The pen. The cart. The pod. No matter what you call it, over the last 10 years, the weed vape has drastically altered the landscape of how we view cannabis—and where we can comfortably smoke it. From a Gen Z perspective, though, the weed pen is more than a notable addition to the game: it is the game.
Vaporizing cannabis and cannabis extracts isn’t a new concept—it’s been around for centuries. Still, this article isn’t about the Shake and Vape (developed in 1993), or even the Volcano (available in the U.S. in 2003). This is about the modern, lithium-ion-battery-powered-pocket-sized vape. It’s about how far we’ve come from G Pens to distillate carts to Fortnite Carts to top-tier rosin pods, and how far we still have to go.
The Gen Z Experience
I was in high school when cannabis vapes were first starting to become popular and widely accessible. At first, it wasn’t your (now standard) distillate + terpene combination in a cartridge, it was the G Pen. For those of you not familiar with this device, you had to load your own concentrates into an atomizer and carefully heat the pen to your desired rip level. It was remarkable, but admittedly crude by today’s standards. Still, we could show up early to school, rip the G Pen in the parking lot, and nobody would ever know. It’s a feeling that I imagine my high school predecessors could only experience by smoking actual flower, running the risk of smelling in class. I think that was more exciting.
Excitement in that sense comes from risk, which a lot of people argue is a catalyst to either a perfect high or a paranoid one. The risk of smoking weed and the effects of smoking weed were starting to become exclusive from one another for the first time. You didn’t have to worry about smell or surrounding yourself with thick smoke. And as the 2010s passed their midway point, the G Pen started to phase out in favor of a new 510-thread cartridge, which has now largely dominated the weed pen industry since its inception.
These 510-thread cartridges are straightforward to produce and to smoke. Distillate and outside terpenes are mixed together, poured into a cartridge, and bam, you have weed that tastes like Blue Raspberry. Again, for a high school-aged kid, this was inexplicably convenient across the board.
After all, for someone who had to hide their consumption from their parents, teachers, and even some of their less progressive-minded classmates, what better than a small stick that hardly smelled like weed?
That’s something prior generations of youth had never before experienced: a way to smoke weed at school without a single person knowing. We went from ripping the G Pen in the parking lot to ripping a cartridge under our shirts in the back of class—to designating specific bathrooms for pen-hotbox purposes only. Our campus was locked in, meaning you couldn’t leave for lunch or any reason, even to go to your car. But we didn’t need to. Thanks to myself and a few other soldiers around campus, everyone had one.
Pretty soon, though, people with more fucked up intentions than mine realized what a strong hold vapes had on my generation in particular. The most absurd, cheaply produced cartridges started popping up everywhere from 2017-2019. And whether you were smoking a Mario Cart, Dank Vape, Exotic Cart, Monopoly Cart, Cartnite, Cereal Cart or whatever the fuck (kinda feel like I tapped into the major ones), you really had no clue what was inside it and most people didn’t care. It was cheap. It was easy. It had fun colors and funny graphics. All flavored with non-cannabis terpenes and filled with who fucking knows what.
That’s another thing about my generation, though. Snapchat plugs rapidly expanded with the rise of these mass-produced fakes. With a few taps and hardly any research around your school, any kid could find a bullshit cart to smoke. And like I’ve been saying, nobody would ever find out. That was the beauty of it.
Then the Vitamin E acetate cases stepped in.
Kids my age ended up in the hospital from smoking THC cartridges cut with Vitamin E acetate, a thinning agent. According to the CDC, these cases “sharply increas[ed]” in August 2019 and peaked the next month. None of these cases were tied to licensed companies, but it was clear that the convenience of production and purchase had caught up to Gen Z kids who had mostly just begun to experience weed for the first time.
Distillate cartridges as a whole are really to blame. They’re some of the cheapest, most poorly produced, low-quality smoke out. Sure, they’ve helped make cannabis a more widely-appreciated experience than ever, but it’s coming at a cost. Live resin cartridges have been a step in the right direction, but even those leave trace solvents behind.
Where TF Do We Go From Here?
We’re trending onwards and upwards, it seems. Live Rosin Pods have been the newest wave in cartridge technology, and they’re starting to become more affordable. They may not have a full grip on my generation yet, but solventless, additive-free options are the most effective, clean form of vape since the 510-thread cartridge entered the game.
This, of course, is only possible in legal states with the most progressive markets, like California and Colorado. The reality is, many Gen Z kids across the U.S. in illegal states are years behind, still smoking the same, scary bullshit. It’s a double-edged sword, though. Many will smoke garbage distillate cartridges and simply have a good time, helping reduce the stigma around enjoying cannabis as a whole.
But when will we start caring about what’s actually in our cartridges? When will the lure of fake flavors like Blue Raspberry or even added cannabis-derived terpenes be replaced by the taste of actual strains in their true form? Maybe never. Fake flavors in distillate cartridges are much more readily appealing to a new, Gen Z weed smoker than the taste of actual weed. Maybe it’s a journey with the plant, or in this case the device, that we have to all go through. Maybe everyone will end up at rosin pods—maybe everyone will stop vaping altogether one day. Knowing my generation, though, I highly doubt the latter is true.