What is a vaporizer?
A vaporizer is a device that heats up dried herbs to a temperature at which they release their active components into an aromatic vapor. In this process the herb is not scorched, burned or combusted, and thus no smoke is generated. Although vapor may appear to resemble smoke, it doesn't contain any of the toxic particles (tar, benzene, toluene, naftalene etc.) which make smoking such a health hazard.
So what exactly does this vapor contain?
Aromatherapy and phyto-inhalation
Plants and trees contain numerous volatile oils, most of which we perceive as pleasing aromas. When we walk through a forest and notice the smell of pine, we are smelling the etheric oils given off by these trees. Or when we walk past a field of lavender, it is the etheric oils in the flowers that enter our nostrils. Many of these oils are not simply pleasing to our senses, but have a measurable effect on our health and well-being as well. Lavender oil, for example, calms the nerves, improves sleep, and was used in Greece, Rome and Persia to disinfect sick rooms.
Throughout history and all around the world the essential oils of eucalyptus, rosemary, chamomile, jasmine, cannabis, lemon balm, rose, sage and thyme have been used in perfumes and incense mixtures for their beneficial effects on the body and mind.
A vaporizer is a device which is used to free the active components of medicinal or recreational herbs so they can be inhaled for immediate effects. Vaporizing is a cleaner, healthier and more efficient alternative to smoking and incensing.
What is the difference between smoke and vapor?
Burning incense involves carbonization while smoking involves the combustion of plant material. In both cases the smoke contains enormous amounts of toxic byproducts such as solid particles (tar) and gasses like nitric oxide. These byproducts irritate the mouth, throat and lungs, and give off noxious odors. Moreover, the high and uncontrolled combustion temperature destroys a large percentage of the active ingredients so one needs more of the plant material to obtain a similar effect.
A vaporizer directs a flow of hot air through the plant material so the active components melt and create an aromatic vapor. Ideally this vapor doesn't contain any tars or unwanted gasses. The vapor can be filtered and cooled down with water or ice before it's inhaled, or blown into a portable plastic balloon. After vaporization one is not left with ashes, but the solid remains of the herb, devoid of its original color and aroma. This is why cleaning a vaporizer is so easy: for most vaporizers it doesn't take more effort than turning its filling chamber upside down over a dust bin.
The above-mentioned process of directing hot air through plant material is called convection. Some vaporizers heat up the herb through conduction, which means the herbs are placed on a metal plate which is then heated. But direct contact with the hot metal can scorch the herbs. That is why this is not a preferred method, and is rarely employed in modern vaporizers.
Most quality vaporizers are relatively large and need a source of electricity, which makes them impractical for outdoor use. For such purposes small glass vaporizers can be very useful. A torch lighter is used to heat the air around the herb, which then gives off its aromatic vapor. This vapor isn't necessarily of less quality than that given off by the electronic vaporizers. Glass vaporizers are generally more fragile though, and cleaning or refilling may require a little more effort. There are also electronic vaporizers which have a battery pack, and as mentioned before others fill balloons that can be taken anywhere (as long as they are emptied within approximately 15 minutes).
The history of the vaporizer in a nutshell
The vaporizing of medicinal plants has been going on for centuries, but only in recent years this method has been applied to the use of cannabis.
In 1993 Cherokee medicine man Eagle Bill was introduced to vaporizing by a Californian cannabis grower. The method consisted of using a heat gun to vaporize the THC.
Since this time Eagle Bill has modified this simple idea to become what is known as "Eagle Bill's peace pipe of the future". To make vaporization more easily available to everyone, he came up with the Shake & Vape. The design of this pipe is based on the ancient Egyptian custom of heating stones in order to vaporize herbs.
In 1994 a company in Canada developed the first electric vaporizer prototypes. In 1995, an article about their BC vaporizer has been published in the Vancouver Times ("It heats up to the point where it doesn't smoke but vaporizes the THC; it re-condenses in your lungs").
In 1996 the BC vaporizer was tested by MAPS and NORML's "Marijuana water-pipe and Vaporizer Study."
When the Dutch cannabis enthusiast Evert heard about vaporization (in 1995) he started developing his own vaporizer, De Verdamper, which has gone through many changes since then and is now considered to be one of the best vaporizers around.
In Germany in 1996, Markus Storz began with the development of vaporizers and filed a patent for the removable valve balloon of the "Volcano inhaler" in January 1998, followed by the patent filed in August 2000 for his invention of the heating block as a heat exchanger for "hot air extraction inhalers". In the same year, the company "Vapormed Inhalatoren" was founded and the production and sale of the Volcano vaporizer began.
In 2006 researchers of the University of Leiden tested the high-tech Volcano vaporizer, containing pure THC preparations. Both this and the MAPS/NORML study mentioned earlier had very encouraging results, which you can read about on our medical applications page.
In 2008 the Irish company Oglesby & Butler introduced a cordless vaporizer that is about the size of a smartphone. The iolite was the first portable vaporizer that features a built in piezo ignition and butane reservoir. A built-in thermostat keeps the temperature at around 374° F / 190° C.
A few years later, the Magic Flight Launch Box entered the portable vaporizer market. This tiny wooden box utilizes a combination of infrared and conduction heating by using a single AA battery as its power source. Its quick heat-up time (capable of heating up to 380° within seconds) along with the compact dimensions make it one of today's most popular and praised portable vaporizers.