What Are Wax Cartridges? The Best Way To Consume Weed

Cannabis flower is still the most widely consumed form of weed but concentrates make up the fastest growing product category in the industry. Concentrates are made by extracting cannabinoids from plant material, and they come with a lot of advantages. Wax cartridges, cannabis-oil filled canisters that are attached to vaporizers, utilize the advantages of concentrates and the convenience and health benefits of vaping. They’re a good answer to consumers who want to enjoy the more concentrated high but avoid the health risks of combustion.

Why Smoke From Wax Cartridges?

For one, they are much more potent than flower. That’s because concentrates contain negligible amounts of plant material in their final form. So instead of smoking cannabinoids in addition to chlorophyll and other non-therapeutic compounds, you get a “concentrated” blast of medicine. The elevated levels of cannabinoids present in extracts allow people to enjoy a more potent high with less product. Regardless of consumption purposes are medicinal, that means stronger, quicker relief or recreation.

Close up on trimmed marijuana bud with THC oil filled vape pen against white background.
iStock / HighGradeRoots

The Good: Fewer Carcinogens, Discretion, Convenience 

Smoking cannabis is probably still the most pervasive consumption method, but it’s going out of style for a big reason. Cannabis legalization and education have made great advancements because science continues to demonstrate the plant’s medicinal attributes. It has a pretty enjoyable recreational profile, but the fact that it can also act as an anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective, anxiolytic, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-proliferative, and analgesic medicine is a compelling reason to optimize those benefits by selecting the healthiest consumption method.

Cancer cells
iStock / Mohammed Haneefa Nizamudeen

Enter vaping. Combustion involves the high temperatures of fire to burn cannabis product into an inhalable smoke (think bowls, bongs, joints, etc.). However, the process of combustion creates carcinogens that are inhaled along with cannabinoids. Vaporizers that use convection elevate the temperature of the air around the cannabis product so that it is hot enough to create a vapor but cool enough to prevent burning.  The lower temperatures used during vaporization are also easier on the throat and lungs.  While it is definitely possible to vape flower, wax cartridges offer a more powerful high.

In addition to the potential health benefits, vaping wax cartridges is a far more discreet way of consuming concentrates than, say, dabbing, a method that involves a rig and a blow torch (equipment that would be… awkward to walk around with). Vape pens are small enough to keep in your pocket or purse, and the vaping process produces little to no odor.   

If that’s not enough of a sell, wax cartridges are extremely convenient to use. Screw the cartridge onto the vape pen, press a button, and you’re set. In addition to ease of use, it offers a more reliable way to dose your hits.

The Bad: Short-lived, Less Flavor, More Expensive 

If you’re looking for long-term effects, ingesting cannabis will almost always be a better option than inhaling it. When weed is absorbed through the digestive system rather than the pulmonary system, it takes longer to kick in but offers a longer lasting high. Vaping will get you high quicker than an edible would, but the effects are likely to wear off in a couple of hours or less. 

Another downside to cartridges is their natural taste. Because concentrates are processed so heavily, they tend to be less flavorful (unless they are infused with additives, but we’ll get to that later). That’s because terpenes, the compounds responsible for cannabis’ flavor and aroma, are extremely volatile and get lost in the extraction process.

Finally, concentrates tend to be more expensive than flower. That’s especially true of vape wax cartridges. A gram of bud might cost a fifth of what a gram of a wax cartridges would cost. However, carts last a lot longer than flower because they’re far more potent.

The Ugly: Federal Prohibition’s Dirty Secret 

The legalization movement has resulted in the passage of cannabis laws in over half the country, and the momentum is not slowing down. State legislatures that once sneered at the idea of even medicinal marijuana are now taking a serious look at the opportunities cannabis can offer constituents. And the support is bipartisan—Republicans and Democrats alike are introducing bills to bring regulated weed industries to their states.

Even so, cannabis remains illegal at the federal level. Federal prohibition gets in the way of universal regulation by the FDA and the EPA, agencies that offer rules and guidelines that would protect consumers and the environment from harmful pesticides, solvent residue, and any other cultivation or processing practice that may have deleterious effects on health.

And what exactly might some of those harmful practices be when it comes to vape cartridges? For one, the concentrates themselves are frequently extracted from old and even moldy weed with the use of butane, a highly flammable lighter fluid containing carcinogenic toxins. The resulting oil from that process is then “purified” before it is sold. The problem is that there is no universal standard for the best purification process, and each method can produce varying results. Extract technicians use vacuum ovens, ethanol, or freezers. Other processors attempt to avoid the purification step altogether by conducting “clean,” solvent-less extractions with CO2, ice water, or freeze drying. However, there isn’t enough research on the effects of these different methods. Once again, that’s because of federal prohibition. It’s rather tricky to conduct legal research on an illegal substance.   

Female scientist in a hemp field checking plants and flowers, alternative herbal medicine concept
iStock / cyano66

Residual solvents aren’t the only substances scientists are concerned about humans inhaling. There are also additives meant to thin out the oils or add flavor to them. Project CBD’s Jahan Marcu warned that the use of propylene glycol, a common ingredient in both cannabis and nicotine vape cartridges, is converted into dangerous polymers when exposed to the high temperatures reached by vape pens.

Dismantling federal prohibition is, as in almost every case in the cannabis industry, the first step in the answer to these problems. Often, the easiest and cheapest ways to create a product are also the most harmful. Without nation-wide regulation, the incentive for every vape cartridge producing company to follow the safest standards when processing their products isn’t there.

Does this mean that using vape cartridges is a bad idea? Not necessarily—we’ve been through their benefits. However, it does mean that it is important for consumers to be cautious about the brands they are purchasing from, and that the fight for legalization is still in full swing.

What Are Wax Cartridges? The Best Way To Consume Weed was last modified: by
Dianna Benjamin

About the author: Dianna Benjamin is a freelance writer, teacher, wife, and mom horrified and fascinated by social justice and our inability--yet constant pursuit--to get it right.