As the legal cannabis landscape continues to grow and change, the debate also continues over which method is best for consuming marijuana.
It’s been nearly 20 years since the world was introduced to modern-day e-cigarettes or what we now know as vape pens. Some historians have traced these tiny devices back to the 1930s when someone filed a patent to build a vape pen, but all anyone ever saw of it was a prototype.
Fast forward to 2006, when modern-day vape pens arrived in North America, but it would be another decade or more before they would become commonplace, and even legal in some places, for that matter.
In 2009, Canadian officials placed a temporary ban on electronic vape pens. They wanted to allow more time for more research to be conducted on the products coming into the country. At the same time, these devices were exploding in popularity across the U.S., growing by $9.6 billion in the States between 2017 and 2019, until everything changed.
In the summer of 2019, a mysterious, and sometimes deadly lung illness, was popping up in people who claimed to be using electronic smoking devices. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2,700 Americans were eventually hospitalised, and 68 people died from what would later be called “e-cigarette or vaping-related lung injuries” or EVALI. The illnesses were eventually traced back to black-market THC products that had been tampered with and sold illegally across the U.S., and the crisis led to big changes in how these products are regulated.
In October 2019, cannabis concentrates, vape pens, e-liquids, and edibles were legalised for sale in Canada for the first time in a decade, and by December, these products were popping up in dispensaries across the country.
In the year since these products were legalised, electronic THC smoking devices have grown in popularity, in a way that’s been unmatched by almost any other smoking device. Sales of these products accounted for just under 4 percent of the market between January and March 2020 in Canada, and by June, that number had jumped to 15.1 percent. As these products become more readily available, competition is heating up, and so is the debate over which method of consuming marijuana is best.
What’s the Difference Between Vape Pens and Vaporisers
The term vaping is often used synonymously with vaporising, but these two things are quite different.
Vaporisers are typically designed to be used with specific products, such as marijuana flowers or some type of marijuana concentrates like wax or shatter.
Vape pens use disposable cartridges that are typically pre-filled with e-liquid, and sometimes the pens themselves are disposable, as well.
Let’s Compare: Vaping vs. Smoking
With vaping and smoking, the overall concept is similar. You’re heating the marijuana flower or e-liquid to just below the combustion point, to create vapours or smoke, which are then inhaled. There are plenty of arguments about which form of ingesting marijuana is safer, but researchers are still studying the potential long-term impacts that could come from vaping. Cannabis smoke contains many of the same carcinogens as tobacco smoke, and we already know the potential risk factors involved there.
As far as cost goes, these two methods come close to breaking even, at least at first. First, you need your smoking device. A good, reusable vape pen and a glass pipe or bowl will both run you about $50. You can find disposable vape pens for about the same cost, and they typically come with pre-filled cartridges. After that, you need to figure in the cost of the product itself, and both marijuana flower and e-juice liquid cost about $50, as well. Over time, a glass smoking device may last a little longer than even the reusable vape pens, which may require replacement parts down the road.
Vaping offers the added benefit of being discreet and gives you more freedom about where you can use it, compared to smoking. If you choose to smoke marijuana using a joint, one-hitter, bong, or glass pipe, you’re going to have smoke, and it’s hard to mask that smell.
What likely separates these two methods most is their efficiency. A team of researchers from The Natural Producers Chemistry and Research Group in California conducted a study in hopes of figuring out which form of marijuana consumption was most wasteful and which was most efficient. This is where vaping takes a big leap ahead of smoking.
The Study on Vaping vs. Smoking: Results
The team made a few interesting discoveries. The method that seemed to waste the least amount of product was dabbing or inhaling vaporised marijuana concentrates like wax or shatter. Overall, the process of dabbing seemed to waste only about 25 percent of the concentrate, which means you end up using about 75 percent of the THC in these products.
Recovery rates for vape pens averages around 66 percent, which means these devices waste an average of 44 percent of the THC they contain. Recovery rates on vape pens can range between 50 percent and almost 90 percent, depending on the type of pen and cartridge being used. By far, the most wasteful method of consuming marijuana is smoking.
Study researchers say the THC intake you end up getting ranges from 27 percent to 46 percent, meaning if you choose to smoke, you could lose more than half of the THC in the product.
Temperature control turned out to be the biggest factor when it comes to the efficiency of each method. Because you can better control the temperature on a vape pen, you burn less of the e-liquid off with each inhale. When you smoke, it’s difficult to control the flame, and placing direct heat on the flower tends to scorch a big portion of it each time.
Vape pens may be growing in popularity across North America, and some experts believe that trend will continue. What remains to be seen is what researchers learn about these two methods of consuming marijuana as they become more widely used around the world.