Vaporizing: An Introduction To The Vaporization Of Cannabis
Many organic herbs contain sought-after components that can be attained by smoking them. Smoking cannabis, in particular, has proven to have some positive benefits such as providing nausea and pain relief. However, there are always risks associated with inhaling burnt plant matter; that is one thing no person can argue. Although we are ingesting some of the beneficial cannabinoids we seek, carcinogens and other toxins such as carbon monoxide & dioxide, ammonia and other irritants are present in the smoke we inhale as well.
However, it infuriates me to hear someone equate the negative effects of smoking cigarettes to smoking cannabis. Although smoking cannabis may cause “cellular changes” that are considered “precancerous,” a major study has concluded that use of marijuana is not associated with increased risk of cancer at all. In fact, it is thought that the cannabinoids in cannabis actually work to counteract the negative respiratory effects of the smoke, as you smoke it. But I digress.
The truth of the matter is that proper cannabis use has size-able positive health effects. Nearly all problems associated with potentially harmful smoke can be avoided if the herb is heated to the point where the desired components, typically found in the resin of the flower, are released without igniting the material. That is precisely what a vaporizer does.
How Does A Vaporizer Work?
Vaporizing, as it applies to cannabis, is the process of heating dried cannabis to a temperature just below its combustion point of 392°F. The “sweet spot” is around 338°F, even though cannabinoids begin to vaporize at 285°F. At this temperature the active cannabinoids in cannabis are converted to a vapor that can comfortably be inhaled as opposed to a joint which can burn as hot as 800°F or higher. While the exact amount of components released depends on the compounds present and the temperature, none of the toxic bi-products of smoking plant matter is present in the vapor. This means that vapor will have a much higher percentage of desired content than smoke does.
Although vaporizers have been around for some time now, it is only in the last five to ten years that the benefits of vaporization have become widely known. Accordingly, a variety of devices have flooded the market. Despite the wide selection, all vaporizers consist of a heating source and a delivery system. Most vaporizers, commonly dubbed “Vapes”, use a system of conduction, convection, radiation, or a combination of the three to employ heat.
Different Types of Heating Sources
Conduction heating works by utilizing direct contact of the herb with an electrically heated surface, often times solid metal or a screen. A common problem with vaporizers like this is burning of the herb due to poor heat distribution. It is very difficult to regulate the temperature with vaporizers that use conduction. Included in this category are vaporizer pens, or “e-cigs” such as the Cloud Vape Pen (review coming soon) and the Micro G, which often times utilize a heating element to vaporize essential oils or concentrates.
Convection, on the other hand, works by passing precisely heated air over the dried herb, vaporizing the material more evenly and efficiently. The herb never comes in touch with the heating element; instead air is either forced by a fan, or through inhalation, over the herbs and through the delivery system. Heating elements for convection vaporizers are typically made out of ceramic, though some are made out of stainless steel or other types of metal. Ceramic heating elements retain heat extremely well and are unaffected by cool air drawn through the system.
Radiation vaporizers use radiant energy either produced by electricity or a light source to provide heat. The herb absorbs the radiant energy, increasing in temperature until its components vaporize. These types of vaporizers are more rare, and are on par with convection vapes in term of quality of vapor produced. The Magic Flight Launch Box combines radiation (or ‘Infrared Heating’ as they call it, see picture) with conduction heating by engaging a battery, sending a current across a metal screen transferring heat to your herb packed on top. At the same time, the hot screen emits infrared rays that transfer additional heat across the herb.
The vapor produced by the system is then transferred from the heating chamber to the user through a variety of means. In convection vaporizers, a fan or pump is used to force the air over the herb and through a ‘whip’, or into a bag, otherwise known as a ‘balloon’. Whips are made of silicone piping and are around three feet long. One end of the whip is a mouthpiece, while the other is a glass connection that holds your herbs and slides over or into the heating element. The end that holds the herb is typically referred to as a ‘wand’ and contains a screen to ensure no material is drawn through the hose and into your mouth.
The bag style vaporizers make use of food grade plastic often used to make oven-roasting bags (oven-roasting bags can be used as cheap replacements). The bags can attach and detach from the unit using a valve that prevents vapor loss. A mouthpiece is then inserted into the valve when the bag is detached from the unit, allowing the bag to be passed around a room.
A number of vaporizers use tubes or stems made out of anything from glass to wood, whereas other units require you to draw directly from the device. While these vaporizers supply a direct vapor stream with little opportunity for loss of taste, many users find the vapor to be too hot and concentrated. Many of these styles of vaporizers can be supplemented with a whip or stem (The MFLB provides the user with this ability).
Vaporizing By Temperature
Many of these vaporizers typically feature a digital temperature control that allows you to alter the ratio (the term ratio is important here) of active components you’re vaporizing. When you light the bud with a lighter, you are releasing all cannabinoids at once, often times destroying desirable cannabinoids and terpenes that give cannabis its taste.
“Since terpenoids have the lowest boiling point, around 132°F, they are typically the first compounds to be released by vaporizing.”
If you are looking for a tasty, aromatic hit, you can select the lowest temperature that produces vapor. As you approach the boiling points of other compounds, you are increasing the quantity of the compounds that is vaporized.
It is important to keep in mind that even at temperatures below a compounds boiling point, vapor is still produced; Similar to the way boiling water releases wisps of water vapor before the boiling point is reached. The vapor is present in lower ratios. Since vapor is not always visible at lower temperatures, you must judge what temperature to set the vaporizer at by the taste and smell of the vapor produced.
Although you will mostly find these temperature controls on convection units, temperature controlled conduction vaporizers are beginning to appear. While it is safe to assume that most displays do not represent the exact temperature, most are very close and is much more accurate than vaporizers without temperature control. It is also important to note that the displayed temperature is not actually a measurement of the temperature of the herb you are vaporizing. You can read more about Vaporizing by temperature at VapeWorld.com.
The Research Behind Vaporizing
The Institute of Medicine found in 1999 that, “because of the health risks associated with smoking, smoked cannabis should generally not be recommended for long-term medical use.” Although there is no evidence that smoking cannabis causes lung cancer, or even damages them, it is thought that the smoke can potentially cause symptoms that may lead to respiratory problems.
This is why vaporizing should be the primary delivery system for medical marijuana patients. Multiple scientific studies have been conducted confirming vaporizing as being a healthy alternative to traditionally smoked marijuana.
One study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Neurology concluded that, “…there was virtually no exposure to harmful combustion products using the vaporizing device.”
Another study performed by researchers at Leiden University found that the effects of using a vaporizer are “comparable to the smoking of cannabis, while avoiding the respiratory disadvantages of smoking.”
These results aren’t the culmination of bias or wishful thinking at the hands of medical marijuana advocates or sympathizers; they are the result of sound scientific theory and sound scientific evidence. Vaporizers simply deliver the therapeutic effects of marijuana without exposing patients to the harmful side effects from smoking.
Clearly, long term risks associated with inhaling combusted materials (such as respiratory disease and multiple types of cancer) are often not a concern for older patients or those already ailing from cancer or other debilitating diseases. However for younger patients medicating for reasons such as eating disorders, anxiety, stress, insomnia, etc., long term effects of smoking medical marijuana should be taken into consideration. Vaporizing is a healthy alternative that won’t come back to harm patients in the future like smoking has the potential to do.