27 April 2015

What is Vaping?

An alternative to smoking, vaping, vaporisation, or using a vaporiser as a means of inhaling cannabis or other herbal material, has been around in various forms since the 1960's, but has recently really caught on in popular culture. Combining new (and some old) technology while providing a healthier alternative to enjoying cannabis, the hype behind vaporisers is not overblown.

Vaporisers (sometimes advertised and sold as aromatherapy devices) heat any herbal material (cannabis, various dried herbal mixes and some concentrates) to a certain temperature to form a light mist (vapour) which you then inhale. In simple terms it's the process of gently heating herbs or concentrates with hot air to release active ingredients, which are boiled off and inhaled in the form of vapour. Most vaporisers these days use convection to heat the herb, this method heats much more evenly and effectively than conduction.

When it comes to vaporisation there are a variety of substances that can be used, including dry herb, concentrates and e-juices*. The material being vaporised will affect which vaporiser you'll want to use, as not all vapes work with every substance. It is easier to decide on a vape when you know what you plan to vaporise most frequently.

Dry Herb
Waxy Concentrates
  • Dried/cured plant material
  • Extracted from dry herb
  • Beneficial properties released when vaporised
  • Extraction methods include CO2, butane, or high-proof alcohol

While most vaporisers are designed to be specifically compatible with one material, multi-compatible units are becoming more common. These units generally have separate heating chambers for each style of material that will be vaporised. These multi-compatible vaporisers are more commonly found in the pen style version and not the larger portable or desktop vapes.

The heated air is either drawn through the herb (manual whip) or forced through with a fan. The temperature can be varied precisely with analogue or digital controllers, or by the draw speed and strength in the manual mode. It's all in the personal preference of the user. Some people prefer to select their temperature to control which active ingredients are released, and some prefer a single temperature and vary their draws. Different temperatures release different proportions of active ingredients in the herb. This affects the tastes and the experience in general.

They come in desktop sizes for in-home use or various portable ones, including Vape Pens, which are proving very popular with the younger generation in the US, particularly. 

There are several different design factors that determine how a vaporisers heat source receives power. Ultimately, it will be achieved via either electricity or flame. Though power cords or a rechargeable battery are required for the electric variety, they generally perform better due to the consistent stream of power provided.

Electric / Plug In

  • Plugs directly into an outlet
  • Generally used with desktop units, which produce more vapour


  • No need for charger or wires
  • Refill anywhere

Rechargeable Batteries

  • Can be internal or external
  • Generally used with portable vaporisers


  • No electricity required
  • User controls the distance of heat from herb

Vaporisers powered via electricity tend to heat up and maintain temperature more efficiently than the other options. However, with the flame style power source, one is not tethered down by wires, which is optimal for situations where there is no electricity available to recharge a vaporiser. Controlling the temperature of the vaporiser is key to achieving the most efficient vapour production. There is a range in which the herb will begin to release its active ingredients and if the herb is not warm enough, no vapour forms. Alternatively if the temperature rises too far, the herb will burn up and defeat the whole purpose of vaporisation.


  • Most accurate control design
  • Temp readout on display screen


  • Rotating dial operation
  • Allows for very slight increases/decreases in temp

Press Style

  • Heats while button is held down or rechargeable battery inserted
  • Timing plays a big role in proper heating

Monitoring the temperature throughout the process of vaporisation prevents the material from being overheated, which leads to combustion and smoke. The remaining herb should be crispy and a brownish colour, NOT ash. If the leftover product is black or burned up, a lower temperature is required to produce vapour.

Along with choosing the temperature control, it is good to consider how long the vaporiser will take to go from cold to hot and ready to vape. Each vaporiser's heat up time is different, however pen style units are generally the quickest, followed by other portables and then desktop units (which require more power).

10 Seconds or Less

1-2 Minutes

2-4 Minutes

Vaporisers that heat up to and maintain a set temperature are more efficient in terms of vapour production. Units that have a push button control and rapid heat up time are more difficult to control, which can easily lead to combustion if you are not careful.

Though the iconic Volcano Vaporiser is often what comes to mind when people first think of a vaporiser, the technology and implementations of vaping continue to be applied in a variety of forms. As popularity grows, it seems that innovation around this popular consumption method will continue to flourish.

Compared to smoking, vaping is much healthier for you. Your body doesn’t love it when you light things on fire and then suck them into your lungs. Studies show that cannabis vaporisers provide the same level of THC, but fewer toxins. The same study notes that vaping is less bad for you than smoking. In some US states that have legalised medical cannabis, they encourage users to vape or eat cannabis as an alternative to smoking. In many cities around the world, including New York, they’ve disallowed smoking altogether, largely for health reasons.

The word 'vape' became so prevalent in popular culture and language that it was named Oxford English Dictionary’s Word of the Year in 2014, meaning 'to inhale and exhale the vapour produced by an electronic cigarette or similar device'. According to OED, you are about 30 times more likely to come across the word vape - both a verb and a noun - now than only two years ago.

At its core, the technology for vaporisers is simple, but stylish. All vaporisers have a power source, coils that heat and vape the ingredients, and an LED light at the tip. Portable vaporisers are super customisable and incredibly discreet, as they leave little smell and residue behind. If you’re looking for a new way to consume your favourite plant, a vaporiser might be for you.

While vaporisers and e-cigs are catching like wildfire amongst tobacco and cannabis lovers across the US, the law is still trying to play catch up (*e-cigs are illegal in Australia because nicotine is classified as a poison). Regulating vaporisers has lead to the creation of 'vaporium' communities for users to buy and inhale vapours. New York has just cracked down on vaporisers by including them in their Public Smoking Ban laws.

As vaporisers continue to become the norm in the cannabis community, we expect the technology will become even more widely used. However, laws are expected try to regulate this method. But as legalisation in the US spreads, vaping obviously stands out as a healthier alternative to smoking - something we can all get on board with. Hopefully lawmakers and officials will agree too!

adapted from The Stoner's Cookbook
with additional information from Vapor Nation and
Australian Vaporizers

No comments:

Post a comment