Vaporization is the process of heating up a substance to a temperature where compounds in the material evaporate to form a vapor. This sensation gives many consumers the same sensation as smoking. However, this is where the similarities end.
Consuming cannabis has changed quite drastically throughout history. Cannabis has been used for thousands of years for its psychotropic and medicinal benefits. The most common form of consumption was, and continues to be, to burn the mature flower of the female plant and inhale the smoke. As cannabis has crept its way into the cusp of the mainstream, it has become more accepted for its medicinal benefits. As a result, different methods of consumption have taken center stage.
For many users who consume cannabis for it’s medicinal benefits, smoking has taken the back seat to other forms of consumption. Vaporization is a rising form of cannabis consumption that has become more prevalent recently.
COMBUSTION vs VAPORIZATION
Vaporizing cannabis is a method of consumption that allows the active ingredients in the cannabis to be inhaled as a vapor while avoiding the high temperatures that are associated with smoking. The majority of the beneficial cannabinoids can be vaporized between 130° to 230° C (266° to 446° F). In contrast, when smoking cannabis, the temperature of the smoldering embers in a pipe are approximately 500°C (932° F) and in a joint can reach up to 950° C (1742° F) when actively inhaled. At these temperature harmful carcinogenic toxins are formed.
According to one study, 3 non-cannabinoids were found in the vapor of cannabis vaporized at 230° C (446° F). Comparatively, 150 chemicals were identified in the smoke of combusted cannabis, with 5 strong carcinogens being among them. This was only one focused study by scientists, but the results give us a small insight into the developing interest in vaporization as a predominant form of consumption.
In fairness, not all vaporizers are created equal. They all do however encompass the same general concept. For portable vaporizers, a power source (typically a lithium ion battery) provides energy to a heating core or atomizer with the press of a button. When the button is pressed, the atomizer heats up, vaporizing the material in the chamber. When inhaled, this chamber releases the vapor through an air path and into the mouth of the consumer.
Given the amount of variety, it is important to differentiate between the different uses of vaporizers. For cannabis consumption, we can differentiate the vaporizers into 3 main categories.
This type of vaporizer is used to consume the flower or dry herb of the mature female cannabis plant. Dry herb vaporizers were the very first cannabis vaporizers to hit the market over 10 years ago. These exist as desk top and portable varieties. Typically, these vaporizers have larger chamber sizes to allow for more space to pack in material. These vaporizers tend to have the best temperature control compared to the other vaporizer categories allowing users to have a great deal of control throughout the vape experience.
Over the last several years, as some states have legalized the medicinal and recreational usage of cannabis, cannabis extracts have become much more popular. Cannabis extracts are the concentrated essential oil of the cannabis flower. The most common extract throughout history has been hashish. As cannabis proliferation has steadily expanded, various methods of extraction has followed suit. Cannabis extracts are the essential oil of the cannabis flower extracted and concentrated up to two to four times the potency of it’s flower counterpart. This crude oil is then refined into various forms depending on the desired end product.
Extract vaporizers vary from desktop varieties to portable varieties as well. The most common desktop vaporizer resembles a water pipe or bong, with a different bowl piece capable of reaching higher temperatures to allow for vaporization of the dense cannabis essential oil. The portable vaporizers designed for these extracts typically incorporate a ceramic, quartz and/or titanium atomizer at its heating core. These materials typically allow for a better taste and complete vaporization of the extract. This product category is ever evolving as manufacturers gain a better understanding of vaporization technology in combination with a better understanding of the composition of different cannabis extracts.
Prefilled cartridge vaporizers are similar to the extract vaporizers. In fact, prefilled cartridges are extracts that are prefilled into tank based atomizers. These atomizers usually have a viewing window allowing consumers to see the amount of extract remaining as they vape. A big difference with prefilled cartridge vaporizers is that consumers typically don’t have to handle the extract as it is usually ready to use once purchased from a retailer. This style of vaporization is typically the easiest to adopt as it involves very little learning and is readily available at most medicinal and recreational dispensaries.
Vaporization is a very big part of the budding cannabis industry. According to a recently released RAND report, people who use cannabis for medical purposes are much more likely to vaporize it when compared to smoking. This trend will likely continue as the industry expands. Although there is still much more research needed on the long term effects of vaporization, there is no doubt that it is making a huge splash in the cannabis market of regulated states.