How Do Weed Vaporizers Work? [Explained for the Rookie Vaper]

Vaping 101...
Nicole Richter / Updated on June 14, 2018

How do Weed Vapes Work?

With marijuana legalization spreading across the United States, an increasing number of people are taking a long, hard look at how they consume their cannabis. For decades, smoking cannabis via a joint or inhaling the smoke through a bong were the ‘classic’ methods adopted by a majority of users.

However, there is an increasing body of evidence which suggests that inhaling marijuana’s vapor via a vaporizer is a safer method. Modern-day vaporizers heat up the herb or concentrate but don’t cause combustion and smoke. As a result, the vapor you inhale is less harsh on the lungs.

With this in mind, manufacturers are creating increasingly advanced vaporizers, including ones you can control via an app on your Smartphone. If you’re a newcomer to the vaping scene, weed vaporizers can seem pretty complicated, but as you’ll see in this guide, they are pretty easy to understand and use.

What is a Weed Vaporizer?

A weed vaporizer is a device designed to heat herbs or concentrate. There are portable and desktop vaporizers available that use one of two types of heating mechanisms (conductive and convective heating) to extract the cannabinoids from the plant and convert them into vapor. For the record, cannabinoids have different vaporization points.

Research suggests that cannabis tends to combust at 392 degrees Fahrenheit, with the ‘sweet spot’ set at 338 degrees. Most cannabinoids start to vaporize at 285 degrees. That said, we are not so sure about these figures since many vaporizers have the option to heat the herb to 400 degrees or more.

Conduction

This form of heating involves direct contact between the herb and the heated surface. In weed vaporizers, the surface in question is normally metal and you place the herb on top of it. Once the “hot plate” reaches the ideal temperature, your herb should begin to vaporize. The heat is directed through the chamber and converts those delightful terpenes and cannabinoids into delicious vapor.

Conduction is not the best choice for a weed vaporizer. This form of heating tends to burn the herb because of its inefficient distribution of heat, and it also makes it tricky to regulate the vaporizer’s temperature. Even so, it is the method of choice for most vaporizer manufacturers.

Pros

  • Heats the herb quickly which means you can vape almost immediately after switching on the device (depending on the model).
  • They have a simpler design which makes them more affordable.

Cons

  • Increased combustion risk as the weed is in direct contact with the heating element.
  • Imprecise temperature controls which make them harder to use for the newbie.
  • The uneven heat distribution means the heat only gets transferred to the marijuana when it makes contact with the heating element. As a result, users have to shake the dry herb between hits.
CBD GUMMIES

Convection

Instead of the herb coming into contact with the heating element, convection heating involves the passing of heated air over the plant material. After the air has reached the correct temperature, it is moved via inhalation or a fan to the component holding the herb or concentrate. It heats the product and converts its cannabinoids and terpenes into vapor without charring it.

It is common for such heating elements to be made from ceramic or stainless steel. As convection heating reaches all of the plant material simultaneously, it is a far more effective method of vaporization than convection heating, and the ceramic in the heating element does an excellent job of retaining heat. Vaporizers that operate via convection heating are usually more expensive than their conduction counterparts.

To recap, a weed vaporizer works by using either conduction or convection heating. You place the herb or concentrate in the loading chamber and simply turn on the power source. It heats the substance to the point where it turns into vapor. You inhale the vapor via the device’s delivery system (usually by drawing directly from the vaporizer) and it helps you get high or potentially alleviate a medical issue.

Pros

  • More accurate temperature control than conduction vaporizers.
  • No direct contact between the herb and heating element means the risk of combustion is greatly decreased.
  • Better user experience for newbies.

Cons

  • Complicated design means they are far more expensive than their conduction counterpart.
  • As the weed isn’t in direct contact with the heat, it takes longer for it to heat up.

How Does Vaporizing Weed Differ from Smoking It?

You now know that vaporizing marijuana involves heating it up without combustion. This means you enjoy the plant without setting it on fire. In contrast, when you light up a joint, it burns the weed because the maximum temperature can reach an astonishing 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit! Remember, cannabinoids begin to vaporize at just 220 degrees (THCA); CBC has one of the highest combustion temperatures at 451 degrees, but that’s still far below the temperature reached when smoking weed.

The biggest difference between vaporization and combustion is how clean the former feels. When you vape, you inhale the cannabinoids and terpenes and get a better sense of a cannabis strain’s aroma and taste. A 2007 study authored by Donald I. Abrams of UCSF and published in the journal Neurology, for example, found that vaporizing weed just below the combustion temperature caused very little exposure to the toxic chemicals created by combustion. Moreover, there was no reduction in the high.

While smoking weed is still a wonderful experience, it produces over 100 chemicals not released by vaporization and several of them are potentially carcinogenic. When you light a joint, you can expect it to heat the cannabis to a temperature of over 1,000 degrees; not all of the compounds released during combustion are good, and it produces as much tar as a tobacco cigarette. As you can imagine, this is bad news for the respiratory system and lungs.

What Are a Weed Vaporizer’s Components?

There is a significant selection of vaporizers on the market but they can all be broken down into a handful of important components.

  • Energy Source: This is what provides your vaporizer with its power. Most devices are powered by rechargeable batteries. Desktop versions are plugged into a wall socket.
  • Chamber: Also known as the ‘oven’, this is where you place your herb or concentrate to be heated in the chamber via a heating source. Most vaporizers use a heating coil for this purpose.
  • Heating Element: This is the most important part of your vaporizer, controlling the speed and distribution of the heat. The vast majority of vaporizers use convection or conduction heating; you will hardly ever find one that uses radiation.
  • Delivery System: This is what transfers the vapor from the chamber to your lips. You have to draw the vapor directly from a portable device, while desktop versions use balloons or whip tubing.

Although experienced users still prefer the power of a desktop vaporizer, portable versions are now the mainstay of the industry. Aside from vaporizers that use dry herb and concentrate, there are also concentrate pens and cartridge pens. These normally utilize cartridges filled with cannabis oil and work in much the same way as an electronic cigarette.

What is the Best Vaping Temperature?

With over 100 cannabinoids, more than 100 terpenes and dozens of flavonoids, cannabis is positively bursting with compounds and they all combust and vaporize at different temperatures. As such, the ‘best’ vaping temperature depends on what you’re looking for:

  • Maximum of 356 degrees Fahrenheit: Best for flavor.
  • Between 356 and 392 degrees: Gives you good flavor and decent vapor.
  • 393+ degrees: Excellent vapor and high medication level.

The use of solid concentrates (shatter, crystal, wax, budder, etc) instead of dry herb is also known as ‘dabbing,’ and is normally associated with higher temperatures. Indeed, some vaporizer models have specific temperature settings for concentrates, which go up to a maximum of 500 degrees. However, there is a school of thought which suggests you get the best results at temperatures below 400 degrees.

Terpenes such as linalool (388 degrees), D-Limonene (349 degrees) and Beta Myrcene (334 degrees) have relatively low boiling temperatures. While high-temperature dabbing offers an intense high, it can result in coughing fits and throat pains.

Final Thoughts on Weed Vaporizers

Remember, vaporizers come in a variety of shapes and sizes. If you want to vape in the comfort of your home, a large stationary version is a good idea, especially if you plan on inviting friends over. A portable vaporizer enables you to enjoy a quick and easy marijuana hit any time, any place. All you have to do is add your herb or concentrate to the chamber, power on the device and it will heat it up rapidly.

Vaporizers are ideal for weed newcomers because they are less harsh on your throat and lungs. They also produce less harmful chemicals and you still get all the benefits of cannabis. You can expect to pay $300+ for a top-of-the-line vaporizer such as the Firefly 2, but there are some good starter models for well under $100. We urge you to do some research to find the best vaporizer model for your needs, because the marketplace is exceedingly crowded.

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How Do Weed Vaporizers Work? [Explained for the Rookie Vaper]
June 14, 2018

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