Smoking vs. vaporizing weed – Two of the most common methods of taking a puff of marijuana, but are there really that many differences between them? In a word: Yes.
Smoking weed is a completely different experience from vaporizing it, and in today’s article we’ll be going over all the basics needed to vaporize cannabis: What equipment you can use, how to vaporize properly, and whether or not vaping really is healthier than smoking. Let’s get started.
What Is Vaporizing Cannabis?
Vaporizing weed is the act of heating the cannabis plant (or a similar extract) to a very high temperature without setting it on fire. When marijuana is heated in this way the THC and other cannabinoids are released in the form of vapor, which can then be inhaled – Similar to smoking, but without the actual fire (or smoke).
Vaporizing weed produces no smoke, making the resulting vapor easier to hit, longer-lasting, and more efficient both in THC released from the plant and amount absorbed into the blood stream.
When we inhale air, oxygen molecules from our breath are absorbed by inside of our lungs into our body, acting as a fuel source for our body. Likewise, when inhaling marijuana, the particles of THC (and other cannabinoids/terpenes contained within) are likewise absorbed. When we smoke, the overall amount of THC that can be absorbed with any given breath (a metric referred to as “bioavailability”) has been found to be roughly 30% – This means out of the entirety of the joint you just smoked, about 30% of the THC contained within reached your lungs.
By comparison, vaporization of weed increases cannabinoid bioavailability to upwards of 80% – We don’t need any fancy math to know that’s a significant increase, and anyone who’s hit a vaporizer before can tell you it definitely hits harder than a standard joint. Because water vapor has an easier time being absorbed into the lungs than carbon & tar-filled smoke, vaped cannabis doesn’t leave behind a sticky, gunky mess in the lungs; instead, vaporized molecules (such as THC) are directly absorbed, and the resulting waste product is simply water.
Vaping is Efficient
Vaping is also more generally efficient than burning cannabis. We talk about the importance of decarbing marijuana at length in other articles on our site but the basic gist is as follows: Cannabis contains very little THC, instead containing THCA, a non-psychoactive chemical that will not get anyone blazed. When THCA is exposed to high heat (IE: flame) it then turns into THC, the molecule responsible for getting someone high; again, a process that must occur if you want to use cannabis as a recreational product.
Burning cannabis has little-to-no temperature control, and the line between “activated” or “decarbed” cannabis and “burned, wasted” cannabis is a thin one. When we light marijuana plant matter on fire and inhale the smoke, most of what’s been touched by flames is now dead, inert carbon atoms.
Where we get the THC we’re looking for is actually coming from the cannabis directly next to the flower that’s been lit on fire. This plant matter has reached just the right temperature to let go of it’s cannabinoids into the smoke, but given time will quickly turn into carbon like the flaming bud nearby.
Proper temperature control is the key to vaporization, and knowing what sort of temperature range you’re looking for in a vape rig is as important as deciding what sort of material to vaporize inside. We’ll talk about the former in a bit – For now let’s delve into the latter, and talk about the wide world of vaporizing products.
Do I Need Special Equipment to Vaporize Weed?
So here’s the one major downside to vaping cannabis – You can’t exactly make a home made bong or an apple pipe for vaporizing. Vaping weed does require specialized equipment, and cannot be easily replicated in a DIY fashion. However, as cannabis legalization has spread and the marijuana industry has grown, vape equipment has become more wide-spread and affordable, making vaporizers easier and cheaper to get into than ever before.
There are several different types of vaporizers on the market place, but ultimately boil down to two different types: Dry herb vapes and concentrate vapes.
How to Vaporize Cannabis Flower
Dry herb vapes are used to vaporize cannabis plant material – Fill the heating chamber with weed, let it come to temp, take a puff. Classic models such as the desktop-sized Volcano and the handheld Iolite are both well-known dry herb vapes that take raw cannabis flower and, though precise heating control, coax it up to the proper temperature to release the cannabinoids contained within.
Large models such as the Volcano are typically powered by electricity and require a wall outlet to function. Once plugged in a small chamber inside holds the ground cannabis flower while a heating element begins to reach a specific, usually user-defined temperature. After the temperature is reached the vaporizer holds the cannabis at this temperature, typically using a fan or some other fashion of delivery system to push the cannabis vapor into a holding chamber or bag.
Hand-held, portable vaporizers typically run off of butane – Rather than the butane directly burning the weed, though, the flame inside is kept against a heating element, and switches on and off as it reaches a specific temperature range. Smaller models offer a portability that desktop models don’t but usually eschew precise temperature controls, and can be less efficient than their larger cousins.
Also important, while herb vaporizers don’t require special product to smoke (IE: concentrates) they can take time before the heating chamber reaches temp and the vaporization is complete and ready – This means upwards up to a 2 minute wait before you can take a puff.
What About Weed Concentrates?
Concentrates are in an interesting position. Many dry herb vapes will also allow for the use of certain concentrates (we recommend adding concentrates to dry bud for the best experience) but concentrate vape pens usually will not work with cannabis flower; their construction and method for heating the concentrate is far different from that needed for dry herb, and is usually why concentrate models (such as vape pens) are much cheaper than those that handle bud.
Vape pens, or e-liquid pens, work by heating a small element directly against the concentrated liquid held inside the cartridges – This rapidly turns the liquid into a vapor which can then be inhaled. Because of the design and construction of the vape pen, though, they can only hold e-liquids; any attempt to use another fashion of marijuana concentrate inside will likely just end up with wasted product (and potentially a busted vape pen).
If looking to use more traditional concentrates, such as hash oil or hasish, or other forms of solid/semi-solid products such as wax or THCA diamonds, there are specially-designed vape pen models and other portable vaporizers designed for these types of concentrates. These are typically battery-operated (USB charged) and will hold a variety of THC concentrate products. Though their action for creating vapor isn’t instant, like with most e-liquid pens or e-cigarettes, many only require seconds of warm-up time before they’re ready to be hit.
What’s the Best Temp to Vape Weed?
Temperature can vary depending on what you’re trying to vape, and many larger models can offer temperature settings that may seem confusing at first. We go over this in detail in our article “What’s The Best Temperature to Vaporize Cannabis”, but to recap here: Many vape pens and smaller vaporizers will automatically aim for a temperature somewhere around 375°F, as this will vaporize a good majority of the cannabinoids present in any given cannabis flower or extract.
While 375°F is a good generalized temperature, being able to “dial in” a more precise temp is a definite feature for many vaporizers. The temperature your cannabis is vaporized at can have a large effect on how hard (and harshly) your vape hits, with lower temperatures offering a less harsh smoke and higher temperatures activating more of the cannabinoids and terpenes available in your product.
If your vaporizer offers temperature control options we recommend playing around with temperatures ranging from 355°F – 390°F; temps much lower than this range won’t activate most of your THC, while temps too much higher can end up with your weed getting smokey or burned.
Is Vaping Weed Healthier Than Smoking?
It’s easy to sit here and say with conviction that yes, obviously vaporizers are healthier than smoking. And, on the surface, it absolutely is – Vaping contains none of the carcinogens of smoking, delivers no tar to the lungs, and overall leaves the body cleaner and with (optimally) no waste products (which goes a long way toward explaining it’s appeal with medical marijuana patients undergoing serious treatments/therapy). Unfortunately, though vaporizing is healthier than smoking in theory, actual practice can be a different story.
With a booming market and lack of clear federal regulations, a lack of quality control in both vaporizers and vape products has lead to serious disease and even death in some cases. Knock-off and black market vape liquids can contain a wide variety of contaminants and added chemicals that are known to be cancerous or otherwise toxic, essentially negating any “health benefits” that vaporizing might have.
When purchasing weed concentrates to vape, make sure you know what you’re getting. Always read the labels, and purchase from a trusted supplier. And while the allure of “THC Juul cartridges” might be appealing there are still few conclusive studies on the health risks of vaping e-liquid, meaning there may be further complications than are currently known.
If interested in vaporizing, we recommend looking into vape models designed either for dry herb or more “natural” THC concentrates such as wax or hash – Though there are still unknown health factors with vaporization of any product, at least with a bundle of freshly ground marijuana or a clear, sticky piece of shatter, you don’t have to worry about additional chemicals present in your smoke.
As said at the start of our article, vaporizing cannabis is a very different, typically more efficient and customizable experience from smoking weed. And though it may require a bit of prep work and equipment to get started, if you’re looking for the best way to make a stash last, vaping is our recommended way to go. We hope our article on how to vape weed has been informative and enjoyable – Happy smoking (or vaping)!