Are handheld vaporizers safe and healthy to use? Some might say the ultimate evolution of cannabis technology was realized when vapes showed up. Their hyper-convenience offers consumers an accessibility unmatched by other modes of cannabis intake, in which a person can stay consistently high in the most discrete and subtle way possible. In many ways, vaporizer hardware has revolutionized the marijuana industry. But as with all new trends, we're forced to ask, is this too good to be true?
To be clear, this article will not be discussing the safety of cannabis oils and cartridges (stay tuned for a report covering that topic in the future) — but rather, on the safety of the hardware used to make vaporizer batteries.
This past month, a 25-year old was killed by his newly purchased vape when it exploded in his face, severing an artery in his neck, while last spring a man in Florida was killed by his pen when it exploded in his hands mid-use, sending projectiles into his head and starting a fire in his home.
According to Tobacco Control, from 2015 to 2017 there were an estimated 2,035 vape pen explosions. And report from the U.S. Fire Administration claims that the pens’ lithium-ion batteries are to blame for the increase of injuries, due to things like overheating, broken glass cartridges, and explosions. The fact that these pens are more often than not in our mouths doesn't help matters with regard to safety. “This inherent intimacy with the device is what makes the e-cigarette hazard unique among consumer products,” the report states. “No other consumer product that is typically used so close to the human body contains the lithium-ion battery.”
Yet this danger hasn't seemed to dampen these little devices’ runaway popularity — users represent a global vaping market worth many billions. As vape ubiquity mounts, caution and good sense are in order, so we spoke with industry insiders to learn what's safe and what’s not when it comes to vaping hardware.
“There is a lot of cheap hardware on the market, that’s a key issue,” says Nate Ferguson, co-founder of Jetty Extracts, an Oakland-based cannabis oil producer. “The best vapes are more expensive, yes, but are made with much safer, higher quality components which function consistently. Parts like quartz atomizers, tempered glass, and stainless steel components are indicative of better rigs. Design is what makes a better experience, and if you just spent upwards of $60 on one cartridge of oil, you want it to work and for the rig not blow up in your face.”
Using vapes with CCEL technology — a ceramic heating element considered far superior to traditional and cheaper wick and coil rigs — has excellent heat absorption and distribution abilities.
“Coil heating, which is common because of its lower production price and higher availability, can easily cause the whole vaporizer to overheat, which gives a nasty charred taste to your oils,” says Marie Montmarquet, product consultant for Greenrush, a quick cannabis delivery service. “But much more importantly, the overheating can lead to explosions, broken glass, and dangerous overheated parts, causing contact burns on hands and mouths.”
Allison Luvera, head of marketing at luxe cannabis producer Kurvana, admits that with any device that includes a battery and self-heating technology, there is potential for malfunction. "Especially when you consider that products on the market use varying levels of incompatible technology and often don’t educate their consumers on how to properly use these devices," she adds.
DO’s of vape hardware
- DO your research and make sure your pen manufacturer is using only high-grade hardware—pick pens that sport quartz atomizers, tempered glass, or stainless steel.
- DO purchase pens that use the superior CCEL hardware heating technologies
- DO store your device out of direct sunlight and in temperatures between 60 and 78 degrees fahrenheit
- DO pair your pen with cannabis from the same manufacturer, if possible
DON'Ts of vape hardware
- DON’T purchase pens that use coil and/or wick heating even though they are less expensive
- DON’T expose your device to extreme or sudden pressure changes (scuba diving, airplanes, etc.)
- DON’T chain vape as you can overheat your device (a pull every couple of minutes should be fine)
- DON’T draw consecutively for more than three puffs without giving it some time to cool down; approximately two minutes