When most people think of inhaling cannabis, they have visions of pipes, joints, or bongs, but smoking isn’t the only way to get the beneficial effects of marijuana. Vaporizing cannabis, or vaping, is the newest way to enjoy the flavors and health benefits of cannabis without the harmful side effects of actual smoke. Many people are now choosing to vape over smoking, and marijuana is no exception.
What is vaping?
“Vaping” is the slang term for vaporization, a process of heating matter to just under the point of combustion, releasing chemicals within the material without actually burning it, and then inhaling these chemicals as vapor. Cannabis vapor enthusiasts can vaporize dry marijuana buds or concentrated cannabis in the form of wax, oil, or a crystalline substance called shatter.
Types of Vaporizers
Whether you’re going to be vaping dry plant matter or concentrates inside your own home or on the go, there is a vaporizer that will work for your needs.
Stationary Vaporizers – Also called desktop vaporizers, these are larger machines that vaporize efficiently and offer way more options than portable vapes. These vapes are generally boxy and meant to sit on a table or other flat surface, and they plug into the wall instead of having rechargeable batteries. They generally have a hose attachment, though you can choose from various options like a balloon or bag. With the larger tabletop vaporizers, you can also have multiple people use it, instead of one person like with a pen vape.
Portable Vaporizers – These vaporizers range in size from a pack of gum to a pack of cigarettes, and they offer the options of a stationary vaporizer with the portability of a pen. Most feature a body with the electronic elements and a rechargeable battery (or multiple batteries), a well with the heating coil and mouthpiece, and some have an LED display for temperature and settings. Many of these portable vapes are customizable with different heating coils, mouthpieces, and finishes on the body.
Pen Vaporizers or “Vape Pens” – These are small vaporizers that resemble electronic cigarettes or pens, and they usually use conduction heating. They usually consist of a mouthpiece, a chamber for cannabis concentrate or plant matter, the conduction plate or coil, and the body of the pen with the electronic parts and battery. Before buying, make sure your pen will work with dry buds or concentrate, and check the temperature as well to make sure that you can heat your cannabis to release vapor without burning it.
Types of Heat in Vaporizers
The different types of vaporizers use varying methods of heating the cannabis, whether that’s dry plant matter or cannabis concentrates, but the two main types are conduction and convection heating. Conduction heating is when a metal plate or coil is heated by electricity to that perfect temperature to create vapor but not burn. Just like an oven, convection heating uses air to add heat to the cannabis matter, which never actually touches the heating element. While conduction is more common, convection heating is considered to be more efficient at producing quality vapor.
A very important aspect of vaporizing cannabis is the temperature you set your vape at. While vape pens aren’t always adjustable, but most portable vaporizers and all desktop vaporizers have adjustable temperature settings. The active ingredients in cannabis, called cannabinoids, start to turn into vapor at around 285°F and continue to vaporize up to 392°F when the plant begins to combust. Cannabis experts agree that the perfect temperature for vaping cannabis is 338°F. Cannabis enthusiasts recommend starting your vaporizer at 250 degrees and slowly increasing it to 350 or so; that way you’ll get the most out of your cannabis.
Vapor Delivery Methods
Depending on the type of vaporizer you have, there are different ways of getting the vapor out of the heating chamber and into your lungs.
Direct Draw – This is the most common type of delivery method for pen vapes and portable vaporizers. Direct draw is similar to traditional cigarettes in that the user draws air through the vape to pull the vapor from the heating unit. Pens have the mouthpiece attached, while many portable vapes have an interchangeable glass or ceramic mouthpieces.
Balloon Vaporizers – This is basically a food-grade plastic bag that collects vapor and locks it away to be inhaled at the user’s leisure or passed around so several people can share the cannabis vapor. The only kind of vaporizers that use plastic bags or balloons are desktop vaporizers. They connect using a plastic valve that seals in the vapor.
Tubing or “Whip” Vaporizers – These are more of a hookah style where a tube with a mouthpiece on one end and a glass or plastic wand on the other that connects to the heating chamber. The “whip” is the tube, and the heating chamber end usually has some sort of screen to further filter the vapor.
Health and Vaping Cannabis
One of the most hotly debated aspects of vaporizing cannabis are the health benefits or side effects. Some experts say that the side effects of vaping still aren’t very well known, so users should be careful. On the other hand, cannabis experts agree that vaping avoids carcinogens and other hazards of smoking. Smoke from cannabis contains fewer cannabinoids and more tar and byproducts of combustion. Cannabis vapor, however, is composed of 95% cannabinoids and a small amount of caryophyllene, a fragrance oil found in plants such as cannabis and lavender.