Vaping has hit the mainstream. In the three years since “vape” was voted word of the year, it’s become not just a synonym for e-cigarettes, but for cannabis vaporizers as well.
Vaporizing is considered superior to smoking because it reduces the temperature at which cannabinoids change from solid or liquid into gas. The lower temperatures protect some of the best things in cannabis—the things that get you high and that smell and taste good. Besides, you can do it just about anywhere. But there are so many kinds of vape pens out there, how can you tell the difference between them? And how do you know which one is the best based on your budget?
Vaporizers heat up cannabis, either in flower or concentrate form, enough to transmit the THC and other cannabinoids without any actual combustion. In the past few years, portable vaporizers, chiefly vape pens, have become the most popular devices on the vaping market, surpassing much more expensive desktop vaporizers like the Volcano.
The devices vary widely in size, price, and quality. They can be slim like, well, pens, or they can be more bulky, sometimes resembling walkie-talkies or even water bottles.
Vape pens can be affordable (like this recommended one) and even disposable; some dispensaries give away pre-filled disposables as promotional items. But on the high end, they can also be luxurious lifestyle accessories. The difference will be the number of settings on the vaporizer and how smoothly it hits, among other features. Some vape pens can even now be linked to an app on your phone for people who want to closely track how much they’re smoking. This is a huge benefit for people who are using cannabis for medical reasons and only want to consume the minimum amount necessary for relief.
E-cigarettes vs. Vape Pens
One of the main advantages of vape pens is how discrete they are. For once, you’ll be happy about the hordes of e-cigarette users, because a casual glance shows no real difference between these e-juice containing devices and the ones that contain cannabis. This is a big plus for people living in states where cannabis is illegal or people who want to be able to smoke whenever they need to.
The vapor emitted is almost never as smelly or as noticeable as the smoke from a joint or pipe. Compact designs lend themselves well to storage and travel. They easily slip into a pocket or purse. And imagine a life where losing your lighter—or having it taken by sticky-fingered friends—is no longer a source of stress.
Vapes are even more stealthy when the heat isn’t turned on full blast. High-temp vaping can result in a whiff of weed becoming discernible, which makes lower settings preferable in public.
Types of Vape Pens and The Best Vaporizers
The two main types of pens used for vaping are cartridge pens and concentrate pens (also known as wax pens). Portable flower vaporizers often come in other, larger shapes than the classic pen form; these are the ones that look like walkie talkies or water bottles. (Here’s our list of the top three dry herb vaporizers.) The benefit of these, of course, is that if you live in a state without dispensaries, you can use regular bud in them. But, you can also just use our guide to make THC oil for pens at home.
Cartridge pens are low-maintenance and inexpensive. They use universally-compatible cartridges (the thread standard is called “510”) that are filled with cannabis concentrate, usually hash oil, often mixed with other substances like propylene glycol and glycerin to produce the impressive “clouds” often associated with vaping.
The cartridges are usually disposable and can be made of plastic, metal or glass. They screw onto the vape pen battery which can be ordered online even if you live in a state where pot is still prohibited. Cartridges can range from about $40 to more than $80 for one gram. There are often noticeable differences in quality and taste between top-shelf and bottom-shelf cartridges. Some cartridge manufacturers use only pure cannabis concentrates; good bud tenders will be able to point you toward these.
Concentrate pens, rather than a cartridge, feature tanks or chambers which are filled with extracts such as butane hash oil (BHO) and resin. For this reason, they are also known as wax pens.
These pens have more removable parts than cartridge pens. The atomizer coils which heat the concentrate commonly clog or break down. Wax pens offer a portable way to dab without the blowtorch, but they can be less convenient than cartridges.
How Do Vape Pens Work?
Most vape pens are activated by pressing a button, inhaling, or doing both at once. The battery heats up the cartridge or atomizer to a temperature high enough for vaporization but not combustion.
Temperature is a crucial factor in vaping. While desktop units such as the Volcano have very precise temperature controls, this isn’t the case with all vape pens. Heat impacts the harshness; the lower the temperature, the less harsh the vapor.
That’s the weakness of the cheapest vape pens: They just get too hot. While some more expensive, high-quality models (like these recommended ones) allow you to control the temperature, most just offer a few settings to choose from.