A Quick and Easy User’s Guide to Pre-Filled Cartridges By Melinda Misuraca & Michael Hayes
Vaporizer pens are all the rage these days. Sarah Silverman flashed one on the red carpet (“This is my liquid pot,” she quipped). Whoopi Goldberg wrote a gushy love letter to hers, affectionately nicknaming it “Sippy.” Snoop Dogg has his own proprietary model, which comes cloaked in a map of his old Long Beach ‘hood. The Oxford English Dictionary recently crowned “vape” its Word of the Year.
It seems that everywhere you turn someone is sucking on a sleek, sexy, subversive little wand. People are vaping cannabis oil on the street, in restaurants, movie theaters, airplanes, even sporting events. You feel like you’re getting away with something sneaky when you vape in public. Being a stoner has never been so easy.
A vape pen — or “personal vaporizer,” as they are sometimes called — is a classy, high tech gizmo that heats cannabis oil to a temperature just short of combustion, releasing a smokeless, lightly-scented mist free of toxic tars and carbon. There are many vape pen brands, but the key factor, really, is what’s inside the disposable cartridge. How potent is the cannabis oil? How pure? What, if anything, is the oil cut with? How expensive per milligram is the THC content? Is the oil strain-specific or a psychoactive blend?
O’Shaughnessy’s looked at a total of 19 cannabis oil samples from 13 popular cartridge brands and did a side-by-side comparison based on analytical data from SC Labs in Santa Cruz. (Measured in milligrams per milliliter of concentrate, the data is posted on sclabs.com.) Regarding THC levels, Pure Cure and Absolute Xtracts topped the chart at 71 percent and 70 percent, respectively. Neither is cut with an additive. Absolute Xtracts features a line of strain-specific oils (OG Kush, Chem Dawg, Girl Scout Cookie, etc.), while Pure Cure is presumably a mixture of several unnamed cultivars as no strain designation is indicated. These two brands also rated highest in terms of bang for buck with Absolute Xtracts priced at 10 cents per milligram of THC and Pure Cure at 11 cents/mg.
Compare those numbers to O-Pen Vape Panama Sativa Red, for example, which contains only 26 percent THC at cost of 24 cents per milligram. Some vape pen cartridge oils rated even lower in terms of THC content, yet higher in price per milligram. The least potent sample, BD (Black Diamond) Vape Sour D, tested at 14 percent THC, while selling for 28 cents/mg of THC. Although they look golden and pretty, the weaker oils are typically diluted with propylene glycol, a relatively benign solvent that sometimes causes sore throat and dry mouth. Avoid vape pen cartridges that include ethylene glycol, an unhealthy compound used in antifreeze.
So buyer beware: Many vape cartridge brands are available in the unregulated cannabis market and it’s not always obvious what you’re getting. Deciding between vape cartridges is somewhat like choosing between a vintage scotch and a flask of moonshine, though in this case purchasing one of best whiskeys of the cartridge world might actually leave you with a few more greenbacks in your pocket.
A Note on Methodology Used to Determine Value of Vape Pen Cartridges Based on Potency & Pricing
Samples of vape pen cartridges were purchased in October 2014 at random dispensaries in Northern and Southern California and submitted unopened to SC labs for testing. Hyperlinks to all test results posted on the SC Labs website are provided for verification of cannabinoid content.
All samples purchased were either labeled as or represented as being extracted by the Super Fluid Critical CO2 method.
To determine pricing information, two prices were found online for each product. When available the first listings on Weedmaps were used. If the price listings could not be found on Weedmaps, general Google searches were done to find price listings. The two prices found were then combined to find an average price per product.
(Price searching was made somewhat problematic by the lack of a consistent naming nomenclature from dispensary to dispensary.)
Once a product listing was found, the size of the vape pen cartridge was multiplied by potency % to determine total THC content. For example a .5ml (500mg) vape pen cartridge at 50% THC level (per SC Labs) would contain 250 mg of THC. That is 50% x 500mg.
The amount of THC per product was then divided into the average retail price to determine cost per mg of THC. Using the example above a product with 250mg of THC that sold for an average retail price of $50 would represent a THC cost per mg of 20 cents.
Products that sell retail for under 15 cents / mg of THC were deemed as excellent value. Products that sell retail for between 15 to 20 cents / mg were labeled as good value. Products that sell retail for between 20 to 25 cents / mg were deemed fair value and products that sold for over 25 cents /mg of THC were labeled as poor value.