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How Long Do Vape Carts Stay Good?

You can’t always tell the quality of a cannabis vape cartridge just by looking at it. Depending on the type of cannabis oil inside, what’s considered “good” or “normal” can vary by brand or product type. However, that doesn’t mean you should discount anything that looks a little different — in fact, that vigilance is key to an enjoyable and effective cannabis session. Know the signs of when a cannabis cartridge goes bad, as well as abnormalities that shouldn’t cause concern.

Why do vape cartridges go bad?

Issues with a vape cartridge fall into two categories: The quality of the oil inside and the manufacture of the cartridge itself. Issues can stem from both sources. Some reasons a vape cartridge go bad include:

  • Breakage: The cartridge itself contains many sensitive parts that are all susceptible to breakage. Common issues include a leaky cartridge, a clogged mouthpiece, a faulty connector, or a damaged heating element.
  • Time: All cannabis products, including vape cartridges, lose potency and flavor as time goes on. If your cartridge is more than one year old, it may be time to replace it. However, if stored properly, your cartridge may last much longer.
  • Improper storage: If stored in direct sunlight, at too high or too low temperatures, or if the cartridge was exposed to air (called oxidation), your cartridge may go bad faster than usual. 

Is it normal if a vape cartridge isn’t completely full?

You may have heard that a vape cartridge not filled to the brim with cannabis oil is a faulty product. This isn’t true.

Vape cartridges are sold by weight. Regulated products sold in a licensed dispensary always contain the amount of cannabis oil listed on the label, usually 0.5 grams or 1 gram per cartridge. So, just because the cartridge you are considering buying doesn’t appear filled to the brim doesn’t mean you’re being shortchanged.

If you’re wondering where your “missing” cannabis went, there’s a simple explanation. This is usually caused by the absorption of some of the cannabis oil into the porous wicking material, which is in turn heated to vaporize the product for inhalation. Rest assured that your cartridge is still perfectly fine.

Signs of a bad vape cartridge

First, inspect the cartridge itself. Leaks or cracks in the cartridge can be seen easily. These defects could be the result of an error in the production of the cartridge, due to mishandling along the supply chain, or it broke at home due to improper storage. The small heating element inside the cartridge may also be defective, but this cannot be observed visually and is often not identified until you find you’re unable to draw from the cartridge.

Next, check the oil. If the color has darkened or changed over time that could be an indicator that cartridge has expired. Additionally, chunks of solid material in a cartridge is a sign that it should be discarded. Most vape cartridge contents are a golden amber color, or they may be clear if the cartridge is filled with distillate. Anything darker may be a sign that the cartridge content is past its prime because the oil was exposed to oxygen or light.

Check the consistency of the oil, too. The oil inside should be uniform, thick, and move slowly like molasses. If crystals have formed in your cartridge, if chunks of the oil are now solid, or if the contents separated, it’s likely no longer safe to consume.

Finally, consider the experience. If everything looks OK but something tastes strange, don’t continue your session with that product. Similarly, if you feel differently than your last session with that same cartridge, it’s possible that its potency diminished.

What about counterfeit cartridges?

Black market knock-offs not sold in a dispensary have not been through the same rigorous testing and verification process as a cartridge found at a licensed dispensary. This can be concerning for three reasons:

  1. There’s no way to tell what’s in the cartridge. Black market counterfeits can fool even the most conscious consumer, but just because the package is the same doesn’t mean the product inside is the same. The only way to know for sure is to purchase from a dispensary that thoroughly tests the product before it can be sold.
  2. The cannabis oil it contains may be contaminated. When not manufactured according to industry standards, the product may contain contaminants like mycotoxins and vitamin E acetate that could make you sick if inhaled. In fact, vitamin E acetate is believed to be the cause of the 2019 outbreak of Electronic Vape Associate Lung Illness (EVALI) traced back to black market vape cartridges1.
  3. It may contain non-cannabis material, or may not be cannabis oil at all. Without labeling standards and lab reports, you can’t verify what precisely the cartridge contains. They could be filled with a mysterious substance, which could lead to serious health issues if consumed. 

Any cartridge you buy from a dispensary will come with a lab report you can evaluate at home.

Don’t gamble on bad cartridges

Vape cartridges can go bad for any number of reasons, whether due to manufacturing defects, improper storage, time, or suspicions that a product was illicitly manufactured. When in doubt, examine your cartridge for damage and check the oil. Importantly, don’t forget the lab results. This important documentation helps ensure that the contents of your cartridge are authentic and safe for consumption according to the strict standards set out by the state in which your product was manufactured. If you’re in doubt, share your concerns with an Ethos associate who can help you assess if your potentially bad cartridge is OK for consumption.



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