The vaporization of cannabis is currently all the rage. From Oregon to Texas to Ohio, increasing numbers of patients and lifestyle consumers are choosing to vaporize, rather than smoke, their cannabis. And for good reason. Patients, doctors, and researchers agree that vaporizing, or vaping, one’s cannabis flowers or concentrates is healthier than combusting it with a flame. The appeal and stealth of modern vape pens and mobile vaporizers, which are easily concealed and operated and emit little or no odor, can’t be ignored in a nation that is experiencing the liberation of public cannabis consumption, both at home and during travel.
Vaping works by heating a sample of cannabis flowers or concentrate (like BHO, CO2 oil, and live resin), either by passing a stream of heated air over or through it or by placing it on a hot surface. The heated air or surface reaches or exceeds the boiling point of the various cannabinoids and terpenes in the resinous trichomes of the medicine, causing them to vaporize with the passage of air — after they are channeled or captured for inhalation. Because it involves no flame and, thus, zero combustion, vaping avoids the carcinogens and other toxins known to be produced when any substance, be it tobacco or cannabis, is burned.
Vaping offers advantages that improve the health benefits of cannabis, something called harm reduction. It allows patients and recreational users in both legal and prohibitionist states to discreetly consume their medicine without raising the suspicions or stigma-based judgement of those around them. Because vaporization doesn’t emit the pungent smell of combusted cannabis, it can be performed in areas where smoking has been prohibited. Patients can safely and with confidence vape in hotels, shopping malls, and even office buildings that haven’t explicitly banned the act.
Conduction vs. Convection
There are two primary physical mechanisms used to vaporize herbs or concentrate in vaporizers: Conduction and convection. Conduction involves heating ground cannabis flowers or oil (liquid or waxy extractions) via direct contact with a heating element. Convection, on the contrary, works by exposing the herb to a flow of hot air, like some types of kitchen ovens.
Convection offers several advantages, most notably more even exposure of the shimmery resin glands that contain all of the medicinal and psychoactive benefits of the plant. This results in a draw of thicker, denser vapor that delivers more cannabinoids and terpenes. Vaporizer models that employ conduction, such as the popular PAX and PAX 2, may require stirring of the vapor chamber to ensure exposure of the trichomes to the heated surface. Conduction models often — but not always — produce a less dense volume of vapor that lacks the potency produced by many convection models.
Convection models, like the desktop Volcano and Vapolution and the mobile Vapir Prima, generally offer more even, thorough heating of the trichomes contained in herbal flowers or the cannabinoids within a concentrate. Technically speaking, many convection models employ both conduction and convection to most thoroughly create a medicinal or psychoactive vapor. Some reviewers claim that convection models provide better flavor, which is logical given better and more thorough vaporization of terpenes and flavonoids, the molecules that provide cannabis with its aroma and flavor.
Three Primary Categories
There are three primary categories of cannabis vaporizers available to consumers, many at affordable prices and in a wide variety of designs. These 21st century toking devices range in price from about $20 to more than $600 and offer a range of quality levels, features, and functionality.
- Desktop Vaporizers: These units plug into a wall outlet and are among the most expensive. For sick patients and those who demand the best, a variety of desktop models are available to please most budgets and lifestyles. Several designs compete in the market, some of which are medical grade and employ fans to fill inhalation bags. Other designs are seemingly experimental in nature or are early takes on a rapidly evolving technology and sector of consumer electronics.
- Portable / Mobile Vapes: These battery-powered vaporizers, while bulkier and heavier than a pen vape, offer longer battery life, higher temperatures, and more accurate controls than even the best pen vapes. However, mobile vape models are also considerably more expensive. Some popular models, like the PAX 2, accommodate only cannabis flowers, while others, like the Vapir Prima and Storz-Bickel Crafty, can handle flowers or concentrates.
- Vape Pens: Vape pens, also called pen vapes, are the hottest segment of the vaporizer market. Very popular with tourists in cannabis travel destinations like Denver, Portland, and Seattle, these battery-powered e-cigarette imitators offer the ultimate in convenience and discreet use. While popular with patients and lifestyle users in legal states, vape pens are becoming increasingly common among cannabis users in prohibitionist areas who wish to avoid the odor of smoked pot while blending in with an ever-growing crowd of e-cig uses. Popular models from Bloom Farms and Neos vaporize concentrates from these same companies that are sold as cartridges and sometimes available as indica, sativa, or even a particular strain.
Desktop vaporizers, priced from about $100 to $600 for reputable models, are one of the oldest types of vaporizers and are among the most expensive. They provide the best quality vapor and extract the maximum resin from one’s herb. The only category of vape device that approaches the quality or cost of desktop models is mobile units. Desktop models are intended for home use (or wherever a wall outlet is available, such as in a boat or RV) and are generally not designed for mobility. Because they require a power outlet, these models can’t be used when camping, exercising, or enjoying the great outdoors. However, the best of these models can produce a steady stream of dense vapor medicine for a single patient or a full room.
There are two primary types of desktop vaporizers: Forced air and passive. Forced air models, like the Volcano, employ a fan to push hot air over the herb or concentrate sample. The vapor is collected in a transparent plastic bag that can then be leisurely inhaled by the user. Passive models involve a glass or plastic tube, called a whip, from which a patient inhales. The action pulls hot air over the cannabis sample to produce the cannabinoid-rich vapor that is consumed.
Some models are known as “dual mode” and provide both forced air balloon inflation and “direct inhalation.” Examples include the VapirRise 2.0, the viVape 2, and the herbalAire. These models typically provide vapor that’s of an average to above average quality and density. One trick with whip style desktop vaporizers is modulation of the speed of inhalation. Faster tokes will produce a cooler, more pleasant vapor, while slower inhalations result in hotter air.
Major desktop models include the ubiquitous and expensive Volcano from German company Storz & Bickel, priced at $500-600. This model offers no whip option, but is considered the Aston Martin of desktop vaporizers. Another solid model is the Vapolution from Chico, California, a whip model priced between $100-250. The $250 Vapolution 3.0 — which, like the Volcano, features a ceramic heating element — offers several accessories, one being a “hydrotube” that provides easy water filtration to the vapor that it produces, making it smoother and more pleasant to inhale.
Portable / Mobile Vapes
A relatively new category of cannabis vaporization device has emerged called a portable or mobile vape. These pocketable units are designed to basically serve patients who desire a premium vape pen on steroids and are willing to tolerate the additional bulk and weight to gain the performance of a small-scale, limited desktop model. Mobile vaporizer models, like the vape nerd’s favorite, the convection-based Vapir Prima, the style obsessed PAX 2, and the highly customizable DaVinci Ascent, are priced from $200-280 and all offer slightly watered down desktop performance in a high-tech, battery-powered, slick package.
Mobile and pen vapes are among the hottest new markets in the cannabis industry. Aggressive companies in Las Vegas and San Francisco are currently vying for top spot as they introduce their second generation devices to market, providing customers with more bang for the buck as battery life increases, temperature control becomes more precise, displays become more crisp, and overall build quality improves.
The smallest, most discreet, and most expensive mobile vape that is probably also the best partner for an iPhone for those who are concerned with such fashion statements is the PAX 2. Those who prioritize performance and hate leaving their desktop vaporizer behind should check out the Prima. One reviewer wrote that this new mobile vaporizer:
“…looks like something Jean-Luc Picard would toke on the holodeck.”
Unlike the PAX 2, which handles only “loose leaf” ground flower, the Prima’s brass bowl also accommodates concentrates, a significant advantage for very sick patients who demand quick relief for pain or nausea. It’s removable battery ensures that owners can purchase a spare or replacement for a fraction of the cost of a new device (something that’s impossible in models with fixed batteries). Both the Prima and the PAX 2 feature four temperature settings and are clad in beautiful, cold anodized aluminum in a variety of colors, an expected feature at their respective $260 and $280 price points.
If you’re considering a mobile vaporizer, you may want to consider how you’ll travel with it, and how you’ll keep it safe, just like you would your cell phone. Black Rock Originals has created the smell-proof, travel-friendly Safety Case along with silicone ‘Pebble’ containers designed to carry your extra loose leaf flower or concentrates.
Another notable mobile vape is the Crafty from Storz & Bickel, the company famous for the Volcano vaporizer that has set the benchmark for premium desktop models for more than a decade. This palmable black plastic unit is super high-tech, offering the ability to produce Volcano-quality vapor on-the-go and with ease. This ergonomic, feature-packed model sells for $340 and offers remote control via an app that allows one to check the battery level and adjust the temperature from a smartphone or tablet.
The popularity of e-cigarettes, or e-cigs, has spawned a new category of cannabis consumption device: The vape pen. From cheap $20 models available in canna-tourism destinations like Denver and Portland to more expensive devices obviously intended for use at home or when traveling, an increasingly wide range of disposable and refillable vape pens are available to consumers in legal states.
Vape pens involve two primary components, a battery and an atomizer that actually vapes the cannabis flower or concentrate. Many models charge via USB, meaning they can be juiced up for a therapy session in newer cars or using any common laptop computer. Vape pens offer the advantage of low cost and easily replaceable parts. If a charger, mouthpiece, battery, or atomizer becomes defective or lost, replacements are available from $8 to $50.
Some concentrate companies, such as Bloom Farms and Neos, sell their products ready to consume in the form of pre-filled cartridges and vape pen packages. Neos offers CBD cartridges and a pre-loaded disposable model. Bloom Farms, from offers indica, sativa, and hybrid varieties of its attractive replaceable CO2 oil cartridges and vape pens as part of its Highlighter line; the company uses only 100 percent recyclable packaging and employs friendly USB chargers. These products offer the convenience of simply replacing oil cartridges or purchasing new, inexpensive vape pens units (practical and affordable for business travelers and vacationers).
Because these pens or cartridges contain a BHO or CO2 concentrate and are available from some companies, like Bloom Farms, in indica, sativa, and hybrid varieties, patients and lifestyle users can administer a potent, yet very targeted dose of medicine that is optimized for their particular condition, lifestyle, or preference. Another common brand of vape pen is O.penVAPE and its O.penvape and colorful Go.Pen lines. Other notable models include the Daborizer from BHO Pen and the Dr. Dabber Ghost.
Tune into Whaxy for future reviews of particular models of desktop, mobile, and pen vaporizers, among many other product categories. Cannabis consumer advocacy must extend beyond knowledge of the plant itself and its medical efficacy, also helping patients to intelligently purchase and use a variety of products, accessories, and services intended to enhance the quality and experience of modern cannabis consumption.
Photo credit: Bloom Farms, PAX Labs, Vapir Enterprises