Are You Confused about Vaping Cannabis?
Vaping cannabis has been all over the news over the last several months. Between vaping extracts, concentrates, and whole flower the terms can be confusing. Dispensaries typically list a long menu of “extracts” and “concentrates”. Many of these products need to be vaped. Did you know whole flower can be vaped as well? The most ubiquitous kind of vaping uses a vape pen with cartridges that contain an oil that’s been extracted from the plant. Other products don’t come in a handy dandy cartridge form. They are variously called butters, rosins, shatter, sugar, sauce, resin, live resin, rosin, etc. The list continues. If you don’t know what all of these are, it’s OK. (I don’t either!) These are concentrates.
If the vaping ‘crisis’ makes things even more complicated because we now have to add the question ‘what is safe?’ then it might be enough to just want to say “to hell with vaping” I’ll smoke flower. OK, that’s fine, but there are some things that you can vape safely and effectively. Here are four things you need to know before you decide to vape or you should know if you are vaping cannabis.
1. WTF is Vaping Anyway?
Vaping is the application of heat, but not flame, to an extract, concentrate or flower. Each form of cannabis is different, but the main event in vaping is heating, not burning. Vaping bud is a bit different. It’s as if you were to heat cannabis flower in an ‘oven’ to somewhere below the point where it burns. The natural components of the flower will vaporize and made available for you to inhale, getting their benefit. All the natural terpenes and THC vaporize in the flower below the burning point.
2. Concentrates vs. Extracts
Concentrates and extracts are not created equally. To make it even more confusing, the terms are often used interchangeably.
Concentrates are exactly what they sound like; The concentrated “essence” of the cannabis plant. In this case, we’re talking about hashish, butters, rosins, resins, etc. They use the natural THCs, CBDs and terpenes contained in the trichomes. Trichomes are mostly in the flowers and leaves and are a natural part of the plant. Some concentrates are made by hand…literally. These are traditional methods and are used to make hash. Some concentrates are made with cold water and ice or from freeze-dried flower. Concentrates that are not made by hand are made with water, but can also be made with butane, alcohol or CO2. If the solvent chemicals are completely removed, these are generally safe, but water wash or handmade is still the safest. Do not mistake them for extracts that are made with chemicals. Generally, because concentrates are made naturally using hand labor or water, they’re safe to consume.
Concentrates made with chemicals are more problematic but are generally safe. There is one major problem with chemically concentrated cannabis. All the forms use heat. Heat vaporizes many of the products in the plant. If we’re consuming, we want the vaporization to occur while we’re vaporizing the product ourselves. If there are parts of the plant lost when the concentration is done, so they have to be put back in. How? That’s a bigger question.
Extracts are different. Extracts are made from whole plants that are chemically stripped of all of their THC, terpenes and everything else in the plant. Since most extracts use heat to ‘extract’ the elements of the plant, a lot is lost. Extracts are like the oil you find in vape pen cartridges. They are made from the whole plant. If they taste at all like cannabis you’re used to it’s because the producer has added terpenes or other compounds to give it a familiar taste,
Frequently the additions are synthetic, but sometimes they’re advertised as ‘cannabis-derived’. It’s still not what was in the original plant. I don’t vape oil. Making extracts is very efficient. If you have the right equipment, the whole plant can be cut and in as little as 10-15 minutes later, it’s oil! A machine chops the whole plant into tiny pieces that are put in the “extractarator” (my word) and Voila! Magically the plant becomes extract.
All the health problems with vaping you’re been reading about are from extracts, not concentrates. This is important and it’s worth repeating: ALL THE HEALTH PROBLEMS WITH VAPING CANNABIS HAVE BEEN BECAUSE OF EXTRACTS. Concentrates are not the problem, extracts are the problem. Many extractors have been using oils, specifically vitamin E acetate, to make the oil more viscous or an appropriate texture for cartridges. Vitamin E acetate has been implicated in the recent lung illnesses and deaths.
Extracts are the diet soda of cannabis. Made to get you high, but not made for true enjoyment.
3. The Problems with Extracts
There is a major problem with the end product of extracts. Heat. Heat destroys about everything in the plant except for THC and similar compounds. But what makes cannabis cannabis isn’t just the THC. It’s all the THCs, the CBDs, CBGs, terpenes, and all the other 100s of other compounds in the plant. All you’re left with after applying mild heat are THC compounds.
In addition, you just don’t know what’s in that oil you’re vaping. The process is opaque. It’s a mystery surrounded by an enigma. There are many ways to make oil, or to make oil ‘oilier’, or to make it taste better, or whatever the producer thinks will make you buy his or her product. There is almost no transparency in vape cartridge oil production. That’s not a good thing. It’s not good because you don’t know what you’re inhaling. In the long term, it’s not good for business.
4. The Difference Between Flower vs. Concentrate
A cannabis flower has everything in it. There might be 100+ types of THC and who knows how many different terpenes (more are being discovered daily it seems), isomers of terpenes, isolates, and who knows how many other compounds contributing to the complete effect. We still don’t know enough.
Concentrates have the contents of natural flower if done correctly. This can mean rubbing through a screen to get the trichomes, freeze-drying and/or water extraction, or ice water extraction. There are several traditional ways of concentrating. These methods go back hundreds, if not thousands of years. That Labonese blond(e) hash you might love was made with a process that goes back at least to the 1500s. That tarry Nepalese black hash is also an ancient process. Wherever cannabis was found, there was a process to concentrate its goodness.
Newer processes use water technology to concentrate the flower. All these processes use ice water to concentrate the trichomes in a way that they can be extracted whole, then sifted out of the mash to create a concentrate that is essentially pure and whole. Nothing has been destroyed by heat. No chemicals other than H20 have been added to the flower. No terpenes. Nothing else other than flower. It’s a pure process and difficult to master, but the results can be incredible. There are a few companies in Colorado that are only using water extraction to create their products.
The Bottom Line about Vaping Cannabis
If you want to vape cannabis, it’s probably safe. It’s actually a good way to create an effect. Whole flower is wonderful when vaped with a good product. Concentrates are also wonderful when vaped. Different water extracted concentrates like water wash hash or hashish can be terrific. Personally, I do not consume the oils that come in cartridges mostly because I don’t know what’s in them. I also will only consume water washed concentrates. The other concentrates are made using methyl alcohol or butane or other solvents that supposedly are removed at the end of the process. But are they all removed? I don’t know. And neither do you. Vape away, but be aware of the caveats. Be happy.