Vape High vs. Smoke High: What’s the Difference?

What characterizes a vaporizer high? How much of a difference is there between a vaporizer high and the high from a joint or bong? How different are various vaporizers on the market as to the high they produce? How much does the temperature setting on a vaporizer matter to the quality and character of the high?

A clearer high

There are many discussions about these and other question concerning the vaporizer high. After reading various online threads from a number of cannabis websites I would say that there is at least one thing almost every vaporizer user agrees on: the vaporizer high is much ‘clearer’ than the high coming from burnt cannabis smoked either from a bong, pipe, or from a joint with tobacco.

Going from my own experiences and from reports of many other users, a ‘clear’ high is a high that leaves you cognitively more functional; there are less short-term memory disruptions, you are not loosing the thread so often when talking about a certain subject, you feel less disoriented and confused.

One reason for this is presumably the absence of various toxins otherwise created by burning cannabis at high temperatures. If cannabis is heated beyond 200 ºC (392 ºF), some unwanted substances are produced:

“(…) traceable amounts of benzene are found in the vapor mist. Benzene contributes to couch lock (…) 

But the clarity of the vaporizer high compared to highs from burning cannabis cannot only be explained by the absence of some toxins. A cannabis plant contains around 113 cannabinoids. It also contains more than 120 terpenes and more than 20 flavonoids, which are responsible not only for the distinct aroma of a strain, but also have an important influence on the high.

If we want to understand the character of vaporizer highs better, we first need to look at the different boiling points of some of the relevant cannabinoids. THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, known to give you a more heady, cerebral, energetic high, already boils at 157ºC (314.6 ºF). CBN (cannabinol, an oxidation breakdown product) is known to be sedative and to generate a more confusing, disorienting high, boils at 185 ºC (365 ºF). CBD (cannabidiol), now getting famous for its medical value for various purposes (anxiolytic, analgesic, antipsychotic, antispasmotic, etc.) boils between 160-180 ºC.

The cannabinoid THCV (tetrahydrocannabivarin), known to act as a euphoriant as well as being analgesic, boils at 220 ºC (428 ºF). For the sake of brevity I’ll leave it at that; but there are other cannabinoids which we know have an influence on the high.

Now, given that vaporizers can be set to different temperatures ranging from as low as 130 ºC to 200 ºC and more, it should be clear that they can produce a range of markedly different highs at different temperatures.


Vaporizer technology and user experiences

If we want to evaluate experiential reports about vaporizers we have to look very closely at what kind of vaporizers have been used to generate a high. Markus Storz, the inventor of the German Volcano vaporizer, presumably the best known precision vaporizer in the world, explained to me in a personal interview:

“Vaporizers which are heating up only the chamber, but don’t heat up the incoming air to vaporizing temperature cannot consistently heat up the plant material.”

Many experimental reports from users of vaporizers with an inferior heating technology have to be considered with care. While most vaporizers presumably still deliver a much better, cleaner high than that coming from a joint or bong, users of many inferior vaporizers do not get the precision temperature control to really let them join a grown up discussion about the differences of a high coming from a certain strain produced with a vaporizer at 160ºC (320 ºF) or 180ºC (356 ºF).

And there are other factors we have to keep in mind when evaluating personal reports about the vaporizer high from users. Many users have smoked joints for a long time before using vaporizers, mostly made of low-quality black market cannabis mixed with inferior cigarette tobacco. They tend to equate the ‘real’ high with the resulting effects of burned, inferior cannabis and bad tobacco– which are usually more disruptive, disorienting, sedating, and messing with their short-term memory.

Often, these users are initially disappointed by the vaporizer high from pure cannabis because they miss a certain nicotine kick from the tobacco, or because they actually have been seeking out only a ‘mind-crippling’- effect which helps with sedation and forgetting the strains of their day.

I have talked to many users who told me they seek a state of mind in which they simply get a body stone relaxation coupled with a high that cripples their mind, messes with their short-term memory, so that they can get relief from their daily stress, mentally and physically. A clearer high coming from a precision vaporizer set to a lower temperature usually does not give them that. Many of those users do not even recognize the altered state of mind coming from a vaporizer as a real high, because they are not used to being so cognitively functional.

When we look at discussions about the vaporizer high in various internet forums we also have to keep in mind that many users receive their cannabis from the black market and, therefore, often do not know exactly what strain they are buying, under which conditions it has been produced and stored, and what the cannabinoid profile of their material is. Briefly, then, many of the anecdotal reports about vaporizer highs and generalizations about how using a vaporizer affects the high in a systematic way have to be considered with care and are presumably wrong.

Many opinions are based on consumers using bad quality marijuana with vaporizers which do not really allow for a precise temperature control, and many user reports are influenced by their bias from smoking marijuana. This also explains the many contradictory reports from users. In part II, we will therefore take a closer view at an approach to better research vaporizer highs in the future and how to produce valuable insights into the diverse effects of the many cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids in cannabis.

Precision vaporizers and the future of cannabis research

When we look at the various cannabinoids and their boiling points, we can certainly make some rough predictions about the systematic influences of a vaporizer on the character of a high.

Temperatures higher than 185 ºC (365 ºF) will for instance produce more CBN, which is known to produce a more sedative, confusing effect. A vaporizer high will always strongly depend not only on a certain strain and its cannabinoid and terpene profile, but also on the exact temperature at which it is used.

Precision vaporizers like the Volcano in the hands of skilled user will help us to answer many questions and to actually come up with new questions about how a vaporizer can affect a high.

This sounds like a futile enterprise for nerdy high aficionados. But to answer these questions will help millions of users to use the potential of marijuana in a more meaningful and inspiring way.

Many people use the marijuana high to better remember long gone events, to work creatively, to find new patterns in music or art, to better appreciate nature, to get in touch with their feelings and have a better introspective access to themselves, to enhance their empathic understanding of others, to make love, to generate great and live changing insights and to personally grow.[1] 

Many of those users are on a voyage, exploring a new world, and the use of marijuana can be crucially important for their lives – and the lives of everybody around them. They will extremely profit from a progress in understanding how the various cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids affect a high.

Naturally, medical patients will immensely profit from this development, too. For them, other questions play a bigger role: at which temperature should I vape what strain to get the best analgesic properties while staying mentally functional? At which temperature should I vape my strain to get a good relief of my neuropathic pain without getting tired during the day?

Precision vaporizers are magnificent tools for researching the psychoactive properties of the various cannabinoids and terpenes, and we are certainly only at the very beginning when it comes to understanding these substances and their psychoactive potential.

Terpenes and flavonoids affect the high

Many plants (and some insects) produce terpenoids for a whole variety of reasons. When ingested by animals, terpenes can be anti-oxidant, analgesic, anti-microbial, anti-carcinogen, muscle relaxant, anti-depressant, anti anxiety, sedative, psychoactive in various ways, and have various other effects. Plants need to defend themselves against pests and herbivores, but some also have to rely on animals:

“Many plants that rely on animals to disperse their seeds must limit feeding rather than kill the animal directly because it might lose a valuable seed carrier. Lipids (…) perform this function. The most interesting lipids are terpenes, which have a strong aromatic flavor. For example, myristicin, found in nutmeg and many other spices, prevents animals from seasoning their diet too heavily with those plants. If taken in sufficient quantities, myristicin causes dizziness and loss of motor coordination.” [2]

Like the various cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids have been developed by plants for many reasons and therefore can be used for a whole range of medical purposes; and they have many diverse influences on mind and cognition. Clearly, the distinctive terpene profile of a certain strain importantly contributes, and – in addition to the cannabinoid profile – defines the character of the high coming from that strain. The boiling points of terpenoids (when dried and cured, terpenes turn into terpenoids) are also distributed over a whole range of temperatures.

Myrcene, the most prevalent terpene found in marijuana has clove like, earthy, citrus, mango and minty nuances, boils between 166-168ºC (331-334 ºF) and is said to be analgesic and anti-inflammatory.

D-limonene boils at 177 ºC (351 ºF) and has hints of citrus fruits, rosemary, juniper and peppermint, is anti-bacterial, repulsive for predators and is found in many rinds of fruits and flowers. It can also be anti-carcinogen and anti-depressant.

The sedative 945-terpineol boils only at 217-218 ºC (423-424 ºF) and has hints of lilac, citrus, apple blossoms and lime. The flavonoid apigenin boils at 178 ºC and is believed to have anxiolytic properties.

This short list should already illustrate that we do not only have to look at dozens of cannabinoids, but also at a whole variety of terpenes, flavonoids and their distinctive boiling points if we want to understand the distinctive highs coming from various strains vaporized at a certain temperature.

Also, vaporizers do not burn terpenes and can therefore bring out their full aromatic potential. You will not only get a high different from that of burned cannabis because you get a more favorable cannabinoid/terpene/flavonoid profile almost without toxins. Your high will be positively affected by a distinctive sensual aromatic experience.

When you drink a 30-year old Port Ellen whisky, your consciousness is not only affected by the alcohol in your beverage. The complex aromatic experience opens up your mind, makes you sensitive, and lets you go on a sensuous trip. Users of vaporizers can have more of this aficionado component in their use, especially when vaping marijuana at lower temperatures.

Vaporizing: A whole new way to consume cannabis

Precision vaporizers offer new dimensions in exploring the mind-altering potential of cannabis. A marijuana high is the result of the effect of dozens of cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids, which all have different boiling points and therefore vaporize at different temperatures.

Many of the generalizations about vaporizer highs that can be found in forums are probably wrong; others, like the claim that the vaporizer high offers a much “clearer”, less confusing and less sedated experience make sense not only regarding the many users who endorse this view, but also on the basis of what we know so far about the psychoactive properties of some cannabinoids, terpenes, and their various boiling points.

In the next years, our knowledge about the psychoactive role of the various cannabinoids and terpenes will grow, quickly. There is already much knowledge concerning these questions coming especially from the medical dispensaries in the US and their patients. I hope that many inspirational users will soon be in a better position to better access a much higher quality of marijuana and to enjoy its effects in precision vaporizers. Their feedback and that of medical marijuana users to medical and other professionals will be crucial for the research of the potential of marijuana. And there is no doubt that vaporizers will play a fundamental role in this journey, a journey that will essentially help millions of marijuana users in the future to generate a crucially useful altered state of mind.

The Australian koalas know their favorite plants. They eat only select types of eucalyptus. Some aromatic oils of the eucalyptus go from their inside through their skins to protect them against ectoparasites, while other oils “decrease blood pressure, lower body temperatures, and relax their muscles.” Usually, they eat the mature leaves for these purposes in hot climates, but in cold climates, they eat younger ones containing phellandrene, which increases body temperature. Maybe it is time for us marijuana users to follow their example and to get to know our cannabis better.

  1. Compare Lester Grinspoon (ed.) (2014), marijuana-uses.com.
  2. Ronald K. Siegel (1989, 2005), Intoxication, The Universal Drive For Mind Altering Substances p.29.
  • Disclaimer:
    Laws and regulations regarding cannabis use differ from country to country. Sensi Seeds therefore strongly advises you to check your local laws and regulations. Do not act in conflict with the law.

Comments

11 thoughts on “Vape High vs. Smoke High: What’s the Difference?”

  1. First off I’ve been an ‘every day’ pot smoker for 55 years, starting at age 18. I don’t give a hoot about taste, nor ever have. I’ve never really enjoyed the taste or smell of pot, but I love the high. I DON’T want clarity…I want to get ‘face in the carpet’ wasted. I had to give up sativa many years ago because it no longer did the trick. I’ve been smoking indica exclusively every day for the last 35 years because there was no choice except to upgrade. It was the ONLY strain I could get off on anymore. Then about 15 years ago I noticed I never get really ‘blitzed’ anymore. YES I get high, but not wasted…and wasted is what I’m looking for. THEN not long ago I was told “you must vape”. “It will get you way higher, and with less pot consumption too. BS…I repeat BS!!! I do NOT get one iota higher from the vape, than I do from a joint/pipe. And the high I do get is ‘light weight’ and NOT enjoyable or mind numbing. Plus get this. My vape is set at 405 F., and the ash/residue can be smoked in a regular pipe…and guess what I get off on it. What’s with that? The used pot looks discolored…but not burnt when it comes out of the chamber. I should not be able to get off on the residuals. That is supposed to be spent? Aside from OBVIOUS health benefits, I’m certain that’s not enough reason to stay with vaping. I want to get really high, NOT just get by. I bought the Starry V3 as I didn’t want to spend a pile of money on a ‘maybe’. Reviews were good…even generous. It seemed to be a name brand and model that was good for my use. I didn’t care if it was convection or induction as taste was NOT a factor…although expense was…especially when not sure if this is a method I’m good with. As it turns out I am NOT. I offer this as an objective suggestion to all curious ‘wanna be vapers’. Know exactly what you want and expect from this vaping experience before you invest a nickel. ASK yourself the question, “do I wanna get ‘face planted blitzed’, or mildly, clearly headed, high? Which if like me, leaving you with the feeling of dissatisfaction, and ‘why bother’? Even as an asthma and emphysema sufferer, the health benefits are NOT enough to stay with vaping. It DOESN’T do the trick, and the feeble idea that it works out cheaper in the long run due to less consumption is a pack of lies too. I consume even more vaping because you should grind the pot up till it is nearly Keif in texture. And a person like me is going to consume less? No way, I’ve just watched my bag of pot diminish for nothing. Boo hiss, buyer beware. If you want a ‘balls to the wall’ high, stick with joint, pipes and or bongs. Leave the vaporizers for the connoisseurs and flavor freaks who are happy with a mild high.

  2. “Many opinions are based on consumers using bad quality cannabis with vaporizers which do not really allow for a precise temperature control, and many user reports are influenced by their bias from smoking cannabis. This also explains the many contradictory reports from users. Choosing a good, precision vaporizer that it is available thanks to modern technology, can mitigate many of these inferior experiences.”

    This, so much! Also, be open minded and don’t think that the confused high is the only way of being high.

    Godd job in this article! Very informative and complete 🙂

    1. Why must I remain ‘open minded’? No sarcasm intended, but what’s to be open minded about? Either I’m stoned or I am NOT, and the problem is I’m not very. Since writing that article I dried out for a week thinking that perhaps that would bring my tolerance level down a tad, then started vaping 100% of the time…still to no avail. My Starry V3 is set at 420 F. I get 3 bowls full out of a 10 minute session. Each bowl nets me 10 tokes. So I’m getting a total of 30 vape hits, and I am NOT high. Yes I can obviously say I’ve smoke something, but ‘face planted high’…no way. Is it possible that after 55 yrs of continuous use it has boosted my tolerance level to a point where I can NO longer get blitzed? Some idea’s or resolutions to this would be muchly appreciated. Many thanks.

      1. I forgot to mention that I ‘ONLY’ smoke indica with the highest THC level the store can offer me. I no longer get off on hash, or sativa’s. I don’t want to upgrade to shatter or budder. It costs more, and very shortly thereafter that is your new normal and high. A retirement govt pension does not allow for that luxury..

  3. vapes for weed

    Ex client work and i appreciate your information about the vapes for weed it’s good work.

  4. Very good article,

    I got alot of good information from it.

    If you have time could you write a article about using others herds(Black Papper, Mint …) to create a uniqui effect when vaporizing with canabis.

    Thanks you very much

  5. When I look at vaporizers, I feel overwhelmed by all the choices. I bought a cheap one (still, over $100) a few years ago that turned out to be a waste of money, and don’t want to make that mistake again. At the same time, I can’t afford to drop $500 on one of these hardcore models. How precise can I get for less?

    I’m not just looking for reviews, I’ve Googled reviews, but I need advice that’s a little more specific to someone who has no idea where to start. Can anyone help narrow it down for me?

    1. Flowemate V 5.0 Pro

      Probably this answer comes many years too late but still I want to tell any futur readers of this comment that I’m using the Flowermate V 5.0 which only costs about a hundred € and I am a big fan

  6. Who smokes joins with tobacco mixed in them? That’s crazy talk! This article was awesome though.

    1. Once I was hanging out in portand with a bunch of street kids and this weird israeli tourist. He passed around a joint, and we were all hacking like crazy. Once thoroughly stoned and lost all social quams one of the kids asked “whats wrong with this joint?!”

      Apparently “spliffs” are pretty common in some parts of the world. But we had about the same reaction.

      Anyway, I’m glad that the guy had a good time with “one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight AMERICAN HIPPIES!”. We later saw the guy in Colorado at the Steamboat Rainbow Gathering exactly as we were packing out after heat from The Fuzz got a little too intense. Crazy coincidences.

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    Sensi Seeds

    The Sensi Seeds Editorial team has been built throughout our more than 30 years of existence. Our writers and editors include botanists, medical and legal experts as well as renown activists the world over including Lester Grinspoon, Micha Knodt, Robert Connell Clarke, Maurice Veldman, Sebastian Maríncolo, James Burton and Seshata.
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    Sanjai Sinha

    Dr Sanjai Sinha is an academic faculty member at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York. He spends his time seeing patients, teaching residents and medical students, and doing health services research. He enjoys patient education and practicing evidence-based medicine. His strong interest in medical review comes from these passions.
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