What is Vaping?

Vaporizing  or “vaping” has become one of the most popular ways to consume cannabis in recent years. Where old-school cannabis consumers would smoke plant matter, designers and engineers decided to vaporize the cannabis instead of burn it. The devices they created are referred to as vapes. These vapes come in a variety of shapes, power and styles and are one of the most commonly sold items in dispensaries across the nation. While there are stationary vaporizers, most of the industry is dedicated to portable devices.

One reason that portable vapes have become so common is because they are often much more discreet than smoking. Instead of creating a skunky, thick smoke that hangs in the air and clings to your body, vaporizers create an aerosol-like cloud that dissipates quickly and doesn’t linger.

Vaping is perfect for discreet or mobile cannabis consumption. For those who need to get high and then go back to dinner with grandma or at a concert, a vaporizer is the method of choice. The popularity of commercial nicotine-based vapes or “e-cigs” makes identifying a stoner in a group of vapers almost impossible.

What Kind of Vaporizers are out there?

When most people think of an electronic cigarette, they think of regular old, retro e-cigs. You buy them at a gas station, and (Vuze and Blu are two popular brands) they are made by tobacco companies. This part of the market is dominated by tobacco companies like Imperial Tobacco and RJ Reynolds. The cartridges in these vapes come pre-filled and are disposable.

In an actual vape shop, you’ll find products commonly referred to as APVs—Advanced Personal Vaporizers or “Vape Pens” and “Vape Mods”. APVs are produced predominantly by companies based in China like Innokin. They contain electronics to regulate the power level, produce a moderate amount of vapor, and are generally under $100. Mods are for use with user-rebuildable atomizers, can potentially produce tons of vapor, and can be expensive.

Both Vape Pens and Mods function on battery power. The industry has embraced advances in tech like USB-Rechargable batteries. Mods tend to have larger batteries than Pens because they need to push out a lot more enery. While a Vape Pen may last an average user 2-5 days, a Mod with the same size battery might only last 1-2 days.

Are Vapes easy to use?

Even though using a USB-rechargeable vaporizer seems infinitely easier than loading a bowl or rolling a joint, they come with their own challenges. This is especially true in the case of flower vaporizers. Loading the tiny chamber can be a headache, as can cleaning out the vaporized plant waste with anything but a specialized tool.

Cleaning comes more often in vaporizers than traditional smoking bowls as well. This is due to the dominance of exceptionally small chambers. The small chamber is due to the high amount of energy needed to vaporize plant matter (more on that later). Also, portable vaporizers eventually run out of battery, leaving you not-so-high and dry if you forget to plug it in and don’t have a USB port available.

Vaporization does have the advantage of not actually burning the plant material, which gives a clean taste, bereft of the woody finish you get when smoking. While some users prefer this nuanced flavor, many heavy cannabis users like the increased potency and cleanliness of vaping.

What’s in the cartridges?

Vaping is commonly seen as safer alternative to smoking. Vape cartridge or “e-liquid” begins with a vegetable glycerin base. Most manufacturers use certified organic VG. While the glycerin doesn’t carry flavor very well, it does produce a lot of vapor. Then comes is propylene glycol. propylene glycol—or PG—is a main ingredient in albuterol, or asthma inhalers, and is perfectly safe to inhale when vaporized.

Commonly mistaken as being a main ingredient in antifreeze (diethylene glycol) which has actually been found in mass market e-cig products, PG is thinner than VG, and carries flavor very well. The final ingredient is flavorings. These are commonly suspended in PG and are food-grade. Flavorings can be natural or artificial, and cannabis based vape cartridges usually include terpenes.

The final ingredients are the active ingredients. They contain pharmaceutical-grade nicotine or cannabinoids like THC and CBD. All manufacturers make products in varying strengths. Cannabis based cartridges are required to display concentration and overall volume of active ingredients.

What is the best way to vape?

“Anything that lights the plant on fire creates respiratory irritants,” explains Dr. Mitch Earleywine, a professor and researcher at the State University of New York at Albany. When users are trying to consume cannabis in the safest way possible, there are a few things to understand about what happens to the cannabis when it’s heated. Namely, you’ll need to understand the difference between conductive and convective heating.

Conductive Heating

Vaporizers and other tools that use conduction to make cannabis smoke or vaporize typically use flower or concentrate applied directly to a hot plate. The heat changes the raw thc into a useable form and literally boils it. When dabbing, the “hot plate” is an ultra-hot metal nail that is heated to extremely high temperatures using a blowtorch.

Convective Heating

Rather than heating the cannabis matter directly with a heating plate, convective vaporizers use an electronic mechanism to heat air. Once the air reaches a certain temperature, it is forced over the plant matter/concentrate. The hot air actually heats the cannabis product, extracting the THC and turning it into a vapor without burning the substance.

Of the two types, convective vaporization is believed to be the best for your body. The convective method avoids the charring associated with nearly every other method, meaning that convective heat creates the purest form of activated, consumable cannabis vapor.

Is the high different?

Proper vaporization releases most essential oils in the plant while it stays below the point of combustion. These essential oils contain the majority of the cannabinoids and terpenes which give cannabis its effects. In essence, vaporization gives you all the good stuff and very little of the bad.

Truth On Pot explains, “a collaborative study conducted by California NORML and MAPS found that vaporizers could convert 46 percent of available THC into vapor, whereas the average marijuana joint converted less than 25 percent of THC. Likewise, patients ranked vaporizers as the most efficient method of marijuana intake — requiring a lower dose than smoking, edibles, and tea — in a recent study published in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs.”

Here’s a handy chart from NowSourcing that breaks down why that is even further:

Vaping Infographic