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Monday November 29, 2021

By Matthew Mongelia

cannabis vape cartridge 420 Culture

The days of the classic joint ruling the cannabis landscape may be numbered. These days, vaporizers are all the rage. With no harsh burnt residue, a milder smell that doesn’t linger, easy portability and higher potency, it’s understandable why vapes have risen in popularity. Advancements in extract and distillate technology have resulted in vape oils with terpene profiles that go head to head with flower.

However, the convenience often comes at a price, and a part of that price is paying for the concentrate delivery system, or more specifically, the cartridge and   “atomizer” (the part which actually does the heating) not the actual cannabis product involved.

Additionally, cannabis oil bought in a larger unit (typically a glass syringe) is often cheaper than in individual carts. Many vaporizer fans have taken to refilling their own cartridges to cut down on waste and save money, but just how lucrative is it to refill your own, and what’s involved?

Refilling Vape Cartridges: The Basics

In order to refill your vaporizer cartridge, you’ll need:

  1. A refillable cart and
  2. Some concentrate product to refill with (usually distillate, but this could also be Full Spectrum Terpene Extract [FTSE], live resin oil, rosin oil or other preparations). 

The logistics of the refill process are incredibly straightforward: remove the tip from the vaporizer tank (usually a screw-top but some pull straight out with a rubber stopper), insert the nozzle of the distillate syringe into the gap between the main tube and the glass tank, and squeeze to fill the tank. Once the distillate is loaded into the glass chamber, replace the top, and bingo, all done. Place it on your favorite pen and start vaping.

Do not fill the central airway passage of the cartridge with distillate, only fill in the tank outside of it. Oil will gather through the atomizer or wick at the bottom of the chamber.

Though logistically simple, in execution, this can be tricky depending on the design of either the cartridge or the applicator. Some applicators have a better tip for precision, others have a short stubby tip that is hard to get accurately into the chamber; some chambers have an accessible gap, and some you have a very small space to fill.

Cannabis distillate syringe
Cannabis distillate is the most commonly used concentrate product to refill a cartridge. photo credit

Having the bad luck of getting both a stubby applicator and a narrow chamber will often result in dripping half of your distillate down the outside of the cartridge, which is less than ideal. With steady hands and some practice, most people can get it down. However, for anyone with fine motor skill issues this might not be a feasible option without assistance.

Refillable Vaporizer Cartridges Tips

The most cost-effective option for refilling is to purchase a brand of prefilled cart that has high-quality, durable parts and is — most importantly — able to be refilled. This has become true of the majority of vape cartridges on the market, with a recent industry shift towards glass and metal atomizers as the standard.

The first wave of vapes to come on the market (made with plastic, and cotton or synthetic wicks) were almost universally easily refillable, but would burn out and degrade quickly. Though they may be cheap, it is best to avoid cartridges with plastic or synthetic parts if you find them. Opt for glass and metal parts where available.

A refillable cartridge
It is much easier to use a refillable cartridge, rather than refilling a pre-filled cartridge. photo credit

Be cautioned, some pre-filled cartridges are sealed, making them difficult or impractical to open, and thus ill-suited for refilling. If you intend to refill a cartridge you’re buying at a dispensary, it is best to ask a budtender first when purchasing a new brand.

Additionally, most head shops, vaporizer shops, and even some dispensaries sell stand-alone refillable vaporizer cartridges for around $3-$10 depending on the quality and materials. They can be bought cheaply and in bulk on any of the major warehouse online sites like amazon or alibaba.

How Reusable is Reusable?

Though glass and metal have become the standard, within that trend is a wide variety of quality. It is almost impossible to know the grade of the parts used. What’s the metal made out of? How long until the heating element degrades or leaks? How many times can they be refilled?

It’s best to go with as trusted of vendors as you can find, because no one is really too sure on these points, and we were not able to find any data on stress tests done on the various elements of these cartridges.

Some sites say 4-5 times; users on vaporizer boards have a consensus that one or two reuses is the max. No explanation is given for how these numbers were arrived at aside from personal preference.

Someone vaping out of a vape pen
To avoid inhaling unwanted particles, you should only refill a cartridge a couple of times before moving on to a new one. photo credit

Thus, with no hard data about how these parts are designed for wear and tear, and how that breakdown will affect the user, it is best to err on the side of caution.

A notable change in taste is one sign that it’s time to get a new cartridge, but the question remains, how long have you been inhaling burning particles before you tasted it?

That’s the scary part, and what keeps most people from reusing cartridges in general. However these are parts made of glass and metal, neither of which is made to degrade quickly. It comes down to personal choice.

Can Refilling Vape Cartridges Save Money?

Again, the ideal can be a bit different than reality. Ideally, it can be cheaper to buy a gram of distillate and refill than to purchase a new 1g-cartridge flat out.

However, prefilled cartridges tend to be more popular than refill syringes. The increased demand means more are produced, which means a lower price. Quite often, customers are finding little to no difference in price between distillate syringes and a cart filled with the same amount of product.

Someone paying in cash
Depending on the dispensary's pricing, it might not be that much cheaper to refill your carts, and sometimes may even be more expensive. photo credit

On some menus, it’s even cheaper to buy a new cartridge than an equivalent refill. This is slightly different in markets where 1g cartridges are rare (many states use 500mg carts as the standard size), and in those places, a 1g syringe is likely to be a little more affordable than two half-gram cartridges.

Whether or not refilling returns significant savings is dependent on the market one is purchasing within, and what kind of deal can be found on distillate over cartridges. If distillate is cheap and readily available near you, routine refills are worth it, but otherwise might be more work than they’re worth in the long run. Time is money, after all.

However, little is being done to address the large amount of waste within the cannabis market, and refilling cartridges can be an easy step to reducing that impact. For this reason alone, it might be a trend worth getting into.

Photo Credit: WeedPornDaily (license)


Matthew Mongelia Matthew Mongelia

Matthew Mongelia is the Content Manager for He holds an MFA in Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and a BFA in Creative Writing from CUNY Brooklyn College. He has worked in the industry in numerous roles for over 5 years while covering cannabis content from coast to coast. Like so many in the industry, he first became acquainted with cannabis as a medical patient, and has been a passionate advocate for the plant ever since. He is a writer for the comic Dark Beach, and has previously covered music and cultural content for SOL REPUBLIC.

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