What is a marijuana vape cart, or vape cartridge?

AbsoluteXtracts is a marijuana vape cart leader in California.
The company AbsoluteXtracts is a leading marijuana vape cart maker in California.

Let’s face it — smoking is out. Even the New York Times’ Farhad Manjoo has gotten hip to it. Many aficionados are moving beyond raw, unprocessed cannabis flower buds and to manufactured products. And the fastest growing category? The marijuana vape cart or vape cartridge — a technical term for a pre-filled container of cannabis oil used with a marijuana e-cigarette. So, how does it work, and is it right for you? 

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What is a marijuana vape cart?

Vape carts or cartridges are small attachments to a marijuana e-cigarette or vape pen. They are sold pre-filled with cannabis concentrates which are rich in cannabis’ medicinal active ingredients. Most vape carts are high in THC (the mood-lifting ingredient in cannabis), but some contain cannabidiol (CBD, a non-psychoactive cannabinoid), or terpenes (the chemicals that give cannabis its flavorful tastes and aromas).

How do marijuana vape carts work?

Marijuana vape carts fit together with a marijuana e-cigarette base. As with tobacco e-cigarettes, the battery (usually activated by the push of a button) powers an atomizer, which heats the cannabis oil at low temperatures and turns it into a cool, inhalable mist. The THC enters the blood via the lungs and then enters the brain where it causes its most powerful effects.

Why are people using marijuana vape carts? Who do they benefit?

Vape carts are discrete, easy to use and work super-fast. It’s hard to overdo it with a vape cart, and some even come in titrated doses. There is no smoke, since the oil is heated only enough to vaporize it. And there is relatively little odor.

These factors make them popular with people who can’t or don’t want to smoke.

Marijuana vape carts can potentially help manage issues such as pain, muscle spasms, inflammation and mood. Last year the National Academies of Sciences reported that there is evidence that THC can effectively reduce symptoms such as pain, inflammation, spasticity and anxiety.

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What are the drawbacks?

The science is still not in on long-term effects of inhaling the oils or additives that go into the carts (not to mention the materials the cartridge itself is made from). Vape carts are not as long-lasting as edibles, so may not be ideal for some patients. When compared to flower, they may lose some important terpenes in the manufacturing process. Vape carts can also be expensive when compared to other cannabis concentrates, and they require some knowledge of how to attach the cart to the battery base and turn on.

While vapes and e-cigarettes are technically regulated by the FDA, a lack of sufficient research and a thriving black market has made it so that there are plenty of unsafe vapes, vape cartridges, and e-cigarettes out there that can release heavy metals and toxins and cause serious lung damage, even death. To avoid severe lung damage, purchase your vapes and e-cigarettes from reputable sellers, or consider other methods of cannabis consumption.

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What do marijuana vape carts cost?

Vape carts tend to cost around $50 for a half-gram, and these carts will last you hundreds of hits. Still, prices can vary brand to brand, and even dispensary to dispensary, so the best way to price out vape carts is to check with the dispensaries near you.

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Where do you buy cannabis vape carts?

You can purchase vape carts from a local dispensary. If you are in a recreational cannabis state like California, Colorado or Washington, just check out websites like weedmaps.com and leafly.com to find dispensaries nearby. If you are in a state with only medical cannabis, be sure to get a doctor’s recommendation first.

A GUIDE: What to bring, what to wear and how to act at a dispensary

What are some popular cannabis vape cart brands?

There many options when it comes to vape carts. In California, try popular brands like Hmbldt, AbsoluteXtracts and Kurvana. In Colorado O.pen Vape, Keef OilSlix and Craft are favorites. In Washington, check out brands like IndigoPro, Fairwinds and Harmony Farms. Check out the best vape cart-makers in California featured in the GreenState Cannabis Awards.

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Have more questions about vape carts or other medical cannabis modalities? Ask GreenState or message us on Facebook.

Emily Earlenbaugh, PhD is a cannabis writer and educator. She holds a doctorate in the philosophy of science from UC Davis.

This article was updated to address further health concerns associated with vaping and feature related links on March 9th, 2021.

Elissa Esher and Emily Earlenbaugh