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Everything you need to know about pre-filled oil vape cartridges

October 17, 2017
When it comes to ease of use, portability, and functionality, one cannabis product stands tall above the rest. You may know them as pre-loaded cannabis oil vape cartridges, hash oil vape pens, or even disposable wax pens. These relatively new and exciting devices have permeated the cannabis concentrate market over the last several years, quickly becoming the go-to concentrate-based product for both the novice and accustomed cannabis fans.

However, when it comes to choosing the right pre-loaded disposable pen, various factors stand in the way of making a decision. Although many of these products seem aesthetically similar at first glance, there are many nuances that distinguish them from one another.

Understanding the differences between these disposable pens can help you make an educated decision on which product is right for your consumption.

Why Choose a Pre-Filled Oil Vape Cartridge?


If you’re new to pre-filled oil vape cartridges, there are many benefits to using them that I’ve outlined below.

Ease of Use

Deciding to use a pre-filled cannabis oil vape cartridge takes the guesswork completely out of the equation. Contrary to other methods of using hash oil such as a dab rig and nail setup, or even manual portable vape pens which require self-loading, pre-filled “carts” require little to no effort whatsoever. At most, these products may require you to press a button to inhale. In fact, most of the time you don’t even have to worry about the battery life—many products are designed so that charging the battery isn’t even necessary.


Pre-filled oil vape carts are the easiest method of enjoying hash oil while on the go. Their sleek and minimalist design allows for discreet vaping, free of the distracting qualities that larger setups or raw cannabis products may carry (such as noticeable smoke or odor).


The Best Discreet Vape Pens and Portable Vaporizers


For uninitiated cannabis concentrate users, dosing can be a major concern. Nobody wants an overwhelming experience when attempting to enjoy cannabis oil products responsibly. Unlike dabbing, using a pre-loaded vape pen allows for a highly controlled dose with each inhalation. This gives the user full autonomy of how much or little to consume.


Dab Dosage Guide: How to Dose Cannabis Oils and Concentrates

The Types of Pre-Filled Cartridges Available

An extract pod of Cinex cannabis oil for the Pax Era

An extract pod of Cinex cannabis oil for the Pax Era (Julia Sumpter/Leafly)

Familiarize yourself with the many types of pre-filled oil vape cartridges on the market so you can purchase the one that best fits your needs or preferences.

Cartridge/Battery Combos vs. Disposables

When choosing a pre-filled vape pen, there are several hardware options. Some products are offered in tanks that typically come formatted with a 510-threaded standard vaporizer battery insert. These tanks can fit on any battery that contains the 510 threading, and nowadays almost all battery tanks come in this format. The exception to this is when you purchase pre-loaded tanks designed by companies to fit their personalized batteries. An example would be the PAX Era Pods, which are designed to be used with their vaporizer/battery systems.


Meet the PAX Era and PAX 3, the Newest PAX Vaporizers

Alternatively, many pre-loaded vape pens are available as “disposables,” containing a pre-charged battery designed to support the device until the tank empties. These pen varieties require no charging and are meant to be disposed of after use. They contain no threading and are not meant to be separated from their battery.

Distillate Cartridges vs. CO2

For a vaporizer cartridge to function properly, its contents must have the proper viscosity. Otherwise, the oils will either be too thick or too thin to be able to vaporize within the device. Depending on the starting material used, cartridge manufacturers utilize several methods in order to create the perfect oil for their pens.

CO2 Oil: Certain high-grade winterized CO2 oils are uniquely compatible with vaporizer cartridges due to the fact that they do not require additives of any kind to meet the viscosity levels needed to vaporize in an atomizer. If made properly, these oils are able to retain modest levels of plant-based terpenes, which act as natural thinning agents as well as give the oils their signature strain-specific flavors.

Distillates:  A cannabis distillate is a highly refined oil containing pure cannabinoids and almost nothing else. The upside to using distillates in vaporizer cartridges is that the oil can be produced from a range of starting materials. Virtually any hash oil variety from CO2 to BHO and everything in between can be purified into a distillate with the right hardware. The downside to using distillates in vaporizer cartridges is that because there are no residual terpenes left behind, there is nothing to cut the viscosity of the material. In order for a distillate to be used for cartridges, a thinning agent of some kind is often required.

Additives: Additives are sometimes used in vape cartridge oils as a supplemental thinning agent. In some cases, methods have been taken to “cut” or infuse various hash oils with certain substances such as polyethylene glycol (PEG), propylene glycol (PG), vegetable glycerin (VG), or even medium chain triglycerides (MCT), such as coconut oil, in order to maintain a less viscous and lasting oil consistency conducive to standard atomizer functionality. This process has become highly controversial due to raised health concerns, and products containing these thinning agents are showing up less on the market as of late.


The Past, Present, and Future of Cannabis Oil Vaporizer Cartridges

One way that vaporizer cartridge manufacturers have been able to steer away from artificial cutting agents is by using terpenes.

Terpene Infusions and Strain-Specific Flavorings

The use of terpenes has been found to help lower the viscosity of hash oil as well as increase flavor and aromas, making them a potentially safer alternative to other cutting agents. Terpenes not only add flavor and aromatics to the experience, they can also help alter the effects or a product due to their ability to influence how cannabinoids interact with our system.


The Future of Cannabis May Lie in Terpene Isolation

There are several ways to use terpenes with pre-filled vaporizer cartridges. First, some manufactures rely on CO2-based extractions which when refined by use of ethanol can actually retain plant-based terpenes at a percentage conducive to achieving proper viscosity. This is how manufacturers are able to sell flavors based on natural strain profiles.

Furthermore, natural cannabis-derived terpenes that have been fractioned through refinement can be re-added to hash oils in small percentages, creating a natural spectrum of flavor and effect while also giving an oil the correct consistency required to function in a cartridge.

On the other hand, food-grade terpene flavorings are arguably the most prevalent as well as the lowest quality additives used in cartridges. Terpenes can not only be found all over nature (cannabis included), but can also be synthesized in a lab.

Take d-limonene for example, a popular terpene additive that is found in some cannabis varietals. Many manufacturers use food-grade d-limonene as the sole flavoring additive for their pre-loaded cartridges. Although this helps to cut the viscosity of the oil as well as offer a mild flavor enhancement, infusions such as this tend to be one-dimensional and offer little to nothing in enhancing experience to the consumer.

When shopping for cartridges, often these types of pens will be labeled as “lemon/lime”-flavored to represent this additive being used. Many other food-grade terpenes are used in this respect, which is why it’s important to check with your budtender and read labels carefully when buying terpene-infused cartridges.

Products Labeled by Effect

Many times, pre-filled oil vape cartridges are labeled and marketed by their supposed effect on the consumer. Products of this variety tend to claim they provide “relaxing” or “energetic” effects, with some often being labeled as indica, sativa, or even hybrid. When infused into a product, these terpene combinations are designed to give effects similar to what you would find in particular cannabis strains.

Whether they’re infused with food-grade terpenes or naturally-derived terpenes extracted from cannabis strains, many of these products incorporate carefully mixed combinations similar to what would be traced in a strain or strain type. How well these infusions imitate the strain varieties they mimic is debatable; however, products with terpene combinations tend to give a more enhanced experience than a similar product containing one or no terpenes.

Cannabinoid-Specific Cartridges

Although many hash oil pen varieties are labeled by flavor or effect, some focus on cannabinoid concentration. Aside from the typical high-THC product that most pens offer, there are some manufacturers that offer products containing elevated levels of cannabidiol (CBD).


CBD vs. THC: What’s the difference?

High-CBD pens may or may not contain added flavorings, but they do guarantee a ratio of THC to CBD that can range from 2:1 all the way to 20:1 and greater. These types of pens offer great medicinal value to those looking for CBD in an easy-to-consume product.

Full-Spectrum Cartridges

The pinnacle of pre-loaded oil cartridges in terms of overall quality rests with full-spectrum extracts. These products are created using the entire spectrum of bioavailable molecules found within a given cannabis strain. A full-spectrum oil does not add, reintroduce, or remove any active compound within a strain and offers a flavor and effect far superior and multidimensional to most competitors.


Full-Spectrum Extracts: An Inside Look at This Hash Oil

Pre-filled full-spectrum cartridges are hard to come by and are only offered in certain markets; their price tends to reflect their rarity as well. If you’re fortunate enough to live in a market where these products are available, it’s highly recommended to fork up the extra cash to give one a shot. In terms of strain comparability, the flavor on a full-spectrum cart is incredibly similar to what you would experience in a strain.

Browse Nearby Dispensaries for Vape Cartridges

All in all, there are many types of pre-filled oil cartridge varieties to consider, each one with its pros and cons. If you’re interested in learning more about these types of products, always ask your local budtender before committing to a purchase.

Often, labels only offer a fraction of the information compared to the knowledge and expertise of a cannabis professional such as a budtender. Regardless of your taste, there’s bound to be a hash oil cartridge option available to suit your individual needs.

Patrick Bennett's Bio Image

Patrick Bennett

Patrick lives with his wife and daughter in Denver, where he spends his time writing, photographing, and creating content for the cannabis community.

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  • Brendan Goetz

    I’m still waiting to meet the bud tender that knows anything about what’s in the cartridge, and whether or not that’s good for you.

    • Blackfire1

      Stick with the RSO brand. They use 100 alchocol. Burn off 100% before it hits your mouth.

      • Monique Hight

        What is RSO?

  • Henrik Hansson

    Good services offered by you them. I’m having such wonderful results. Less pain, more energy and I’m feeling amazing. I’ve been telling everyone on the CBD, chronic pain groups how I feel. So happy to be almost completely pain free everyday. Also their ordering and delivery are amazing.

    • Odin010

      I’m an Iraq vet who has been told to look into this for TBI and PTSD. Is this like weed? Will you be high and useless b/c I can’t lose another job.

      • Vickie Bellitto

        No it doesn’t have the THC in it

      • Depending on where you get it, many CBD carts do have THC that accompany the CBD. (A ratio should be shown.) If you purchase from a CBD-specializing company, most of those do not contain THC or if they do it is only trace amounts. Ideally, you want the trace THC as this does help the CBD work better but isn’t enough to make you feel impaired. For PTSD, the little bit of THC helps the brain forget things that it needs to while the CBD dials down anxiety and bad responses. Hope that’s helpful!

      • Ridley Brozik

        i know this is and old comment, but for anyone who is asking the same question, with the thc varieties, you’ll only be high and useless for a few months, maybe only weeks, while you get used to the effects of cannabis. as with any drug — and yes, it is a drug, there’s nothing wrong with using drugs. the stigma against drug use is a holdover in our culture from those people who burned women alive for having opinions. it’s a toxic idea and it is killing people. out of shame, many opiate users feel the need to hide their use, and they overdose with no one there to breathe for them or give them narcan, these deaths could be so easily avoided. in most cases you only need to pinch the overdosed person’s nose and blow air into their lungs every 30-40 seconds, this should keep their heart beating until the drugs wear off some and they wake up, usually within the hour.. anyway… –, non-users overestimate the effects based on their limited experience. you’ll get a tolerance after awhile and the effects will no longer be so overwhelming, but then you’ll miss that feeling.

  • Henrik Hansson

    My aunt is loving their CBD Rich oil, which is helping treat her depression and anxiety that she’s been taking prescription meds for her whole life. Off her old meds and is a WHOLE NEW PERSON. She loves that there are no side effects.

  • Tina Sprouse

    Does anyone know how to identify the strain inside the O-Pen prefilled cartridge if you forget or don’t mark it? I know about the color code and most recently I’ve been labeling them, but I have 3 cartridges that I don’t know the strains in them, anyone got any ideas? I’m cataloging my stash. Thanks!

    • OppeyGFX

      i have the same question, do you know anything new?

      • Mark Jenny Erickson

        I use a label maker, I mark them with numbers that I write down in my pot diary and take notes so I recall which ones I enjoy or which ones make me eat my weight in carbs.

        • Jbkorn02

          I’ve been doing the same thing getting what’s new around here “Dank Vapes” brand. They have a good selection of strains and I want to try each of them once even if it says the effects aren’t what I want since they affect everyone different. I’m in Chicago so by next year when we start sales (hopefully) I’ll know the strains I like. So far Blue Dream, Lemonhead, and Gorilla Glue have been my favorite. Can’t wait to try the same strains I have marked down as a “like” from different brand names.

  • Blake Cofer

    It’s always nice to try some The best that helps treat anxiety, asthma, depression, chronic pain, insomnia, stress and so much more 🌿🌿All you have to do is to shop with @blake cofers on facebook….Make everything and day count at 💯🎁🎁🎁🎁😊🎁 @blake cofers on facebook

  • Bobby Oddo

    Adding terpenes is not a good idea. Also, distillates leave traces of alcohol behind, and alcohol is horrible for you to vape.

    Surprised not even Leafly is knowledgeable on any of this.

    • Not many people are knowledgeable about this… I’ve done a ton of research and didn’t know distillates can have alcohol. Terpenes (depending on what plant they’re from) are unique substances that are somewhere between an alcohol and an oil. Which is why they work so well for liquidizing. Why is it not a good idea?

    • Jbkorn02

      Even on the side of the boxes of the brand I get it tells you they didn’t use those things. Kinda curious exactly what is in the Dank Vapes brand since they seem cheaper than others but still good?

  • Shyanne

    I bought one of the cartridges for my vape but when I assemble it and go to hit my vape I get no hit .

    • Jasmine Kay

      Untighten it a little

    • anonomyssy

      budtender mentioned that you may have to hit at it a few times before you start getting a good hit…almost like priming a pump.

    • Noah

      Press the button. lol

    • Cloe Lane

      My cartridge was a little loose and seemed to b stripped out. I pushed down snug and turned until right before it loosened again and wrapped the blue painters masking tape around where the two connect on outside of pen. Worked very well!! Good luck.

  • anonomyssy

    I am an occasional user, a 250 hit vape pen will last me almost a year. How do you best store these (long term)-refridgerate? Cool dark place?, how long do they keep (is there an expiration date)?

    • tommyjonq

      As with just about every “volatile”-containing oil, store it in a dark place at room temperature.

    • Jbkorn02

      I was just wondering this after it looked like one of my carts I had laying out on my dresser for a while for the summer seemed to have lost some oil. Don’t know if the sun hitting it or temp made some evaporate but now I know the oil can go bad too.

  • Eugene Bernardini

    have some old old (six months), was standing on end, when I went to use them they didn’t work. I have charged battery, and there is air flowing through them. there is still oil in them. help!!!!

    • Michael Carey

      Buy some empty carts on ebay, move the oil with a syringe from the dead to the new. Cheers.

  • The biggest concern we’ve seen with pre-filled cartridges is what goes in them. Many companies are dissolving CBD Isolate into PG/VG and even adding artificial flavors. Big names and high-end brands that charge quite a bit do this and they don’t even taste good. We only recommend vaping real Cannabinoid Rich Oil; it has a lovely golden color and can have added natural terpenes for flavor and enhanced effects.

  • theotherguy456

    pretty sure you wrote the order of the ratios wrong when talking about the CBD vs. THC in the cannabinoid-specific cartridges paragraph.
    does anyone proof read anymore?

  • Michael Carey

    Stay away from disposables I have had a couple where the battery died before the tank was half empty. Can’t recharge it and can’t remove the tank to move the product to a new cart. Money down the drain. I use a Kangertech Evod. It cost 20 bucks. Rechargeable and battery lasts a long time. One premature death of a disposable will cost you what a good rechargeable pen costs.

  • Ray

    Hello, so I’m a 45 y/o man who hasn’t smoked weed, in probably 27 years. Now as its become legal in my state I’m thinking its probably a lot healthier than drinking alcohol. As someone in the emergency health field for 25+ years seeing all of the synthetic meds handed out like candy I have to believe that this natural medicine has to have some serious good results. Now my question is, how would, should I go about using bud, or vape without blowing myself into next week? I don’t want to start off with an out of my mind high that makes me not like it, or scares me enough I don’t use it again. Any real advice out there so i can ease into it.

    • Max Garcia

      If you are in a legal state then go to any dispensary(weed store) and explain to the
      bud tenders behind the counter what you are looking for. They’ll take care of the rest 🙂

    • Rick Thorpe

      I agree with Max. It has been a very, very long time since I smoked regularly. (25 years or more) I had many of the same concerns getting started again. Everyone is a whole lot more knowledgeable than I recall, and I have found on a few occasions that the folks in the shop were helpful and informative. I think it is a good idea to form a relationship with one or two or more dispensaries if you have the option. It’s a way to demonstrate loyalty and the basis for asking for merchants to reward that loyalty. They’re still sorting it all out here where I live, but I have found it pays to ask about specials and to shop around. There are great savings to be had.

  • Jennie Mele

    How to sensibly buy LEGAL cbd oil? Because I got a letter saying customs has confiscated my package two times already and I’m pissed.

  • Mark Giles

    I just got a new TKO cart and it looks like it holds less liquid than the last one I got (different brand). It’s shorter and the metal tube in the middle of the chamber looks thicker. Hence more displacement of said liquid. They are both labeled, and were sold as 1000mg. One is empty and one is full at the time of this post. Could it be an optical illusion? Might the liquid be distorting how thick the tube is? The last one lasted my wife and I one day short of 3 weeks. I guess time will tell. And BTW. I noticed this when I was straight. 🙂 I have a picture of them side by side but it looks like I cant post pictures. Anyways… Any thoughts or input would be great. Thx for reading.

    • Ridley Brozik

      it’s true, on average, homosexuals have a higher IQ (for whatever that’s worth – most IQ tests are racist af), but many straight people have indeed reached the “formal operational” stage of development described by the french psychologist Jean Piaget, though it is theorized that many people do not ever fully develop the abilities described in the theory. For example, an individual must be able to think about problems involving two variables such as comparing the size of a tall glass of water and a short one. Some will assume the taller glass contains more liquid, but individuals who have entered the formal operations stage will understand that the shorter glass could contain more if it has a larger diameter than the tall glass.

      congrats on coming out, that must be a huge weight off your shoulders!

  • josh S

    Has anyone ever gotten ill from a non-tested cartridge, say if the makers didn’t clean or disinfect properly? My dispensary went to caregiver stuff for a short time during the licensure changes and can’t help but wonder if a recent lung-centric bout of sickness (unique to me) could be related. I’m new to the pens and it seems harsher on my lungs than flower as well, just thoughts. Thanks

  • dee

    If it’s a 510 thread, nearly every smoke shop will sell chargers for them. ( A lot of ecigs use them.)

  • Travis Miller

    Ran into this issue, not all companies make them for auto draw use. They have an extra Hole/Slot on the base for auto draw use

  • L.A. Brown

    Someone gave me a gift of a Willie’s Reserve vape pen and I love it but you cannot find the cartridges around here and they outperform the local substitutions. Argggggg.

  • Michael Rodriguez

    I’ve tried some cartridges that use a quartz coil.. the flavor is really pure with no burnt taste.

  • Ridley Brozik

    sounds like the power on the battery is too high, either that or you’re drawing too slowly. i know, it’s counter-intuitive, but I had the same issue, if you start drawing before you press the button, and draw hard, it will keep the coils cooler so they don’t burn the liquid.