Nothing gets cannabis fans stirred up like the question of vaporizing flower vs. smoking it. For traditionalists, the only way to go is by rolling a tight joint or packing a bowl full of freshly crumbled bud.
And we’ll admit it: There is a certain visceral intensity to the age-old practice of smoking rich and fragrant cannabis flower. For many, it engenders a primal connection with the plant, with tradition, and with the Earth itself. But for others, the technological leap of the vaporizer has only improved the cannabis experience, not diminished it. Comparing the experience of vaporizing with smoking, they say, is like comparing Champagne with ordinary wine: They’ll both get you to the same place, but in different ways.
More objectively, vaporizing flower tends to be easier on our lungs and airways because we’re not actually burning the cannabis, but merely heating it to the point at which its volatile oils release as a fine and gentle mist.
Who’s right? Ultimately, that’s for you to decide. Here’s what we currently know.
Vaporizing Flower: The Basics
As we hinted earlier, the technique of vaporizing is relatively new, especially when we consider that smoking cannabis has a history of at least a couple of thousand years! Vapes—whether they’re convenient pens or more elaborate tabletop models—all work on the same principle: Applying very specific and precise heat to either a cannabis extract or—in the case of tabletop models—to cannabis flower. This allows the cannabis to release its potent oils into an inhalable mist which we then draw into our lungs.
Because we’re talking about cannabis flower here, let’s stick with the subject of tabletop vaporizers. They’re typically a little more involved than vape pens. For one thing, many have a variable heat control, which allows you to subtly tune your experience.
That said, this flexibility comes with demands. Tabletop vaporizers must be carefully cleaned according to the manufacturer’s suggestion. And when you’re vaporizing flower, it’s important that it be ground to a fine and uniform consistency. While many of us enjoy this tactile interaction with the fresh and fragrant cannabis flower, it does introduce another step in the process.
There are a few portable flower vaporizers on the market, but they tend to be a compromise. You can take them on the go, but they typically lack the temperature control that distinguishes high-end tabletop models. Keep an eye out though—more and more handheld vaporizers are hitting the market, and they’re pretty cool.
Vaporizing vs. Smoking: Are There Qualitative Differences?
This is where the rubber really hits the road: Is the experience of vaporizing flower qualitatively different from smoking it? In large part, where you fall on this question depends on your taste, not any hard science.
As we hinted earlier, when it comes to your lungs, vaporizing flower is objectively cleaner than smoking it. If the smoke produced by burning cannabis is objectively not as harmful as that produced by, say, tobacco, that’s not to suggest it’s totally benign. When cannabis burns, it releases particulate matter, which includes irritants such as tar and ammonia. You may react by coughing or sneezing, or feel a tightness or irritation in your airways.
Fans of smoking, for their part, claim that vaporizing flower is a thin and flavorless experience. Again, it comes down to a question of taste. In our experience, vaporized cannabis exhibits all the characteristic, strain-specific flavors and aromas of smoked cannabis, even if the experience isn’t quite as intense.
Our advice: Try them both! We’re always happy to help guide or advise you on the purchase of cannabis products. Find your closest Have a Heart below to get started!