For about a year, I consumed most of my cannabis in the form of CO2 hash oil in pre-filled cartridges. I’d smoke flower from time to time, but for the most part I had been trying to go easier on my lungs with the vaporizer. For the first 6 months or so of this, I was pretty satisfied with it. It’s convenient, easy to use, affordable, and it wasn’t long before I knew which brands to trust for quality oil. Each cartridge costs 30 to 35 dollars, and you can get your first battery for as little as 20, offering a low-cost way to start vaporizing. This was a great way to get started.
But over time, the narrow selection had started to bother me. As I learned more and more about terpenes and the entourage effect, I wanted to explore a wider array of strains than the handful that are available from most of the quality cartridge brands. Even more importantly, I began to hear more and more from my dispensary that even high-quality CO2 oil has lost most or all of its terpene content during the extraction process. Though some brands put terpenes back into their oil, for the most part, the effect of CO2 oil is mostly just a result of THC content alone. Oil cartridges are indeed the cheapest, most accessible way to get into vaping cannabis, but are extremely limiting, and usually containing only a half gram of oil, can become expensive in the long run if you go through them quickly.
Not so long ago, quality “dry herb” vaporizers were famously expensive. I recall being told not to even bother unless I could spend around 700 dollars. To this day, the highest quality desktop vaporizers, which offer some of the most consistent and enjoyable vaping experiences will still run you about that much.
So what about the rest of us who can’t drop nearly a grand? Things have improved without a doubt, but how much do you have to spend now to enjoy a reliable dry herb vaping experience?
Choosing a vaporizer
If you really want to vaporize dry herb, also called “ground material” in the vaping world, you should still avoid the cheapest options, unfortunately. You’ll find pens and portable “vaporizers” advertised at prices of 20 to 50 dollars. But in my experience, few if any of these are truly vaporizers at all. Grenco Science’s G Slim, for example, uses a metal coil in the chamber that directly touches the dry herb, inevitably combusting it on contact. A fun way to smoke with just the push of a button sure, and perhaps a somewhat lower temperature than a butane lighter, but a vaporizer it is not. (It’s not hard to tell the difference. Real vaping will leave behind brown, noticeably less aromatic flower, while combustion will leave you with ash.)
Yet unlike a few years ago, there are now solid, mid-ranged options available. Generally, it seems inadvisable to go below the 100 dollar price point, as many of these devices may not actually vaporize, as discussed above. But in the 120 to 200 dollar price range, there are now some great options available, many of them portable.
Check out the Magic Flight Launch Box, for about 120 dollars. Handcrafted, and made mostly of wood, this is a distinctive choice with something of a cult following. This one takes a little bit of finesse and practice to control the temperature you’re using to vape, accomplished by varying the length and power of each draw and sensing the temperature by the taste and density of the vapor. This is not the most user friendly option, but again, people who love their Magic Flight Launch Box are a dedicated bunch.
The V2 Pro Series 7 vaporizer, which can also vape oils and concentrates, goes for about 130 dollars. This vaporizer uses 3 temperature settings instead of a freely adjustable temperature.
The Matrix Vaporizer, for around 140 dollars, can also have its chamber swapped for one that uses oils and concentrates. The Matrix can vape at any temperature between 300 and 435 degrees.
Finally, Grenco Science’s G Pen Elite offers an elegant design, and heats up more quickly than most vaporizers. The G Pen Elite can be set to any temperature between 200 and 428 degrees, and uses an all-ceramic chamber. Expect to spend about 140, or even slightly more in some places.
The issue of temperature is important – this is where vaping gets really interesting. The temperature you decide to vape at will determine some key features of your experience. You can actually modulate the effects of your cannabis depending on the temperature. At the heart of this phenomenon is the fact that different terpenes and cannabinoids have different boiling points.
In short, higher temperatures will offer a more intense experience, while lower temperatures can offer a more alert, subtle, and functional experience.
Let’s say you vape at 335 degrees – a relatively low, though not super-low, temperature. Compounds with boiling points under 335 degrees include THC itself (at 315), pinene (at 311), caryophyllene (at 320), and myrcene (at 334). Along with the basic effects of THC, you’re getting the relaxation of myrcene, the alert functionality of pinene, and the anti-inflammatory properties of caryophyllene – in addition to a range of other medicinal benefits with each terpene. But you are not activating terpenes and cannabinoids with a higher boiling point.
At a higher temperature of 390 degrees, you’re also getting the stress-relieving and mood-lifting effects of limonene, pain-relieving CBD, sedative CBN, and linalool, a terpene that adds additional anti-anxiety properties to the cannabis experience. This is where you might encounter the couchlock from a strong indica, or the mood-altering properties of an uplifting sativa.
If you go all the way up to 428 degrees, you’re also getting the energetic, vaguely psychedelic, appetite suppressing THCV.
As temperatures increase, you’ll also activate more of the THC itself, contributing to the higher intensity at higher temperatures. Also, higher temperatures are more likely to bring out the differences in indica and sativa strains, since a higher percentage of the strain’s terpenes and other compounds are being activated.
Smoking, for comparison, involves temperatures exponentially higher than those used to vaporize, somewhere around 3,500 degrees if using a butane lighter. Temperatures that high can actually destroy key terpenes and cannabinoids. Even with vaping, combustion can begin at temperatures higher than 390, so consumers conscious of respiratory health may want to stay below this threshold. Preset temperature options can allow you to explore this to an extent, but ideally you may want a vaporizer that lets you try any temperature you want.
As an unexpected bonus, I’ve found dry herb vaping to be much less taxing on my lungs than oil vape pens. I don’t know if this is a fundamental difference between vaping oil and flower, or if it has to do with the ability to use a lower temperature. What I thought was a purchase that would allow me to explore a wider variety of strains and terpenes also turned out to be a good health decision.
The benefits of vaporizing have won over broad portions of the cannabis community in recent years. Though modern vaping didn’t really start until the 1980s, the technique may in fact go back thousands of years, to reports of ancient peoples putting cannabis flower on heated stones, which offered a steady temperature. We’re only now rediscovering what vaping has to offer, as a healthier and more nuanced approach to cannabis consumption. As the cannabis world becomes more terpene conscious, vaping offers a new way to explore these compounds and their flavors. Even for those unconcerned about the health effects of smoking, vaping gives a chance to experiment in new ways with the complex and varied properties of the cannabis plant.