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What is vaping and how to choose a cannabis vaporizer

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There is no doubt the most popular method of consuming dried flower is still by smoking. The cannabis is ground up and rolled into a “joint”, combusted and inhaled. But in recent years, a new method has been revolutionising the way users consume cannabis - vaping.

Cannabis flower products are starting to be prescribed for Australian medical patients for an array of conditions. This has been welcomed by the community as the benefits of the whole plant medicine far outweigh cannabis isolate products. Many doctors and scientific studies are also advising patients to use vaporizers as the primary delivery method as opposed to smoking, deeming the latter more harmful to the lungs in general[1]. Furthermore, some particular brands of cannabinoid vaporizers have also been approved by the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) to use with dried flower products.[2]

What is vaporization or vaping?

The act of vaporizing cannabis is to heat it at a temperature high enough to boil and release its active ingredients, without burning it (combustion). This process releases the cannabis compounds such as major and minor cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids into a vapour which is then inhaled by the user.

Consumers are opting to use a vaporizer over smoking for many reasons. First is the fast onset, or how quick the effects can be felt after inhaling. Similar to smoking, users can generally begin to feel the effects within a few minutes - and lasting up to a few hours.

Vaping temperature

Another reason vaporizers are gaining popularity is due to the ability to control the vaping temperature.

"Cannabis plants are loaded with medicinal molecules, all boiling at different temperatures"

Cannabis plants are loaded with medicinal molecules, all boiling at different temperatures. For example, cannabinoids such as Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Cannabidiol (CBD) both evaporate at different points. THC vaporizes around 157°C, whereas CBD is somewhere between the 160-180°C range[3].

The boiling range for different cannabis terpenes has a far greater variance. Terpenes such as Ocimene vaporizes at a lower temperature of 78°C, compared to Linalool which evaporates at a much higher point of around 198°C.

Having the ability to control the temperature of the vaping device allows the user to target specific concentrates of cannabis molecules being consumed. Simply put, by vaping cannabis at a particular temperature, higher concentrates of particular terpenes and cannabinoids may be vaporized. Meaning the user may experience slightly different flavours and effects when the same cannabis strain is vaporized at different temperatures.

What is a vaporizer?

man using a cannabis vaporizer

Cannabis vaporizers can come in different varieties and sizes, but all achieve the same outcome - to vaporize cannabis for consumption. The process generally involves cannabis being heated in an electronic device known as a vaporizer. The device uses a conduction or convection heating method to bring the cannabis molecules to a boiling point, creating vapour.

Portable vaporizers can come in smaller and more portable packages. They are typically more discrete and can fit in your back pocket. Other larger desktop vaporisers can offer better features and precision of control but lack the portability of smaller devices.

Conduction heating

In conductive vaporizers, dried herbs or extracts are heated by direct contact with a metal or ceramic surface. As conduction heating relies on direct contact, it provides an effective and immediate way of vaporization.

The downside of the conduction mechanism is the risk of combustion. The direct heating element is more likely to burn the product and introduce smoke into the vapour. This carries the risk of creating a hotter and harsher vapour to inhale, defeating the purpose of vaporizing. Temperature controls on most devices can mitigate this issue, however, it’s commonly harder to achieve consistent results with conductive vaporizers.

Due to the reasons outlined above, users are often required to stir or shake the vaporizer chamber to ensure even heat distribution are applied on the dried herbs and extracts.

Compared to convention vaporizers, conduction devices usually come in smaller packages and are much lighter in weight as there are far less moving parts required for conductive heating.

Convection heating

Convection heating works by passing hot air through the dried herb or extracts, without direct contact with the heating elements. Once the air is heated to a specific temperature, it is moved by a fan/pump or inhalation to the chamber containing the flower or concentrates.

Convection vaporizers tend to produce more consistent and better quality vapours due to uniform heating. There is less chance of the cannabis material charring due to the contactless heating mechanism and can also be more efficient.

With conductive heating, the surface is continuously heated whilst the device is on, increasing the chance of wasting the product. Convection devices usually only draw hot air into the chamber when inhaled, heating only when required.

The minor drawbacks of convection vaporizers are sometimes a bit slower to heat up compared to conduction devices. They are also often larger in size due to extra parts and space required to generate heated air.

Do I vape cannabis oil or flower?

There are two main cannabis products types which can be used with vaporizers - dried cannabis and concentrates. Certain devices are designed to vaporize ground up cannabis, while others may take concentrates like oil or wax. More sophisticated devices can be used to vape both flower and concentrates.

"More sophisticated devices can be used to vape both flower and concentrates"

The refill mechanism may also be different in different vaporizer devices. Some devices operate with a chamber for users to manually fill with dry herb or oil/concentrates. Other devices will have easily replaceable refill cartridges that come preloaded with cannabis concentrates.

Desktop vs Portable vs Vape Pens

With the huge range of vaporizers available in Australia, you might find yourself asking - which one is best?

Well, it depends. If you are budget conscious and want something portable, you may opt for something a bit smaller like a vape pen. On the other hand, if you are a medical patient requiring precise controls of the temperature settings and tend to only medicate in the privacy of your home - a desktop might be a better option.

Let’s quickly run through the three vaporizer categories below.

Desktop vaporizers

volcano cannabis vaporizer

Desktop vaporizers are larger devices which are ideal for home use, typically needs to be plugged into a power source. Due to their size and power requirements, portability could be an issue. If mobility isn’t a concern, desktop vaporizers generally offer more advanced controls and features compared to smaller devices.

As spacing is not an issue, many desktop devices utilise convection heating to provide more flavourful and better quality vapour. They can also include a more adjustable and wider range of temperature setting to choose from. Apart from the benefits mentioned above, some larger devices also come with a selection of accessories not available on portable devices.

For example, some particular models of desktop vaporizers come equipped with multiple tube-like mouthpieces, perfect for group vaping sessions. Others vaporizers may offer detachable “balloon” bags which hold the vapour up to a few minutes - allowing users to remove and enjoy at will.

Portable vaporizers

portable cannabis vape mighty

Portable vaporizers are smaller than its desktop counterpart and are usually battery powered. For obvious reasons, portable vapes are preferred by consumers who are on the go but still require some precision and control.

The quality of the vapour generally comes down to the specific model, with some offering more granular temperature controls and others set to specific temperatures. Portable vaporizers can also come in convection and conduction forms, once again depending on the model and price point.

Vape pens

cannabis vape pen

Vape pens offer the most portability, named after their similarity in size to that of a pen. They are discrete and usually a much cheaper alternative to desktop and other portable vaporizers. The drawback is most vape pens mostly operate using conductive heating due to their size limitations. It may also lack features and precise control found on larger and dearer vaporizers.

Some vape pens can be refilled with disposable cartridges which come preloaded with THC/CBD oil or concentrates, ready to be consumed. The small sealed cylindrical cartridges are attached directly onto the vaporizer for use and can be discarded afterwards. There are also refillable oil cartridges options for some vape pen models.

Is vaping cannabis better than smoking?

Vaping is generally considered to be preferable over traditional methods of smoking cannabis, and for a few reasons. Combustion usually occurs at a higher temperature, burning off some of the cannabis molecules responsible for the aromas, flavours, and psychoactive effects. But most importantly, combustion induces smoke - which is known to contain toxins that are harmful to the body.

Even though cannabis smoke is deemed to contain less toxic substances than cigarettes, inhaling smoke of any kind still carries long term risks. According to the Australian Department of Health - chronic heavy cannabis smoking may be linked to chronic bronchitis and cause smokers to develop irreversible obstructive lung diseases[4].

When vaping, the dried cannabis buds are not combusted or burnt, so no actual smoke is released in the vaporization process. In addition, most of the cannabis molecules like cannabinoids and terpenes are preserved and released as a part of the vapour. By consuming all the cannabinoids and terpenes of the cannabis plant, it is known to interact and enhance the overall effects - also known as the entourage effect.

Things to consider when choosing a vaporizer

Purchasing your first cannabis vaporizer may be quite daunting, with so many brands and varieties to choose from. If you've made it this far in the article, you should be already adequately informed about the different types of vaporizers and what's best suited for your needs. In summary, these are the main points to consider when selecting a vaporizer:

  • Flower, oil, or concentrates: Decide on the cannabis products you are most likely to use and find a vaporizer capable of handling the required materials. Some vaporizers will handle both dried herbs and concentrates.

  • Portability: Do you tend to consume cannabis at home? Or are you out and about and require a smaller and more portable device?

  • Convection or Conduction: Convection heating can provide a more consistent and higher quality vapour, where as conduction devices are generally smaller and easier on the wallet.

  • Battery life: Do you need a longer battery life between charges to medicate on the go, or are you happy to charge regularly?

  • Level of control: More granular control generally means better quality and flavourful vapours, but may be less budget friendly.

  • Price: This is a no-brainer - how much are you willing to spend vs. the features you want in your new vaporizer.

  • Sharing is caring: Do you require multiple mouthpiece attachments or a larger chamber for group vaping sessions?

  • Warranty: Does the brand or store have Australian warranty? What is the return policy like?

Are vaporizers legal in Australia?

Vaporizers are perfectly legal to use in Australia. Certain devices can be used to vape nicotine substitutes or common household herbs like lavender.

Consuming cannabis, however, is illegal in most Australian states and territories, therefore vaping cannabis would generally not be allowed in a public setting. If you hold a valid medical prescription or live in the ACT, vaping in the comfort of your home would be allowed in most cases. In fact, there are already certain models registered on the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods (ARTG), approved for medical cannabinoid use[2].

Please refer to the laws relevant to your jurisdiction for further information on the use of cannabis in your state or territory.

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Jason Lu | BudHerd

Jason Lu | BudHerd

Jason is one of the lead editors and founder of BudHerd. He spends his days writing, designing, developing and researching all things cannabis. Jason is passionate about destigmatising and educating Australians on the therapeutic and recreational values of cannabis.
References
  1. Earleywine M, Barnwell SS. Decreased respiratory symptoms in cannabis users who vaporize. Harm Reduct J. 2007;4:11. Published 2007 Apr 16. doi:10.1186/1477-7517-4-11

  2. Therapeutic Goods Administration. (2020). Public Summary - Summary for ARTG Entry: 319028 [PDF]. https://www.ebs.tga.gov.au/servlet/xmlmillr6?dbid=ebs/PublicHTML/pdfStore.nsf&docid=2B22DF221D0B1D32CA25841D004232C7&agid=(PrintDetailsPublic)&actionid=1

  3. McPartland, John & Russo, Ethan. (2001). Cannabis and cannabis extracts: Greater than the sum of their parts?. J Cannabis Therapeutics. 1. 103-132. 10.1300/J175v01n03_08.

  4. The Department of Health. (1994). The health and psychological consequences of cannabis use - chapter 6. https://www1.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/Content/health-pubs-drug-cannab2-ch64.htm

Disclaimer
The statements made on this website are for information and educational purposes. BudHerd and its affiliates are not recommending anyone to use or cultivate cannabis for medicinal or recreational purposes. Please consult with your doctor before using medicinal cannabis to learn about the associated negative side effects. Medicinal cannabis is regulated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration in Australia and more details about cannabis as a scheduled drug can be found on their website.