In his 2017 Netflix special “Equanimity & The Bird Revelation,” American comedy titan Dave Chappelle stands on stage with a microphone in one hand and a small, flat device in the other. Throughout the hour-long performance he’ll tell a joke, and while the audience howls with laughter, he’ll draw on the gadget. Many recognized the accessory as a vape pen (including one cheeky audience member who asks Chapelle if she can try it), but what most don’t realize is that he’s partaking in a ritual that is thousands of years old.
Vaping is the act of heating an herb to a temperature just below combustion point so that active ingredients are released in a vapour and inhaled, but no smoke is created. (What we see Chappelle exhaling in his comedy special is actually the fine mist residue from the vaping process, not smoke.) According to ancient Greek historian Herodotus, who lived during the 5th Century B.C., his countrymen regularly heated herbs and oils on hot stones to vape. So it’s safe to assume people have known about this process for some time.
What is different in our modern era are the devices used to vape substances because, well, it’s hard to walk around with red hot river stones in your pocket. In 1927 New York inventor Joseph Robinson filed a patent for an “Electric Vaporizer” that would use electricity to heat medicinal compounds to produce vapors for inhalation. This started a movement that saw various technological developments through the years until 2003 when Chinese pharmacist Hon Lik invented the vape pen. It consisted of a battery, a cartridge containing the herb solution and an atomizer all tucked into a device slightly larger than a cigarette. Because of its compactness, the vape pen quickly caught on around the world. In this article we’ll explain what vaping is as it applies to cannabis, how to vape and whether vaping is bad for you or not.
What is Cannabis Vaping?
Hon Lik’s invention was designed to allow him to consume nicotine without having to burn through cigarettes and inhale the bi-product of smoke. It didn’t take long before the cannabis community adopted the technology. Today there are a variety of devices that incorporate an electric source (e.g. batteries, atomizers, cartridges) in which to put cannabis in various forms, including concentrates, liquids and plant material.
How to Vape Cannabis
The first step to vaping cannabis is choosing a device with which to do it. There are some the size of a pen, similar to the one Chappelle uses, and some that are as small as a USB flash drive. There are also tabletop-sized units as well as tiny disposable versions like the Kind Lab CBD Disposable Vape Pen. Essentially they all fall into three categories:
- Pen Vaporizers : Also known as vape pens, these are the smallest and easiest to use.
- Portable Vaporizers: Although slightly larger than vape pens, portable vaporizers are just as convenient.
- Stationary Vaporizers: Also known as desktop vapes, these types of vaporizers typically need to be plugged in as they offer more robust heating systems. They also have tubing or bags attached which are used to inhale the vapour.
Each style of vaporizer has different features and so it’s important to read the instructions. But essentially the process for all of them looks like this:
- Cannabis is applied to the device, whether in a pre-packaged cartridge form or as loose oil, extract or plant material.
- Electricity heats a coil or plate to between 180° and 205°C. This is the temperature zone that ensures active cannabinoids are released without smoke. Some vaporizer coils heat the plant material directly (conduction heating), while others heat the air around the material (convection heating).
- The cannabinoids are released with an aerosolized mixture of water vapor, which is then consumed by inhalation.
What Forms of Cannabis Can Be Vaped?
In short, all of them. However, some forms of cannabis require more skill and preparation. Typically, vape pens or portable vaporizers are the easiest to use as the cannabis comes pre-packaged in a cartridge and you can choose from a variety of strains and tastes, including ones that have added flavours such as green apple and mango. There are also portable vaporizers and pens that allow you to consume shatter, wax and other extracts.
If using a vape that takes dry herb, it’s important to use a grinder, not your hands, to break down the cannabis bud beforehand: you’ll want a fine, even grind for better heat conduction, flavour and an overall high.
What Are The Benefits of Vaping Cannabis?
There are five main benefits to vaping cannabis versus smoking it in a traditional manner or consuming edibles.
- The first is that there’s less combustible bi-product when vaping cannabis. Because the weed is heated to a specific temperature, no burning or combustion is involved. This means you inhale more cannabinoids and less of everything else.
- It’s easy and discreet. A vape pen can fit in your pocket and is activated with the push of a small button.
- You can easily control your dosage. Simply take a small draw and wait a few minutes to feel the effects of the high. Every person’s metabolism is different but on average the high from a vaporizer will not last as long as edibles.
- Unlike smoking marijuana, vaping typically does not induce dry mouth, coughing fits or a lingering scent. Nor do you have to worry about leftover roaches!
Is Vaping Cannabis Bad For You?
When it first became mainstream, vaping was considered a healthier alternative to smoking because the consumable is heated, not combusted, meaning there are fewer harmful compounds being ingested. In fact, a study done by the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth determined that people who vape cannabis “consider it to be a safer, more positive experience.”
In recent months, however, vaping has come under scrutiny by researchers and government agencies. The American CDC organization just issued a report that outlines the risks associated with chronic vaping and one of the conclusions was, “people who use e-cigarette products should not buy these products off the street and should not modify e-cigarette products or add any substances that are not intended by the manufacturer.” A Health Canada announcement was made around the same time and mirrored the US report.
Many other agencies across North America are involved in ongoing studies about the relatively new worlds of both marijuana and tobacco vaping and we will continue to update this page as news arises. However, there are a few things you can do to ensure you have a pleasurable and safe cannabis vaping experience.
How to Enjoy a Safe Cannabis Vaping Experience
The first rule of thumb for any cannabis consumption is to enjoy it responsibly. This applies to vaping as well. You wouldn’t eat an excessive amount of pot brownies in a day, nor should you vape excessively. As with alcohol, tobacco, sugar and other stimulants, too much of a good thing is a bad thing. Therefore the first rule for enjoying a safe cannabis vaping experience is to slow it down and savour the moment. After all, you’re participating in a centuries-old ritual here. Take some time to consider that. A few other pointers for enjoying a safe cannabis vaping experience are listed below:
#1. Know Your Supplier
As mentioned in the Health Canada and CDC reports, it’s important you purchase your vape products from a reliable source. This does not include Craigslist. If your supplier is subjected to routine checks by a lab accredited by Health Canada then you know you’re good to go. And if you have specific questions or concerns, call, email or use the company’s “contact us” page.
#2. Avoid Vape Products With Harmful Additives
In many nicotine vapes, and some cannabis vapes that use cartridges or juice, you’ll find additives such as PG (propylene glycol), VG (vegetable glycerin), or MCT (Vitamin-E Acetate). These should be avoided. Studies are still being done on the long-term health effects of these additives but, much like artificial trans-fats in food, it’s best to give them a miss.
#3. Learn How Your Cannabis Is Prepared
Like any wise consumer, it’s good to know where your consumables come from and how they’re prepared. Much like the organic movement in food, there are companies in the cannabis industry that are forthcoming regarding information about the products being supplied. This not only applies to the growing process of your weed but also how your vape products are prepared. For example, are the terpenes (the flavouring components) in their cartridge offerings ethical and from natural sources? Don’t be afraid to ask these questions of your supplier by emailing or calling.
What Is The High Like From Vaping Cannabis?
As with smoking marijuana, there are a number of factors that determine the type of high you’ll get from vaping cannabis not least of all is your body’s metabolism: every individual experiences a weed high differently. There are other factors including what plant your vape consumable is derived from. If it’s a sativa strain, you’ll typically experience more energy. If it’s an indica strain, you’ll be more relaxed. And a hybrid might induce both feelings. The type of vaporizer you’re using can also have an impact on your high. For example, tabletop models usually deliver a more powerful experience than entry-level portable vaporizers.
Overall, people who enjoy vaping cannabis say that it’s a cleaner kind of high, which could have something to do with the fact that there are fewer side effects such as smoke, smell and dry mouth. It’s also believed that a vaping high doesn’t last as long as the high you get from smoking weed, although this can be counteracted by the fact you can easily vape more. If you’re curious about vaping cannabis, but don’t want to commit to a more expensive tabletop version, consider purchasing an inexpensive disposable model such as the Kind Lab CBD Disposable Vape Pen – it’s a great introduction to the experience of vaping cannabis without the commitment. Enjoy!