Smoking has long been pretty much everyone’s main cannabis consumption method for years. But with the growth of the cannabis industry, there’s now new and innovative non-smoking ways to consume marijuana. Some of these products, like edibles and concentrates, aren’t legally available in Canada. But cannabis flower is, and there’s a way to ingest flower without smoking: That way is vaping.
Is Vaping Cannabis Really Healthier Than Smoking?
There’s been a lot of interest in vaping marijuana as a healthier alternative to smoking the plant. It’s true that smoking cannabis is safer than smoking cigarettes is, but even smoked cannabis can have detrimental effects to the heart and lungs. This is because inhaling combusted plant matter can release toxins into the body, including some that are carcinogenic.
The risks associated with smoking have led many medical marijuana patients to seek out alternate forms of consumption like vaporizing. But is vaporizing cannabis really healthier?
At least one study from 2007 found that respiratory effects like coughing, phlegm and tightness in the chest are less severe among folks who vaporize marijuana than those who smoke it. That being said, the medical and scientific community is still trying to understand the long-term effects of vaporizing cannabis.
At the moment, there’s no definitive consensus that vaporizing marijuana is safer. But if smoking isn’t an option for you and you’re looking for an alternative, keep reading for a guide on how to vaporize cannabis flower and choose the right vaporizer.
How Does Vaporizing Cannabis Work?
When you smoke cannabis, a flame is used to directly char the plant matter, resulting in combustion, then you inhale the smoke. When vaporizing, different types of heating elements heat the plant matter to a much lower, but still effective, temperature. Then a vapor is released without charring the cannabis flower into smoke.
The temperature to which the cannabis heats depends on the vaporizer you ultimately choose. Cannabinoids, the active compounds in cannabis, vaporize at around 280 degrees F and combust closer to 390 degrees F. Most vaporizers heat the plant somewhere between these two temperatures for optimal results.
Because the cannabinoids are heated to a much lower degree than they are when smoked, more cannabinoids and terpenes are preserved. The lower the temperature, the more enhanced the marijuana’s flavor and effects will be.
How to Choose a Marijuana Vaporizer
Not all vaporizers are created equal or for the same purpose. It’s a great idea to do a bit of research before jumping into purchasing any vaporizer, especially since some high-quality models can cost you more than $400. And the first thing to think about when looking into vaporizers is deciding whether you want a portable or stationary model.
Portable vaporizers are what people typically call vape pens. These sleek devices now come in all sorts of designs and, in one of their most distinguished benefits, can easily be tossed into a purse or pocket. As vaporizers get more sophisticated, more of these portable options come with temperature control settings. But unfortunately, many of the cheaper versions don’t offer these nuanced controls.
Portable vaporizers use conduction heating to produce the vapor. This is where plant matter must come in direct contact with the heating instrument. So it’s possible for some models to become too hot and char the flower enough to produce smoke. If you’re serious about cutting all smoke out of your cannabis diet, be sure to invest in a portable vaporizer with temperature controls so you can keep this from happening.
If you really want to be in control, stationary or table-top vaporizers may be an option more suited to you. Stationary vaporizers typically use convection heating. Rather than heating the cannabis with direct contact, convection heats the air around the plant until it’s warm enough to produce vapor. This significantly decreases the likelihood of charring the cannabis and creating smoke.
Most high-quality, table-top vaporizers also have customizable temperature settings so, it’s even more unlikely to accidentally burn the cannabis rather than vaporize it. On the downside, these are usually more expensive and really only convenient for use at home because of their large size.
No matter what vaporizer you choose, a few additional things to look out for include:
- Certain materials can emit harmful substances when heated to certain temperatures. To be safe, avoid vaporizers that are made with Teflon or any titanium alloy and, if possible, find one made from high-grade titanium.
- If you aren’t sure what the vaporizer you’re interested in is made of, contact the manufacturer for its material testing and breakdown. If it can’t produce material testing information, that’s probably a sign you should choose a different vaporizer.
How to Use a Cannabis Vaporizer
Once you’ve decided on a vaporizer, it’s time to prepare for use. First things first, you must finely grind the cannabis flower using a grinder. Breaking cannabis down with your hands is likely to result in large chunks of flower and can cause the vaporizer to clog. The oils on your fingertips can also have deteriorating effects on the cannabis by eroding the trichomes that are full of flavorful and healing terpenes.
If you choose a vaporizer with general temperature settings (low, medium, high), set it to low in the beginning. If you choose a more sophisticated vaporizer that offers precise temperature-setting ability, set the temperature to between 359 degrees F and 379 degrees F. Lower temperatures are preferable for those just getting started, because they result in a milder effect.
Let the device heat, and inhale from the mouthpiece. (These will be different depending on the vaporizer you choose.) Some vaporizers will have indicator lights that help you know when you’ve inhaled a dose of cannabis vapor; others will not.
Regardless, start with a slow and small inhalation until you work your way up to a dose that you’re comfortable with. Just like smoking, vaporizing can still result in coughing, and for some medical marijuana patients, coughing can cause a lot of pain. To avoid this, small inhalations will be key.
When the session is complete, turn off the vaporizer and allow it to cool. Before repacking the vaporizer with freshly ground cannabis flower, be sure to completely remove and clean the chamber. Vaporizers, especially those made for dried flower, can easily become clogged.
Trying different consumption methods is the only way to really know what will work best for you. If smoke irritates your throat and lungs, vaporizing cannabis flower could be a great option. Take time to do the research before investing in a vaporizer, and start out by taking it slow at a low temperature. Hopefully, you’ll be happy you gave vaping a shot.
Photo Credit: Nicolas Ladino Silva