cannabis terms like indica or sativa. So this dumbing-down of the market and catering to inexperienced consumers like soccer moms and old dudes is leading to confusion. This confusion isn’t good for anyone.
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To make matter worse the popularity of the wax pen cartridge is growing at a rapid clip. According to some stats provided by the delivery service Eaze’s 2016 State of Cannabis report (https://www.eaze.com/blog/posts/eaze-insights-2016-cannabis-data-report) wax cartridges sometimes refered to as a dab cartridge or dab pen cartridge made up only six percent of the company’s total sales back in 2015. However their sales of oil cartridges increased 400 percent in a year climbing to 24 percent of sales among their 250,000 customers.
However marijuana flower sales dropped down to nearly 20 percent. Why? Because the wax pen cartridge is super easy to use and hella convenient. They’re perfect for people who can’t roll a joint or don’t like smoking them, or smelling like them if they do. They’re also perfect for getting stoned in the workplace bathroom, during a movie or just about anywhere you see fit. But with this uber convenience and surge in popularity comes misinformation or a lack of information.
This barrier to information is especially troublesome when it comes to the ingredients contained in a wax cartridge. After all many stoners look to vaporizing as a safe alternative to smoking so it’s disheartening to discover that many people have been consuming unsafe chemicals from their wax cartridge all the while thinking they are making a healthy choice.
What are these unhealthy chemicals that are commonly found in many cannabis cartridges. Well first of all they probably comprise of pesticides. So it’s important to make sure that you purchase a wax oil cartridges from a trusted dispensary that sells quality products that are pesticide free. You see the problem with concentrating cannabis is that not only are processors concentrating what’s found in the plant like terpenoids and cannabinoids they’re also concentrating whatever has been sprayed on the plant. So things like pesticides and growth hormones are also concentrated. What’s worse is that during the manufacturing process pesticides might concentrate at higher rates than cannabinoids. For example a cannabinoid like THC might concentrate fourfold, but a pesticide could concentrate ten or twenty fold. That can’t be good for consumers. So it’s extremely important to purchase only products that have been laboratory tested to be pesticide-free. Vaping concentrated pesticides isn’t good for anyone particularly marijuana patients who suffer from several complications.
Cannabis cart contaminants
Last year our buds over at Steep Hill Labs in Berkeley California tested 44 cannabis oil products for several pesticides. They discovered that an overwhelming majority of them—41 out of the 44 products (or 93 percent) tested positive for pesticides. Not only did they test positive for these pesticides they tested with enough pesticides that states like Colorado and Oregon couldn’t even sell them in both their medical or recreational market. The failures are because California hadn’t released any regulations until earlier this year. It’s no surprise that prior to the new year we saw many companies here in the Bay Area selling off their supply because they knew it wouldn’t pass regulations in California and that they wouldn’t be able to move their products otherwise.
If you think pesticides are the only contaminants in your wax cartridge think again. Because many vape pens are patterned after what has worked for the e-cigarette world they’re not completely compatible with cannabis concentrates. Cannabis oil is a lot thicker than e-cigarette liquid. So to get cannabis concentrates or a cannabis oil to behave like an e-liquid manufacturers have to use cutting agents to thin them out. Unfortunately what they choose to use is often times unhealthy. So it’s really important that when you’re at the counter ready to make a purchase that you find out what’s used to thin out the oil in your wax cartridge. If it’s not listed on the box then how will you know for sure if it’s safe?
Anyhow one harmful thinning agent that’s pretty common in a wax cartridge that’s proven to be less than healthy is polyethylene glycol aka PEG. PEGs are often contaminated with ethylene oxide. This stuff is considered a carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. So it’s probably not good to vaporize and then inhale.
Some processors thin out their cannabis concentrates with propylene glycol (PG). You’ll find this stuff used in things like deodorant sticks, hand sanitizers and cigar humidors. It’s also the stuff that makes the fog you see billowing out of those smoke machines you see sold during Halloween or used at concerts. One of the ingredients in propylene glycol is known as diacetyl. It’s also the primary ingredient in vegetable glycerin. Even though it has been studied for decades and approved by the FDA, who consider it widely safe in a variety of forms including vapor, it is raising concern.
This diacetyl stuff isn’t really made to be heated, vaped and consumed. When inhaled it causes bronchiolitis obliterans. This is a condition more commonly known as popcorn lung or a scarring of the tiny air sacs in the lungs resulting in the thickening and narrowing of the airways. Even though it’s know that diacetyl causes popcorn lung this chemical is found in many wax cartridges and e-liquid flavors. PEGs have also been thought to cause adverse reactions such as sore throat and muscle pain. And you thought vaping weed was healthy?
What’s the healthy alternative to thinning out cannabis concentrates for use in a wax cartridge? So far we’re big fans of terpenes. In case you’re wondering, terpenes are the aroma and flavor molecules in plants. When they’re sourced from cannabis they make a perfect thinning agent. However many processors use terpenes from sources other than cannabis. Some might use terpenes that they bought in bulk from Amazon. A cleaning solution like the citrus terpene D-limonene, which is often used as a solvent, isn’t meant to be a thinning agent for cannabis products let alone heated and vaporized.
Terpenes sourced from cannabis however have shown to be great for this thinning application. Many producers are creating cannabis cartridges with single strain terpenes. This is great for marketing. Stoners who understand the jargon know exactly what to expect. Those that don’t can use Google, right? Anyhow strain specific wax cartridges are what most stoners or educated cannabis connoisseurs are seeking. These products are known as strain-specific wax cartridges because they contain the terps from one single variety of marijuana for example Sour Diesel or Purple Kush. Using this marketing strategy allows the consumer to get the flavor and aroma profile of a single strain rather than a variety of Indica strains.
A strain specific cartridge alone may not be a sign of purity, but it’s a start. This is a departure from what the less educated mass consumer is seeking. Like we said above these people don’t know the difference between sativa or indica let alone appreciate the difference between a Kush strain vs a Cheese strain and they just be looking for something that’ll make them sleepy or liven them up. Who knows?
Think outside the cartridge
To make things even more complicated it’s import to not only consider the chemicals in the wax cartridge but the componentry itself. The materials that comprise the actual hardware portion of the cartridge could be really janky. The vaporizer pen or battery supply chain is pretty massive. It’s also not very transparent. Many vape pen suppliers purchase their hardware straight from China. Some also source their cannabis concentrates from a third party and have no clue themselves what’s inside them. So it’s important to do your homework, ask questions and read the product packaging before making a purchase. We recommend a wax cartridge that utilizes a ceramic core and is fabricated from stainless steel. We also prefer a silk or similar wick over plastic low grade wires for heating the concentrate.
It’s also important to match batteries with the right wax cartridge. Not all components are created equal. So it might be smart to buy the wax cartridge battery that goes with a particular wax cartridge. This is because the voltage necessary for these various products to operate are different. So make sure the power rating and the cartridge match or you’ll be purchasing a new pen battery in no time.
Like we said there’s not a lot of transparency in the industry as of yet. But as the cartridge industry evolves and new consumers start to demand not only a higher-quality product but to know exactly what goes into creating that product including the material used in the hardware as well as the oil itself the landscape will change for the better. With increased competition will come an increase in accountability. Companies that aren’t open and honest about where they get their starting material, how it’s processed, what’s added and everything else in between will fall by the wayside. Plus as the California market matures opportunities for legislators to hold vape companies accountable for the quality and safety of their products will arise.
We’ve already seen a change to what’s available on the market since the beginning of the year. So hopefully only lab tested, regulated and pure cannabis oil products will be used for cartridges going forward. Anyhow your key takeaway is the more pure the wax cartridge the better.
Cannabis cartridge Q&A
How does a vape cartridge work? The vape cartridge aka wax cartridge contains an atomizer. This two-part device contains a heating element and a chamber for the cannabis oil or THC e Liquid. The vapor occurs because the atomizer heats to a specific temperature that’s enough to cause the contents to transform into a vapor.
Do vape pens have a smell? Some vape pens smell more than others. The vape pens coupled with a wax cartridge have a very discreet smell. This is because it vaporizes cannabis oil rather than cannabis flowers.
Do Vapes leave a smell? Vaporizers don’t leave an odor for very long because they don’t burn anything. Burning marijuana or hash oil produces smoke which is thicker and heavier than vapor. For his reason smoke hangs around much longer than than vapor.
Can you get cancer from vape? Some chemicals found in certain vape cartridges such as PEG aka polyethylene glycol or PEG can be contaminated with ethylene oxide which the International Agency for Research on Cancer. It’s best to avoid cartridges that do not contain this thinning agent.
What’s your favorite cannabis cartridge to vape on? Let us know about it in the comment section below.