I’ll never forget the first time I smoked out of a cannabis oil vape cartridge years ago. After decades of smoking, you know, actual weed, puffing on a vape cart for the first time was a revelation. “This is… future weed!” I remember thinking.
Initially, I loved that vape carts are portable, which allowed me to be even more of a stoner in public and in other situations where smoking weed isn’t appropriate or possible. As time went on, though, I realized that I didn’t really like the high I got from most carts (as they are often called for short). For starters, I found that whatever high came from smoking cannabis vape carts was often short-lived. It also felt one-dimensional — I didn’t get the visual effects from smoking weed, nor the different emotional effects. Mostly, the high I got was a low-grade body high. My tolerance quickly rose, owing to the high THC concentration in the oils, and I found I needed to smoke more and more just to get a little buzz.
Almost as quickly as I jumped in, I weaned myself off of vape carts and went back to actual weed, which is where my loyalties still lie. But I’ve recently added more vapes back into my rotation. Why? Not only has the quality of vape carts gone up but manufacturers are finally using better extracts and concentrates to make them, rather than THC distillate. THC distillate is a mono-cannabinoid oil and is the standard issue substance found in the vast majority of cannabis vape carts. It is also responsible for the lackluster high many report after vaping cannabis oils.
“In layman’s terms, think of distillate like concentrated orange juice, live resin as pasteurized orange juice, and solventless products like fresh-squeezed orange juice — most of the time, consumers would rather have the fresh stuff,” says Nate Ferguson, co-founder and head of production at Jetty Extracts.
“One of the most common misconceptions is that all vapes are created equal,” adds Caleb Counts, co-founder of Connected Cannabis Co. “Many consumers are unaware of the vast difference between vape carts filled with distillate extracts and those that use whole plant live resin.”
Counts is quick to note that distillate carts are often created with the leftover trim of several different strains, which means that only flavorless and odorless THC is extracted to produce oil for smoking. A manufacturer then incorporates artificial additives or other plant terpenes for flavor. Connected — a high-end cannabis brand known chiefly for its high-octane, indoor-grown “designer” weed — recently released its new vape line, which is made with whole-plant, single-source “live resin.” Due to the extraction process, everything from the plant, including THC and unique strain terpenes.
Meaning there’s no need for the artificial flavoring that THC distillate carts often add back in. You’re actually getting the good stuff from a single plant — not the dregs and trim of multiple plants.
Live resin also uses weed that is frozen at harvest time instead of being dried, as it would if it was going to be sold as flower. This freezing process halts the degradation of the plant terpenes and cannabinoids. Like THC distillate, live resin is extracted with solvents, like butane. When done correctly, it’s completely safe for the consumer and shouldn’t affect the experience. But solventless extracts — which have been around for as long as the cannabis plant has existed, in the form of hashish, kief, ice water hash, and other concentrates — are also gaining steam in the vape market.
“When you see a solventless product, it means that no chemicals were used in the process of making the highly concentrated material,” Jetty’s Nate Ferguson says. “In Jetty’s case we only use ice, water, heat, and pressure with our proprietary technology and equipment to make what we believe is the cleanest vape product and experience a consumer can buy.”.
Knowing that this is a lot of information to take in, Khalid Al-Naser, head of product at Raw Garden, offers shoppers some tips:
“Testing results are an important way for consumers to confirm that the product is safe and has been tested by a third-party lab,” he says. “Additionally, I think customers should be mindful to buy from licensed retailers, selling licensed products that have been tested. Don’t just buy what’s on sale that day, or go off of the fanciest packaging or strain name. Cannabis is a deep and nuanced experience, you’ll want to take the time to find what you like.”
He adds that consulting a knowledgeable budtender is important because they can make great recommendations on terpene content and aromas. He also says to ask the budtender if there are additives and for testing results — 100% cannabis is always the recommended move for any vape cart.
As for hardware, 510 carts and their batteries (which are long, cylindrical and skinny — the ones that look like pens) are the most popular option. PAX Era vapes, which are prized for their discrete look, are also popular. Personally, I also like Dart-X, which also requires specific pods/carts and can be found at pretty much any dispensary. It uses medical-grade stainless steel in its core component and can vaporize THC or CBD extract with a 10-20% vapor volume increase.
With all of that in mind, here are a few brands selling some of the best vapes out there:
Raw Garden is widely known among weed enthusiasts to be one of the best concentrates brands out there. Their live resin carts contain 100% cannabis and, after smoking about a billion of these myself, I can confirm both the taste and resulting high are dynamic and as close to the plant as you’ll get without actually smoking it yourself.
Their ready-to-use vapes are also designed to be decoupled when finished, as there is a rechargeable battery that fits any new 510 vape cartridge. So far, Raw Garden is the only brand that has a disposable vape that does this.
Mistifi’s vape carts use what they call a proprietary CO2-based “Hi-Phi” extraction method, which produces cured resin for their triple-strain vapes sourced across multiple harvests to achieve peak terpene levels. It works! These vapes are tasty as hell and the stylish metallic design on the actual carts doesn’t hurt, either.
Jetty’s solventless vape carts use high-grade fresh-frozen cannabis, which allows them to retain the original terpenes from the cannabis plant. This means the full-spectrum, body-and-head high is there, along with the in-your-face cannabis taste redolent of the plant’s actual terpenes.
Connected Cannabis Co.
I am completely in love with Connected’s new vape, which shouldn’t be a surprise at all, considering they are also one of the best top-shelf flower brands out there. Honestly, taking a drag from their vapes, which utilize proprietary heating tech depending on the strain to make sure it heats at just the right temperature for those specific cannabinoids and terpenes, is as close as one can get to dabbing without actually physically lighting up a torch.
They come in one-gram 510 carts or disposable half-gram devices.
Rythm’s strain-specific live resin carts are made with fresh-frozen flower, which provides a kicking, long-lasting high, and flavorful vaping experience chock-full of terpenes, THCa, and all the other cannabinoids therein.
Seeing as Alien Labs is also owned by Connected, it should follow that their products are equally excellent. Alien Labs’ hash rosin pens are one of the truest expressions of the cannabis flower, using only ice, water, and pressure as the extraction method. Ice water does an excellent job of maintaining the terpene profile while producing smooth pulls.
The flower is grown with living soil and the affect feels similarly authentic.