Vape pens are small, portable devices that allow you to inhale cannabis without producing smoke.
Over recent years, vaporizing has seen a meteoric rise in popularity in the marijuana community.
Visit any head shop and you’ll find a wide range of vaporizers from large desktop models like the Volcano to hand-held vaporizer pens, which are small enough to fit in your pocket.
These vaporizers can be a significant cash investment, so it’s wise to do your research before buying your own. Here’s what you need to know before buying a vape pen.
What are Vape Pens?
Electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, have been around for years now.
Vaporizer pens are basically the same thing but modified to vaporize marijuana flowers or concentrated extracts (such as oil/wax or e-liquids). Some vape pens are designed to work with both.
Vape pens heat oils, waxes or dry herbs to approximately 400 °F or 205 °C — before combustion. This allows the user to inhale pure vapor without the harmful toxins found in smoke.
The inner workings of a vape pen are essentially the same as an e-cigarette. The main components are a battery, power button, atomizer, chamber, and mouthpiece.
When activated, the battery heats up the atomizer component which is usually made of ceramic or quartz.
The chamber is filled with marijuana concentrate or dried flower. When you inhale, instead of nicotine vapor, you’ll receive a big puff of marijuana vapor.
There are many reasons why people love vape pens. The technology is light and compact, so you can easily slip it into your pocket and carry it with you.
If you’re the type of person who’s always on the go, or if you don’t like the time-consuming process of rolling joints, a vape pen can be a worthwhile investment.
Vape pens are also more discreet than a joint/spliff or water pipe, and vapor doesn’t linger in the air or on your clothing as much.
One thing to keep in mind is that not all vape pens offer the same functionality. Some vape pens only work with dry herbs and others work exclusively with waxes and oils.
Certain pens may require specialized cannabis formulas, often known as THC or CBD e-liquids. So, what type of cannabis you prefer plays an important role in choosing the right vape pen.
Vaporizing vs. Smoking
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Vaporization is not the same as smoking. In order to vaporize a substance, you have to heat it up just enough so that it turns from its solid or liquid form into a vapor which you can then inhale.
Vaporizing marijuana allows you to consume the cannabinoids and terpenes in the plant while avoiding the harmful byproducts of smoke, such as tar and carbon monoxide.
Every substance has a vaporization temperature. Water, for example, reaches its vaporization point at 100°C (212°F).
Marijuana, on the other hand, is more complicated. It contains several chemicals which offer their own unique benefits, and they all have different vaporization temperatures.
Some vape pens only let you vape at preset temperatures, while more advanced models allow you to pick your own temperature.
The ideal temperature for vaping is up for debate, but can be anywhere from 175-200°C (347-392°F), and some people might even suggest going up to 210°C (410°F).
Higher temperatures will yield more cannabinoids, but if you go too high you risk burning the herb. Lower temperatures will yield less cannabinoids, and can be better for people who prefer a less intense high.
Vaping advocates are quick to tout the health benefits of switching to a vaporizer, and there’s some scientific evidence out there to support their claims.
A study published in the Harm Reduction Journal looked at the health impacts of both smoking and vaping, and tried to provide an answer as to how much better vaporizing really is from a health standpoint.
Overall, the authors concluded that vaporizing marijuana is likely better for your lungs than smoking:
“These results suggest that the respiratory effects of cannabis can decrease with the use of a vaporizer. The data reveals that respiratory symptoms like cough, phlegm, and tightness in the chest increase with cigarette use and cannabis use, but are less severe among users of a vaporizer.”
Many doctors also recommend vaporizers over other cannabis preparations such as edibles. This is because vaporizers allow patients to dose more accurately — you simply stop inhaling once you have achieved the desired effect.
On the other hand, studies are still needed to determine the long-term safety of vaporizers.
Vape Pens vs. Desktop Vaporizers
The biggest difference between vape pens and desktop vaporizers is portability.
Better suited for home use, desktop vaporizers have evolved into quiet, sleek, energy efficient models. They have the means to deliver vapor by whip attachment or balloon. Some models have the capability to do both.
While great for parties and sharing with friends, these units are not meant to leave your home.
Vape pens, on the other hand, allow you the flexibility to vape at home or on the go. The downside is that vape pens have smaller chambers and limited battery life.
So, you may need to refill and recharge the device more often. Additionally, vape pens only allow one user to inhale at a time.
What are Marijuana Extracts?
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Many vape pens are designed to work with concentrated marijuana extracts like wax, oil, budder or shatter. While marijuana flowers usually have 15-20% THC, extracts can contain as much as 90% THC.
This extreme potency is one of the main reasons why marijuana extracts have become so popular.
For medical users, it allows them to consume the amount of medicine they need in just one or two puffs. The high lasts longer, and it’s much clearer than what you might experience after smoking a joint.
Different extracts include butane hash oil (BHO), wax, budder, shatter, errl, honeycomb, nectar, and dabs.
What makes them different is the process used to make them and the conditions under which they were made, such as the moisture, temperature, and solvent used.
How They’re Made
There are several ways to make extracts for vape pens. To make wax or shatter, licensed vendors use a process called closed-loop extraction where the dried buds are loaded into a chamber and soaked with a solvent chemical, usually butane.
After soaking the buds for a while, the chemical is purged with a vacuum pump into a tray where it solidifies and excess butane evaporates leaving a pure concentrate. The end product is a high quality, high potency extract with little to no contaminants.
Some people have also tried making their own extracts at home using an unsafe process called open-loop extraction.
It follows the same concept as the closed-loop process, but the system is not fully sealed and contained, so the solvent chemical can easily escape and build up in the room. When that happens all it takes is a small spark to cause an explosion.
For safety reasons, you should never attempt this type of extraction at home because you do not have the necessary equipment to do it safely.
How To Choose a Vape Pen
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There are dozens of different brands on the market today. Prices range from as low as $40 to over $200 for some of the most advanced models.
Vape pens today are designed to look cool and sleek, and some come with additional bells and whistles to give you more control of the amount of vapor you inhale with each hit.
There are two main things to consider when buying a vape pen: compatibility and price.
You can find vape pens that are compatible with flowers (dry herb), concentrates (oil/wax) or both.
If you’ve never experimented with extracts, or you just don’t want to go through the trouble of finding them, you might want to stick with dry herb vape pens.
On the other hand, if you want the increased potency of extracts then you should go with a pen that can use them. If you’re a medical user, extracts can be better because it takes much less to medicate and that can be a factor in your decision.
Prices vary considerably in the world of vape pens, so be honest about how much you can really afford to spend.
A high price point doesn’t necessarily mean that the product will be better. There are a lot of great vape pens in the $50-$75 range, so don’t buy a high end model if it means stretching your budget.
Generally speaking, vape pens which use dried buds or flowers are often more expensive than oil/wax pens.
Final Tips on Vape Pens
It’s a good idea to invest in at least one dab tool if you’re going the extracts route. Vape pen sellers should have some of these in stock as well.
Dab tools look like dental picks and are used to place chunks of extract into the atomizer chamber. It’s handy to have one around because it saves you from getting extract on your fingers, and it prevents dirt and sweat on your hand from contaminating the extract.
If you use an oil extract in your pen, be sure that it has the right consistency. For the pen to be effective, the oil needs to be liquid enough. If the substance is too thick, there is a good chance it will burn and produce smoke.
Atomizers don’t last forever; they eventually burn out and need to be replaced so you need to be ready when that happens. The vape pen you buy might come with a package of replacements. If it doesn’t, you’ll have to add a few of those to your shopping cart as well.
Always do your research and shop around. There are so many models on the market, and with new ones coming out every year it can be hard to arrive at a decision. Take your time and make sure your money is well spent.
The bottom line: Vape pens offer portability, convenience and discretion and may even be healthier for you than smoking.