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Vaporizers 101: Find your vape

In 2019, vape-associated pulmonary injury or VAPI, a phenomenon linked largely to unregulated THC concentrate products, turned vaporizers into international news.

But not all vaporizers are created equal, and not all are dangerous—in fact, some are even considered medical devices and are recommended as a safer alternative to smoking.

Vaporizing cannabis means heating flower or concentrate to the point it creates vapour, and before it combusts, then inhaling that vapour to absorb its cannabinoids and terpenes via the mouth and lungs. Some vape products are battery-powered, disposable, and limited to just one temperature, while others are investment pieces, providing a multitude of settings, consumption options, and temperature settings.

There’s already a wide variety of vape designs on the Canadian market, with plenty more to come as “Legalization 2.0” in October 2019 broadened the range of legal cannabis products.

Here are the major types of vaporizers, and what to expect from each:

The classic desktop vaporizer

The Volcano is one of the best-known dried flower vaporizers in the medical cannabis community because it was the first to be recognized as a health device by Health Canada.

It’s a heavy unit, so you won’t be bringing this one with you anywhere. Rather, it’s for home use, where you can adjust its precise temperature settings for different needs (higher temperatures produce more vapour, but you’ll lose some of the flavours and effects of terpenes; lower temps should produce flavourful hauls, but with less vapour).

With its innovative bag design, the Volcano is great for sharing cannabis among friends. The mouthpiece is attached to a balloon that fills with vapour; detach the balloon and pass it around a party rather than a joint—it’s fun and easier on the lungs.

However, the German-made Volcano is prohibitively expensive—like almost $600 expensive. That’s why Arizer’s cheaper models, such as the Arizer Extreme Q, which also has a balloon, or the V-Tower are worth testing out, too. They’re less than half of the price of the Volcano, and they also have precise temperature controls and large flower ovens to accommodate big hauls. No fun party balloon on the V-Tower, though—instead, you get a hose through which to inhale.

Handheld vaporizers

There are lots of these on the market, making it challenging to choose.

A few considerations: some, like the new favourite Dr. Dabber ($425), can accommodate concentrates, wax, and dried flower, so if you’re looking for something that can help you experience different kinds of effects and different strengths, it’s a popular, albeit expensive option.

Concentrate and wax fans also like the Shatterizer ($70), a much less expensive option that doesn’t vaporize flower, but is super user-friendly—there’s just one button to press while you inhale from the device. If you’re looking for a potent, flavourful high, it’s a good option.

But don’t focus solely on temperature and types of cannabis. You should also think about the device’s included accessories, and the logistics of filling its oven with fresh cannabis, cleaning it, and charging it.

Most portable vapes are USB-battery powered. PAX sells several models, popular for their sleek design and Apple-like branding. They are by far the most fashionable on the market, but there are so many components to these devices: cleaning brushes, charge cords, different ovens. It can be annoying to try to keep track of these tiny gadget pieces.

Consider also how you’ll be using the vaporizer. Will you be bringing it to parties, and refilling the flower oven throughout the event? What will you use to scrape the used bud out of the device and where will you dump your already vaped bud? Will you pre-mill your cannabis, and where will you store it?

Some vaporizer designers have thought this through well. The Vapium Lite ($115), for example, has a handy scraper tool that attaches directly to the device—this is so helpful so you don’t lose the little thing.

Disposable vaporizers

Small, pre-filled vape pens haven’t made their debut quite yet in Canada’s regulated cannabis market, but they’re on the way in “Legalization 2.0,” the second wave of cannabis legalization. When they do hit the market, they’ll likely be popular—in 2019, disposable vape pens accounted for $2.5 billion in sales in US states where cannabis is legal, a number that would be much higher if it also accounted for illicit vape pens.

Disposable vape pens sell well because of how convenient they are—no refilling necessary, simply choose your product based on cannabinoid content, terpene profiles, and price. There is just one setting, so simply take a small hoot from the mouthpiece—often a light shines to show you that it’s working—and see how it feels before taking another.

Vape pens are also small and discreet, and fit nicely into a pocket or purse.

No word yet on pricing, but keep in mind that convenience usually has consequences—in this case, the environmental impact is worth considering.

Happy shopping!

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Kate Robertson

Kate Robertson writes about cannabis, culture and more. She is based in Toronto.

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