WeEdu 204: Vaping Cartridges, Disposable Pens, and Fillable Tanks

Disclaimer: Keep out of reach of children. For use only by adults 21 years of age and older.

Previously in our 200-level WeEdu lessons, we’ve talked about smoking flower, using dry-herb vaporizers, and their respective advantages as well as their disadvantages. In today’s lesson, we’ll be discussing a different consumption method: vape pens for cannabis concentrates.

You’re probably familiar with e-cigarettes as a smoke-free way of consuming nicotine, but if you’re new to the world of cannabis, you may not know that cannabis concentrates can also be vaped. Vaping cannabis concentrates can make smoking flower feel downright obsolete as a consumption method, and the use of vape pens has grown exponentially; from 2015 to 2016, vape cartridges saw a 400% increase in sales across the State of California alone. And while this odorless option may seem futuristic, it’s generally considered one of the most discreet and effective ways to consume cannabis - all without having to burn any plant matter.

How Does Vaping Work?

Different vape pens may operate a little differently, depending on the type of vape battery you have as well as any proprietary designs that different vape companies use. The basic components of a complete vape pen are:

  • Battery - either rechargeable or disposable
  • Atomizer - the heating element of a vape pen, which heats up to approximately 300-450 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Tank - the chamber that contains cannabis concentrates (also the primary component of a vape cartridge)
  • Mouthpiece - the part through which you inhale

Vaping cannabis concentrates is simple and straightforward. The battery in your vape pen powers up the internal heating element, called an atomizer, which then activates the cannabis oil and turns it into inhalable vapor. Some vape pens allow you to dial in a specific temperature, others have preset temperatures (low, medium, or high heat), and still others do all the steering for you with one set temperature that cannot be changed.

Depending on the type of battery your vape pen uses, you may need to push a power button to activate the internal atomizer while you inhale. However, other vape batteries are designed for use without any buttons - you simply put the mouthpiece to your lips and inhale, and the atomizer automatically heats up the oil as soon as you start pulling air through.

Is Vaping Safer Than Smoking?

Many cannabis consumers consider vaping to be a healthier alternative to smoking. Vaping uses a much lower temperature - typically around 400oF for vaping, compared to approximately 1,472oF when smoking. Because there’s no combustion involved in vaping, it’s understandable that some anecdotal reports suggest that vaporized cannabis concentrates might be less irritating on the lungs and throat. Consumers can also tend to use less when vaping compared to smoking. This is because concentrates are more potent, and also because vape pens make it easier to measure out your doses (you don’t have to smoke a whole bowl; you can just take a puff or two off a vape pen). However, there hasn’t been much clinical research on the safety of vaping compared to smoking cannabis.

With that said, there are a couple of potential health concerns that can be easily addressed by making informed consumer choices. For example, some vape pens with a high battery voltage and a high temperature setting could potentially produce toxic byproducts during the heating process. Some experts recommend that cannabis consumers should choose a vape battery with manual temperature settings and a low-voltage battery to reduce the risk of byproducts like formaldehyde or carbonyl production.

Another potential risk is when pre-filled vape cartridges contain additives. Some vape cartridge manufacturers add propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin, or polyethylene glycol to their cannabis oil to make the gooey concentrates less sticky and viscous (and therefore easier to vape). More research is needed, but some experts fear that the inhalation of these additives could cause damage to the lungs. However, many brands use harmless terpenes as a safe alternative to artificial additives like glycol. Added terpenes in a vape cartridge will produce a more flavorful vapor while potentially providing users with more of the aromatherapeutic benefits of terpenes.

Choosing the right battery and the right vape cartridge can give you a more enjoyable cannabis experience, so it’s important to do some research and ask your budtender questions if there’s anything you’re unsure about.

What Do I Need To Vape?

There are a number of different options when it comes to vaping cannabis concentrates. Each option comes with its own advantages, and you should ultimately choose a vape option that best meets your needs. We’ve broken down the basics of the three main options you’ll have when you order from a dispensary: vape cartridges, disposable vape pens, and fillable tanks.

Vape Cartridges

One of the most common choices for vaping is the use of vape cartridges. These are pre-filled tanks that are inserted into the battery end of a vape pen. Depending on the brand and design of vape cartridge you’re using, you may need to screw the cartridge into the battery or simply insert it into a compatible port.

Vape cartridges are brand-specific, so ask your budtender whether a given cartridge has a universal 510 thread before you purchase it. Universal 510 threads mean that you can use that cartridge with any vape battery that has a screw-in thread. Other brands, like PAX, make their own proprietary vape battery, which can only be used with PAX brand vape cartridges.

Most vape cartridges are not refillable. They’re sold with cannabis concentrates inside - typically in half-gram and gram quantities, though some brands sell smaller quantities than that. Once the cartridge is empty, you save your battery and simply throw the empty cartridge in the trash or take it to a dispensary and ask about local collection and recycling.

Disposable Vape Pens

Disposable vape pens are incredibly convenient. These devices are purchased as a single, all-enclosed unit that contains the battery, atomizer, and vape tank. The pen is designed for a predetermined number of uses, so you can’t save the battery and recharge it for use with other cartridges. The entire unit is made for disposable use, so when you’ve used up all of the concentrates inside or the battery dies (whichever comes first), you’ll simply throw the whole unit in the trash. Some dispensaries also have collection bins for used disposable vape pens, which are then recycled and turned into new pens instead of ending up in a landfill.

Depending on the brand you purchase, your disposable vape pen may be strain-specific or it may simply be sold as a sativa, hybrid, or indica blend.

Fillable Tanks

In practice, this consumption method is similar to dabbing. The design will vary by brand, but for most rechargeable pens you’ll need to scoop or pour a small quantity of concentrates onto the heating element inside. Then you simply press the power button to activate the heating element and inhale the vapor it produces.

You’ll need to purchase your own cannabis extracts as well as a specialized rechargeable concentrates pen (which is different from the rechargeable battery you use with a store-bought vape cartridge).

What’s Actually Inside A Cannabis Vape Pen?

Whether you’re using a disposable vape pen, a refillable tank, or a screw-in vape cartridge, you’re vaping cannabis concentrates. Concentrates are the extracted cannabinoids and terpenes of the cannabis plant - basically, cannabis flower that has been either pressed or combined with a solvent to extract the compounds that give cannabis its taste and effects. Concentrates tend to be very high in specific cannabinoids, with most extractions focused on THC, CBD, or a combination of the two.

If you’re using a vape cartridge or a disposable vape pen, the concentrates inside are most likely CO2 oil (concentrates made using carbon dioxide as a solvent) or distillate oil (essentially a more refined oil that’s made from another type of concentrate).

When using a fillable tank, you can use just about any type of cannabis concentrate. Some tanks are designed for different uses, but CO2 oil, distillates, rosin, BHO shatter, crumble, wax, and just about any other form of concentrate can be vaped. However, not all tanks can use oil and wax, so check the model of your tank and rechargeable concentrates pen to make sure it can handle the type of concentrates you intend to use.

Which Vape Option Is Right For Me?

There’s no right or wrong answer when choosing a vape product, but your needs and your budget may be the ultimate deciding factors. Consider how and when you intend to use your vape, as well as how much you’re willing to spend.

Disposable vape pens are convenient for out-of-town tourists who want to consume cannabis without having to purchase a pipe or any other equipment that will need to be disposed of before returning to the airport or crossing state lines. They’re also a great way to try out extracts without having to invest in a battery, tank, or dab rig. Disposable vape pens are typically priced affordably, making this a great way to determine whether you like vaping cannabis concentrates.

Cartridges are typically usable for longer than a disposable pen since you can detach the cartridge and recharge your battery. They’re not as cost-effective as a fillable tank, but cartridges require practically zero maintenance or upkeep.

Fillable tanks may be the most economical way to consume cannabis concentrates in the long run. You’ll need to purchase some equipment if you’re just starting out, so it may seem like a more costly route. However, you’ll often end up getting more concentrate for your money with this option. Fillable tanks do require some upkeep, though. You’ll need to recharge the battery of your concentrate pen, and you may need to clean out the tank or replace components of it from time to time.

Vape pens aren’t the only way to consume cannabis concentrates. Tune in next week, when we’ll take a more in-depth look at the different types of concentrates available as well as the various tools you’ll need to consume each form!

Questions about cannabis? Comments or feedback? Just want to chat? Email us at [email protected] or [email protected].

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