It seems like everyone and their mother has a vape pen these days, and understandably so! The discretion, the convenience, the potency, I could go on… and while I do love vape pens for all these reasons, something I don’t hear nearly enough people talking about is vaping flower. If vape cartridges are the choice of the casual user, I submit that all seasoned stoners should give vaping flower a try. Most of us are familiar with the iconic Volcano tabletop vaporizer, but in recent years the industry has exploded, with handheld devices fitting almost every need/price range. While you can essentially spend however much you want to on a vaporizer, there are fantastic options for as little as $50, and I’d argue any investment in a vaporizer is a great one. I’ll be referring to these devices as “Dry Herb Vapes” (the term that the internet has adopted) for the rest of the write up.
While I certainly don’t begrudge anyone who prefers smoking their flower, I’ve been lucky enough to experiment with many different dry herb vapes for nearly my entire cannabis career. While the technology is constantly changing and evolving, there are 3 main types of dry herb vapes; convection based, conduction based, and butane based. No matter which type of device you use, the purpose of vaping flower is to heat it to a temperature at which the active ingredients (namely THC) are released into vapor which can be inhaled. The vapor produced by these devices is generally less harsh than smoke from a joint/pipe/etc., while still providing the high you’re after (though some people claim the high from vaping doesn’t last as long). This alone is the main benefit most people see in dry herb vapes, the same high without inhaling smoke (there is a chance that the flower could combust in a dry herb vape, but it’s not very likely!).
Now that you get the general gist of vaping vs. smoking, let’s get into the different types of dry herb vapes! Conduction based devices are most people’s entry point, as they are usually the least expensive. These devices put the flower in the chamber in direct contact with a heated surface, which absolutely does the job, but can present a couple issues. Since the heating element makes direct contact with what’s in the chamber, it can result in uneven heating, and devices like this can usually benefit from stirring the flower part way through the session. This type of device is also more likely to cause combustion than a convection device (on account of the direct heat), but this can be avoided with careful temperature selection as well as stirring the bowl.
Convection based devices are usually more expensive, and there’s a good reason for that. Much like a convection oven (or air fryer), these devices pass hot air through the chamber in order to heat the flower (therefore heating much more evenly than conduction tends to). Stirring the chamber of a convection device isn’t a bad idea, but not necessary, and the risk of combustion is much lower. These devices tend to also be on the larger side (to accommodate the more complex mechanisms), but most people with experience using both will tell you that convection wins nearly every time.
Some of the best devices use a hybrid convection/conduction system to get the best of both worlds. Conduction generally offers a much faster heat up time, while convection ensures the even ‘cooking’ of your flower. Hybrid devices are generally seen as the best of the best, but whatever device suits your price range is therefore the perfect device for you!
While convection and conduction vapes are generally pretty hands off (Load it, turn it on, and puff away) there is a subset of dry herb devices that require a bit more finesse; butane based devices. Butane based devices are by far the dark horse of dry herb vapes. They rely on the user to heat (but very carefully NOT combust) the flower in the chamber. This is usually accomplished by heating (typically with a small torch) a closed chamber, or holding the flame far away from the flower itself. These devices typically require a lot of trial and error to get the best results. If you use a butane device, you will burn the flower once or twice, and that’s okay! The time spent honing the technique is worth it considering the amazing clouds these devices can produce.
While all 3 types of dry herb vapes have their pros and cons, the important part is that you’re vaping, not smoking. Again, more power to those who prefer to smoke, but science seems to suggest that vaping flower is generally less harmful to one’s lungs than smoking (although there is hardly any information about the long term effects of vaping, take this with a grain of salt, I’m not a doctor, etc). While I can’t recommend enough that you give dry herb vapes a try for this reason alone, the main draw to such devices for me is/was efficiency. In my experience (and that of many others), you can achieve a similar high from a much smaller amount. For example, I can split a single 1g joint Into ~4 sessions with my vaporizer, and therefore make the flower last longer. Now don’t get me wrong, I love passing a joint around with some friends every once in a while, but the high I get from such an insignificant amount of flower has me hooked for life.