When choosing a vape cartridge, it’s important to know what type of oil it contains, whether and how it’s flavored, and if there are any cutting agents, as all these factors affect the vaping experience.
Vape cartridges are all filled with cannabis oil designed for optimal vaporization using a portable battery. During the distillation process, raw cannabis oil may be stripped of all flavor and aromatic compounds, then mixed with terpenes to reintroduce flavors, and infused with some form of glycol — polyethylene glycol (PEG), propylene glycol (PG), or vegetable glycerin — (VG) to give the vapor extra mouthfeel (thin versus thick, smooth versus chalky, dry versus buttery).
While all legal, lab-tested vape cartridges contain cannabinoids, not all cartridges contain terpenes. Terpenes are organic compounds that give plants their aroma and flavors. Raw cartridges are vape cartridges that do not contain any additional cutting agent or terpenes, just the pure cannabis oil.
The reintroduction of terpenes is common in distillate-filled cartridges, as the distillation process removes the natural plant terpenes and results in an odorless, flavorless, viscous liquid. Some extractors have mastered a technique that allows them to remove the terpenes from the plant during the distillation process and reintroduce them prior to filling the vape cartridges. These cartridges are known as strain-specific vape cartridges that use cannabis-derived terpenes to retain the same aroma and flavor of the plant that the oil was derived from.
It’s also common for cartridges to be filled with naturally derived terpenes to create exotic flavors that smell and taste like fruits and candies. The reintroduction of terpenes after extraction allows manufacturers to create countless cannabinoid and terpene combinations to suit a variety of needs. These terpenes can also change the viscosity and color of the distillate in the cartridge.
Some THC vape juice contains cutting agents similar to those used in e-cigarettes, which are added to improve vape cloud production and the mouthfeel of the cartridge. The most common cutting agents include PEG, PG, and VG.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has labeled these various cutting agents as safe for human ingestion, but there are still concerns about what happens when these compounds are heated and inhaled. A 2010 study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, concluded that inhaling PG could potentially exacerbate asthma and allergies. Additional research also suggests that, when vaporized at high temperatures, both PEG and PG break down into the carcinogens formaldehyde and acetaldehyde.
While more research is required to fully understand the effects of inhaling these cutting agents, you’re best off avoiding them and shopping for raw vape cartridges.