Getting Beyond THC
When many cannabis consumers consider the chemical makeup of their flower, they tend to focus on THC. The more savvy among them will often add in CBD, and more rarely, THCA, or THCV. While this level of knowledge is more than enough for a casual user to (usually) leave the dispensary with what they came for, this level of complexity is not nearly enough for those who use cannabis in order to rebalance brain chemistry, treat an illness, or manage chronic pain. There are currently at least 70 known cannabinoids, 120 known terpenoids and 23 flavonoids, depending on what reference you consider. Each one of these chemically distinct compounds has its own particular pharmacological effects.
Cannabis is a plant whose compounds have synergistic effects. This means that while CBD and THC act on the body separately, many of their effects are multiplied when the compounds are consumed together. Other cannabinoids and terpenes have been found to behave in a similar fashion. Though their tastes and effects are separate and distinct, they are compounded and multiplied when the substances are consumed together. This is one of the major differences between vaping flower and wax concentrates. While flower naturally contains a selection of the aforementioned chemicals, concentrates are often an intense concentration of one or two of these chemicals (often with additional ‘terpenes’ or flavonoids).
Consumer awareness of the complexity of cannabis is rapidly increasing, and they are beginning to demand products tailored precisely to their needs. This is one of the main reasons why it has become common to see concentrate extractors create products which are ‘nug run’, ‘live’, ‘whole plant’, or ‘complimentary’. All of these designations (some more correctly than others) are meant to imply that the concentrate in question maintains a chemical profile which is the same, or quite similar to the chemical constituents native to the original flower.
The Temperature Spectrum
Some Like It Hot
Whether you’re vaping concentrate or flower, temperature is the most important variable to consider. There is an obvious reason for concern at the top end of the temperature spectrum. Though there is room for argument, the upward bound of safe vaping temperature is generally considered to be 392°F. When you vape above this temperature, you put yourself at risk of inhaling (significantly lower levels of) benzene and various other dangerous chemicals associated with combustion. However, many medical patients choose to ignore this upper bound entirely, pointing to a scientific study which showed that CBD levels are maximized at a vaporizer temperature of 446°F.
It’s not just CBD. While THC vaporization begins at the low end of the middle of the temperature spectrum (314°F), that doesn’t mean that low-medium is the ideal temperature setting for those who are seeking a high-THC experience. Studies have shown that THC vaporization rates can be as low as 24% when patients are using a vaporizer whose temperature is set within a range of 314°F – 328°F. When the temperature of the vaporizer is increased to 446°F the rate of THC vaporization skyrocketed to 77%.
Not all high temperature dabbers are medical patients seeking a high CBD yield. High temperature vaping (above 392°F) has been shown to release the highest levels of THCV. THCV is a newly discovered psychoactive cannabinoid, but the data is already clear that high levels of THCV produce the same psychoactive effects as THC. This additional high is worth the risk for many dedicated dabbers. Some users swear by vaping at temperatures in ranges as high as 400°F to 445°F, particularly because these temperature ranges produce the thickest, densest visible vapor levels. This particular temperature range may induce a great high, but it negates some of the health benefits that vaping has over smoking, so it’s not something to consider lightly.
Stuck In the Middle
The ideal temperature for most vaporizing enthusiasts is going to be somewhere in the middle. It may sound unexciting, but middling temperatures actually contain the majority of the chemical spectrum, and thus the majority of the observable effects. THC is vaporized at the low end of the middle (314°F), meaning that those who are seeking to maximize their high while minimizing potential health risks should be vaping somewhere within this temperature zone.
Both CBG and CBN have been found (by preliminary scientific testing) to have effects which are similar to CBD, and are available within this much safer temperature range. Thus, most of the effects that you’re looking for are waiting somewhere in the middle of the temperature spectrum. Most of the psychoactive chemicals found in cannabis are fully vaporized and readily available between temperatures of 350°F – 390°F. This particular range will allow for the most psychoactive effects without the additional detriment associated with partial (or complete) combustion.
Unfortunately, this temperature range has its’ downsides as well. CBD is not readily available at temperatures this low, nor is THCV. Interestingly, this temperature range is actually too high for many desirable terpenes (or terpenoids) to survive. This leads some dabbers to ‘stair-step’ their vaping experience. ‘Stair-step’ refers to a temperature adjustment technique which involves starting very low on the spectrum and gradually increasing the vaping temperature in consistent increments (usually something like 10°F or 20°F). By starting at the lowest point of this range, dabbers are able to begin their wax vaping experience with a focus on flavor and then gradually increasing their vaping temperature as they seek more of a ‘head high’.
The Cool Kids
Low temperature vaping, sometimes called ‘cool vaping’ or ‘cold dabbing’ is almost as much a cultural phenomenon as it is a manner of consuming cannabis. With the rise in the popularity of ‘complementary’ or ‘strain consistent’ concentrates (concentrates whose lab test results for the major cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids match the lab test results for their cultivar of origin) has also come a movement of dabbers and vapers whose main interest is ‘the other stuff’. These particular vapers are likely to bring up compounds like caryophyllene, linalool, and myrcene. These terpenoids (often referred to as terpenes by the vapers who love them) are responsible for much of the smell and flavor of individual cannabis cultivars, though scientists have shown that many of them also have various medical, physical and mental health properties.
Low temperature vaporizing produces little to no observable vapor. Those who are used to combustion will likely find the experience fairly underwhelming. And yet, it is increasingly popular. The number of companies producing concentrates which are ‘live’ (flash-frozen prior to extraction in order to preserve terpenes) or ‘nug run’ (produced from the nugs of the plant instead of the trim, and based on the untested theory that nugs contain more available terpenes) and ‘whole plant’ (pressed from the whole plant based on the untested theory that the whole plant contains more available terpenes) continues to grow, and much of this is produced for low temperature dabbers who are positively obsessed with flavor.
Low temperature dabbing has some surprising adherents as well. Many of those who seek to use medical cannabis for the physical results but who wish to avoid a high are finding that low temperature dabbing meets their needs. Low temperature dabbing does not produce very many chemicals with pain-relieving properties, but it produces a disproportionately high percentage of cannabinoids and flavonoids which are particularly good for calming anxiety and reducing stress. Using a vape pen with low temperatures offers these particular patients the addition benefit of not producing any of the cannabinoids which are associated with paranoia or anxiety.
What’s Right for You?
Each plant or concentrate contains a different mix of cannabinoids, terpenoids, and flavonoids. This mix changes depending on the part of the plant used in production (in the case of concentrates) as well as the age and condition of the cannabis. This assortment of chemicals all begin to vaporize at different temperatures, and they vaporize at different rates. This means that even a small change in the vaporization temperature can have drastic effects on both the vaping experience and the physical effects of the cannabis consumed. This means that you should consider vaping a cannabis variety at one consistent temperature through a whole session if you are seeking a particular experience.
When it comes to choosing the proper temperature to vaporize chemical constituents in your product, the most important thing for you to consider is what you’re using it for and what kind of experience you want to have. It’s also essential to consider what sort of risks you’re willing to take. The higher end of the temperature spectrum provides a lot of exciting and intoxicating chemical compounds, but it also puts you at risk of ingesting some compounds which are far more dangerous. The lower end of the spectrum allows for incredibly flavorful and nuanced cannabis experiences, but it is also a somewhat tedious (and some would say rather wasteful) way to consume cannabis products.
Are you interested in the science of cannabis? Click Here to learn more about vaporizing technology and the wonderful world of cannabis.