Cannabis-filled vape pens are an innovation story. Just as indoor growing changed everything for the way weed is cultivated, technology has granted us a new, discreet, and potent way to consume it—a sort of digital pre-roll.
In many states where legal cannabis is allowed, you can purchase ready-to-use pens filled with concentrates or pre-loaded cartridges to attach to your own battery. Vape pens can satisfy most any cannabis consumer—from live resin vapes, with flower-like aromas and quality; to stripped down, THC-focused pens laden with candy flavors—but only when they work.
Because there are tradeoffs to the general convenience of vape cartridges and pens: dead batteries, clogged mouthpieces, and separated formulas are among the occasional speed bumps on the road to sneaking a toke pretty much anywhere you like. The joys of portable, discreet cannabis are many, but sometimes you need to troubleshoot an uncooperative device. Here’s how to do it.
Why vape devices clog in the first place
Vapes are a relatively new innovation, and at this point, the process of feeding cannabis oil to a heat source creates a few challenges for devices like disposable carts to overcome.
We asked Tanner Terry, product manager at Timeless Vapes, to shed some light on the mechanics involve, and why vapes get clogged so often. “[Clogging] happens because the coil will stay warm after you smoke, which continues to melt the distillate and pulls it into the coil and airway,” he noted. “Once there’s distillate inside the airway of the cartridge, it cools…and it will harden.”
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One primary defense against clogging is taking one final ghost hit while the pen is still warm up from your last—without pressing the button—to make sure any residual gloop is siphoned off before it has a chance to harden.
While this is a generally reliable method, there are a few caveats to note. For one, it isn’t possible with buttonless vape models that only heat up when you inhale unless you quickly detach the cart from the battery, nor is it possible in completely-built disposable models where the parts are permanently connected.
The vaping tech of the future may fix these issues, but until then, if the ghost hit method doesn’t work, you’ll need to be a little more creative.
The easiest way to unclog a vape cartridge or pen
Still clogged? Terry suggested another low-fi method to encouraging a plugged cart to open up: “Put the cartridge between your hands and roll it to generate heat and friction so that eventually it works its way to the airway, allowing the mouthpiece to pull freely,” he said.
Other more rapid methods of applying gentle heat will also work, so grab a blow dryer, set it to low, and aim it at the cartridge until the clog loosens. Or, as one savvy Redditor suggested, seal it in a sandwich bag and submerge in very warm water for a few minute. Using a toothpick or other thin implement (a SIM card key, maybe) to smoosh around in the mouthpiece’s opening is another tried-and-true technique, but it doesn’t always do the job.
Button batteries will give you added clog protection—with a button design, you might just be able to hold it down for a few moments, as the higher heat will sometimes break up a clog and allow you to clear it with your next pull.
Still clogged up? Here are more strategies to try.
When your vape is really clogged
If the above unclogging tips don’t work, try connecting your cartridge to a different, fully charged battery—sometimes the threads don’t quite line up or one model works better with one cartridge over another.
When that fails, some shops will take a clogged cartridge as a return, depending on state regulations, or you can contact the brand directly. Unfortunately, no matter what you try, there will be times where you end up with a nearly full and completely uncooperative cart. This is when you need to take drastic measures: remove the top and scoop out the remaining concentrate.
You can weigh, decarboxylate, and cook with this gloop, or try smearing onto rolling papers or topping bowls and joints with it. If the pen’s contents are high quality enough, grab a dab in a different piece of hardware like an e-nail or micro pen. (Really want to pinch every penny? You can do this with the dregs of carts that are nearly empty, too.)
Switch to micro-dabbing
For some frustrated stoners, repeated clogging becomes really tiresome, prompting them to return to the pre-cartridge era method of using a micro pen to dab self-loaded concentrates, like a vape pen on demand—devices like GPen’s Micro + provide better temperature control and a design that keeps the device dramatically cleaner than models from a decade ago.