Vapourizers offer a real 'pot-pourri' of choices for discerning users
By Jim Bray
Looking for a Christmas season gift for the cannabis user who has everything? Vapourizers offer a supposedly healthier way to imbibe than smoking the stuff – and there's almost as wide a variety of these devices as there are stars in the sky.
That's probably why the folks at Dr. Dabber, Arizer, Vapor.com, Cloudious 9 and some others got in touch with me to see if I'd be interested in doing an update to some of the vape columns I wrote a couple of years ago, back in the dark ages when using the stuff in Canada could see you rot in jail, if not burn in Hell.
In those columns, I gathered together a kind of "pot panel" to review various vapourizers, a group of (mostly) senior citizens who admit to having used marijuana for decades, from the dark days of prohibition to the supposed nirvana that legalization was supposed to be for the Canadian people. These are people who know their weed and, to be honest, aren't particularly impressed with how it has been legalized in the country.
Left: Dr. Dabber's Switch
That's because the greedy government, combined with "marijuana-trepreneurs" who've had visions of financial sugar plums dancing in their heads, have combined to knock the wheels off of a free market system that – while illegal – supposedly worked well and left everyone except the Powers That Be happy. So, while there are plenty of legal outlets (I've never been in one, but they're all over the place), my panellists tell me that all legalization has done for them is raise prices substantially: one friend told me the $200/ounce he still buys from "the friendly stranger" can cost well over $300 now (depending on the stuff and where you get it, of course).
This could explain why, according to media reports (which are always true, right?), legal marijuana isn't turning out to be the cash cow folks may have wanted or expected (maybe they should have invested in MAGA paraphernalia instead…).
But enough of that! This column isn't about the legality or morality of legal cannabis, it's about some of the newer vapourizers on the market – and as mentioned there's a bunch. There are big ones, little ones, portable ones, ones designed for use with "oil" or "wax" and – the first one here – big, party-centric ones that will do both.
Why vape? Well, according to some doctors who prescribe medical marijuana (a couple of the panellists who get their weed this way, and did before "legalization", passed along this info), since vaping doesn't actually burn the product you don't have to worry about the filthy mess and potential carcinogens that come from combustion.
Not only that, but my "bud-dies" tell me that vaping is very economical – once you've paid for the vapourizer – in that they can get their desired outcome using far less of the ground product. For example, one told me that an ounce now lasts about twice as long as when he used to roll it up in cigarettes. That alone is a pretty good argument, especially if you're paying through the, well, nose, for legal product.
Left: Arizer ArGo
Since I was sent an abundance of products, I set up a kind of "assembly line" review process, inviting the panel members to get together for the Grey Cup, Canada's annual football championship game and national party. Not all could be there, so I augmented the opinions gleaned there with some other get togethers designed to solicit their opinions. Let's get started:
Go big and go home: the Dr. is in.
Speaking of parties, never have I seen a vapourizer that elicited such exclamations of coolness than when the Grey Cup party folks laid eyes on Dr. Dabber's Rube Goldberg-ish "Switch." This sophisticated and well-built vapourizer ain't cheap, but it's certainly flexible and, according to the panellists, effective.
The Switch (base models start at $399 USD, according to the Dr. Dabber website) is beautifully built, and reeks of quality. It uses what the Dr. refers to as a "patent-pending induction heating" system and is supposedly suitable for use with both oils and flowers, "switch"ing from one to the other at the flip of, well, you know.
Dr. Dabber also touts the Switch's very quick heating speed and long battery life, both of which the panellists confirmed, though they didn't quite get to the Dr.'s claimed 150 uses on a single charge (I'd never have gotten rid of them!). You can also recharge the unit while you're using it.
Switch is a beautiful product, with a quality metal base atop of which sits a glass chamber in which you put the stuff you want to vape. There's a separate ceramic induction cup for oil or flower; put your stuff into the appropriate cup and use the included "reverse action tweezers" (they open when you squeeze them, instead of closing like conventional tweezers do) to pick up the cup and drop it – carefully – into the bottom of the glass cup.
Then you mount the glass percolator attachment, into which you've put some water (this piece apparently acts kind of like a water pipe or bong), select the oil or flower mode, press the "Go" button, and then perch the "carb cap" on top of the opening at the top of the glass top. Then you inhale via the opening atop the percolator attachment.
Left: Cloudious9 Atomic9
The rest, judging from my party guests' silly grins, is history.
It's quite the process, and can become almost like a ritual, but it's also quite fun in the party setting. It reminded me of the type of ritual one might see around the Christmas table, with those noisy cracker things we used to pull apart collectively at dinner. It doesn't hurt that the Switch puts on its own pretty light show as you use it.
Dr. Dabber says the Switch has 25 calibrated heat settings you can use to tweak the thing's performance to focus better on flavour, vapour density, efficiency, etc. The participants didn't get anywhere near close to trying them all, but there's no reason to doubt the good Doctor's claims.
The Doctor also claims the Switch can work as a portable unit, and I guess it can. It does come with a carrying case – kind of like you might use for professional camera or sound equipment – with foam inside into which the various pieces of the Switch fit. I can't imagine taking the Switch apart and packing it around like this, but you can if you want. Don't forget to dump out the water before you pack it up!
Be careful with this unit, though. It uses big pieces of glass and, to me, that seems like it could be an accident waiting to happen – especially if you've already used the thing a few times!
Yeah, it's expensive, but it's a quality unit that should last a long time if you take care of the glass. And the induction angle is pretty cool in itself. My wife has an induction cooker and this supposedly uses the same type of technology. Not only does the induction technology heat the thing up extremely quickly, but Dr. Dabber says it also keeps the electronics away from the heating element, so there should be no mechanical failure from leakage. "You can literally pour water into the heating element of the Switch and press the button and it would simply bring the water inside the dish to a boil," they say. As a firm believer in Murphy's Law, I advised the panel that they shouldn't test that.
You get everything you need in the box; the rechargeable battery is removable and they even throw in a little silicone "storage container". The manual is quite extensive, and there's an abundance of resources on the Internet, as well as various accessories. The unit comes with a two-year warranty.
In the end, the panellists loved the Switch, but thought its price and its fussiness worked against it. Of course, this is a gang that likes their vapes to be as portable as possible because they don't live in their parents' basements and actually do emerge into the sunlight periodically, and they like to share.
That left a bunch more to check out, all of which fit the "very portable" parameter.
Whither goes ArGo?
The panel was familiar with Arizer's products already, thanks to earlier columns on some of their products – units such as the Air, Extreme Q and Solo. The Extreme Q is like a hookah and is similar in concept to the Switch, in that it isn't the most portable but is a great "party favour" but the Air and Solo (they have multiple versions of each) are great for use at home or out and about.
Into that product line has been introduced the ArGo, which the company says is the next level in portability. Listed on their website as marked down to $229.99 CAD (and as of this writing they have a BOGO thing in which they throw in an Arizer Air with any vapourizer purchase), it's a worthy entry into their product line.
Left: AirVape X
The ArGo is shaped like a pack of cigarettes, though smaller, and like its Air and Solo siblings it uses a straw-like glass tube to both hold the weed and through which to draw. The big difference with the ArGo is that the glass tube fits right into the unit down to its bottom, leaving only the tip sticking out – and you can cover that by pressing a button that raises the top panel a bit, a move meant undoubtedly to protect the glass from destruction during the portability process.
This addresses a potential problem with Arizer's other portable vapourizers because it keeps the glass tube safe and sound – though to be fair the panellists never had an issue with that when using the other vapes. This methodology also facilitates travel because you can load a glass tube (it comes with two) and insert it into the ArGo before you leave. You can also fill the second tube and cover it with the included rubber cap, for when you've consumed the stuff in the first tube.
The tubes also come with little screens, a nice touch if you have difficulty keeping your grind coarse enough. The tubes are smaller in diameter than the ones that come with the Air and Solo, and therefore incompatible. It also seemed as if they got clogged more easily than the larger tubes and needed to be cleaned more often. Not a big deal, though; it's easy enough to do.
In use, you operate the ArGo via three buttons on the front panel that are topped by a little OLED display. This way you can control the temperature (in degrees F or C), session length, sound on/off, etc. It's simple and it works very well. Panellists liked its size, flexibility, and performance.
The unit seems to be built well, though in use the panellists noted that it got quite warm in the hand. It wasn't such that smoke would curl off the skin of their palms of course, but it was noticeable (the folks at Arizer told me it's normal). And the chamber is quite deep, which means you'll have a long reach to clean out its bottom, though it's hardly a deal breaker.
The ArGo comes with a removable/rechargeable battery (and USB charger) and you can use it while it's recharging. You also get a cool little carrying case with belt-clip; there's a stirring tool, too, which is a nice touch, and the glass tubes come in plastic cases you can use for transporting them safely or as stash holders.
Okay, it's no bong (though the company does make a "bong-like" vape) but Cloudious9's Atomic9 is a tiny handheld vapourizer that's so portable you might forget it's in your pocket. It's also very simple to use and, according to the panel of imbibers, very effective (this, as with all vapes, of course, depends on what you put in it). The company offers it as a standalone or, as they sent for us to try, in a bundle with the Tectonic9 grinder.
And all that can be had together for a mere $99USD. That is supposedly $30 off and is, indeed, cheap. Or you can get the vapourizer on its own for about 60 greenbacks. That's probably your best bet if you're anything like my friends: they liked the Atomic9 but prefer a manual grinder to the automatic-dispensing Tectonic9. Oh, the grinder does a fine job (you grind manually, so you're in control) but the automatic spewing, while cool, left the panel less impressed.
Left: Boundless CFC 2.0
As for the Atomic9, this tiny (about three inches tall) unit is child's play to use and even comes with its own little retractable scoop – though it works best if your stash is in a flattish container rather than a tall one.
The Atomic9 uses patent-pending "Dual Layer" heating technology the company says combines the vapour consistency of convection heating with the space and energy efficiency of conduction heating. The slim little unit works fine, offers good vapour, and has a reasonable battery life considering its size.
Restoking it on the go means you have to bring along an appropriate stash, though the thing's cheap enough that you could undoubtedly bring along a few of the vapourizers themselves, loaded (no pun intended) and ready for emergency use.
You can choose from six temperatures, from 356 to 428 degrees F and the single button on the side is used for both on/off and temperature. Cloudious says the unit will heat up in 45 seconds or less, and this seems accurate. It shuts off automatically, after about two minutes, undoubtedly to save its battery for the next person.
The folks at Vapor.com offered a selection of vapes, too, and those pesky panellists were happy to take them up on it. They also sent a great little grinder, and two carrying cases that are designed to get your stuff where you're going without alerting the Imperial Stormtroopers as to what you're carrying.
Portability is key…
Out of the abundance of offerings at Vapor.com, I chose a trio that ranges in price from $99 to $180USD and are all nice little units that not only perform well but which are small and subtle, for those times you don't want to be a pariah – or defendant.
The most expensive – and the most popular member of the trio, according to the folks who tried them – is the AirVape X. It lists on Vape.com's site for $180 USD, and the guys loved its classy metal case and magnetic top, its cool LED display, its cool-in-the-hand performance, and of course the quality of the vapour.
Left: K-Vape Pro
You remove the magnetically attached lid to load your stuff (and to clean it later which, like all of these vapes, should be done often) then snap it back on top. Fire the thing up (the simple interface has one button for power/selection and two more for temperature up/down). The manufacturer says the AirVape X now compatible with solid concentrates, but my gang didn't try that part of it.
The aluminium-bodied AirVape X feels great in the hand, comes with a nifty little (and quite subtle) carrying case, and fits beautifully into a pocket or purse. It supports temperatures from 200 to 420 degrees F (and can be switched to degrees C). The LED shows temperature, battery level, session length. It heats quickly and, when it reaches its temperature (and again, when it shuts off), it vibrates. It also shuts off after three minutes, which may not be enough time – but you can just fire it up again and it heats up and is ready to go in a jiffy, or you can extend the length via the control buttons.
The AirVape X uses a "hybrid convection/conduction heating system" and is very easy to keep clean using the accessories that come in the box. Battery life is merely okay – not surprising for a little unit with not much room for a battery – but it charges quickly and it works while on the USB charger.
The other two portable vapourizers are quite similar to each other and similar in concept to the AirVape X. The Boundless CFC 2.0 ($89.99 USD) and the KandyPens K-Vape Pro ($99.97USD) are both very nice units, though it's frustrating that the things the panellists loved about them were spread across both – in that, for instance, one has a neat display and more flexibility of settings, whereas the other has a flat front end that lets you stand it by itself when you're filling it.
Boundless' CFC 2.0's large ceramic chamber can supposedly hold up to half a gram of your dry herb and creates very good clouds of vapour. It heats up quickly and, like the AirVape and K-Vape Pro, you simply pry off the mouthpiece to reveal the chamber underneath.
It fits great in the palm and its ridges and grooves make it nice to grab onto. Its mouthpiece resists getting too hot, and lets you draw nicely. Battery life is reasonable (and you can use it while recharging) and you can choose temperatures from 140 – 446 degrees F (or the corresponding degrees Celsius).
There are only three buttons, one for power and two for temperature control. The mouthpiece (there's also a water pipe adapter) comes off easily and the unit is easy to clean using the accessories that come with it.
The only place the CFC 2.0 really fell down, literally, in comparison to the AirVape X and the K-Vape Pro is that its round front end means you can't stand it on a counter to load it. The panel didn't think this was a deal breaker by any means, but they did miss the capability.
And that's where the even smaller K-Vape Pro shone. Its mouthpiece is a little fussier than the CFC 2.0's, in that it isn't as easy to place back on the business end of the unit, and its interface isn't as flexible, but at the end of the day the vapour was just fine, battery life was competitive, and its pocket-friendly size and design was judged to be very nice.
The K-Vape Pro uses a glass mouthpiece with a honeycomb filter and its hybrid convection/conduction heating system strikes a nice balance between vapor thickness and flavour. You can only choose from four temperature settings (ranging from 350 F to 428 F, which is apparently one more setting than on its earlier version).
As with the AirVape X and CFC 2.0, you take off the mouthpiece and load your herb into the chamber below. Clicking the power button five times turns it on. Holding down the button lets you cycle through the temperatures (yellow, green, red, and blue – from cool to warm – are indicted by the colour of the K logo on the top). Once you've chosen the temperature, the row of four LED's blinks to indicate that it's heating and, once it stops, it's ready.
That said, with most of these vapes, just because the readout says it's ready doesn't mean you should go for it right then. The panellists noted that you should wait a bit – several seconds at least – for the clouds to form before sticking the thing onto your face.
There's always some minor maintenance required with vapourizers – mostly just cleaning the residue out of the reservoirs, but if you keep on top of it you shouldn't have any issues.
But wait, there's more!
We also received some accessories to try and I'll give you a quick look at the highlights.
First off is Moose Labs' $15.99 USD Mouthpeace. This add-on is designed to ensure you don't fill your lungs with tar, which seems more aimed at smokers than vapers, though your mileage may differ.
The Mouthpece is made from recycled, biodegradable materials, so it's politically correct! Its "triple-layer activated carbon filters" are said to sanitize smoke/vapor and enhance their flavor by "removing resins, toxins, and tar" without messing with your intake or reducing airflow.
Alas, when I brought out the Mouthpeace at our Grey Cup extravaganza the consensus was something like "Filters? We don't need no sinking filters," so I can't really tell you about its effectiveness. Just know that it's out there and if you're looking for such a product this is an affordable solution, if you don't bring it out before a bunch of curmudgeons.
We were also sent Dip Devices' $70USD Evri Starter pack, though since it was a "concentrate" device the panel refused to try it and I apologize to Dip Devices for that.
It looks pretty neat, though a tad Rube Goldbergish in that it tries to bring together a battery pack with "continuously evolving attachments." The box comes with the battery pack, which attaches to the other stuff magnetically. There's a Vapor Tip Attachment, and a 510/Pod Attachment that connects to 510 cartridges on one side and refillable e-juice pods on the other.
Evri says there's more such stuff on the way, too, so it appears this is a system that's meant to avoid planned obsolescence, which is always nice.
Finally, the folks at Vapor.com also sent a nice metal grinder (it's made of metal, it doesn't grind metal), a simple device that the panellists preferred to the high tech Tectonic9 because it keeps control of the distribution in the hands of the user, rather than a robot (also, because it's cheaper).
But what really turned the folks' cranks were the two carrying cases the Vapor.com folks included: Revelry's $100USD Overnighter and the $50USD Stowaway. Both are designed not only to tote your stuff with you, but to keep it subtle enough that any odour is kept inside.
My wife thinks they should make one big enough to hold me; I think she was referring to odours she claims I emit …
Anyway, Overnighter is the bigger of the two, but it's light and holds enough that you can use it as an – believe it or not – overnight bag. It's the smallest duffle bag in Revelry's line, but it's still pretty roomy, with an opening that can be covered by a flap to help keep smells inside. There are end pockets on the outside that give easy access to your smaller, non-controversial stuff and an inner stash pocket is designed to transport your more controversial stuff non-controversially.
The rest of the interior is the type of big, open space that's perfect for your wardrobe or whatever. Add an easy-to-grip handle and an adjustable shoulder strap to the mix and you have a nice way of packing your stuff without getting into too much trouble (I have no idea if it'll get you through an airport security scan safely and was certainly not silly enough to try).
Ditto for the Stowaway, which is a much smaller carrier and doesn't come with a carrying strap. It is, however a nice little bag that could double as a quite serviceable "man purse."
Revelry says it crafted the Stowaway to cater to "on-the-go dry herb and concentrate users," though I'm sure they'd be pleased to take your money even if you just want a "murse." It has a zippered pocket on the outside and pockets inside into which you can stuff your stuff – whether it be "stuff" or things like a cell phone or whatever. It isn't big enough for a regular-sized iPad, but it holds most of the other crap I pack around, such as wallet, comb, cell phone etc.
The bags feature a carbon filter system the manufacturer says traps any unwanted odours from escaping, and a water-resistant rubber-backed outer surface. Revelry says you can stick 'em in the dryer for a few minutes to get them looking and smelling as good as new.
Both bags appear to be built very well.
This merely scratches the surface of the vape-related products available these days, but it's a pretty good cross section. Each has its own ups and downs, but all of them worked as advertised and can provide "cannaisseurs" with a rewarding experience.
Just don't forget to keep them clean and charged!
Copyright 2019 Jim Bray
Jim Bray's columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.
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