February 24, 2015 sebastianmarincolo

Vaporizer Highs

What characterizes a vaporizer high? How much of a difference is there between a vaporizer high and the high from a joint or bong? How different are various vaporizers on the market as to the high they produce? How much does the temperature setting on a vaporizer matter to the quality and character of a cannabis high?

A Clearer High

There are many discussions about these and other questions concerning the vaporizer high. After reading various online threads from a number of cannabis websites I would conclude that there is at least one thing almost everybody vaporizer user agrees on: the vaporizer high is much ‘clearer’ than the high coming from burnt cannabis smoked either from a bong, pipe, or from a joint.

Mighty-90Going from my own experiences and from reports of many other users, a ‘clear’ high is a high that leaves you cognitively more functional; there are less short-term memory disruptions; you are less likely to loose the thread when talking about a certain subject; you feel less tired, disoriented and confused. One reason for this is probably due to the absence of the various toxins created by burning cannabis at high temperatures – in a burning joint, temperatures are around 700-1100 ºF. When cannabis is heated beyond 392 ºF, some unwanted substances are produced:

“(…) traceable amounts of benzene are found in the vapor mist. Benzene contributes to couch lock (…) [1]

But the mental clarity of the vaporizer high compared to highs from burning cannabis cannot only be explained by the absence of some toxins. A cannabis plant contains more than 80 cannabinoids. It also contains more than 200 terpenes and dozens of flavonoids, which are responsible not only for the distinct aroma of a strain, but are now also known to have an important influence on the high.

According to microbiologist and biochemist, Kathleen O’Dea,

“(c)annabis produces over 200 different terpenes in the plant’s resin glands and each strain has a unique terpene “signature”. Nearly 20 percent of the total oil produced by the plant’s resin glands are terpenes and up to 30 percent of marijuana smoke is made of terpenes. In fact, it is the terpenes that are “sniffed out” by trained drug dogs! No other plant on the planet has the potential to create the range of aromas and flavors known to Cannabis. The most important aspect of terpene production is the fact that terpenes can interact synergistically with other compounds in the plant resulting in a kaleidoscope of healing effects.”[2]

If we want to better understand the character of vaporizer highs, we first need to take a look at the different boiling points of the relevant cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids. Let us look at the cannabinoids first. THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol), which is said to give you a more heady, cerebral, energetic high, boils at 314.6 ºF. CBN (cannabinol, an oxidation breakdown product) which is known to be sedative and to generate a more confusing, disorienting high, boils at 365 ºF. CBD (cannabidiol), now becoming more and more renowned for its medicinal value for various purposes (anxiolytic, analgesic, antipsychotic, antispasmotic, etc.) boils between 320-356 ºF . The cannabinoid THCV (tetrahydrocannabivarin), which is known to act as a euphoriant as well as being analgesic, boils at 428 ºF. For the sake of brevity I’ll leave it at this short list; but there are other cannabinoids that we know have an influence on the high.

Now, given that vaporizers can be set to different temperatures ranging from as low as 266 ºF to 392 ºF and more, it should be clear that they can produce a range of markedly different highs at different temperatures. Many experienced users of vaporizers agree with the following statement by Steve Davis that lower vape temperatures leave you with a more cerebral, uplifting, euphoriant high:

“(…) when you have a precision vaporizer, you can set the temperature so it only produces THC. The magic is, THC vaporizes after you hit about 305 degrees Fahrenheit but other cannabinoids don’t vaporize (and won’t be delivered into your lungs) unless you set the vaporizer to approximately 380-415 degrees Fahrenheit. So no matter what marijuana strain you have, if you only want to experience THC effects, you dial 305-320º F. You only get vaporized THC, and you avoid CBD and CBN completely.”[3]


Terpenes and Flavonoids

Many plants and some insects produce terpenoids for a whole variety of reasons. When ingested by animals, terpenes can be anti-oxidant, analgesic, anti-microbial, anti-carcinogen, muscle relaxant, anti-depressant, anti anxiety, sedative, psychoactive in various ways, and have various other effects. Plants need to defend themselves against pests and herbivores but some also have to rely on animals:

“Many plants that rely on animals to disperse their seeds must limit feeding rather than kill the animal directly because it might loose a valuable seed carrier. Lipids (…) perform this function. The most interesting lipids are terpenes, which have a strong aromatic flavor. For example, myristicin, found in nutmeg and many other spices, prevents animals from seasoning their diet too heavily with those plants. If taken in sufficient quantities, myristicin causes dizziness and loss of motor coordination.”[4]

In much the same way as the various cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids that have been developed by plants in order to improve their interaction with animals; these chemical compounds are geared to interact with our biochemistry and to alter biochemical processes in many ways. Therefore, they can be used for a whole range of medical purposes and have many diverse influences on mind and cognition. The distinctive terpene profile of a certain strain contributes immensely to the high coming from that strain:

“Terpenes also bind to these {endocannbinoid} receptor sites and affect their chemical output. They can also modify how much THC passes through the blood-brain barrier. Their hand of influence even reaches to neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin by altering their rate of production and destruction, their movement, and availability of receptors. The effects these mechanisms produce vary from terpene to terpene; some are especially successful in relieving stress, while others promote focus and acuity. Myrcene, for example, induces sleep whereas limonene elevates mood. There are also effects that are imperceptible, like the gastroprotective properties of Caryophyllene.”[5]

Jack Flash 3-cropped

Cannabis trichomes (and stigma in the background), where the plant produces its cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids. Photo (c) Sebastian Marincolo 2012

The boiling points of terpenoids (when dried and cured, terpenes turn into terpenoids) are also distributed over a whole range of temperatures. Myrcene, the most prevalent terpene found in today’s marijuana has clove-like, earthy, citrus, mango and minty nuances [6], boils between 331-334 ºF and is said to be sedative, , hypnotic, analgesic and contain anti-inflammatory and muscle relaxant properties. According to marijuana expert Ethan Russo, myrcene contributes heavily to the couch-lock “stoned” effect.[7] D-limonene boils at 351 ºF and has hints of citrus fruits, rosemary, juniper and peppermint, is anti-bacterial, repulsive to predators and is found in many kinds of fruits and flowers. It can also be anti-carcinogenic and an anti-depressant and has been used to dissolve gallstones. The sedative 945-terpineol boils at only 423-424 ºF and has hints of lilac, citrus, apple blossoms and lime. The flavonoid apigenin boils at 352 ºF and is believed to have anxiolytic and anti-inflammatory properties.

This short list of terpenes and their characteristics already illustrates that we do not have to only look at dozens of cannabinoids, but also at a whole variety of terpenes as well as flavonoids and their distinctive boiling points if we want to understand the distinctive highs coming from various strains vaporized at a certain temperature.

Let me add that for aficionados, there is another good reason to prefer a vaporizer to burning cannabis in a joint or in a device like a bong. Vaporizers do not burn terpenes and can therefore bring out the full aromatic bouquet of a strain. You will not only get a high different from that of burned cannabis because you get a more favorable cannabinoid/terpene/flavonoid profile without the toxins. Your high will be positively affected by a distinctive sensual aromatic experience. When you drink a 30-year-old Port Ellen whiskey, your consciousness is not only affected by the alcohol as by a psychoactive substance. The complex aromatic experience opens up your mind, makes you sensitive and allows you to go on a sensuous trip. Vaporizers users can bring more of this aficionado component to their consumption, especially when vaporizing marijuana at lower temperatures. Also, as we have seen, there is a connection between the smell that comes from the terpenes (cannabinoids are odorless) and some medical and psychoactive characteristics of the high; for some patients and others, the odor and taste of cannabis vapor coming from a vaporizer will help to identify their preferred strains and to check if the plant material they obtain has been produced, stored and cured correctly.


Vaporizer technology and user experiences

If we want to evaluate experiential reports about vaporizers we have to look very closely at what kind of vaporizers have been used to generate a high. As Markus Storz, the inventor of the German Volcano vaporizer, probably the best known precision vaporizer in the world, explained to me in a personal interview:

“Vaporizers which heat up only the chamber, but do not heat up the incoming air to vaporizing temperature cannot consistently heat up the plant material.”

Many experimental reports from users of vaporizers with an inferior heating apparatus have to be considered with care. While most vaporizers may still deliver a much cleaner high than one from a joint or bong, users of many inferior vaporizers do not get the precision temperature control to really let them join a serious discussion about the differences of a high coming from a certain strain produced with a vaporizer at 320 ºF or 356 ºF.

And there are other factors we have to bear in mind when evaluating personal reports about the vaporizer high from users.


Joints usually contain bad quality tobacco and burn cannabis at very high temperatures

Many users have smoked joints for a long time before using vaporizers, usually made of low-quality black market cannabis mixed with inferior cigarette tobacco. They tend to equate the ‘real’ high with the resulting effects of burned, inferior cannabis and bad tobacco – which are usually more disruptive, disorienting, sedating and often messing with their short-term memory. Some users are initially disappointed by the vaporizer high from pure cannabis because they miss a certain nicotine kick from the tobacco, or because they actually have been seeking out a ‘mind-crippling’- effect which helps with sedation and forgetting the trials and tribulations of their day. I have talked to many users who told me they seek a state of mind in which they simply get a body stone relaxation coupled with a high that heavily interferes with their short-term memory, so that they can get relief from their daily stresses. A clearer high coming from a precision vaporizer set to a lower temperature does not give them what they want. Many of those users do not even recognize the altered state of mind coming from a vaporizer as a real high, because they are not used to being so cognitively functional.

When we look at discussions about the vaporizer high in various internet forums we also need to keep in mind that many users receive their cannabis from the black market and, therefore, often do not know exactly what strain they are buying, under which conditions it has been produced and stored and what the cannabinoid profile of their cannabis really is. Briefly then, many of the anecdotal reports about vaporizer highs and generalizations about how vaporizers affects the high have to be considered with care. Many opinions are based on consumers using bad quality marijuana with vaporizers that do not really allow for a precise temperature control, and many user reports are influenced by their bias from smoking marijuana. This also explains the many contradictory reports from users.


Precision vaporizers and the future of cannabis research

When we look at the various cannabinoids and their boiling points, we can certainly make some rough predictions about the systematic influences of a vaporizer on the character of a high. For instance, temperatures higher than 365 ºF will produce more CBN, which is known to produce a more sedative, confusing effect on consciousness. A vaporizer high will always strongly depend not just on a certain strain and its cannabinoid and terpene profile, but also on the exact temperature at which it is used. Only precision vaporizers like the Volcano in the hands of skilled users will help us to answer many questions and to actually come up with new questions about how a vaporizer can affect a high.

Using precision vaporizers to explore the differences and nuances in a marijuana high may sound to many like a somewhat futile excercise to answer nerdy questions of a small gropu of geeky aficionados. But make no mistake: answering these questions will help millions of people to make better use of the medical potential of marijuana; and millions will find out how to use marijuana in a more meaningful and inspiring way. Countless people around the world already use the marijuana high to better remember long gone events, to work creatively, to find new patterns in music or art, to better appreciate nature, to get in touch with their feelings and have a better introspective access to themselves, to enhance their empathic understanding of others, to make love, to generate great and live changing insights, or to personally grow. Many of those users are on a voyage, exploring a new world and the use of marijuana can be crucially important for their lives – and the lives of everybody around them. They and their societies will profit greatly from the advance in our understanding as to how the various cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids affect a high.

Precision vaporizers are magnificent tools for researching the psychoactive and bodily properties of the various cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids, and we are certainly only at the very beginning when it comes to understanding these substances and their full inspirational and medical potential. Just as importantly, the effects of cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids are already known to be synergetistic, which means that we cannot simply study the effects of them individually as isolated chemical compounds. Vaporizers with their temperature control can help us to study the compounds in various natural strains of marijuana as they work synergistically on our mind and body.


Exploring New Dimensions

To sum up, precision vaporizers offer new dimensions in exploring the mind-altering potential of cannabis. A marijuana high is the result of the effect of dozens of cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids, which all have different boiling points and therefore vaporize at different temperatures. Many of the generalizations about vaporizer highs that can be found in forums are wrong and contradictory; others, such as the claim that the vaporizer high offers a much “clearer”, less confusing and less sedated experience make sense not only regarding the many users who endorse this view, but also on the basis of what we know so far about the psychoactive properties of some cannabinoids, terpenes and their various boiling points.

More and more users are picking up the habit of using precision vaporizers and so, hopefully, our knowledge about the psychoactive and medical role of the various cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids will expand. There is already much knowledge concerning these questions coming from the medical dispensaries in the U.S. and their patients. I hope that many inspirational users will soon be in a better position to access a much higher quality of marijuana and to enjoy its effects in precision vaporizers. Their feedback and that of medical marijuana users to medical and other professionals will be crucial for the future research of the potential of marijuana. Vaporizers will play a fundamental role in this journey, a journey that will essentially help millions of marijuana users in the future.

The Australian Koala bears know their favorite plants. They eat only select types of eucalyptus. Some aromatic oils of the eucalyptus digest from their stomachs through their skins to protect them against ectoparasites, while other oils “decrease blood pressure, lower body temperatures, and relax their muscles.”[9] Usually, koalas eat the mature leaves for these purposes in hot climates, but in cold climates they eat younger leaves containing phellandrene, which increases body temperature. Koalas seem to instinctively know their eucalyptus really well, and many other animals have a comparably intelligent use of the plants they consume. It is time for us to follow their example and to get to know our cannabis a little better.


[1]           Martin, Alexander (2012), “Tailoring Your High: Compunds in Cannabis, Properties and Boiling Points”, http://www.weedist.com/2012/07/tailoring-high-compounds-in-cannabis-properties-boiling-points/

[2]      Rutherford, Susan “The Science of Cannabis– Kathleen O’Dea”, January 7, blog post http://www.naturesalternativepdx.com/science-cannabis-kathleen-odea/

[3]      Davis, Steve (2014) „Marihuana Vaporizer: Your Way to Incredible New Marihuana Highs“, http://bigbudsmag.com/grow/article/Marihuana-vaporizers-thc-cbd-cbn-vaping

[4]      Siegel, Ronald K. (1989, 2005), Intoxication, The Universal Drive For Mind Altering Sub­stances, Park Street Press, Rochester, Vermont, p.29

[5]      Rahn, Bailey (2014) “Terpenes: the Flavors of Cannabis Aromatherapy”, http://www.leafly.com/news/cannabis-101/terpenes-the-flavors-of-cannabis-aromatherapy, 2/12/2014

[6]      Vogeler, Josh (2014), “Terpenes and Terpenoids in Cannabis”, http://terpenes.weebly.com.

[7]      Lee, Martin A. (2013), “Talking Terpenes,” High Times, 4/8 2013, http://www.high­times.com/read/talking-terpenes

[8]      Compare Grinspoon, Lester (ed.) (2014), marijuana-uses.com.

[9]      Siegel, Ronald K. (1989/2005), The Universal Drive for Mind Altering Substances, Park Street Press, Rochester, Vermont, p. 43.

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