What Is A Vape Cart? (A Beginner’s Guide)

What Is A Vape Cart

Are you considering using e-cigarettes and having your sights set on vape carts? Then there are some basic things you need to know before you make up your mind.

In this article, we dive deeper into what are vape carts, how these vape cartridges work, what they contain, how to read over labels, and how to choose the right one for you.

What Is a Vape Cart?

A vape cart is a class cartridge used in vaporizers to supply the oil needed for use. This is usually cannabis oil, but you can find cartridges of different composes and for different uses.

Most cartridges come prefilled and focus on supplying certain compounds and mixes. Many advertise high THC or CBD content, while others focus on certain strains, nicotine, or other mixes.

How Vape Cartridges Work

To use a vape cart you need a compatible vape pen. Most threads on, and once they are properly attached you press a button to activate the battery and the atomizer within the cartridge.

As it heats the oil, the vape activates the compounds within and produces a vapor for you to inhale. You take this in through the mouthpiece, and can then enjoy a more pure experience depending on the contents of the cart.

While vape cartridges have a similar appearance and function, the device you use affects details such as:

  • Portability
  • Burning temperature
  • Dose management

Cartridges differ from pods, which have a similar function but limit compatibility to a single system.

Types of Vape Cartridge Oils

Regardless of type, your vape cartridge contains oil and an atomizer to heat it. These oils commonly come as:

  • Distillate oils
  • CO2 oil (or BHO oil concentrate)
  • Full spectrum oils

The type of oil in the vape cart affects the flavor and effects of the cart, the price, and the need for additives. Manufacturers use different methods to achieve different flavors and experiences.

Paying attention to the type of oil used in a vape cart is key to meeting your expectations.

Distillate Oil

Distillate oils are highly refined, and they are as close to pure cannabinoids as you can get. They are incredibly potent, and some can boast as much as 95 percent.

Unfortunately, the method used to create distillates gets rid of all the natural terpenes of the starting materials. While this is an incredibly economical oil, it relies on additives to achieve proper viscosity for vaping and a more suitable flavor.

CO2 Oil or BHO Oil Concentrate

CO2 oil and BHO oil concentrate use similar processes to achieve similar effects. Their method of extraction relies on different materials (CO2 or butane), but it preserves natural terpenes and negates any need for additives.

BHO oil is usually more terpene-rich and hosts a more natural flavor, but CO2 extraction is safer for the manufacturer and the user. These oils are naturally compatible for vaping practices, and may result in more consistent flavor than distillate oil if they’re made properly.

Full Spectrum Oil

Full spectrum oils are more complex than distillates or CO2 oils, and they contain a wider variety of compounds. These oils are much more effective at creating an entourage effect depending on the resulting composition.

Live resin oils focus on purity. They do not reintroduce, add, or remove compounds found naturally in a certain strain, instead offering the full spectrum of what each strain hosts.

These oils are more expensive than distillates and other extraction methods because of their unique process and powerful effects, but they’re worth every penny. Many say that full spectrum oils are as close to smoking flower as you get with a vape.


Terpenes vs. Additives

Depending on how your oil is extracted, you may need certain additives to reach a suitable viscosity.

If you’re aiming to stay as close to nature as possible, you want an oil that preserves the natural terpenes of cannabis. They improve the natural flavor and aroma of your cartridge, but also lower viscosity to ensure proper vaporization.

CO2-based extractions are great at retaining natural terpenes, and these oils will not need modification. Terpenes may also be added to cannabis oil compounds in small percentages to lower capacity and add back some of the natural flavor.

Other cartridges utilize additives for thinning out the oil. While additives have a bad reputation due to modern health movements, those used in vape carts are tested for safety and clearly identified.

The most common include:

  • Polyethylene glycol (PEG)
  • Propylene glycol (PG)
  • Vegetable glycerin (VG)
  • Medium chain triglycerides (MCT)

We suggest doing your own research on the safety and effects of different additives in vape carts. While their controversial nature is causing manufacturers to explore different options, you may find some are less scary than they sound.

For example, MCTs are made from coconut oil. Some of your favorite flavors utilize glycol for taste just as much as they do achieving proper viscosity.

Vape Cart Labeling

Vape Cart Labeling

Credit: risecannabis

Cartridge labels should explain everything you want to know before making your purchase. This usually includes:

  • The effects you can expect from the e-liquid
  • The flavor of the vape
  • Any CBD-specific details

Keep in mind that you can only trust the label to tell you the goals of the cartridge. Labels are marketing tools to convince you to buy the product, but they aren’t unbreakable promises.

Double-check any claims in product reviews and online vape forums.


One of the easiest ways to discern different cartridges is by the effects they have.

Common claims include:

  • Relaxation or settling your nerves
  • Providing you with energy
  • Emulating the effects of popular dry herb strains

Again, the efficacy of these effects is largely up for debate. A distillate-derived cartridge claiming to be a 1:1 indica or sativa swap may be pushing it, and looking for unbiased opinions is your best chance of weeding out your selection.

Keep in mind that the effects of a vape cart differ depending on the user. Some may work fine for new vapers but fall flat for those with experience.


The first thing to understand is that flavor is largely affected by the oil extraction process.

If you want a more natural, closer to dry herb taste, you want a vape cartridge whose oil preserves the original terpenes of the strain. You can re-introduce terpenes to distillate oils, but it’s nowhere near as pure as what you get from a full spectrum oil.

If you seek something other than natural flavor, you may be better off with distillate oil. These lack the natural terpenes that host that earthy flavor, and the additives work well to introduce new tastes.

There is no universal way to measure flavor, so two vape carts with the same label may taste different. Take note of which brand you prefer as well as your favorite flavor.


While many vape cart labels focus on effects and flavor, others highlight details concerning their cannabinoid concentration.

High-THC products are bound to get you high, but they’re losing ground to CBD-focused compounds that may remove THC completely.

Pay attention to percentages and ratios with these cartridges, and make sure you understand what you seek to gain from them. Check for testing from a third-party lab that verifies these numbers to guarantee you aren’t inhaling snake oil.


Tips for Choosing and Maintaining Vape Cart Systems

Seasoned vapers probably already know these tips, but those learning about vape carts for the first time should know how to get started and keep their vapes well-maintained.

In short:

  • Consider how long you want your cartridge to last
  • Start with small doses and slow hits
  • Always store your vape upright and at room temperature

Choosing the right vape cart is only half the battle; follow these tips to get the most out of your investment.

Consider Longevity and Other Preferences

Some vape cart systems limit you to a single brand, while others have a universal fit. When you’re making your initial purchase, make sure you choose the one that has what you want both now and in the future.

Evaluate your options for flavors and blends, and make sure this is a suitable investment for your habit. Some may find that the discretion, portability, and ease of a vape isn’t worth the higher cost and shorter lasting effects.

Start Small and Slow

While using a vape cart is obviously a different method than smoking a joint or consuming edibles, many fail to recognize the effects manifest differently as well.

When you’re starting out, focus on small and slow hits from your vape. Some rush the process and increase the pace, only to have everything hit hard a few minutes later. It’s much easier to overconsume on a vape than it is using another method.

Take time to figure out your tolerance before speeding things up, and don’t rush the process.

Store Properly

Proper attachment and storage are essential to prevent leakage of the valuable cartridge oil.

Make sure the cart is properly threaded on the vape. Slight misalignment will allow the oil to leak if the vape is laid on its side.

Because human error is a thing, we recommend storing your vape upright as much as possible. This limits the opportunity for leakage, even if it’s improperly seated, and prevents dirt and dust from making their way inside.

It’s also important to store your vape cartridges at room temperature. Temps lower than 50 degrees or higher than 80 degrees can lead to cartridge malfunction or negatively impact the effects of the oil.


Vape carts are much more popular now than they were years ago, but the rise of pods and other novel products can easily overshadow them. For the most part, these are universal cartridges that offer a variety of quality CBD options.

If you’re shopping for new vape carts, take your time to evaluate claims, reviews, and lab results. Keep in mind that personal preference plays a major role in your final decision, and there are no guarantees when it comes to effects.

Have more questions about vape carts? Leave them in the comments below.


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