What's Actually in Your Wax Pen Cartridge?
What you're really smoking and what to look out for
In the progressive modern world, it is no surprise that cannabis has advanced and expanded technologically more than many other business industries. Wax and oil pens have exploded in the cannabis industry, and offer a one-step quick and discreet way to consume THC. No rolling papers, no bong, no lighter, just the press of a button (and sometimes not even that is required). The process the THC concentrate or oil goes through is the same as a vape pen, heating the active compounds (cannabinoids and terpenes) to a high enough temperature to which they turn into vapor.
But with these new techy ways to smoke weed, we often don't question if what we are actually consuming is changing along with the devices we are consuming it with. Do we know exactly what is in these cartridges that are so easily accessible and usable? This is where it is important to know whether you are getting high or low quality product, and what to look out for. Whether it be a refillable cartridge, vape pen, or disposable wax pen
Cartridge Design and Construction
Low quality cartridges often have a few potentially dangerous components as well as poor construction in terms of their structure. One major red flag is cartridges that are made of plastic, which can potentially cause chemicals to be absorbed by the oil. Low quality cartridges also often have pre-moistened wicks primed with glycerin or propylene glycol which can cause allergic reactions to some people.
High quality cartridges are made of glass, metal, or ceramic, and have sealed joints that prevent any contact between air and cartridge contents. They should not overheat, leak at all during use, or easily come apart.
Cartridge Contents and Concentration
Although ingredients lists will vary slightly from brand to brand, there are a handful of contents that are commonly found in most THC vape cartridges:
- Cannabis-derived terpenes: Cannabis terpenes sourced from cannabis to offer flavor and aroma.
- Steam-distilled terpenes: Softer in taste than extracted terpenes that have been isolated without utilizing heat.
- Hydrosols: A byproduct of steam distillation and low-heat distillations. They are classified as floral waters (i.e., essential oils) and contain only small percentages of actual terpenes.
- Non-cannabis-derived terpenes: Terpenes sourced directly from plant leaves, fruits or other organic sources to offer specific flavor and aroma, rather than from cannabis.
- Artificial flavors: Typically, the artificial flavors found in cannabis cartridges are sourced from the e-cigarette industry. There are thousands of flavors, but their safety is in question (e.g., diacetyl causing “popcorn lung”).
- HTFSE (High-Terpene Full-Spectrum Extract): Made from hydrocarbon extraction, there has been a recent trend of producing these products from pressed rosin. Also called "sauce", HTFSE has high terpene content and is aromatic and flavorful.
- CO₂ Extracted: Some CO₂ extractors collect a few available terpenes from CO₂ extraction, but often the cannabis product utilized to extract is dried, thus much of the available monoterpenes are lost in the drying process. Therefore, both the final aroma and flavor are not as strong as HTFSEs.
- Coconut Oil: A medium chain triglyceride (MCT) which can help make oils thin enough to work in most standard cartridges.
- Glycols & Glycerin: There are a few additives producers use to get thicker concentrates into a more liquid form that is easier to vaporize. These include Polyethylene Glycol (PEG), Vegetable Glycerin (VG) and Propylene Glycol (PG). You can usually tell when these are in your cartridge because you’ll feel a harshness at the back of your throat with each additional hit.
- Contaminants: Additives aren’t the only thing you’ll have to worry about, your wax cartridge could also contain pesticides, heavy metals, or toxins.
With counterfeits unfortunately flooding the market, it is impossible to predict the exact composition of an individual wax cartridge without testing the brand's legitimacy or lab testing the oil directly. Cartridges with orange or dark colored oil are extremely likely to be counterfeits or low quality. This is also most likely the case if the oil moves very quickly, which can easily be tested if there is a bubble that moves quickly up and down if the cartridge is flipped over. Low quality cartridges often do not contain contents that are organically sourced, so they are much more susceptible to transmitting pesticides and toxins.
High quality cartridges most often contain a THC content over 70%, while low quality carts could contain less THC with more fillers and additives. Generally, the oil density should be thick with a transparent gold coloring. If there is a bubble in the cartridge, it should not move up and down quickly if the cartridge is flipped over. Unfortunately, there is really no way around paying a decent chunk of money for a high quality wax cartridge. In the long run, it’s much better to go quality over quantity when it comes to vaping THC. If the cartridge price seems too good to be true, it probably is.