A review of many different types of vaporizers
Vaporizers are gaining in popularity, due to the beliefs that they are a healthier delivery method, and that there is less waste of active smoking material. A 1996 MAPS/NORML test showed that vaporizers were healthier than other delivery systems, with regard to the total cannabinoids tested (CBD, CBN & THC) to tar ratio. However, vaporizers appear to be fairly comparable to a joint, with regard to the THC to tar ratio. For health reasons, it has been proposed that "an ideal vaporizer could minimize production of tars by holding the temperature just above 155° C, the point at which THC vaporizes, which is well below the temperature where carcinogenic hydrocarbons are thought to be produced."
When comparing the actual THC transfer rate (the total amount of THC delivered to the user, when considering possible loss of the active chemical due to slipstream [secondhand] smoke, adhesion to the pipe stem and bowl, and destruction of THC due to incineration), surprisingly, the joint scored higher than the vaporizer. This is likely due to the fact that THC coats the "stem" of the joint as one inhales, and is consumed as the joint burns down. With vaporizers it appears that in most models currently available, a large percentage of the THC vapor clings to the inside of the glass dome. However, these vaporizers do have the benefit that one can clean out their dome with a little alcohol, and soak this cannabinoid-laden alcohol onto some other herb (or rolling papers), to reuse it. Due to this reclamation ability, vaporizers may in the long term be the most economical delivery system.
There are numerous ways to manufacture a vaporizer. People have experimented with different heat sources, and different methods of containing and consuming the vapors. The easiest method of creating a vaporizer at home uses three easily accessible parts: an electric stove or hot plate; a large frying pan; and a glass blender with the top and blades removed. To use, simply place the smoking material in the pan, cover it with the inverted glass blender, and place on the heat until the first sign of vapors appears. Then turn off the heat and inhale through the hole where the blades would go. If you don't have a glass blender, you can use a glass jar. Just tip the jar at a slight angle off of the pan (use a pot-holder, as the glass will be hot) and suck the vapors out through a paper straw. This method can be adapted for use with other smokeables as well. For years, opiate smokers have "chased the dragon," heating small amounts of opium or heroin on tinfoil and then sucking the vapors off as they rise. Other vaporizers have been made with automobile cigarette lighters as the heat source, and various pieces of lab glassware.
Below I discuss one "homemade" vaporizer, and a few commercially produced vaporizers, listing the benefits and drawbacks of each model. A common complaint about many vaporizers is that they don't vaporize all of the plant material - only that which is touching the bowl. For this reason, all of the vaporizers described below will work most efficiently if the dried plant material is reduced to a coarse powder (in a coffee bean grinder or by sifting it through a steel kitchen strainer), and the powder is spread out in a thin layer covering the entire surface area of the bowl (on those units that have bowls). Since Cannabis isn't the only thing smoked out of vaporizers, I will also comment on their utility for vaporizing tryptamines.
The Erlenmeyer Flask Pipe
This "homemade vaporizer" is easy to produce and inexpensive. It is the combination of a two-holed number 4 rubber stopper, two pieces of bent glass tubing, and a 125 ml Pyrex® Erlenmeyer flask. The parts to make this pipe cost $6.50 from a mail-order discount laboratory apparatus and chemical supply company.
To use, the flask is held by the neck near the top, as close to the rubber stopper as possible. When held at this point, the flask won't get too hot to be held comfortably with a bare hand. A good heat source is a Blazer Pocket Micro Torch. These micro torch lighters are preferable, as they don't coat the glass with carbon/soot - allowing one to see what's going on better. However, these lighters produce a very hot flame, which should be moved around (not kept in one place), as it is possible that it could melt the glass. Holding the lighter about an inch from the flask, contact between the flame and the glass is needed for about 5 to 8 seconds, in order to vaporize but not burn the plant material. After this point, the plant material will quickly burn. Due to the very short time span between a successful vaporization, and accidentally burning the material, this pipe may be a bit of a hassle for use with Cannabis. However, it is an excellent pipe for use with tryptamines. It is the easiest to use and most effective that I have seen. It should work equally well with opiates.
Those who want to heat their smokeables to the exact temperature where the active chemical vaporizes, could combine the above-mentioned flask pipe with a lab-grade Corning hot plate. These hot plates have a heating range of 40° to 550° C, accurate to 2° C. Aldrich Chemical Company sells a small 4" x 5" version for $148.00. With the flask pipe described above, and this hot plate, you may well have the healthiest, most effective vaporizer available.
Produced in Canada, the original Vaportron was one of the first available commercially-made units. The design for this pipe was based on a soldering iron heating a brass bowl contained under a glass dome. It had some flaws. People reported that it occasionally got too hot, burning the plant material instead of vaporizing it. As well, a couple people I know had pains in their lungs after using this unit. They believed that these pains may have been caused by fumes from the plastic part of the unit being vaporized and inhaled. I also recently received a complaint via e-mail from someone who said that his Vaportron "stopped heating after very limited use." The company that produced this unit went out-of-business in late 1997, and the name and design rights were purchased by a California-based company. Enter the Vaportron2.
The Vaportron2 has a number of improvements. The heat is now adjustable. The unit is made of a different type of plastic, which doesn't appear to produce any noxious fumes when heated. There is a medical-grade seal between the base and the glass dome, which contains the vapors better. The bowl is larger, but sits lower in the unit, so the glass dome doesn't heat up as fast. Like the original Vaportron, this new model still has an "on" light - a nice feature that reminds you that you've left your machine plugged in.
The adjustable heat knob has settings from 1-10. However, it doesn't relate what the actual temperature of each setting is. It would be very helpful if it did this, as it would give the consumer a good idea of what setting to use depending on what was being vaporized. As well, the first four settings are totally useless. The soldering iron doesn't heat up at all when set on numbers 1-4 (and the light that shows the unit is "on" doesn't light up either). On setting 5, the soldering iron warms to the touch after one minute.
To get an idea of what temperature the bowl was heating to, a candy thermometer was wired to the soldering iron. The thermometer's readings can only be considered approximations. The brass bowl sits only on the tip of the soldering iron, and it probably transmits heat differently than direct contact with the iron does. The unit was tested twice at setting 5 on two different days, and the results were inconsistent. The first test took 6 minutes for the iron to reach 150° C, and 14 minutes for it to reach 200° C. The next day's test took 10 minutes to reach 150° C and after 40 minutes it had reached 185°C and held there. The variation in heating may have been due to different ambient room temperatures, or perhaps the iron just doesn't heat up in a consistent manner.
One would probably receive the maximum health benefits from keeping the unit at the lowest setting - number 5 - as this gives the longest period of time that the pipe bowl is heated to the appropriate temperature (just above 155° C). However, some people might not want to wait this long to use their pipe. Since the iron heats inconsistently, it isn't possible to give precise instructions regarding the optimum amount of time to leave the unit on at any specific setting. Higher settings heat the bowl much more quickly, and can rapidly reach the point where the herb burns. For the sake of speed, health, efficiency, and simplicity, I would suggest setting this unit on 6, waiting until vapors rise, and then turning it off. The bowl should stay within the appropriate temperature range for a few more minutes before it cools down too much to be useful; by this time all of the vapors can be inhaled. Indeed, I would suggest that the best way to use any soldering iron-based vaporizer with Cannabis is to wait until you see vapors rising, and then turning the unit off. This should make sure that the pipe bowl doesn't get too hot, and release unwanted tars or burn the plant material.
The Vaportron2 is fairly inefficient for use with tryptamines, as the large glass dome (1750 ml) allows for way too high an air to vapor ratio and too much condensation. One must virtually double their dose in order to get half of it consumed.
The Vaportron2 is $79.95 from: Vaporware, 4521 Campus Drive, STE. 346, Irvine, CA 92612. (888) 276-7927, (714) 854-8581 (international orders).
The Cloud 10 Vaporizer
Another soldering iron-based unit, the Cloud 10 Vaporizer is similar to the Vaportron2, except that it doesn't have an adjustable temperature knob. However, it has a smaller glass dome (500 ml). This is a good feature, as there is less surface area for vapor condensation. The glass dome is flat on the top (like an upside-down fishbowl). While this is a little less pleasing aesthetically, it is much more practical for setting the dome down when it isn't on the unit (it doesn't roll all over the place). The Cloud 10 Vaporizer also has a light-letting you know that the unit is on. However, this light is placed inside the chamber, and it illuminates the vapors from below, which allows you to see what is going on in your dome a bit better, as well as being visually pleasing. This unit also has an attractive ceramic base, which is probably less likely to put off any toxic vapors than the plastic bases on some units. There are a variety of color and style options for this base, as well as various hand-blown "color changing" glass domes (which, unfortunately, don't have the flat top, and also make it hard to view the vapors). The Cloud 10 Vaporizer converts to an aromatherapy unit, by leaving the dome off and placing a ceramic essential oil holder on top of the bowl. However, the best accessory offered is the carrying case. This is made from cotton or hemp fabric and foam rubber, and it allows for easy transportation of the unit. This vaporizer isn't terribly efficient for smoking tryptamines due to condensation problems and an air/volume ratio that is still too high. But it is much better for use with tryptamines than the Vaportron2.
The Cloud 10 Vaporizer (with a clear dome) is $79.95, colored glass domes range from $35.00 to $59.95, and the carrying cases range from $14.95 to $37.95 from: Cloud 10, POB 62351, Colorado Springs, CO 80962, (800) 260-VAPR, (719) 520-1997, firstname.lastname@example.org, http://www.cloud-10.com.
Hemp BC's Vapourizer
This is the smallest soldering-iron type unit on the market, making it quite portable. Nevertheless, it still has a nice large brass pipe bowl. Its glass "dome" is only 250 ml. This unit doesn't have an adjustable heat knob, nor does it have an "on" light. Hemp BC's Vapourizer is also the least impressive looking. Its "dome" is a octagonal jelly-jar, which screws into a metal jar top on the unit's base. Despite the low-budget look of this unit, it is probably the most efficient pipe of this type for both Cannabis and tryptamines due to its small size. Hemp BC's Vapourizer is $54.96 postpaid from (800) 330-HEMP.
The Mystifyer looks like something created by a high-school stoner in shop class. Unlike the previous described models, The Mystifyer does not use a soldering iron for its heat source, it uses a Milwaukee heat-gun. The gun is strapped to a wooden dowel that attaches to the unit's base, and the heating element inserts into a large glass "bowl" that is stuck inside the cork lid of a big glass candy jar. The bowl has a large, but typical, pipe screen that the herbs sit on. This pipe would not work for tryptamines or anything that might melt-then-vaporize, as the liquid would run through the screen.
One could store any innocuous herb in the glass candy jar, and over time it would become coated with the vapor residue from the active ingredient of some not-so-innocuous herb. But, aside from this benefit, the large jar is a big drawback. There is a huge amount of surface area for the vapor to condense on. And while the heat gun has a number of settings, it's much harder to figure out the correct setting, and much easier to burn the herb, than with the soldering-iron-based units.
The biggest drawback of this unit is that the heat-gun has a fan which blows the heat through the herb. The air being blown through this unit is pretty damn hot-definitely not the most comfortable thing to inhale. Even worse, unless you are continuously sucking off of the draw pipe while the gun is on, you will blast most of your vapors right out of the pipe! No one could possibly continuously suck from this unit. You can block the draw pipe for a short period of time, but if you block it for too long (as we did), you will notice smoke backing out of the top of the heat gun, along with the unsettling odor of overheating electrical wires. This design flaw makes the unit almost completely useless.
But not quite. The large size of the bowl makes it perfect for vaporizing less-desirable materials, such as fan leaves. These could even be vaporized fresh - though one would be inhaling a bit of steam if used in this manner. As well, people have reported success using heat gun-based vaporizers with Salvia divinorum. Normally with Salvia divinorum one needs to consume as much smoke as possible in the first couple of lungfuls. This unit's bowl can hold over three grams of plant material - allowing it to quickly generate large quantities of smoke. However, the smoke from this much plant material is quite dense, and may cause immediate coughing.
The Mystifyer is $150.00 plus $8.00 S/H (USA), $17.00 (foreign) from: Golden Enterprises Unlimited, POB 10504, Eugene, OR 97440, (888) MYSTIFY.
The Flash Evaporator
This pipe's design is unique and attractive. It has three electrodes contained in a brass and mahogany base, which plugs into the wall via an AC adaptor. The part of the pipe that heats up is a metal piece, embedded in a wooden tube. This tube is placed onto the base, and rotated so that the electrodes make contact at the correct spots on the tube. When contact is made, a light comes on in the base. The tube needs to be left "on" for at least 15 minutes to heat up enough. A small amount of crushed herb is placed lightly into the brass "bowl" of the "pipestem" part of this unit. The tube is removed from the base, held horizontally, and the pipestem is inserted into the metal piece inside the tube. One immediately inhales slowly, and then removes the pipestem from the tube. The tube is placed back on the base to heat up again, and the pipestem's bowl is cleaned out with the aid of a brasspick. This "one hit" device works by drawing hot air over the dried and powdered herb, vaporizing the active ingredients without burning the plant material. The drawback of this unit is that it is a bit of a hassle to clean and reload the bowl after each single hit. However, this unit is very effective. By the time you've got the second bowl ready to go, you will probably realize that you don't need it (heh). Because of the small amount of plant material used with each "hit" and the fact that there is no loss at all from condensation or slipstream smoke, the Flash Evaporator may well be the healthiest, most cost-effective vaporizer currently on the market. But it won't work with tryptamines.
The Flash Evaporator is $159.00 plus $12.00 S/H (Maryland residents add 5% sales tax), and is shipped by UPS (which won't ship to P.O. Boxes) from: Green Metals, POB 113, Kensington, MD 20895, email@example.com,
Are Vaporizers Legal?
As far as I know, no one has been busted yet for selling vaporizers. The approach most companies take is that their vaporizers are sold for tobacco or legal herb use only. Some companies emphasize the variety of medicinal herbs that can be used in their pipes, such as coltsfoot, mullein and elecampane. Or, they push the fact that these devices can be used in aromatherapy or as incense burners. Nevertheless, it is quite clear that should the feds wish to pursue the matter these devices would fall under the federal Mail Order Drug Paraphernalia Control Act. Since all of the vaporizers described in this article are sold via mail order, I can only assume that the feds have bigger fish to fry. As well, mere possession of a vaporizer may be illegal, depending on your state or local paraphernalia laws.
My Dream Vaporizer?
Just in case there are any design-oriented entrepreneurs reading this, I figure that I might as well list the features that I'd like to see in the next vaporizer to hit the market. Of course, it would be electric. It would have a small, sturdy glass chamber no bigger than 200 ml in volume. It would have a large bowl, with an adjustable temperature knob that gave accurate readings of the bowl's temperature. It would have a light in the chamber that let you know that the unit was on while illuminating your vapors. It would automatically shut off after being left on for over 40 minutes - just in case you got too whacked to notice that you had left it on. It should come with an attractive carrying case. Make it battery-powered, and you'll conquer the market.
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Boire, R.G. 1998. Personal communication.
Doblin, R. 1998. Personal communication.
Gieringer, D. 1996. "Waterpipe Study," MAPS Journal, Vol. VI, No. 3, (pp59-63).
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Hanna, J. 1997. Psychedelic Resource List, No. 8 and No. 9.
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Lunglife, Dr. 1996. "How to Make and Use a Lung-Protecting Vaporizer: A Safer Alternative to Smoking."
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Tags : psychedelic
Rating : Teen - Drugs
Posted on: 2002-07-03 00:00:00