Consumers Guide to Vaping

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With legalization spreading across the land, the cannabis industry is beginning to see major innovation. The days of home-built bongs and artisanal joint rollers have been displaced by a new era of dabbers, vapers and all of the new tech that comes with them. This explosion in options has left a lot of cannabis enthusiasts with an embarrassment of riches. Even the most in-the-know consumer could be forgiven for having fallen behind on what’s new.

Vaping is the newest frontier in the cannabis industry, and it’s the area where most of the progress is being made. Five years ago, all portable vape oil cartridges were made of extruded plastic. The material reacted with the terpenes in the cannabis solutions, causing discoloration and poor taste. They had cotton wicks, which could catch fire when the tank was low. They also leaked. Constantly.

Now, the vape industry has evolved to include many high-quality options. Few serious vapers make use of the disposable plastic options, preferring instead to purchase a reliable piece of equipment. A portable vaporizer is an investment, and there is no “‘right piece” for everyone.

The key to picking the right vaporizer is to know the technology. This simple guide breaks down everything you need to know in order to pick the vape pen that will fit smoothly into your lifestyle. When you finish reading it, you’ll know all the major categories of vape technology as well as how to pick the vaporizer that will best suit your needs.

What Is Vaping?

Whether they are tabletop models like the original Volcano or the increasingly popular portable vape pens, all vaporizers function in essentially the same manner, in that they heat material to the point that it becomes a gas (vapor), which is then inhaled.

In the case of flower, this gas is composed of vaporized trichomes (the sticky resin glands of the cannabis plant). In the case of vaporized concentrate, this gas is composed of highly concentrated trichrome fluid and terpenes (chemicals found in cannabis, which give the buds their distinctive smells and tastes).

Vaping has a lot of benefits over combustion. Though cannabis has been shown to be far safer than tobacco, it is an undisputed fact that burning and inhaling any sort of plant material is not a healthy habit. This is true for recreational consumers, but it is particularly true for those who consume for medical reasons.

Many former smokers come to prefer vaping because it allows them to enjoy the flavor of their flower without the additional tastes associated with combustion. No matter the level of filtration in your bong, no matter how many ashcatchers and diffused downstems, combustion simply cannot compare to the taste of a quality vaporizer.

What Kind of Vape Do I Need?

The most important thing to do is to know what you expect from your vape before you start shopping. As long as you know what you want, you’ll be able to find the right vaporizer in no time. Here’s a rundown of the main things you should consider when shopping for a vaporizer:

  • What Do I Want to Vape?

This is the most important question of them all. Very few vaporizers are built to excel at vaping multiple forms of THC. Instead, most are designed with one particular substance in mind, be it flower or concentrates. It’s a good idea to buy a vape with the intention of using it for one particular substance, rather than seeking out one that claims to do it all.

One exception to this rule a system that comes with multiple tanksone for flower and one for concentrates. Future vapers who cannot choose between flower or the infinite menu of concentrates should go with this option.

  • What Kind of Chamber Do I Want?

This is another point where herb vaporizers and wax pens diverge. Vaporizers designed for herb all tend to have relatively similar metal chambers. They are a permanent fixture of the device, meaning that they do not have to be replaced regularly. Unfortunately, this also means the chamber cannot be upgraded or replaced.

Vapes made for concentrates are mostly differentiated by the quality of their chambers and the coils within them. Ceramic coils last longer and heat more evenly than the traditional steel coils. They have to be replaced less frequently. Many high-end vapes now use two coils in order to heat more rapidly and vape more evenly.

Wax vape pens frequently have chambers that are made of titanium, quartz or ceramic. These materials all have different selling points, and the jury is still out on matters like which provides the best taste or which best holds heat in the ideal range. One thing that is agreed upon is the fact that quartz and ceramic chambers will eventually crack, while titanium will not.   

  • What Sort of Battery Life Fits My Needs?

Vape pens tend to have the smallest batteries out of all the vaporizers currently available on the market. These slim devices are usually charged by a USB device, which threads onto the battery to charge it directly. As you might imagine, adding heat and electricity to a device that regularly comes into contact with plant material and fluids can cause unpleasant reactions. These batteries are cheap, which is great, because they regularly fail.

Other batteries tend to vary as much as the devices they’re attached to. Some things to consider are: Can the device be used as it charges? How long does it take the battery to charge from empty to full? How many hits can be taken from the fully charged device before it dies? One thing to note is that vaporizing dry herb requires quite a bit more power than heating a concentrate to its boiling point. This is why concentrate vape pens can last for days, while flower vapes usually need to be charged after every session.

  • How Do I Load It?

If you’re going to use your vape at home and never leave the house, this doesn’t particularly matter. For everyone else, this is very important, particularly for those who are seeking discretion. Loading ground flower into a vape while on the go is a surprisingly difficult thing to do. Add in a little wind, and the situation becomes dire. Concentrates are a much better option for those who intend to use their vaporizers on the go. Concentrate vapes are also a bit more discrete, as many will assume you are loading a nicotine-filled vape.

  • How Much Heat Can I Handle?

Ideal vaping temperature for concentrates is much higher than for flower. Regular smokers will be used to inhaling hot substances, so this aspect isn’t necessarily important. New users and those who are consuming cannabis for medical reasons may find that they are more comfortable inhaling the cooler vapor produced by a vaporizer designed for flower.

  • How Much Control Do I Need?

Temperature is the factor that most affects your vaping experience. One good general rule is that low temperatures result in smaller clouds but bigger flavor. Many inexpensive vape pens do not have specific temperature settings. Instead, they use color-coordinated temperature ranges. This is enough for many novices, but more experienced users looking for a more nuanced experience may want to seek out a vape that offers temperature control in 10°, 5° or even 1° increments.

  • How Much Maintenance Will I Tolerate?

A concentrate vape involves a bit more maintenance than one designed to be used with dry herb. Dry herb vapes tend to clog frequently. The chambers must be scraped out to ensure that no unvaporized plant material remains to get clogged in the air intakes. Concentrates can leave a residue, which must be removed via scraping or an alcohol solution. This often takes a bit longer than the process of clearing a dry herb vape.

Key Features in any Vape

Regardless of the system you choose, there are a few things that everyone needs in their vaporizer. It’s easy to get caught up in the cloud-filled YouTube ads and the sponsored Instagram posts. No matter what kind of vape you’re looking for, there are three things you should expect from your device.

  • Portability. Portability is one of the best things about vaporizers. Pass on anything that requires a lot of accessories.
  • Discretion.  A good vape isn’t covered in pot leaves or strangely shaped. It needs to blend in.
  • Ease of use. Look for a vape that doesn’t require extensive set-up.

General Tips

Got your vape picked out? Ready to join the join the non-combustion movement? Here are a few tips to get you started.

Dry Herb Vapes

  • Use a grinder. The finer the grind, the more even the vape.
  • Clean or change the filter screen regularly for maximum airflow.
  • Start at the lowest heat setting, and work your way up.

Concentrate Vapes

  • Store your device upright and empty.
  • Clean the mouthpiece and chamber regularly.
  • Change your coils as soon as you notice a change in vapor taste.


Emerald contributor since March 2012


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