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How to Identify Fake Carts

Posted by Adam Frost on

Vape pens and carts are more popular than ever. Unfortunately, with their rise in popularity, we’ve also noticed an increase in counterfeit and unregulated cartridges.

These carts can be harmful to your health, with some carts containing vitamin E acetate, which can cause huge damage to your lungs.

In this blog, we’ll explain how to identify fake carts and why you should avoid them.

Let’s get started!

What are Carts?

Vape cartridges, or "carts," are compact, portable devices used for vaporizing extracts. They have gained popularity for their convenience and discreteness.

The most common type of vape cartridge is the 510-threaded cart, typically pre-filled with oil and requiring a compatible battery. Specialized cartridges, such as the ones used by PAX vaporizers, are designed for specific brands and models.

Once a prefilled cart is empty, it is discarded, but some fillable carts can be reused a few times before the atomizer wears out, making them more environmentally friendly.

What Goes in a Cart?

There are usually three or four main components of the vaping oil inside a vape cart:


At the heart of every vape cartridge are the cannabinoids, the compounds responsible for the various effects of cannabis.

The cannabinoid profile may vary from one cartridge to another. However, the two most well-known cannabinoids are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), and they are most likely to be the main cannabinoids in your average cart.

Distillate vs. Live Resin

Two primary extraction methods produce different types of oil: 

  • Distillate: Distillate is a highly refined and pure form of cannabis oil. Distillate lacks the natural terpenes found in the cannabis plant, resulting in a milder flavor profile.
  • Live Resin: Live resin is a full-spectrum cannabis extract that retains the plant's natural terpenes and cannabinoids, known for its robust flavor and aroma, similar to dabs.

Although live resin carts are more robust, distillate THC cartridges are usually cheaper and easier to find.

Thinning Agent (Solvents)

To create a vapeable oil, a thinning agent or solvent is often added to the cannabis concentrate. These agents are crucial for achieving the right viscosity (thickness) for efficient vaporization in the cartridge.

Common thinning agents include: 

  • Propylene Glycol (PG): PG is a widely used thinning agent known for its ability to create a smooth vapor. However, some users prefer to avoid PG due to concerns about potential health effects.
  • Vegetable Glycerin (VG): VG is another common thinning agent that produces thick, dense vapor. It's generally considered safe for consumption.
  • MCT Oil (Medium-Chain Triglycerides): MCT oil is a natural thinning agent derived from coconuts.

Flavorings (optional)

In some vape products, flavorings are used as additives to enhance the taste of the vapor. Some imitate flavors like fruit, desserts, or cannabis strains. These are most often placed in distillate vape carts to add or change the flavor of the oil but aren’t always used in all carts.

thc cart

Fake Cart Health Hazards

Fake vape carts from the black market can threaten your health. If you're unsure about the authenticity of your vape cartridge, be on the lookout for the following health warning signs: 

  • Lung Pain, Coughing, Shortness of Breath: Counterfeit carts may contain harmful additives or contaminants that can lead to respiratory issues, including lung pain, excessive coughing, or shortness of breath.
  • Nausea and Vomiting: Ingesting questionable substances can trigger nausea and vomiting, leaving users feeling physically ill.
  • Chest Pain or Tightness: Some fake cartridges may introduce contaminants that can cause chest discomfort or a feeling of tightness in the chest.
  • Fatigue or Unusual High: Counterfeit cartridges may deliver an unexpected and unsettling high, often accompanied by fatigue or disorientation.

How to Identify Fake vs. Real Carts

Here are some vital tips for identifying fake vs. real vape cartridges:

Check the Packaging

Reputable cart manufacturers and dispensaries adhere to strict regulations and testing, which is often reflected in their packaging.

Read the package carefully. Legitimate cartridges will have a precise date of manufacture, and many legal cannabis products carry government-mandated warning labels, often shown to you with a QR code or a way to validate your lot number.

A legitimate cart will also typically display a batch number, a manufacturing date, a list of ingredients, and an expiration date.

Beware of packaging that features cartoon characters or unusual artwork/design, as these can be red flags of knock-offs. Typos or unusual language on the packaging can also indicate a fake cart.

Know Your Source

Legitimate vape cartridge brands can vary from state to state due to differing cannabis regulations, so you should only get carts from reliable sources.

Stick to buying carts and edibles from licensed dispensaries and reputable vendors, and avoid "street carts" or carts from unverified online sources.

Check the Oil Consistency

Authentic cannabis oil has a thick, viscous consistency. Open the package and examine the oil inside your cannabis vape cart.

If the oil in your cartridge is thin, contains numerous bubbles, or easily moves around inside the cart, it could be a sign of low quality or harmful additives.

Beware of Cheap Carts

Significantly cheaper THC vapes compared to others on the market can indicate illegitimate or counterfeit products. Quality comes at a price, and excessively cheap carts may compromise your safety.

Check for Unusual Taste

Pay attention to the taste of the vapor. If your cartridge tastes metallic or has a burnt quality, this may indicate a low-quality or fake cart. Authentic carts typically deliver a clean and pure taste.

Final Words

While fake THC carts have become an issue of concern, they can be easily avoided by following the guidelines we listed.

With so many reputable cartridge manufacturers and retailers today, it’s very easy to avoid fake or low-quality carts with a little due diligence and common sense. Avoid counterfeit products and unknown cart brands that might be contaminated with pesticides and heavy metals by only acquiring carts from trusted sellers, and never use a suspected counterfeit vape to avoid their potentially dangerous side effects.

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