The vaporizer is the most recently developed method of using marijuana. Rather than burning the marijuana, which releases many irritating or potentially toxic by-products, the marijuana is heated in a controlled way to the exact temperature of vaporization of the active ingredients. The result is a much more comfortable smoke and unique, but excellent high. This article gives an introduction to how vaporizers work and how they are used. The traditional way of using marijuana, smoking, requires heating the plant material to particularly high temperatures. In addition to the irritation caused by inhaling the hot smoke, burning the plant material releases particulate matter and chemicals that are known carcinogens. The result is irritating, potentially harmful smoke (though the expectorant qualities of THC may mediate these harmful effects).There are at least 60 pharmacologically active compounds in cannabis. While the compound that gets the most credit for the unique experience of being high is the Delta-9-THC, there is a whole cocktail of components that cause the effect of being high. The quality that allows vaporizers to work is the idea that most of these chemicals vaporize at a temperature well below their combustion temperatures. Some of the major players and their respective vaporization points are cannabidiol (CBD) 206.3 °C, Cannabinol (CBN) 212.7 °C, and delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) 149.3 °C.
Vaporizers work by heating the plant material in a controlled manner to a particular temperature. Various studies have found that the best temperature for vaporization (in terms of tar-to-THC ratio) is around 220 °C. There are many factors that have an efficacy of vaporization including temperature, plant-material density, weight, consistency, etc.
While there is immense variety in the construction of traditional pipes and bongs, there is even more variety in the world of vaporizers. Whereas pipes and bongs can be made by smaller local artists, high quality vaporizers tend to be made by larger companies. The result is large differences in design between manufacturers. Designs tend to be more functional that expressive.
Vaporizers can come in many shapes and sizes. The simplest of vaporizers look just like medium-sized pipes and use a lighter as the source of heat. The difference between these vaporizers and traditional pipes is that the flame of the lighter never comes in direct contact with the plant material. Rather, heat is transferred to the plant material indirectly. While these vaporizers are relatively inexpensive, the fact that they are unable to deliver heat as carefully controlled than more expensive vaporizers gives them little advantage over traditional pipes.
Vaporizers tend to come in three types, defined by how they heat the plant material, conduction, convection or radiation.
Conduction vaporizers act by placing the plant material in direct contact with the heating element, most commonly on a metal plate or bowl. These vaporizers were the first to appear on the market and the ones most commonly built at home. They tend not to deliver heat in a controlled consistent manner, and often end up burning the plant material, rendering them little more effective than smoking. Some higher quality conduction vaporizers do actually vaporize the active components of the marijuana, but are not as effective as the other two types of vaporizers.