A handheld device consisting of a battery attached to a Cartridge filled with cannabis Concentrate. With a Vape Pen, Concentrates are heated, not burned. Instead of smoke, the output is vapor. Because of the lack of smoke and handheld convenience from Vape Pens, some cannabis users prefer vaping over smoking.
I like using a vape pen because it's more discreet and there's no smoke.
The history of vape pens
Vaping has a long history: Ancient Egyptians used hot stones to inhale vapors emanating from heated herbs, and the “shisha,” more commonly known these days as a hookah, was introduced to India thousands of years ago.
Fast forward to 2003, when Chinese pharmacist Hon Lik, who was trying to kick a heavy tobacco smoking habit, figured out how to vaporize nicotine liquid using high-frequency ultrasonic vibration, and put it all in a device that looked like a cigarette. The first e-cigarette vaporizer was introduced to the U.S. in 2007.
Today's vape pens use a tiny heater to do the vaporizing, and of course marijuana consumers use a cannabis concentrate instead of nicotine liquid.
Advantages of using vape pens
Vape pens have some advantages over smoking cannabis flower, especially for new consumers.
- They're convenient. Cartridges are small, transportable, and pre-filled with Distillates and Concentrates. Carrying several of them is much easier than carrying several kinds of flower, and swapping them out is simple.
- They're discreet. Vape pens are often used by tobacco smokers, so they don't draw much attention these days. The smell of vapor is also far less pungent than the smell of burning cannabis flower, so vaping could be done — possibly undetected — in many places smoking isn't allowed.
- They're less harmful. Studies show that when cannabis is combusted, the smoke that's inhaled contains at least 100 toxins, some of which can cause cancer. Because vaporizers don't heat marijuana to the point of combustion, or burning, people who use them aren't exposed to those toxins. Long-term research on vaping doesn't exist yet, but a 2010 study of 20 daily cannabis smokers with existing lung conditions found that just one month after using a vaporizer instead, they had “meaningful improvements” in their lung health.
- They're cleaner. The cartridges are disposable, so there's no sticky resin to clean up. And the only output is water vapor — no smoke, no ash, no mess.
There are also some disadvantages to opting for a vape pen instead of smoking cannabis flower, such as higher prices, fewer strain varieties, and potential health risks associated with cutting agents.
The anatomy of a vape pen
Overall, there are four main parts of a vape pen:
- Tank or cartridge: The container for the cannabis oil that will be vaporized. Tanks made of plastic, glass, or steel are refillable. Pre-filled cartridges are used until they're empty and thrown away.
- Atomizer: The heating element that vaporizes the cannabis oil.
- Battery: The rechargeable lithium ion battery that powers the vape pen and heats the concentrate. Some batteries activate with the manual press of a button, while just inhaling activates others. Rechargeable batteries often come with a USB charger included. Disposable pens have a pre-charged battery.
- Mouthpiece: The piece through which vapor is inhaled.
What goes in a vape pen
Vape pens can be filled with varieties of cannabis extracts.
- The most common is Distillate, a highly refined oil containing only a few cannabinoids focused on THC or CBD.
- Specialty concentrates (like CO2 oil, Shatter, and Full Spectrum Extracts) have all the marijuana plant's cannabinoids and create a different experience.
Why some oils are different colors and viscosities
Thick Distillates can be thinned by mixing them with vegetable glycerin (VG), propylene glycol (PG), naturally derived terpenes, or strain-specific terpenes. All will allow the oil to be absorbed by the pen's wick more easily and will vaporize the oil with less energy from the battery, but may also change the color of the oil.
Thinning agents will also affect the vapor's appearance and taste. For example, using only VG will result in fluffy vapor clouds, but less flavor. On the other hand, using only a PG concentration will produce smaller clouds and a stronger flavor.
These additional ingredients, or “cutting agents,” are accepted as safe in ingestible products, though the industry is still learning how these ingredients react to heat and inhalation. In 2015, Project CBD published a report by biochemist Jahan Marcu, the chief scientific officer for cannabis advocacy group Americans for Safe Access, who called attention to the potential hazards of overheating PG in vape pens. A 2017 peer-reviewed article in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine (JACM), published by Mary Ann Liebert Inc., supported the findings and presented the potential hazards of overheating polyethylene glycol (PEG).
In response to the raised health concerns, some manufacturers have used terpenes instead of these cutting agents.
Consumers should check the packaging to see what ingredients are included in the vape Cartridge to ensure a desired feel, flavor, and chemical mix.