HEY, CHEECH. It might be time for you to quit smoking.
First of all, burning weed is smelly. You stink like Otto the Bus Driver's jacket. While studies say all kinds of things that don't agree with each other, anyone who's hacked up a lung after a bong rip knows that combustion can't possibly be good for you—the smoke damages not just the lungs, but also the throat, mouth, and skin. Oh, and those plumes of smoke wafting off your unwashed Baja hoodie? They're super conspicuous.
Most importantly, all those extra carcinogens you produce by burning pot with a flame are making you feel like shit.
I've never been much of a social smoker—I prefer to hide away at home and light up in Gollum-like solitude. Having an actual conversation with another human person while stoned? A waking nightmare. On the occasions I'd get high, I'd also get achy and groggy and bleary and antisocial. The inside of my lungs would feel scorched and black and sad.
But then at a party, a friend—we'll call him Uncle J—brought a toy for us to play with. It was a little whirring thing that plugged into the wall and had a long plastic tube coming out of it. The vapor it produced made me feel great: giggly, pain free, social, engaged, and even energetic. My brain wasn't cloudy. My body felt terrific. My conversation? Sparkling.
Of course, there are other ways to "experience" the "benefits" of "marijuana" without burning it to a crisp. My own tempestuous relationship with eating weed began freshman year in college, when I ate three-quarters of a pan of brownies and went temporarily blind. There was also the time I tried to whip up a batch of Skunkan Hines in the fancy kitchen of my mom's friends while housesitting. I had no idea what I was doing and managed to destroy the oven, distribute blankets of smoke throughout the entire downstairs, and utterly fail to catch any kind of buzz whatsoever.
I needed to have Uncle J tell me more about this whole "vape" thing.
Like the obsessive pothead and excellent friend he is, Uncle J came through in spades. After telling him about my plan to do "research" for this article, Uncle J stopped by with a briefcase full of weed (I am not joking about this) and no less than seven different kinds of vaporizers, from handheld "pens" to industrial-looking German contraptions that look like they came straight from a chemical warfare lab. It was going to be a long night.
We took it seriously. Uncle J prepared printouts for each of us (again, not joking) that detailed the history of vaporization and the differences between each of the units he brought. We learned about the ancient Scythians—history's first vaporizers, according to the Greek historian Herodotus. And Uncle J instructed us on the difference between conduction, in which weed comes in contact with a heated element, and the more preferable method of convection, in which warm air is passed over the weed. By keeping temperatures under 400 degrees—the actual temperature can vary due to your vaping implement, and your personal preference—a dedicated toker can avoid all of the non-cannabinoid compounds that come from setting flame to ganja. (For the purpose of this article, all units were intended for dry herb use; there are also vaporizers that you can fill with wax or oil.)
The Pax vaporizer, made by Ploom, was the most stylish of the portable units—it's the one that turns up in Grammy gift bags. But we concluded it was a bust, particularly after learning that one out of every 15 units is faulty, according to Uncle J. The AtmosRx Pen was also kind of a nonstarter, with only one heat setting (confession: I don't think I managed to make it work properly). But we all liked the Arizer Solo, a hefty little unit with a glass straw sticking out of it; it resembles a miniature fancy coffee drink, although the buzz is pretty different.
The bigger units all needed to be plugged in, which gives you the sense of being on dialysis. Storz & Bickel's Plenty was Uncle J's newest toy, a preposterous German thing that looked like a power drill with a curlicue tube coming out of it. And the Super Vapezilla was functional but un-sexy, a long tube sticking out of a chunky black box that looked like a clock radio.
The AroMed might have been my favorite, another German-made device that resembles a gooseneck desk lamp; it also has a water filter for extra smoothness (bonus: the water is delicious!). And the granddaddy of them all was the notorious Volcano—also made by Storz & Bickel, a gleaming chrome device that looks like the bottom part of a blender. It forces vapor into a huge plastic bag, which you pass around and take turns sucking upon—feeling fairly ridiculous all the while.
The experiment confirmed my theory: Vaporizing is much more amenable to me. While vaping's mellower effects might have been rendered moot by the evening's exhaustive research (collective levels of zooted-ness reached "bejesus" and higher), the drowsiness/confusion/anxiety that can come from puffing smoke was nowhere to be found. There's still a fairly deep learning curve with vaporization, and all the equipment is a little intimidating—you'll need a weed grinder with a kief catcher, plus other assorted accessories—but the benefits seem plainer than ever to me.
I'm still not at all comfortable with being stoned in public. And I'll still probably turn down most chances to get lit at a show or a party. But the next time someone passes the pipe, or offers a toke from their jazz cigarette, I'll be able to tell them the truth:
No thanks. I don't smoke weed.