As Cannabis Consumers Tastes Evolve So Must Vaping Technology
Leading cannabis industry research firm ArcView recently released data predicting that retail sales of the raw “flower” form of cannabis will reach $8.5 billion annually in the U.S. alone by the year 2020.
This comes as little surprise as 2 out of 3 Americans are now in favor of cannabis legalizations and 33 states plus Washington D.C. have legalized the production, sale, and use of cannabis on either the medical or recreational level.
What may surprise some people is that ArcView also predicts that sales of cannabis concentrates will continue their rapid rise, meeting or exceeding that $8.5 billion mark by the year 2022.
RISING FROM THE ASHES
The past decade has seen a whirlwind of innovation in the cannabis vaping market. Large, tabletop devices and cumbersome and awkward bags full of vapor – though effective – are no longer necessary for a healthy, potent, and terpene enriched experience.
As concentrates gained in popularity over the years, glassblowers have evolved their designs to accommodate the hot new trend of “dabbing” concentrated cannabis oils onto pre-heated surfaces to produce mind-bending vapors stuffed full of flavor, aroma, and ramped up effects.
Though delicious dabs from a low temp quartz nail are still a highly popular way to sit and sesh the moving parts, open flame, and fragile nature of glass make dabbing on-the-go less of a pleasure and more of a chore.
As tens of thousands of inexperienced cannabis users flood into the newly legalized markets not only across the U.S., but across the globe, the ritual required to take a proper dab – or even to break up a bunch of weed to roll a perfect joint – is just not going to appeal to many of them.
Add in the maintenance aspect of those traditional ingestion methods like cleaning pipes or bongs, dealing with ash and roaches, and managing the secondhand odors, and you can see why today’s average cannabis consumer is seeking more simplicity.
Cue the rising popularity of the vape pen.
CONVENIENCE… AT A COST
The first cannabis vape pens to hit the market were highly experimental and rarely worked as advertised. Cheaply constructed and poorly designed atomizers, unreliable or non-existent temperature control, and just overall inefficiency plagued many of these early brands and turned a lot of curious cannabis users away.
As the costs and quality of cannabis concentrates continued to climb, connoisseurs were unwilling to cram it into a questionable device that could waste the product.
The notoriously high temperatures used by most vape pens at the time would burn off beneficial cannabinoids and essential terpenes, leaving a hard to clean atomizer to be dealt with or trashed and replaced.
Right around 2013, a new craze hit the concentrate scene.
Distillate was a new form of cannabis extract that could take dark, undesirable cannabis oil and refine it to a golden/clear, low viscosity texture that was very aesthetically appealing. The drawback is that the process strips out all terpenes and most cannabinoids from the oil, leaving a decarboxylated and near flavorless product that is typically high in THC but that’s about it.
This led to distillate producers adding terps back into the mix in an attempt to mimic or closely reproduce the flavors found in strains like OG Kush, Blue Dream, Strawberry Cough, and more.
Traditional dabbers soon grew tired of the trend, but distillate found a new highest and best use with the rise of the pre-filled vape cartridge around 2014-15.
The incredible convenience of the pre-filled vape cart allowed anyone to take a discrete toke just about anywhere with no lighter, no smoke, and virtually no odor. Whether stuffed hastily into a pocket or purse, the consumer could remain confident that their oil would stay sealed inside their trusty vape pen.
This trend continued right through 2018, when 58% of market spending on cannabis concentrates was from pre-filled vaporizer cartridges.
But this convenience, we are learning, is coming at a cost.
FAKE IT TILL YOU MAKE IT
Though it should come as no surprise to anyone who knows anything about manufacturing, most vape pens and accessories are made overseas – typically in China. With intellectual property and trademark laws varying wildly from one nation to another, vape pen technology is among the most highly counterfeited sectors in the cannabis industry.
While these fake batteries, atomizers, tanks, and cartridges can be harmful to use, it’s what those bogus carts are being filled with that really ought to concern cannabis consumers the most.
Again, most distillate that makes its way into vape pen cartridges was not derived from top shelf, or even midshelf, cannabis oil. It is often created by refining oil extracted from faulty flowers or some sort of failed crop.
If you could see the dark, crude-like oil that they start with – which could be full of mold, solvents, and pesticides – you certainly wouldn’t want to vape it. But the distillation process makes it look better and then pre-filling it into a sealed glass tank makes it so that the consumer cannot really do anything other than look at it to judge its quality.
We are seeing the end result of this in failed lab tests from popular brands pushing pre-filled carts full of residual toxins and microbes that nobody ought to be vaping and inhaling.
Even with a clean lab test to back it up, many consumers report that distillate-based vape carts with added terpenes tend to lead to a scratchy throat and chronic cough after prolonged use.
That can’t be good.
But with the cannabis vaping market ready to really boom over the next five years, how can consumers stay safe?
ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS KNOW YOUR SOURCE
This is, and has always been, the number one rule for consuming cannabis. You’ve got to know your source.
With the corporatization of cannabis well underway, it is getting harder instead of easier to do just that.
There are some effective pre-filled vape cartridges on the market these days. Their quality and convenience typically come with a steep price tag.
Still, the safest, tastiest, and most potent way to go is to load your own vape pen with reputable, lab tested wax, shatter, budder, crumble, sauce, solventless, or whatever your taste buds desire. Consumers will benefit from a larger spectrum of naturally balanced, strain-specific cannabinoids and terpenes that will allow them to find a real cannabis strain with a profile that works for them, every time.
If you insist on a pre-filled cart, there is really only one way to make sure you don’t get burnt.
You have to get your carts from a legal, licensed cannabis dispensary. Most states require in-depth 3rd party lab testing to be performed on all such products before they can hit retail shelves. You can insist on seeing those test results and even search for more online.
In California, for example, a tainted batch of distillate could lead to the recall of thousands of packaged products, creating a financial nightmare for the companies involved. This, in theory, deters shady manufacturing and retail practices and protects the public.
But with more and more questions cropping up surrounding the safety and quality of what many long-time cannabis consumers refer to as “hot dog water”, the technology turns once again to the tradition of packing your own.
Advancements in vaporizer technology have come a long way just in the past few years to the point where handheld vape pens self-loaded with your favorite shatter, crumble, sauce, solventless, or other form of cannabis oil are quickly becoming the go-to method of low temperature ingestion for the terp-hunter on the prowl.
As used/empty pre-filled vape carts become the new non-biodegradable roach, the act of packing your own wax into a highly efficient and reusable vape pen tank is truly a more sustainable way.
Even then, the number one rule still applies – know your source when it comes to purchasing a vape pen. Whether it is for flower, concentrates, or even essential oils, choosing a reputable brand with a track record of customer satisfaction, a strong warranty, and the options you desire is the key to an enjoyable vaping experience.