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Cannabis,  Natural Health

Vaporizing Cannabis: Science, Safety, Quality & Technology

It is no secret that we grow our own cannabis here. We even help teach you all how to grow your own, if you legally can! Likewise, it is no secret that we have fairly high standards for the quality and safety of what we ingest or use on this homestead – be it food, cannabis, garden or personal care products, and more. Quality control is one of the key drivers behind our desire to grow our own organic food and cannabis, after all! So, why stop there? Of course we extend that same level of conscientious concern to how we consume our cannabis. 

When we began growing our own ganja (and therefore using it more frequently) I knew I wanted to move away from smoking it, to find a better way to protect our lungs. Little did I know then, it turns out there are many other significant benefits to vaporizing cannabis over smoking! It is not only far safer, but also more efficient, effective, and damn tasty too!


So let’s talk vaping.


Read along to learn the basic science and safety behind vaporizing cannabis, benefits over smoking, and a discussion about whole flower versus concentrate use. You’ll see why we choose to use a vaporizer as our primary delivery method for THC, CBD, and other cannabinoids – but not just any vaporizer! As we do with all things, a great deal of research went to the available products on the market before we bought one.

Ultimately, the Firefly vaporizer was the clear winner, and I will explain why below. We’ve been using it for years and couldn’t be happier! Of course, you are entitled to your own research and opinions. I’m simply sharing what we have learned and experienced, first hand.


A woman in a blue dress with floral print stands amongst three cannabis plants on a back patio. Her back is facing the camera and she is looking upwards towards her left at one of the pants. The plants are flowering and they are all a few feet taller than the woman. Each plant is in a 25 gallon fabric grow bag and they are sitting on homemade plant dollies. The sun is shining in from the background, casting a warm and golden glow amongst the plants and trees in the background.


Disclaimers:

For the record, I am not here to valiantly promote the consumption of cannabis. It’s not for everyone. But for some people, it is their answer for pain, discomfort, stress, nausea, sleep troubles, tremors, and more. My interest is to share information for those who do choose to use it, hopefully in the most safe and therapeutic way possible. 

Given the spotty legal status of cannabis in the United States, the research surrounding it is fairly spotty too. We are lacking studies on the potential negative long-term health impacts of regular cannabis consumption, with even less so about vaporizing cannabis. On the other hand, the dozens of proven medicinal and therapeutic benefits of cannabis for certain inflictions are undeniable. Thus, individuals will continue to use cannabis in the meantime. Despite the lack of long-term studies, there is a lot of useful information out there to help us make educated decisions about our personal use of cannabis – which is what we’re exploring in this article.


What Are You Vaping?


Before we continue, let’s clear the air on a significant point: Vaporizing cannabis is far, far different than “vaping” chemical-laden e-cigarette products. Like regular cigarettes, the “vape juice” will probably kill you. But you all knew that already, right? I actually really dislike the term “vaping” in general, because it has so many negative associations with e-cigarette use.

What we are talking about today is vaporizing pure and clean cannabis flowers. The safest you can get is organic homegrown, or from a trusted source or friend using the same practices! I am a bit leery of commercially-grown cannabis products, since their treatment and purity is less known. However, I fully realize that not everyone will be able to grow their own. Do a little research and see if your state has any type of “organic certification” for cannabis. More are popping up every year. Talk to the folks at your dispensary about the growing practices from their suppliers. It is okay to ask questions! Additionally, medical-grade cannabis is subject to more rigorous testing for contaminants and quality than other cannabis products. 

If you want to learn to grow your own organic cannabis at home, be sure to check out our easy-to-follow guide!


A hand is holding a manicured cannabis flower by the stem, the flower is a mix of orange pistils and darker green. A nice flower to use in the Firefly vaporizer. The background has various larger houseplants, an alocasia (elephant ear) and fiddle leaf fig. The light is coming in from the left of the image.
This is the good stuff. 100% organic homegrown. We know how this was treated, “bean to bowl”.



Whole Flower Cannabis Versus Concentrates

If we didn’t grow our own, I would personally still choose flower (buds) over concentrates or oils. Just like whole foods compared to processed foods, the cannabis flowers are the least modified and as close to natural as possible. Not to mention the enhanced therapeutic results that occur when using cannabis as a whole plant, known as the entourage effect.

One of the biggest concerns with concentrates is the fact that in addition to extracting the desirable cannabinoids, all the substances within the cannabis become concentrated! That means that if there is a trace residual of impurity on the flowers – be it pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, fungicides, heavy metals, or even mold – those things will also become concentrated.

Cannabis vape products often include synthetic additives, or they end up with toxic solvent residuals from the extraction process. The industry (and most growers) may have good intentions with quality and testing, and there are certainly some clean extracts out there, but studies have shown that some nasty stuff can still slip through the cracks and wind up in products! Especially in mass-produced goods. 


I realize that this may not be a popular opinion, especially for fans of concentrates. But the fact of the matter is…


Illnesses Related to Vaporizing Cannabis

All of the reported acute lung disease cases, hospitalizations, or even deaths associated with vaporizing cannabis are tied to concentrates, NOT whole flower. To reiterate, medical grade products are going to be the safest best – be it flower or concentrates. The scariest stuff out there is the colorful, flavored items or those oddball over-the-counter CBD products you can find at the corner store. 

Some of the ingredient lists for cannabis vaping products are terrifying. Some may not have an honest ingredient list at all! Furthermore, even if the ingredients listed seem innocuous enough, that doesn’t mean they are good for you to inhale!

This current Washington Post article exposes a prime example. It explains that a recent series of mysterious lung disease cases across the United States is linked to contamination found in cannabis extract vaping products. Specifically, the products were adulterated with Vitamin E acetate, an oil derived from the otherwise very healthy-sounding Vitamin E. It happens to be toxic when inhaled, and is not an approved cannabis product additive.  


Two packs of THC cartridges sit in the middle of the image, they are both very bright in color and are named after candy. One is Sour Patch and the other flavor is Runtz, these have been found to be contaminated and causing people illness or even death.
Some of the products founds recently found to be contaminated with Vitamin E acetate in testing done by New York state health officials. Photo courtesy of HuffPost


While all of this may sound a bit alarming, rest assured that vaporizing cannabis (flowers) is still far safer than inhaling smoke!


Combustion Versus Vaporizing


Health


What is vaporizing, exactly? 

Vaporizing is the process of heating a substance, such as tobacco or cannabis, without actually igniting it. The substance is heated at a much lower temperature – one that still activates and releases the desired cannabinoids from the plant material in the form of vapor – but otherwise avoids the harmful byproducts of combustion. Sounds ideal, right?

When cannabis is smoked in a traditional manner, burned and combusted, the user is exposed to a myriad of harmful byproducts and undesirable impacts. While there have not been any conclusive scientific studies linking cannabis smoke inhalation to lung cancer, there is plenty of evidence showing that the inhalation of smoke (of any kind) is a lung irritant. Smoke inhalation can lead to a sore throat along with symptoms of bronchitis, including coughing, wheezing, and chest tightness. It may also exacerbate asthma symptoms. Clinical trials show that when cannabis users switch from smoking to vaporizing, they report a significant decrease – if not complete elimination – of these negative symptoms. 

Furthermore, the burning of a material leads to the creation of tar and pyrolytic compounds, some of which are known toxic and cancer-causing substances. Also, when a lighter is used to ignite cannabis, butane is inhaled. Butane inhalation may cause headaches, dizziness, coughing, shortness of breath, and other nasty implications. In high doses, butane is a neurotoxin.


Research shows that vaporizing cannabis eliminates the nasty byproducts of combustion:


“One of the first vaporizer experiments compared the emissions from multiple samples of vaporized or combusted research-grade whole cannabis. The vapor formed from vaporized cannabis is composed overwhelmingly of cannabinoids, with no significant pyrolytic compounds. Analysis of the smoke produced through the burned cannabis method, however, resulted in a much lower ratio of cannabinoids, with 111 other total detectable compounds. Five of these are byproducts of combustion, including known polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons, organic pollutants with known toxic and carcinogenic effects. The findings suggest that vaporization reduces the delivery of toxic byproducts associated with the use of smoked cannabis.”

Mallory Loflin, MA and Mitch Earleywine, PhD ~ Canadian Journal of Respiratory Therapy


Smoking isn’t good for you. Got it. But within the quote above, do you see that note about how vaporized cannabis contains pretty much only cannabinoids? That leads us to our next point: how vaporizing maximizes efficiency of your bud. 


Efficiency

I will be blunt here: vaporizing cannabis gets you more stoned. It’s true. Research trials show that the same dose and concentration of cannabis results in stronger mental and physical effects when vaporized over smoking. Vaporizing delivers a larger, more efficient concentration of THC and CBD to the bloodstream.

That’s not to say the goal is to “get more ripped” though! Especially if you aren’t accustomed to using a vaporizer, go easy on it. Practice good judgement. The implied benefit is that a little weed will go further, decreasing the amount required to achieve the same results. This can be a significant benefit for those with limited access and supply.


Flavor

Have you noticed that when you “smoke weed”, most of it tastes more or less the same? Sure, there are subtle differences, or some may burn more smoothly than others, but overall… it tastes like pot. Once you experience consuming quality cannabis with a vaporizer, it is very difficult to go back to lighting up! The complex flavor profile that you’re able to recognize and experience is simply divine. The taste is unbeatable. There is no burnt taste to mask the natural, beautiful, unique flavors of the plant!

While it is noteworthy, the flavor-factor is not the only benefit here. In addition to activating and releasing sought-after cannabinoids like THC and CBD, vaporizing cannabis at a lower heat also has the potential to unlock dozens (if not hundreds) of terpenes. That amazing flavor profile you’re experiencing are the terpenes – but they do much more than just taste good!


A close up image of a growing cannabis flower through the scope of a jewelers loupe, there are some white pistils as well as orange pistils, the trichomes appear to be mostly clear, showing that the flower is not ready for harvest.
A close look at trichomes, the tiny-but-mighty cannabinoid and terpene factories of cannabis plants.


What are Terpenes, and why do they matter?

Terpenes are aromatic oils that are secreted in the same glands that produce THC and CBD. There are thought to be over 125 different terpenes. Terpenes enhance cannabis varieties with distinctive flavors like citrus, berry, mint, and pine, but they do much more than add aroma! Recently, there has been an increased interest, research effort, and thus resulting understanding of the role that terpenes play in cannabis. Namely, how they interact with other cannabinoids and influence the consumer’s experience. 


“Each individual terpene is associated with unique effects. Some promote relaxation and stress-relief, while others promote focus and acuity. Linalool, for example, is believed to be relaxing whereas limonene elevates mood. The effect profile of any given terpene may change in the presence of other compounds in a phenomenon known as the entourage effect. Most importantly, terpenes may offer additional medical value as they mediate our body’s interaction with therapeutic cannabinoids like CBD and THC.”

Bailey Rahn ~ Leafly


You know how various essential oils are marketed to have either uplifting or relaxing effects, such as lavender for sleep and citrus for energy? Essential oils also contain terpenes. It is a similar concept.


A chart is depicted with the common cannabis terpenes, they are A-pinene, linalool, carophyllene, myrcene, and limonene. The aromas and flavors range from pine, lavender, black pepper, hops, and citrus. While each has there own medicinal, from sleep aid, anti-anxiety, to anti-depressant.
Common cannabis terpenes, their flavor, and medicinal effects. Photo courtesy of Alchimia



So… what is the point here?

I think we can all agree that terpenes are an intriguing and important part of cannabis. But how do we take full advantage of them? Well, it is all about the kind of vaporizer you choose, and temperature control. 


Choosing & Using A Vaporizer


When it comes to choosing a vaporizer to use, there are dozens of options out there! Some are designed for concentrates and oils only, others for dry flower, and some accommodate both. Portability ranges from small, sleek pens and mid-size portable vapes, all the way up to larger table top versions – made to stay at home.

Another thing to consider is the design of the device itself, including the type and quality of materials it is made out of. Furthermore, various vaporizers offer different types of heating technology, settings, and options. If you read on, you’ll see that not all vapes are created equal!


Vaporizer Heating Technology

Most vaporizers fall into one of two kinds of heating technology: conduction, or convection.  Conduction heating is the most common method for most portable vaporizers on the market. It works by electrically heating a surface that the herb is in direct contact with, such as a solid piece of metal or screen. The temperature is very difficult to regulate using conduction, and oftentimes leads to burning and uneven heating of the herb. 

On the other hand, convection heating works by passing precisely heated air over and through the herb. The cannabis isn’t in contact with the heating element. Most experienced cannabis users prefer convection heating, as it is most efficient and makes for the best vaporizing experience. 


Vaporizing Temperatures

Experts say that 338°F is the “sweet spot” for vaporizing cannabis, where the majority of cannabinoids are turned to vapor to comfortably inhale. Basic, inexpensive vaporizers don’t have much in the way of precise temperature control. Most simply heat the cannabis to the point it produces vapor – or beyond! Nicer vaporizers do have temperature settings. You can select an exact heating level, such as 350°F for example. 

So if you heat your cannabis to around 338 degrees, you will be drawing in a lot of cannabinoids. Sounds great, right? Well… it isn’t quite that simple. You know all those terpenes we were talking about before? It turns out that they all have unique boiling points. You remember what a boiling point is from science class, right? Yes? No? Maybe so… Depends on how much pot you were smoking back then? You’re right – bad joke.


Boiling Point & Terpenes

The boiling point is the temperature at which a substance transforms from a liquid state into vapor. Some terpenes and cannabinoids have a boiling point as low as 120°F, while some need up to 400 degrees! On the other end of the spectrum, did you know that a joint can burn at 2000 degrees or more? That’s crazy. No wonder everything tastes so burnt. Because it is!

When you ignite cannabis, you are releasing all the cannabinoids at once. In doing so, it  destroys or completely bypasses some desirable cannabinoids and terpenes altogether. Also, when making cannabis extracts (like “dabs”), it is very difficult to retain the volatile terpene compounds within the finished product.


A chart in the shape of a pie with six different terpenes in the center, it organizes which terpenes boil at different temperatures, flavor, aroma effects, medicinal benefits, other plants that have similar terpenes and finally which strain of cannabis is associated with each terpene.
Terpene infographic courtesy of Leafly

Similar to lighting up a joint, by setting your vaporizer at one higher temperature, you blast right past some of the ideal release points for terpenes and cannabinoids with lower temperature thresholds. So much so, that pro vaporizer websites suggest you to set your vaporizer on a lower setting when you first hit your bowl, manually increase the temperature little by little as you go, and finally finish off your product around 350 to 400 degrees. I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a pain in the ass to me.


But what is the solution?


Dynamic Temperature Control

Rather than tinkering around with temperature settings to get the most out our cannabis, one vaporizer manufacturer has done the work for us! The Firefly is the only vape on the market that uses a dynamic convection heating technology. Once the light turns green and you inhale, the cannabis goes through an entire range of ideal temperatures – all in one draw. This provides you with the most diverse hit of cannabinoids and terpenes, and the most effective, efficient, use of your cannabis.

In addition to providing a dynamic temperature range, the Firefly 2+ also heats on demand – in only 3 seconds. This is another unique feature of this vaporizer, and makes it incredibly quick and easy to take a hit here or there as you desire. In contrast, many other popular vaporizers like the Pax 3 (a conduction vape) take more time to heat up, and then stay hot. That means you need to consume your cannabis in more of a “session” – burning through that bowl in one sitting. For us, that style just isn’t very appealing.

For a comparison of the Pax 3 and Firefly 2, the two most popular vapes on the market, see this article. Yet please note this was comparing the older Firefly 2, not the recent 2+ model. Therefore, the notes for draw resistance, heat time, and cost are outdated – and now improved!


Vaporizer Design

When you draw on your vaporizer, what else might you be inhaling? As a toxin-phobe here, I am extremely leery of the materials that products are made from – especially those that are heated, and then sucked on! Years ago, when we first started our quest to choosing a vaporizer, this question was in the forefront of my mind. What I discovered is that many inexpensive vaporizers utilize (surprise surprise)… inexpensive materials and heating elements.

Some vaporizers are constructed with tiny heating coils inside, which introduce a risk of leaching and inhalation of heavy metals. Scientists have studied these coils, and say the metal coils may contaminate the resulting vapor with lead, chromium, manganese and nickel above safe limits for consumption.

Once again, the Firefly was the solution to my concern. It is the only vaporizer on the market that has an all-glass vapor path, from bowl to mouthpiece. Yes, even the slightly metallic-looking bowl is glass. More specifically, borosilicate glass – a highly safe and heat-resistant glass used in cookware and laboratory glass items. As of now, the Firefly is literally the safest option out there. 


A diagram showing the working parts of the Firefly vaporizer, including all glass vapor path, borosilicate glass bowl, magnesium alloy chassis, fresh air intake, touch sensors, and removable mouth piece.


The Future of Vaporizer Technology

As technology evolves, there is always that looming concern for “the next best thing”, obsolescence, and waste. I don’t feel that way about our Firefly. During our years using the Firefly 2, we experienced zero issues or malfunctions, though I did have a couple of qualms. Namely, it took a great deal of effort and lung capacity to get a good draw from. Apparently their engineers designed it this way to maximize efficient use of the herb, but it frustrated their users – and the company listened! 

The Firefly 2+ * just hit the market, complete with 33% more airflow and $50 cheaper. The best part of this story is yet to come: Instead of needing to buy a whole new device and toss the old one, they offered upgrades for the older devices! You can send in the Firefly 2 and have its hardware and parts transformed into a Firefly 2+. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate and respect this! It is such a refreshing change from something like cell phone companies and their “designed obsolescence” – essentially forcing people to get new ones every 2 to 3 years. Yet most people don’t even bat an eye at this, dropping nearly $1000 every few years for something that isn’t even contributing to our health. 


*If you do choose to invest in a Firefly, shopping through the links I provide in this article will help support this site by giving us a small commission, at no extra cost to you. Thank you in advance!


A hand is holding the Firefly 2+ vaporizer cantered in the image, the light is green, showing that the vaporizer is ready to use for inhalation. In the background is a front yard lined with gravel pathways, stone pavers, perennial plants of all types, raised garden beds with indistinguishable vegetable annuals. The color range from green to purple to red, pink, yellow, and orange.
Cheers to all that.


In Closing


As you can see, there is a lot to consider when it comes to cannabis consumption and safety. Maybe even more than you imagined!  The key takeaways here are:

  • Know your source
  • Go as natural as possible
  • Ask questions
  • Think critically
  • Invest in your health


After reading all of this, you might be surprised to learn that no… this post is NOT sponsored by Firefly. I am simply a happy customer, with a huge amount of respect for a company that has such high standards. They check all the boxes in terms of quality, safety, efficiency, and customer service. Also, I care about you as my readers! Many of you I consider friends. I don’t want you sucking on toxic crap.


I realize I didn’t touch on another popular form of consumption: Edibles. See how to prepare and activate (decarboxylate) raw cannabis to use in oils, edibles, and topical salves here. Once it is decarbed, you can use your homegrown cannabis to make cannabis-infused oil or this awesome healing topical salve. Also, please enjoy these related articles that you may find interesting:



Thank you for reading! I hope you learned something new, and feel more informed and empowered in your cannabis journey. Please feel free to ask questions, leave a comment, and share this article! 



DeannaCat signature, keep on growing

37 Comments

  • Nikki

    Thank you for this. I haven’t done my research in a while and I’m embarrassed to say that a while back I bought another convection brand trying to save money. I wasn’t happy with it as it is easy to overheat and burn my flower which defeats the purpose ( and it was still $185 ) I got frustrated and bought a dab kit ..I HATE it, so I tried carts…needless to say I took about 4 hits and didn’t like it. I have now spent more than double the cost of the Firefly 🤦🏻‍♀️ and that doesn’t include the cart or waxes I bought along the way. This is quality information and I will be purchasing the Firefly 2+ You rock babe 🤘🏼

  • Charlie

    Thanks for the info. Your thoughts on terps and entourages really make me want to try a vaporizer.

    Here’s a remedial question about that: does it work better if you grind the flowers first?

    • DeannaCat

      Hi Charlie! Thanks for tuning in. I believe Firefly recommends grinding, we usually just tear up a bud into a few smaller bits by hand – nothing super fine or tedious, and it works quite well! Also stirring or flipping the bowl after a few draws helps get the most out of it. Good question! We hope you enjoy it.

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