Sadly, the answer is because they’re cheap.  Unfortunately, this does not mean that those devices are good for you or that you should use them.  Let’s explore what we know about them. 

First, let’s talk about how these pens are made and why dispensaries love to sell them.  When dispensaries grow cannabis, they sell the flowers as one of their main products.  They then have a problem:  they’ve got hundreds to thousands of pounds of cannabis plant material – the stalks etc. – that have very low amounts of cannabinoids and aren’t directly useful.  In fact, in most states that regulate how such biomass is disposed, they could have to pay to get rid of it. 

However, with such large amounts of this plant material, even a small amount of cannabinoids can be reclaimed.  Putting all that biomass into a vat and extracting the remaining chemicals leads to a cannabis concentrate (often called oil).  This is the stuff they use to make these vape pens.  It’s not the highest quality stuff – it’s essentially the rubbish of the growing process. 

Most importantly, it’s cheap.  This is a found product.  As I mentioned, they’d have to throw this stuff away, so it’s really like they’re getting something for nothing.  As a result they can sell it for lower prices than the flower.

I’m not against their getting more than one product from the plant material.  But I am concerned that they use this cheaper product to create extra sales and sales of a product isn’t safe to use. 

To use a vape cartridge you either buy a disposable pen or a $10 batter handle (that they sell to you for $30-40).  In either case, these are incredibly rudimentary devices.  As a result, they have no actual control over temperature.  As we’ve discussed before, controlling the temperature of vaporization is the key to ensuring that we are getting only the medicine and not lungsful of toxins and heavy metals. 

When the cannabis concentrate is put into the cartridge it must be thinned to work properly.  As we saw during the EVALI crisis of 2018, what you put into the cartridge can make a world of difference.  Vitamin E acetate, which caused the EVALI problems, was an obvious, poor decision to anyone who knows medicine, and the whole situation could have been avoided entirely. 

More common thinning agents in current use are terpenes either derived from cannabis or purchased from chemical supply companies.  The argument that terpenes come from cannabis therefore they must be safe is too simplistic.  They do belong in cannabis, but not at the levels being used in these cartridges. At these higher levels, we don’t know that they’re safe.

Further, terpenes burn at very low temperatures and create very toxic chemicals like Acrolein and Metacrolein.  These should be avoided.  Hence temperature control is key, but missing in these cheapo vapes. 

More recent data has shown that the cartridges themselves are a problem.  They’re constructed with metal that can leach into the cannabis oil.  Heavy metals like lead, arsenic, antimony and others get into the oil, and then into you.  These too are toxic.  Many heavy metals cause neurologic or biochemical derangements that are not very treatable, so avoidance is crucial. 

In the end, it’s not just the idea that dispensaries are double-dipping with these products, it’s that they’re cheap to sell and dangerous.  Dispensaries are pushing these products on the basis of ease of use and low price when they know they’re not safe.  This is where I have a problem. 

Consult with a Qualified Boston Medical Marijuana Expert Today 

Those considering using THC, CBD, or any type of medicine found in cannabis to help manage their condition should consider speaking to a trained medical expert who is knowledgeable about using cannabis therapeutically. Massachusetts medical marijuana doctor Jordan Tishler, M.D. sits on the faculty of Harvard Medical School and has years of experience helping patients treat pain and other ailments using cannabis. He and the team at InhaleMD stand ready to assist patients in determining whether medical marijuana is right for them. For more information, or to set up a virtual consultation with the team at InhaleMD, call us at (617) 477-8886 today.

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