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What are carts?

What are carts?
May 10, 2024
9 min read

In medical cannabis, a cart or cartridge refers to a disposable hash-filled cannabis cartridge, compatible with a vaporiser battery. These relatively new devices allow for quick, easy, and discreet use of cannabis concentrate by medical cannabis patients. In recent years, they have exploded in popularity both domestically and overseas. In this article we aim to provide a comprehensive overview of cannabis carts and how they work.

What are carts?

How does a cart work?

Carts work by absorbing hash oil (a liquid cannabis concentrate) onto a coil, which is then powered by a battery and vaporised. The cart itself contains the hash and the coil, which is connected to a 510-threaded vaporiser battery. 

When the battery is activated, the oil in the cartridge is vaporised and inhaled. Some batteries are button-operated, whereas some activate as they are inhaled. When the oil in the cart runs out, it is disposed of.

Please note that cartridge prescriptions do not come with 510-threaded batteries.

What is hash?

Hash is a concentrated extract made from resin-producing trichome glands of the cannabis plant. It can be made in various ways, all of which rely on the principle of separating the resin in the plant from the chlorophyll, or plant material.

Traditionally, hash appears solid like putty due to its chlorophyll content, however modern hash contains no plant matter, melts fully, does not contain plant matter and does not burn or leave a residue when vaporised. The forms of modern hash which appear in medical cannabis cartridges are in oil form to allow it to be absorbed into the coil in a cart.
It is important to know that the hash oil found in carts is different to the THC or CBD oil that is prescribed for oral use. These oils are unsafe to inhale as they contain fat that can cause permanent lung damage.

Types of carts

Carts come in many different forms depending on the type of hash oil inside. 

  1. Distillate: Distillate is the most common form of cannabis concentrate. It is cheap to produce and high in THC—upwards of 90% in crude form. However, because the THC has been separated from the rest of the terpenes and cannabinoids, it does not have an entourage effect. Sometimes, cheap botanical terpenes from non-cannabis sources are added to distillate carts. In rare cases, the terpenes lost during distillation are captured and reintroduced at the end. This makes for a higher-quality extract but is a more expensive production method that does not capture the full spectrum of terpenes and flavour compounds.
  2. Solvent extraction: Solvent extraction is a process that involves using a solvent like CO2, ethanol, or butane to extract the resin. The solvent binds to the resin, and once it is removed, it leaves behind a thick oil. This method of extraction is more complete and flavourful than distillate.
  3. Rosin: Rosin is a relatively new form of hash. It is made by pressing flower or bubble hash (crude form of hash) with a heated hydraulic press until the resin is forced out. The hash is then collected, liquefied by heat, and put into carts. Rosin is expensive to produce, but has the advantage of not using solvents. Some patients prefer knowing that their hash has come straight from the plant. However, rosin production still uses heat, which may destroy a small amount of volatile flavour compounds.
  4. Live rosin/Live resin: Live rosin, or live resin, is made from plants that have been fresh-frozen before they were dried. This allows almost the full spectrum of cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids to be expressed in the hash as none have evaporated or degraded during drying. Live resin is made using solvents like butane, but with material from a fresh-frozen plant.

Carts vs Flower

Carts offer several advantages and disadvantages to flower.

Advantages:

Carts are portable and discreet

Carts are smaller than a finger and many 510-threaded batteries are small and subtle, making them popular devices for portable use.

Carts are quick and easy to use

Carts do not require several steps to set up like a dry herb vaporiser. Once the cart is connected to the battery, instant vaporisation occurs when the cart is inhaled or when the button is pressed.

Some carts may be much higher quality than flower

Some carts are filled with live resin or live rosin. Both of these forms of hash are made using fresh-frozen plants, preserving more flavour compounds than is possible with dried and cured flower. The drying process required to produce flower results in significantly diminished levels of these volatile compounds vs live rosin/resin.

Disadvantages:

Carts can clog, burn, leak, or break

Carts, especially those containing higher-quality extracts like live resin, tend to clog temporarily. With incorrect or repeated heavy use, the coil inside the cart may burn, ruining the flavour and potentially releasing toxic compounds. Carts are also susceptible to leaking or breaking. If a cart is broken, do not try to consume the oil as it may contain microscopic glass shards.

Cart clogging is caused by cold hash oil. To unclog a cart, either use the preheat function on your vaporiser battery (if possible), or gently heat the cart using body heat before use. Leaving your cart in the sun is not recommended, as UV light may destroy active ingredients.

Some carts may not be a true expression of cannabis

High-quality extracts are expensive to produce. Most carts commonly available are filled with THC distillate, as opposed to a full-spectrum cannabis extract such as live resin. Often, distillate carts contain botanical terpenes or added flavourings or diluents that are not a natural expression of the cannabis plant.

Carts are expensive

Carts are more expensive than flower as they are a more processed form of cannabis. While carts are quick and easy to use, they are less cost-effective. 

Carts are disposable

Unfortunately, medical cannabis cartridges are not refillable and must be disposed of after use, causing a significant amount of waste.

How strong are carts?

Carts vary in THC percentage depending on the form of hash oil they contain. Live resin cartridges can be as low as 70% THC depending on their plant fat and terpene content. Typically, raw distillate is upwards of 90% THC, although after terpenes have been added, this may sit around 80-85%. 

Keep in mind that because hash is concentrated, less vapour is inhaled compared to the equivalent amount of THC in flower.

How much do carts cost?

Carts vary in price depending on the form of hash they contain, but typically, medical cannabis cartridges cost between $110 and $150 for 1g. 

Note: 1g of hash oil is generally equivalent to 3-4 times the THC content of flower. 

How discreet are carts?

The vapour from carts does not smell nearly as strong as cannabis smoke and does not linger in the same way. Compared to a dry herb vape, carts may be considered more discreet as they emit far less scent.

If you have any further questions about carts, other dosage forms, or your prescription medication, be sure to ask your prescriber.

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Disclaimer

Please note that this blog was not written by a licensed medical practitioner and therefore is not providing medical advice. We do not endorse the use of cannabis or any other illicit drugs. Like any medication, cannabis has potential negative side effects and should only be used under the guidance of a qualified medical professional. For the latest information on cannabis prescription and use, please visit the TGA website. If you are considering cannabis as a treatment option, we encourage you to consult with a licensed healthcare professional.

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