Here in North America, many of us who grow connoisseur marijuana also sell it. Some of us sell legally to licensed dispensaries, but most sell black market cannabis direct to consumers.
Professionally-grown black market cannabis is more potent, fresher, tastier, and less costly than legal cannabis, but marijuana legalization in North America is designed to eradicate the black market.
It’s not real legalization that would put cannabis into the same class as “legal plants” like tomatoes. Instead, it’s meant to transfer the marijuana marketplace monopoly that black market growers and sellers built and maintained for decades before legalization, handing it to taxed, legal, licensed marijuana growers and sellers.
The main reason state and local government entities embrace marijuana legalization is they crave increased tax revenues from legal cannabis sales and production.
Legalization laws often include increased funding for law enforcement to go after black market growers and sellers, and penalties for illegal growing have been intensified.
Along with more law enforcement pressure, black market growers and sellers are faced with competition they never had before.
Until this year, all my cannabis customers remained loyal to me, even after some bought whole flower and other cannabis products at legal dispensaries.
They told me my cannabis was lower-priced and provided a way better high than even the most “top-shelf” legal marijuana.
But then one customer showed me a “full-entourage” vape pen, and said the high was as good if not better than consuming whole-flower cannabis.
I didn’t believe it until I tried it. The high was very similar to whole-flower in potency and effects after only one hit.
This differed from every other time I had tried a vape pen. The other vape pens only had THC, and the high was unpleasant because of that.
Most vape pens and other pre-packaged cannabis delivery devices contain only THC and/or CBD. They don’t deliver the full suite of natural cannabinoids and terpenoids you get by inhaling whole-flower cannabis via combustion or a whole-flower vaporizer like the incredible Storz & Bickel Mighty+.
The full-entourage vape pen was unicorn because its manufacturers extracted approximately 75% of the active compounds from whole cannabis, re-blended them, and packaged them in the vape cartridge.
I can easily see why vape pens are good for circumstances such as concerts, during travel, or other situations in which having a traditional vape session or combusting cannabis would be impractical, too time-consuming, or risky.
You already know from previous articles that combusting cannabis inherently creates respiratory problems and gives you a tainted high due to combustion byproducts such as benzene and carbon monoxide that produce headaches, lethargy, dizziness, and other negative effects.
Even whole-flower vaporizers can create respiratory problems—because inhaling super-heated air is damaging.
As a black market seller, I realized that elite full-entourage vape pens are a legal retail product that could give consumers as good a high as buds I grow, but faster and easier.
In other words, competition. But any good marketer knows that one way to defend market share is to legitimately diss the competition.
Fortunately, it’s easy to find reasons that consuming whole-flower cannabis via vaporization at temperatures set well below combustion is superior to consuming retail vape pen cannabis.
It’s less expensive to consume whole flower, especially if you grow it yourself.
My customer’s vape pen cost $93. It delivers 9-11 doses strong enough to provide a good high. If you grow your own cannabis and use a half gram per session, your cost per high is much lower.
Another problem is you have no idea what’s really in that vape pen cartridge. The cannabis industry is full of scammers who lie about their products.
But you always know for sure that the cannabis you grow is pure, fresh, organic…as long as you grow it that way.
Unfortunately, vape pen and cannabis vape cartridge manufacturers use nefarious tricks to increase profits as they source compounds for their products.
One of their worst tricks is to extract delta-8 and delta-9 THC from low-potency hemp. They often advertise delta-8 as being identical to delta-9, but it is not identical, not even close.
Because CBD is cheaper and easier to extract than THC, many vape pen manufacturers tout CBD as a main ingredient.
This is problematic because CBD by itself, absent THC or any other entourage compounds, has limited usefulness medically, and is not recreational.
Further, it’s difficult to extract intact terpenoids and cannabinoids and repurpose them for vape cartridge inclusion. Molecular damage occurs, lessening the value and quality of effects.
Another big problem is many vape pen manufacturers aren’t careful in their extraction and quality control processes, leading to contaminants such as alcohol, butane, and other toxins being present in the vape cartridge.
When inhaled, these compounds pollute the high and create health problems.
Some vape cartridge manufacturers use vitamin E acetate in vape cartridge and cannabis oil products. This substance can cause severe respiratory damage, which is why the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have repeatedly issued warnings about e-cigarettes and vape pen products.
Also of note is that many vape pen manufacturers are often sourcing compounds from cannabis that’s not organically grown. Pesticides, plant growth regulators, and other unnatural chemicals may not be sufficiently eliminated during processing.
In fact, studies show that harmful contaminants in plant tissue and coating plant tissue are actually concentrated by the processes used to make cannabis extracts, and can lead to acute harms.
Another issue is that manufacturers lie about the cannabinoid/terpenoid presence, ratios, and percentages in their products, usually in ways that falsely exaggerate the product’s scope and potency.
One of my associates did lab analysis of several brands of cannabis vape cartridges and found most contained less THC and/or terpenoids than claimed. Some that were claimed to be a reinfused concoction of delta-9 THC and terpenoids contained only THC, or THC and only one or two terpenoids.
Dosage claims by manufacturers are also inaccurate, with some vape pens delivering a lot less, and a few delivering a lot more of specific relevant compounds.
Yet another safety issue is that the carrier liquid for vape pens has been found to be contaminated or unsafe for inhaling via vapor. Manufacturers sometimes add lubricants, preservatives, and flavors in ways that aren’t safe when those compounds are heated and inhaled.
According to a professional science article about cannabis vaping:
“While nicotine remains the most common substance encountered in vaping devices, cannabis vaping is now reported by one-third of youth who vape. Though cannabis vaping is thought to generate fewer toxic emissions than cannabis smoking, it has been associated with several cases of acute lung injury and often involves high-potency forms of cannabis, exposing youth to several acute and long-term health risks. The low perceived riskiness of cannabis as a substance and of vaping as a mode of consumption may bring a false sense of security and be particularly appealing for youth who may be looking for a ‘healthier way’ to use substances.
Use of high-potency concentrates, like those found in vape pens also correlates with a higher incidence of mental and physical health problems and may lead to a higher risk of developing acute adverse effects, such as paranoia, psychosis, and cannabis hyperemesis syndrome. In addition, there is a lack of evidence comparing long-term effects on lung health of smoked versus vaporized cannabis. In fact, while some vaporizers and vape pens can be used with relatively unprocessed cannabis leaves, buds, or flower, many vaping devices use highly processed products whose safety and chemical profile are much closer to that of e-liquids used in e-cigarettes. This is especially true of flavored cannabis vaping products which may contain several harmful and carcinogenic aerosols.”
The main things to remember about using vape pens/cartridges versus vaporizing whole-flower cannabis include:
- Vape pens are easier to conceal and use than whole-flower vaporizers or combustion, so they’re great for stealth consumption at concerts and in similar situations when consuming whole-flower is less stealthy.
- The elite class of vape pens that contain a full suite of cannabinoids and terpenoids and no harmful additives or carrier materials are safe to use occasionally.
- Vaporizing homegrown whole flower cannabis below combustion temperature (below 204°C) is still the safest way to inhale cannabis.
As cannabis science and technology improve, there may come a time when consumers can choose a custom-blended suite of cannabinoids and terpenoids and inhale them with zero respiratory risk via an electronic device.
This will be a health, safety, and convenience improvement compared to current ways of getting high via inhalation. Until then, and even after those devices are available, many of us will continue to enjoy inhaling vaporized buds, and selling them.