By Janelle Lassalle
There are many different ways to consume cannabis, and while each method comes with its own unique pros and cons, you’ve probably been hearing a lot about one particular method lately: vaping.
Vaping is short for vaporizing, a process in which starting material like cannabis is heated up just below its boiling point without directly igniting it. The indirect heat releases the therapeutic compounds in cannabis as vapour that’s inhaled and released back into the air as a fine mist. Many medical patients find vaping to be a much friendlier, safer consumption method as this process doesn’t produce smoke. It’s also a highly discreet way to consume that doesn’t leave a bad smell behind.
An extensive amount of vape devices are currently available on the market. These include e-cigarette pens, table-based cannabis vaporizers, portable vaporizers (“vape pens”) as well as dry herb vaporizers, and can be filled with cannabis, nicotine or blends of essential oils.
While vaporizers provide an ideal method of consumption for many, they’re still a relatively new product, which is why it can be difficult to obtain accurate information about them.
Inspired by a need to provide the most accurate, reliable information for the canna-curious and dedicated medical patients alike, we decided to create a post that would tell you everything you needed to know about vaping. Use it to help guide your purchasing decisions, and don’t hesitate to contact your doctor if you have any questions.
What’s in a vape?
Many of the vaporizers featured in recent news articles focus on e-cigarette devices like the Juul, a one-time electronic cigarette equipped with nicotine pods. And while some consumers may enjoy these pods, we’re here to discuss the medical side of vapes, aka vaporizers made for cannabis use.
A vape pen made for cannabis consumption is designed for use with cannabis oils or concentrates. Vape pens generally consist of a mouthpiece, a battery and cartridge containing cannabis concentrates. Some vape pens are disposable and designed for one-time, short lived use while others can carry cartridges that contain up to a gram of concentrate. Others, like the PAX, look more like a Juul and incorporate pods with cannabis concentrate that you can switch out.
To use you’ll want to load or screw the cartridge into place on the battery. That’s pretty much it (although you’ll want to be sure to charge your battery first!). You may even be surprised to discover that the vapour may not be discernible to the naked eye, so don’t worry if you don’t see a big cloud of vapour: it’s definitely working.
Some vape pens are more customizable than others. A few may require you to hold down a button while inhaling, for instance, while others may not. Others may have advanced settings that let you customize your vaping temperatures. This will result in a better, more flavourful experience as each cannabinoid has a unique temperature at which it combusts.
You can find vape pens in many sizes and shapes, though the most common vape pen is the 510 thread. Known as the “universal” thread, this type of vape pen is the most common and is compatible with most cartridges on the market.
Cannabis cartridges 101
The cannabis oil in cartridges must meet a certain level of “just right” viscosity in order to be vaporized. This compels select manufacturers to add other components such as thinning agents or artificial flavourings to their cartridges.
The most common thinning agents are polyethylene glycol (PEG), propylene glycol (PG) and vegetable glycerin (VG). Some manufacturers also use fractionated MCT (medium chain triglyceride) oil, though the safety of this additive is controversial and currently in question.
You’ll generally encounter a few basic types of oils. The first is distillate. Distillate is a highly refined version of cannabis oil that contains pure cannabinoids. It’s one of the most widely available forms of cannabis available owing to the fact that just about any cannabis concentrate can be purified into pure distillate.
Since distillates are so refined they tend to rely on processes that use high temperature and pressure to extract cannabis oil. As such they strip away volatile components like terpenes, the aromatic compounds found in cannabis that bestow distinct therapeutic effects.
Oils extracted using supercritical CO₂, however, are ideal for cannabis cartridges as they do not need thinners to achieve the desired viscosity for vaping. Some CO₂ extractions are even able to produce full spectrum cannabis oils that contain all of the molecules found in the cannabis plant (rather than one isolated cannabinoid). These confer the greatest possible therapeutic benefits thanks to the “entourage effect” which states that cannabis and terpenes work together synergistically.
CO₂ extracted oils are also preferable for a variety of other reasons. Most notable is its safety as a solvent. CO₂ is naturally occurring, and as such has been declared to be safe for industrial extractions by the FDA.
Another aspect to consider when selecting a cannabis cartridge are terpenes. Since terpenes are so beneficial to users, you’ll want to ideally look for cartridges that use CO₂ extractions to naturally preserve the plant’s native terpenes. Be wary of products that use food-grade terpenes as flavourings as these additives are synthesized in a lab rather than plant-based and offer little health benefit.
You can customize your vaping experience by understanding the ways in which temperature affects cannabis. The primary thing you’ll want to look out for is to keep your temperature as low as possible to prevent boiling away volatile compounds like terpenes.
THC has the lowest boiling point. Since it begins to vaporize at 315°F you’ll need to heat it up to at least 315°F in order to feel any psychoactive effects. You can experiment with other temperatures until you find the one that’s right for you. A good place to start is between 380°F and 410°F, though it’s worth noting you may not want to exceed 450°F as this is when THC begins to combust.
The following temperatures have been suggested for optimum vaporizing:
- 320°F(160°C) – 356°F(180°C): Very light mostly mental medication and best for flavour. Great if you still have a lot to do that day.
- 356°F(180°C) – 392°F(200°C): Great flavour with good medication level, bodily effects will be more apparent.
- 392°F(200°C) and up: Best if you don’t have anything else to do that day, very strong level of medication, heavy bodily effects.
THC – 315°F: Intoxicating effects and euphoria
CBD – 356°F: Pain relief and relaxation
CBN – 365°F: Sedation and anti-convulsion effects
CBG – 126°F: Brain cell stimulation”
Other types of vaporizers
Some vape pens are as simple as attaching an oil-filled concentrate to a battery and inhaling. Others are a little more complex.
One other kind of vaporizer is portable a vape pen designed for using cannabis concentrates that go beyond cartridges. This includes cannabis concentrates like wax, budder, hash, BHO (Butane Hash Oil), shatter and crumble.
Direct draw vape pens designed for concentrate use are a little different than your average disposable vape. These pens will contain additional components such as an atomiser, a device that converts liquid into mist. The term can be a little misleading. While it was once used to denote the metal coils that heat up starting materials, today the term is used to describe the entirety of the unit that contains the coils and the wick.
You’ll also spot a chamber or “oven” for your starting materials. Load up your concentrate of choice onto the coil and it’ll heat up, converting to vapour you can inhale.
One of the most common problems you’ll see with cheap vapes are atomisers that will break easily. Any bitter or metallic taste is a tell-tale sign you need to replace yours.
Dry herb vaporizers
Another type of vaporizer is a dry herb vaporizer. Like the name suggests, these kinds of vaporizers are designed for use with dry herb or cannabis flower. They’re fairly similar to your standard vaporizer; the only real difference is the chamber which may be larger here than in a typical vape. Some vaporizers out there like the PAX 3 are even dual-use, meaning they can actually vaporize cannabis flower and concentrates.
These vapes will rely on one of two different heating methods: conduction or convection. While conduction involves direct contact with a heat source convection relies on heated air passing through the chamber. The end result is a more even temperature and better flavour profile.
Dry herb vaporizers are excellent for medical use as they use very little heat, preserving the plant’s various terpenes and cannabinoids. To use grind up your cannabis flower and load it into the chamber (be sure not to pack it too tightly!). Close the lid, turn on the pen and wait for it to heat up. Most pens will heat up in around 10 seconds or so. Inhale and voila! Be sure to clear out the chamber after each use.
Try and look for a vaporizer with a longer (glass) mouthpiece as this gives the vapour a chance to cool before inhaling.
A little more on the old school kind of cool side of things, these vaporizers consist of a mouthpiece connected to a glass piece with a heating element that stores your starting material. The “tube” or wand makes up the majority of the vaporizer and contains a screen to ensure plant matter doesn’t wind up in your mouth.
These types of vapes are great for social settings as the mouthpiece can be easily passed back and forth.
You can also get your hands on more heavy duty vaping equipment like balloon/bag based models. These tend to be “stay at home” vapes that need to be plugged in and work by sealing vapour into a bag made from food grade plastic. The bag has a mouthpiece attached and can then be passed around a room and inhaled.
A vaporizer is a product that heats cannabis to a temperature below combustion, creating vapour that you inhale in the process. Many consider this method to be one of the best ways to reap the full benefits of cannabis as it’s discreet, gentle on the lungs, preserves terpenes and minimizes contact with other agents associated with combustion.
Several different types of vapes are currently available on the market, each with its own unique pros and cons. These include vape pens as well as dry herb vaporizers. You can learn what feels best for you by playing around with different components like trying new cartridges, experimenting with temperature or even trying out different kinds of vapes. Consult your doctor if you have any questions about how cannabis can affect you.