The Art (and Joy) of Vaporizing Hemp Flower

With the increasing availability and growing popularity of hemp flower strains, consumers are asking themselves in which ways they can enjoy their newly acquired hemp flower strains. Of course, there is always the classic fallback: either rolling it up or filling a pipe, then lighting and inhaling the smoke. While smoking in general has earned a negative reputation as an unhealthy habit, this actually applies to smoking tobacco cigarettes, not pre-rolled THC or CBD flower strains. Attribute a large portion of this attitude towards the fact that smoking tobacco has been proven unhealthy for the majority of users, mainly because of the intense and massive chemical baths of poisonous substances in which manufactured cigarettes are “cured” before being packaged and sent to market.

Vaporizing Hemp Flower: An Elegant Alternative to Smoking

Whether people are turned off because of the close association with tobacco, or if there are other factors, such as sensitivity to smoke or respiratory conditions which are exasperated by the presence of smoke, many people are turning to vaporizing hemp flower strains as a preferred alternative to smoking.

It’s important not to confuse this with e-cigarettes and oil cartridges, which have also created health concerns. Vaporizing hemp flower is simply an elegant alternative to smoking the plant material, but, if done right, can deliver similar effects. You will still prepare your flower as if you were going to smoke it; that is, for best results, you use a fresh CBD hemp flower bud and shred it in a grinder. 

When properly ground, the material will actually fluff up and emit a fragrance (which varies, depending upon the strain selected). The shredded bud is quite malleable, but care should be taken to keep it loose, for better vaporizing results. Again, similar to rolling shredded hemp buds in paper or filling a pipe for smoking, you want the material loose enough to allow air to flow through; in the case of vaporizing, you are not burning the material but instead are heating it to a high enough degree to release the cannabinoids and terpenes. 

The end result is that you are not exhaling smoke, but rather releasing a warm cloud of vaporized hemp material. It appears as a thin cloud, but doesn’t linger in the air nor does the odor cling to clothes or fabrics. Because nothing was combusted, there is no lingering smell or stain of ashes or burnt material.

The taste of vaporized hemp flower strains, when properly inhaled, is quite similar to the smell of the hemp flower strain after it has been put through a grinder. More impressive is the aftertaste; since no material was ever lit on fire, there is no ashy or burnt aftertaste. Regular users of quality hemp flower vaporizers equate the taste to enjoying a freshly baked goodie out of the oven, instead of eating a burnt treat.

The Basics of a Portable Vaporizer

There are two general types of vaporizers: portable and table top. Generally, most vaporizers you find on the marketplace are portable, as these are more suited for single users; table top vaporizers are typically set up for group sessions, with a larger bowl and more material required. In concept, table top vaporizers are similar to hookahs, with some of the higher end models even having multiple hoses and mouthpieces for simultaneous (and more sanitary!) usage among participants. This article will focus on portable vaporizers and how individuals can get the most from their chosen device. 

While you can find dozens of portable vaporizers, the features and functions of most vaporizers you find on the marketplace are quite similar, as the vaporization process is not particularly revolutionary nor are new approaches necessary or forthcoming. 

The bulk of most portable vaporizers contains the rechargeable battery; it typically is situated beneath the herb chamber and sits within the grip which holds the device. Most new models use a micro-USB cable, meaning if your original cable breaks or is lost, any other micro-USB cable will work as a replacement,

Most devices provide an herbal chamber which will adequately hold about half a gram of ground herbs, more than sufficient for one session. The power button also serves as a heat setting mechanism, with most devices offering 3 to 5 different heat settings (typically ranging between 350°F and 425°F); some elite models allow you to precisely dial in a specific heat setting, but remember we are only vaporizing herbs, not making a souffle, so this feature is more of a gimmick than a valued benefit making a significant difference in your vape sessions. 

If you are looking at a “vaporizer” with only one heat setting, move on to another model, as devices with a single heat setting almost always are pens which combust your herb instead of vaporizing it (using an open wire to heat up and ignite your material, then draw out smoke). Your best bet is to always look for vaporizers with multiple heat settings and which boasts a ceramic heating chamber, typically the best surface for heating herbs.

Finally, atop the herb chamber resides the mouthpiece which delivers all the excellent vapors produced by the device. Most mouthpieces are small enough to retain the overall portability of the device and still fit easily into one’s pocket.

Operating a Portable Vaporizer

The learning curve for effectively using a portable vaporizer to enjoy your favorite hemp flower strains is surprisingly low and short. While not as simple as sparking a flame and igniting your hemp flower strain, it is actually cleaner, safer, and over time, as effective, if not more, than combustible practices.

Filling Your Chamber

As mentioned previously, preparation of your selected herb flower strain is of paramount importance. Be sure to use a quality herb grinder which will not pulverize your favorite herb flower strain into a powder but instead breaks up the tightly bound buds harvested from the hemp plant. This loosely separated result ideally prepares your hemp or cannabis flower strain for either smoking (rolled or pipe) or vaporizing, so this first step is essential for any cannabis or hemp enthusiast to regularly practice. Do note that you can add kief into your ground mixture as long as it remains mainly the grindings of the flower.

Once properly ground, fill your vaporizer chamber while gently tamping down the herbal material so it sits snugly in the chamber. Note that most chambers are deep and cylindrical (similar in circumference to a cigarette), so it usually takes a couple of rounds to properly fill the chamber. It is recommended that, between each round, you gently tamp down the previously added material. Be careful to avoid jamming your herbs in the chamber so tightly that air cannot easily flow through the chamber; in such situations, your herbs will heat up and release the valuable cannabinoids and terpenes, but most will cook away inside the chamber if the air flow is minimal, with only a little amount going into your system.

To ensure your chamber is properly filled, give it a dry run before powering up your vaporizer for the real thing. As you draw on the unpowered device, there should be no strain when drawing on it, but should instead feel as if you are sucking in cool air with a slight flavor matching the fragrance produced after grinding your herbal material. If you get a good, clean, empty draw, then you are ready to turn on your vaporizer.

Powering Up Your Vaporizer

Thankfully, most vaporizing devices employ the same power up and heat setting procedures, meaning once you know how to turn on and set the temperature on one vaporizer, you likely know how to operate 95% of the portable vaporizers on the market today. There are two ways you can determine heat settings: either by digital display or colored lights (where typically green equals low, blue equals medium, and red equals high heat settings). To control power and heat settings, you device likely use these commands:

  • Power On or Off – press the main button five times rapidly
  • Change Heat Settings – press the main button three times 

Do note that, once powered on, most vaporizers utilize a four-to-five minute timer which automatically turns the device back off, to avoid overheating. Also, most devices remember the last heat setting and start at the same setting last used when powering up.

Determining Heat Setting

Once turned on, you want to set the temperature for your vaporizer. Let’s assume you are working with a device offering five heat settings; in such a case, the likely heat settings are as follows:

  • 350°F – the minimum level of heat needed to vaporize herbs, it won’t produce much vapor upon exhaling; oriented more towards flavor, releasing more terpenes than cannabinoids
  • 370°F – at this level, flavor becomes more pronounced and vapor clouds are more noticeable upon exhaling; still releasing more terpenes than cannabinoids, but consumer will definitely feel the effects more
  • 390°F – a good balance between flavor and clouds, vapor clouds will linger for a 15 to 30 seconds before dissipating; at this level, flavor will diminish noticeably near the end of the session, and more cannabinoids will be delivered at this higher heat
  • 410°F – for those more interested in a strong intake of cannabinoids and are okay with less flavor, this heat setting is recommended; while there is still some flavor, the focus is now leaning towards higher doses of cannabinoids and thicker vapor clouds
  • 425°F – this is the highest recommended heat setting for vaporizing herbs and is clearly geared towards consumers seeking to maximize their cannabinoid absorption; expect a little flavor at the very outset, which will last only a few puffs, after which it’s cannabinoids all the way with massive vapor clouds

For most people, starting between 370°F and 390°F is recommended; for those more sensitive to inhaling heated air, begin at the lowest (around 350°F) level. Keep in mind that you can always adjust settings in the middle of the session, depending on whether you want more flavor (lower temp) or more clouds (higher temp).

In comparison, if you smoke this same material, the combustion level varies between 500°F (for older and drier material) and 700°F (for freshly-harvested, still-moist buds), meaning the heat level of the air you inhale with the smoke is over 50% higher than when vaping, making vaporizers more attractive for consumers eager to enjoy the effects of inhaling natural hemp flower strains without higher intensity heat.

Starting Your Vaping Session

Once you have loaded and powered up your vaporizer, you need to wait until the device heats up to your desired setting. Most devices use a light to indicate when it reaches the proper setting, usually blinking red while heating up and then turning solid green once it reaches the selected heat level.

It is imperative that you do not begin drawing on your device as soon as it reaches the selected heat setting. While the temperature of the interior of the chamber has accurately attained the level you wish, the herbs within need about 20 to 30 seconds (at a minimum) to “bake” before the heat begins teasing out the cannabinoids and terpenes contained within your chosen herb flower strain.

Equally important is how you draw on your vaporizer. Unlike smoking where a large plume of smoke enters your lungs upon inhalation, vaporizing is a process requiring a gentler approach to inhaling. Rather than taking short, deep inhales, you want to more slowly inhale the vapors which are being released inside the chamber. Over time, you will find that you can regulate your vapor intake so the inhalation process lasts between 15 to 20 seconds.

Logically, the longer you inhale, the more vapors your lungs hold. However, once you’re done inhaling, you get to decide how long you want to keep those vapors in your lungs. While holding your breath with your lungs filled with vapor, it seeps into your bloodstream, a very effective and swift delivery method (the same process and effect also occurs with smoke). So the longer you hold your breath, more vapors enter your bloodstream instead of being expelled into the air upon exhaling. 

All of which results in almost immediate effects, and still remains the fastest and most noticeable delivery system of standard consumption methods (mainly because a lot of those cannabinoids and terpenes go straight to our blood-filled brains).

As the session nears its end, the device is noticeably warmer in the hand, and the purer and stronger terpene flavors have been almost or entirely consumed. (Some veteran vaporizer users compare the taste of spent vaped material as similar to slightly burnt popcorn.) As mentioned before, most vaporizers time out after five minutes; if you average three puffs per minute, you get about 15 good vapor draws in one session, plenty to deliver effective results.

Finishing Your Vaping Session

Just because the power automatically goes off to keep your device from overheating (and preserve its longevity), you are not done with your vaping session. 

As important as every previous step is properly emptying your vaped materials. This is not a frivolous exercise in fussiness, but an essential step to keep your vaporizer in top condition. 

When herbal material has just been through a full vaping session, it is still soft and easy to work with. But if you let it sit inside the chamber of the vaporizer and wait until your next session to empty out your old material, you will regret it.

Basically, as the vaped material cools, the remaining oils coating the walls of the ceramic chamber may not be visible, but they will partially reabsorb back into the used vape material and make it a bit gummier and more difficult to clean out. On the other hand, if you use a stirring tool at the end of the session to empty your chamber, you will find the majority of the used material will easily fall out, while the remainder can be completely brushed out, leaving your chamber clear of previously used material.

By the way, there will still be some cannabinoids remaining in previously vaped material (sometimes referred to as AVB (Already Vaped Bud) or ABV (Already Been Vaped)), so diehards and frugal consumers save their ABV materials for use in edibles or even for rolling up and smoking (which lacks flavor with terpenes already consumed). While the potency of ABV materials is significantly lower than fresh hemp or cannabis flower, it’s a great way to squeeze out as much benefit from your hemp and cannabis collection as possible.

Portable Vaporize Care and Maintenance

Finally, a short treatise on caring for your vaporizing devices…

A quality portable vaporizer can run you as much as $150 (although you can find acceptable models below $100 with a little research and price comparison among vendors, many of whom deeply discount various products), so it makes sense to take care of your device. Besides, nothing is so devastating as getting ready for a good vaping session only to discover your vaporizer has gone on the blink or is so gummed up from past sessions that it takes you a good half hour to thoroughly clean your device.

Rather than continue buying new vaporizers to replace old devices which didn’t receive the proper care and maintenance, it serves you well to commit to a routine which ensures top performance and a like-new look for your devices for years into the future.

Even though no material is ever combusted, lots of oils are released during each vaping session, some of which will remain on the inside of the chamber, and in any filtration system used between the chamber and the mouthpiece. Over time, the buildup of such oils will denigrate the performance of your device, unless proper care and maintenance is provided.

Fortunately, when performed regularly, caring for your vaporizing devices is inexpensive, quick, and easy. 

The supplies are minimal, yet effective; you only need:

  • Cleaning Brush
  • Paper Towel
  • Rubbing Alcohol
  • Stirring Tool

For cleaning, tear off small portions of a paper towel, wrap that around the same stirring tool you used when emptying your chamber at the end of your session, and soak it with rubbing alcohol. Thoroughly swab the interior of the chamber; you may need two or three paper towel swatches to completely clean the inside. On the first cleaning, your paper towel will come out yellowish, representing the residual oils it picked up inside. The second should show only a tinge of yellow, and the last round should come out without any coloring on it, meaning it is now fully clean and sanitized for next time. Once you have an unstained paper towel on removal, use the cleaning brush to scrub away any errant flecks clinging to the interior wall or base.

If there is any filtering system between the chamber and the mouthpiece, it should be removable and available for cleaning. You probably don’t need the stirring tool for this, but a toothpick wrapped in a soaked piece of paper towel can be very effective.

Finally, the mouthpiece often only needs wiping; if a tube is connected, you can resort once more to the stirring tool and ream it out with another soaked paper towel piece.

Note: never soak any part of the device in rubbing alcohol, but a good wiping with a liberally soaked piece of paper towel is strongly advised, as rubbing alcohol rapidly evaporates in the open air, meaning anything it dabs or swipes will quickly dry off.

By developing a daily habit of cleaning all your vaporizing devices, you ensure they remain in pristine, nearly mint, condition well into the future. This means that instead of spending more money on new vaporizers due to neglect or improper care, direct those funds to purchase more quality strains to further enjoy and refine your own art of vaporizing hemp flower. Plus, with clean equipment, you ensure quality vape sessions every time!

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