Anyone who has ever hacked up half a lung after smoking a joint or watched half of their flower float away as smoke knows why vaporizers are so popular. Vaporizing dry herb is far more efficient than smoking it, and medical cannabis patients in particular have taken up vaping as a healthier alternative to smoking.
Here we cover everything there is to know about vaporizers, including how vaporizers work, what kinds of vaporizers are out there, how dry herb vaporizers work, vaporizers for dry herb vs concentrates, and more FAQ.
- What is a Vaporizer?
- What is a Vaporizer Used For?
- Types of Vaporizers
- Which Vaporizer is Healthiest?
- Is a Vaporizer Healthier Than Smoking?
- Final Thoughts
What is a Vaporizer?
A vaporizer is an electronic device that heats a substance—such as dry plant matter or concentrate such as an oil made from a plant—into vapor for inhaling. People frequently use vaporizers to consume e-liquids made for them, with or without nicotine, as well as cannabis concentrates, aromatherapy oils, and dry herbs. Each substance has a different vaporization point, so these devices have to achieve a range of temperatures.
A vaporizer is not the same as an e-cigarette. An e-cigarette automatically vaporizes a premixed e-liquid with nicotine, and the contents of these vapes differ. Vaporizers heat using different types of heating chambers or replacement coils, so you should never attempt to vape e-liquids in an herb vaporizer, or consume wax, dry herb, or oils using an e-cigarette.
On the other hand, all vaporizers and e-cigarettes share three basic components:
- Atomizer or heating oven
- Cartridge, chamber, or tank to hold material to be vaporized
Heating methods for vaporizers include convection and conduction.
Conduction vs. Convection
Heating method is important, because each produces a different type of vapor and has its pros and cons.
Most desktop vaporizers on the market today use convection heating, which circulates heat using airflow to generate vapor. Convection blows hot air through herbs with a fan to make the vapor, which takes more space, more time to heat, requires more maintenance, and costs a bit more. On the other hand, the vapor is absolutely reliable and will never, ever burn.
For portable vaporizers, conduction is the most common style. Conduction heating elements use fewer moving parts and cost less, require less space and upkeep, and heat more quickly. The faster heating time also means more smoke-like, intense clouds of vapor. However, it can also mean actually burning too hot and turning vapor into smoke, defeating your entire purpose.
Check out our favorite vaporizers for sale
What is a Vaporizer Used For?
Vaporizers heat your dabs, dry herb, oils, waxes, or other materials to the ideal temperature of choice to convert them into smooth vapor for inhaling. Air vaporizers, also called vaporizer domes, heat water and turn it into vapor to generate humidity. Vape tanks and box mods heat vape juice with nicotine into vapor. Nebulizers do the same thing to herbal oils. All of these devices are technically vaporizers.
However, when most people refer to a vaporizer, they mean a device specifically used instead of smoking—especially in the context of cannabis, cannabinoids like CBD, and things like kratom and other traditional plants. A vaporizer simply heats to extract the herbal ingredients without combusting the whole thing.
How Does a Vaporizer Work?
Vaporizers work by gently heating up the concentrate, dry herb, or other plant matter without burning it. By forgoing the use of a flame and avoiding smoke, users reduce their exposure to toxins and their harmful effects. Inhaling vapor also optimizes the effects of the active ingredients, and allows them to be felt almost immediately, as they are absorbed by the lungs and pass directly into the bloodstream.
Types of Vaporizers
A dry herb vaporizer heats ground cannabis buds rather than burning them, creating a vapor filled with cannabis’s active ingredients, like THC, CBD, and terpenes. Dry herb vaporizers are either portable or desktop.
Portable vaporizer devices have just the three main parts all vaporizers share plus one: a chamber for the material that also contains the oven, a battery, and a mouthpiece.
Desktop vaporizers have those same components, but more, typically, as they tend to offer more options and improved performance compared to portable units. For example, the Volcano Vaporizer by Storz & Bickel also features heat and air controls, a temperature control, and some other unique features—yet it’s still a desktop vaporizer.
Both hand-held and desktop vaporizers use either the convection or conduction heating modes, although some devices use a hybrid system. Speaking of the Volcano Hybrid, it is exactly that kind of heating element, offering the best of both worlds.
Whatever the heating chamber is like, heating elements often use ceramic, quartz, or stainless steel. These materials do not react to heat, so they won’t burn, melt, or otherwise produce anything toxic—at least not at the temperatures these devices reach.
Steel chambers are typically more costly and can feel heavy in hand, but they heat quickly and retain heat well. They are also very resilient and resist breakage. It’s important to avoid products that are not surgical-grade steel, because at high temperatures they can potentially leach harmful contaminants.
All-ceramic ovens are less expensive and weigh less in hand, but they are slower to heat up and can be difficult to clean. On the other hand they retain heat well and stay true to temperature. Ceramic is inherently fragile, but eliminates any concerns about leaching harmful contaminants into the vapor.
Quartz elements both heat up and lose heat quickly. These are typically found in vaporizers designed for concentrates, but not always.
Smaller, portable vapes often have one-touch interfaces that are simple, with less battery capacity to go with that reduced complexity, although some offer pass-through charging. Larger, high-end vaporizers feature wider temperature ranges, LED displays, and more.
Dry Herb Vaporizer Pens
Sometimes called herb vape pens, dry cannabis vaporizer pens are more portable than desktop varieties, but are still a bit larger than the writing pen-like vapes for oils, liquids, or solid extracts. This is mainly due to the dry material they carry, and the need to have ovens lined with heat conducting materials like quartz, ceramic, or stainless steel.
Like any other vaporizer, a dry herb vape pen can either use conduction, convection, or a combination of both to turn plant matter into vapor, and many boast adjustable heat settings. Depending on the individual device, however, preset settings often work well, and factors such as the battery size, mouthpiece, and vapor path are often more important to users. The Arizer Air II, Arizer Solo, Atmos, and Pax 2 are great examples of dry herb vaporizer pens.
Many basic cannabis vaporizers work with both dry herb and extracts such as shatter, crumble, badder, budder, live resin, hash, and others. Some are smaller, pen-style vapes like KandyPens Slim, and others such as the Pax 3 vaporizer keep the 2-in-1 functionality but add more settings, control, Bluetooth connectivity, and style.
Even back in the day when everyone was still just smoking pot out of bongs, it was a sitting around at home kind of thing. For that reason, the more stationary cannabis vaping options are still popular, especially when they offer more flavor, a better experience, or both. Desktop vaporizers give users the customization, vapor quality, and sheer performance a portable vaporizer can’t match.
We’ve already mentioned Storz & Bickel, and the Dr. Dabber is another great example of a desktop vaporizer with lots of great options that can handle both dry herbs and concentrates.
Herb Vaporizer vs Concentrate Vaporizer
So, what’s the difference between an herb vaporizer and a concentrate vaporizer? There are a few main differences.
First, concentrates are like they sound: concentrated. That means they’re more compact than aromatic material, and any device that handles dry material will be larger, compared to portable vape pens that only handle liquid or solid concentrates.
Dry herb vaporizers are entirely integrated, with the battery and heating oven combined with all other elements in a single unit. Concentrate pens are similarly integrated, but smaller, thanks to more compact batteries, less demand for space in the oven, and smaller coil/rod atomizers.
For e-liquid devices it’s more common to see a separate tank and battery set-up. There are also 510 mods for dry herb, as well as 510 tanks and mods for concentrates. More advanced dry herb devices often feature precision LED temperature control, like a larger concentrate vaporizer or e-juice box mod.
Finally, dry herb pens sometimes use screens, but these are not a regular feature for concentrate pens, which are smaller overall and don’t work the same way.
How to Use a Vaporizer
So much of using a vaporizer boils down to personal preference. Still, there are a few things to keep in mind.
It is generally easier to clean dry flower out of a vaporizer than another concentrate. Don’t forget to grind the herb thoroughly before vaping; this is a big issue for most vaporizers, especially smaller dry herb vape pens.
To heat them evenly and get the most from the cannabis, grind it well, and the more teeth the better. We like aluminum, but natural wood also works. Grinders can come in single, double, or triple compartment versions.
Concentrates are known for more intense flavor and potency, but they can feel less convenient and portable, depending on how you use them. They also demand frequent upkeep and cleaning, because cannabis concentrates are sticky and can leave residue inside your vape, on the coil, and on anything else they touch.
Use good quality dab tools to cut down on this issue. Dab tools help you load your concentrates into your vaporizer, and they are typically made in glass, silicone, or metal such as stainless steel or titanium.
E-juice is another option for people who love to use a vaporizer, and it can come in just about any flavor, with or without nicotine. One thing to keep in mind, though, is that your vape juice has to match your vaporizer, and always clean between e-juice uses to avoid “ghost flavors” and aftertaste.
Benefits of Vaporizers
Each type of vaporizer has its own benefits and drawbacks. For example:
Flexibility and Discretion
Portable vaporizer pens give you the chance to bring your cannabis with you, and to use discreetly. This has opened up a whole new world for many of us and the chance to go places we couldn’t go before.
Sociability and Experience
However, many users actually like that modern social version of “pass the pipe” that you get with a desktop vaporizer. They are also more customizable in terms of fan speed, temperature setting, and inhalation method.
Desktop vaporizers sometimes come with whip and/or balloon accessories for enhancing the experience, and some units include multiple whip attachments for you and your buddies. You can get as many balloons as you like, one for each guest if you want.
So in the end, it all comes down to your preference. Do you need to keep a low profile and vape on the go? Or are you more into the experience, alone or with friends? Maybe some of both!
Which Vaporizer is Healthiest?
Again, a lot depends on how individuals use the device. However, one way to vape smarter is to control your heat settings, which better quality devices allow you to do.
Controlling the heat settings might be possible via preset settings or through user-controlled settings. Mid-range vaporizers typically feature preset, one-button settings at between three to five distinct temperatures—usually between 220F and 420F. These preset controls are very easy to use, but some cannabis connoisseurs prefer absolute control to the degree.
More heat produces larger clouds of vapor that are too intense for some vapers. The sweet zone for vaping cannabis is between 350°F and 420°F. Higher than 420°F and the temperature may start the combustion process, creating smoke—and all of the toxins that come with it.
Is a Vaporizer Healthier Than Smoking?
Although neither option is without risk, research suggests that using a vaporizer is healthier than smoking.
Is a Vaporizer Better Than Smoking?
Many find vaping to be a better alternative to smoking for a number of reasons–convenience, discretion, and vapor quality to name a few. You can enjoy dry herb, concentrates, or oils with more stealthiness, and in a faster, hassle-free manner.
These devices give you much more control over factors such as density, flavor, aroma, airflow, and more. Featuring precision temperature control that allows you to zero in on an exact temp that’s ideal for your dry herb strain, these convenient devices give you unprecedented control over how you consume herb and other materials. Whether you enjoy small, flavorful hits, moderate tokes, or long, mild draws, vaporizers give you complete command over your sessions.
The discreet nature of these devices also sets them apart from smoking methods. Whereas smoke hangs in the air, staining white curtains and blowing your cover, these clouds dissipate in seconds and do not leave lingering odors. You can enjoy dry herb in public without drawing attention to your session or upsetting people as cigarettes do. Portable units are pocket-friendly and therefore stealthy, making them a better companion for vaping on-the-go.
Which Vaporizer is Best For Me?
The right vaporizer truly is a matter of personal choice, but there are some important things to consider as you shop:
Where Are You Going To Use Your Vaporizer?
If you work from home, are a student, or just have a lot of freedom in your schedule, you might do most if not all of your vaping at home. If so, a high-end desktop vaporizer can deliver amazing vapor and you don’t have to worry about sacrificing convenience.
The Arizer Extreme Q, the PLENTY, or even the E-Nano Log Vaporizer are all great options if you don’t like the Volcano Hybrid or Dr. Dabber. Or what about the Puffco Peak or Pulsar Rok? And the DaVinci IQ Vaporizer offers such an amazing array of options that you may never want to stop playing with it to leave anyway–from precision control to the super cool light display.
You can always add on a little portable Arizer or Firefly 2 on the side if you’re worried about staying mobile!
What If Features Aren’t As Important As Portability?
On the other hand, if you’re really mostly out of the house, portability is really your first issue. We already mentioned Pax3 and Firefly, and we also like the Mig Vapor Matrix.
We also love the Boundless CFX vape for it’s super fast heat up time and portability.
No matter what kind of vaporizer you’re aiming for, look for at least four points:
- Quality materials, solid build
- Adjustable settings, control over heat
- Battery life
- Good price
We hope this was a useful introduction to vaporizers, and if you’re in the market for one, we’ve got everything you need right here. Obviously, we all use vapes every day, and we know what works. Check out the best vaporizers on the market.