Vape Carts Explained: What You Need To know

Alternaleaf Team
Written by
Alternaleaf Team
Jun 26, 2024
Last updated:
Jun 26, 2024

When patients are prescribed medical cannabis for the first time, they may be surprised to find out that smoking cannabis has not been approved by doctors as a safe delivery method. In fact, UK doctors will always recommend vaporisation as the only safe way to inhale cannabis as medication. Furthermore, patients are not covered legally if they smoke medical cannabis. 

There are many patients who may already be familiar with dry herb vaporisers, such as the Mighty Medic. However, they may not have seen as many instances of ‘vape carts’ (cart being short for cartridge). These are smaller, more portable and a discrete option for patients to administer medical cannabis via inhalation for many conditions and symptoms.

What is a ‘cart’ and what do they contain?

Carts are essentially containers for cannabis plant extracts, allowing for reliable, safe and hassle-free administration and dosing. These cartridges are often filled with distillate, resin, rosin, or other forms of extracted cannabis. Currently, distillate is the primary form found in vape cartridges on the UK medical market. However, as the industry grows and develops here, the arrival of other cannabis extracts in concentrated forms is also expected.

The extracts found within the carts are often sourced from specific strains (e.g., Lemon Haze, Girl Scout Cookies or OG Kush) and aim to replicate their effects. However, sometimes the extracts are more generic and created with a specific formula in mind, targeting particular levels of THC, CBD or both.

As with all forms of medical cannabis (flowers, oils, vape cartridges, etc.), your doctor or pharmacist will prescribe a product that specifically treats your symptoms. For example, some conditions may require high-strength THC carts, while other symptoms may be better suited to a formulation balanced in both THC and CBD.

The duration of a cart’s use will vary depending on your symptoms and needs. For those who dose regularly and use it as their sole form of cannabis medication, multiple carts may be required on a one-month prescription. Others may use it to complement flower or oil in their treatment plan, providing an additional option when needed. Carts can typically last upwards of 200 inhales, also referred to as 'draws'. Make sure to check your cart as this can vary across brands.

How Do I Use Carts?

Using a vape cart is simple. The key thing to remember is to buy a suitable battery that fits the cart thread, known as a ‘510 thread’. Most UK cannabis pharmacies that prescribe vape carts also sell the required batteries. Sometimes a prescribed cart will come with a free battery, while other times you may need to purchase one separately. This usually depends on the brand or pharmacy. If you’re unsure whether you’ll receive a battery with your prescribed cart, it’s best to check with your doctor, clinic, or pharmacy for advice.

While 510 threads are typically the standard, there are some unique carts that require bespoke batteries. This situation is rare, and your doctor will inform you if this applies to your prescription.

While we are referring to the devices as ‘batteries’, you may also see them referred to as ‘pens’, ‘vape pens’, or even ‘weed pens’ or ‘THC pens’ in recreational markets. The term ‘pen’ comes from the thin, stationary-like appearance of the devices.

It is important to check that your battery and cartridge are compatible before use. Forcing them together can risk damaging or breaking either component.

Most 510 batteries are button-activated, but some are ‘draw’-activated. So, what’s the difference?

Button activated:

Button-activated batteries allow you to pre-heat and inhale by pressing a button on the device. This is useful for some forms of cannabis concentrate that can thicken and clog over time or in specific climates. By having a preheat option, you can ensure the extract heats up and is easier to inhale before medicating.

Draw activated: 

These devices are activated by inhaling and do not require pressing a button. They are often considered less desirable than button-activated batteries because they are harder to fix when a cart clogs, as you do not have the option to preheat.

Some batteries offer a combination of both, and work both when drawing or by holding a button.

Administering your dose is very straightforward. Depending on your device, either hold the button and/or draw for no longer than a couple of seconds. As with all forms of medical cannabis, we always recommend starting low and going slow to ensure you do not use too much at once.

Some cartridges and devices provide precise guidance on how much medication is administered with each dose. For example, patients may administer 5mg per 3-second inhale. It’s important to discuss the exact dosage and duration of inhalation with your doctor, as these instructions can vary from brand to brand.

Who are Vape Carts suitable for?

Vape carts are suitable for a wide spectrum of conditions and symptoms. They are particularly beneficial for patients with fine motor impairments or other conditions that affect their ability to handle and load a dry herb vaporiser. 

The ability to dose rapidly with cartridges is crucial for conditions requiring immediate symptom relief, such as unexpected chronic pain or sudden anxiety attacks.

Vape cartridges also offer a discreet option for patients who need to medicate in situations where they prefer not to disclose their medication. Our healthcare needs are private and sometimes we might prefer to not share them. As medical cannabis is still relatively new in the UK, many people are curious and want to ask questions. Using cartridges in discrete situations allows patients to manage their treatment without drawing attention as there is no associated odour.

Are there any risks of using vape carts?

When prescribed by a UK medical cannabis clinic like Alternaleaf, vape carts can be trusted due to their strict manufacturing guidelines that adhere to MHRA requirements.

However, there has been an influx of vape cartridges and disposable THC vape pens on the UK black market in recent years. These products pose high risks and have been found to contain dangerous chemicals. We strongly advise against self-medicating with these illicit devices, as there is no way to know exactly what you are inhaling. When negative criticisms arise regarding THC vape cartridges or concentrates, they primarily refer to these black market devices.

By booking an appointment with Alternaleaf, you can work with your doctor to access the right medication for you. If a vape cartridge is recommended, your doctor will provide guidance on usage, necessary equipment such as batteries, and the associated costs of medication and devices.