What’s Really In Your Cannabis Vape Pen

Sep 11, 2019 | Cannabis 101, Methods of Delivery

If you have read an article of ours about the benefits of vaping versus smoking cannabis, you could conclude that vaping is healthier than smoking. However, an outbreak of lung problems tied to vaping emerged on a national scale, with over 450 people reporting lung injuries in the last couple of months. This outbreak sounded the global alarm so we wanted to calm your worry with the knowledge of what exactly is in a vape pen and the potential causes for concern.


Your typical vape pen will consist out of a battery, a switch button, an atomizer (heating element) and a cartridge. For this discussion, we will focus on the cartridge, where you’ll find the cannabis filing.

What are all the things inside a cartridge, or more specifically; what are all the ingredients of cannabis juice inside of it?

First of all, there are different types of fillings. While all cartridges contain cannabis, some of them contain a high percentage of terpenes, and some do not. Terpenes are organic compounds found in many plants, including cannabis. They are responsible for the smell and the flavor you taste when you are smoking or vaping your favorite herb, and can also add to the effect it has.

One of the main terpene cartridge fillings comes from the cannabis plant itself. Cannabis-derived terpenes are actually cannabis essential oils and are less susceptible to heat application. Because of that, they contain a higher quantity of monoterpenes, which are terpenes that have not oxidized or broken down due to high temperature.

On the other hand, we also have steam-distilled terpenes. The extraction process here is different and terpenes are isolated without the use of heat. This results in a softer taste and a bit more smell and taste of the cannabis herb.

Hydrosols are the tweeners between the above-mentioned processes, as they use both steam and low-heat distillation for terpene extraction. They are also known as floral waters and contain a lower percentage of terpenes.

Non-cannabis-derived terpenes come from other organic sources, not cannabis itself. Remember that we said how terpenes can be found in other plants, fruits, and vegetables?

Due to the same chemical formula of terpenes in cannabis and lemons, for example; terpenes can be inserted in cannabis containing a cartridge of a vape pen. The flavor and the smell won’t be the same as it would be if the terpenes were derived from cannabis though.

There are also fillings with artificial flavors, the same that can be found in e-cigarettes. There are more than a few thousand different flavors, but they are causing a lot of concern for the way they react with the filling itself, and also the human body.

High-Terpene Full-Spectrum Extract is a cartridge filling that will bring you the most flavor and aroma, which is to be expected since it’s a full-spectrum extract.

Another method has been on the rise as a way of creating cannabis concentrate, and that’s CO2 extraction. It’s because it’s easy to extract the product, although it’s not exactly rich in terpenes as some other methods we mentioned.

What’s also important to mention is the THC percentage of the cannabis filling in the cartridge. Some manufacturers measure THC before they have added other products that go into the final product, such as glycerin, glycol, and hydrosols which are used to adjust the viscosity of the cannabis liquid. If they have measured before the added ingredients, the actual THC percentage may be higher.

Most cannabis fillings contain CO2, hydrocarbon or terpene extracts, or a combination of those, along with a specific flavor.


According to the New York Times, it is suspected that the outbreak is caused by Vitamin E oil, which is used to thicken the cannabis distillate. And you guessed it, it’s cheap. The oil and its producers are under the FDA investigation at the moment, to find out if that’s the main driver behind these pulmonary problems.

They are also testing other ingredients in the cartridges, such as THC, nicotine, different additives, pesticides, and other agents that are used in the distillation process.

Cartridge brands Chronic Carts, Dank Vapes, and West Coast Carts have been named as brands with tainted products, but there are also many others, especially on the black market.


The most common cutting agents that are used in vape pens are polyethylene glycol (PEG), propylene glycol (PG) and vegetable glycerin (VG).

Each mentioned cutting agent has different uses in medical, commercial, pharmaceutical and industrial applications. They are used to improve the taste and the thickness of the cloud of smoke coming out of the pen, and to even out the final product when the user is inhaling.


First things first, buy your cannabis cartridges from a trusted source only. Buying tested and regulated carts from certified and legal stores should make your vaping experience injury and concern-free.

Avoid cheap carts because they can often break down and increase the temperature of the cannabis juice inside, and thus expose you to toxic waste as they burn the additives inside the cartridge.

If you are worried about the additives in the vape pen cartridge, there is a solution for that and it’s called rosin. Rosin is additive-free cannabis extract which you can find in mature adult-use markets.

And if you are still truly concerned about vaping and the risks, you can always rely on the old fashioned way of consuming marijuana by smoking blunts or joints, or enjoying edibles.

Also, you can watch our Cannabis Therapy Potcast episode for additional tips when vaping.

If you have further questions please give us a call and one of our expert cannasultants will be happy to assist you!

About The Author

<a href="https://www.cannabistherapynetwork.org/author/courtneyt/" target="_self">Courtney Trzos</a>

Courtney Trzos

To Courtney, it’s always 420 somewhere… After attending Michigan State University and working in communications for over 10 years, she took her passion for cannabis, professionally. In 2017, Courtney began freelancing as a writer for cannabis brands across the globe, promoting the therapeutic and recreational use of the plant, while helping her partner cultivate crops full-time, and learning more about the industry from a seed-to-sale perspective. Get in touch with her and follow her journey at https://www.instagram.com/thecannaspace/