By Jim Bray
A special TechnoFile feature
Marijuana has been in the news for decades, usually in the "Reefer Madness" category of coverage, but only in the past few years has the discussion really turned from the scary cautionary tales of old to the "herb's" potential medical uses.
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I remember back in 1997, when my mother was dying of cancer, her physician remarked that if he could have prescribed marijuana to ease her suffering he would have. But he couldn't, so he didn't. It was small consolation and she passed away about a month later but - since this was coming from a respected medical professional - it showed that there may be more to this much maligned plant than we've been told over the years.
And now it appears that marijuana is well on its way toward being legalized in Canada, if Prime Minister Justin Trudeau makes good on his campaign promises. Whether Trudeau II makes good on his pledge or not, however, the genie is out of the bottle: marijuana is now legal in parts of the United States and, like homosexual "marriage" it's probably inevitable that tokers will soon be a recognized "designated minority group," able to light up when they want without having to worry about law enforcement dragging them away.
Unless, of course, they light up where smoking of any substance is banned, places like restaurants, bars and an increasing number of other venues.
On the other hand, just like e-cigarettes are changing the act of "smoking", there are similar types of solutions being offered for those whose herb of choice hasn't been a legal product since time immemorial, though if their tobacco counterparts are any indication they probably still won't be able to imbibe in public places.
These "high tech" solutions are called vapourizers, and there is about a googolplex of such devices for sale on the market, ranging from big, tabletop units to cute little critters you can take in a pocket with you to toke surreptitiously at will.
According to the sometimes dependable Wikipedia, "A vaporizer or vaporiser is a device used to vaporize the active ingredients of plant material, commonly cannabis, tobacco, or other herbs or blends for the purpose of inhalation." What that means is that, rather than burning the stuff, the vapourizer heats it up to a temperature at which it releases its active ingredient, without any actual combustion happening.
The buzz, pun intended, is that vapourizers use less "stuff," are reusable, and are less harmful to the lungs than systems like pipes and rolled cigarettes that actually burn the stuff and send all the harmful things into your lungs. And since there's no combustion, there's no smoke (there's some vapour instead) and relatively little smell compared to burning the stuff. I imagine it's similar to the e-cigarettes tobacco users enjoy, though I don't know for sure since I haven't smoked a cigarette since 1981.
I recently got an email offering me some review samples. It wasn't samples of pot, which would have been quite interesting, but of a cross section of vapourizers. Fortunately, as a baby boomer, I've come into contact with many people who enjoy marijuana regularly, some of whom have enjoyed it for decades, so I assembled an "expert panel" of friends and acquaintances who could try out the vapourizers and give me their impressions.
Alas, it turned out that two of the vapourizers - the Aurora from Dr. Dabber and the "original MicroG" from Grenco Science - are designed for use with "concentrates," which apparently means that putting in the regular "herb" would ruin them. I say "alas" because none of my panel had any "oil" or "wax" or "concentrates," nor was anyone interested in shelling out to buy some in order to help me with the test. Perhaps if they could have written it off as work-related expense (they're consulting, after all!) it would have helped, but I somehow doubt that their "independent retailers" would issue receipts.
It's a darn shame, because these vapourizers are beautiful, slick little units that, if they work as advertised, are probably really nice to use. And according to other reviews I found online, they do work as advertised, mostly (I'll include some info from other "experts" farther down in this overview).
The third vapourizer they sent was the Summit+ by Vapium. It's meant for "finely ground aromatic blends" according to the instructions - and it proved to be a real hit with the panel - no pun intended.
By the way, if you follow the links above to the vape makers' sites, you'll have to affirm that you're over 18 years of age to get in. I guess that makes sense. I wonder if you have to do that for porn sites.
"Built to Handle the Backcountry"
That's how Vapium's website introduces the easy winner of the panel's tests (because it was the only one they'd try!): the $149.99 Summit+. The consensus among these amateur experts was that it's a sweetheart of a vapourizer. It's small and efficient and is designed to be packed with you when you're out and/or about - it even has a little plastic band to keep the magnetically-sealed bowl lid from falling off and spilling your valuable contraband when you toss it into a pocket or backpack, preventing you from leaving embarrassing (and possibly actionable, legally) residue in your pocket or backpack!
It also appears to be very rugged, not unlike some on the panel, right down to its rubberized grip.
It's a slick piece of packaging, self-contained right down to a little poker for stirring up the stuff in the bowl. The magnetic cap is handy and works well, though the ledge around the bowl makes it a bit hard to clean out once you've used the unit a couple of times.
The Summit+ heats up quickly and offers eight temperature settings. It charges via micro USB (you'll need that little poker to open up the charging port's cover) and instead of hooting or anything obtrusive like that when it heats up, it vibrates like a cell phone. There are different vibration patterns for "on," "heated," and "off" and each setting is accompanied by the red or green illuminated logo on the big power button.
Two smaller buttons control temperature and "session length," depending upon how you press them. Maximum session is two minutes, which the panel thought was too short - though on the other hand the Summit+ seemed to work better on the second session, so it may be a feature and not a bug. Maybe it's like the first pancake in a batch…
I believe the short session time is meant as a battery saver, so that could be handy if you're out and about. My panelists had no issues with battery life, however; recharge is quick enough and the vapourizer can be used while charging, so as long as you have USB power on hand you can redden your eyes as much as you like.
Even when it didn't seem like there was much vapour being exhaled, the Summit+ seemed to work as desired and got, well, high marks from the panel of experts. And it's certainly more subtle than exhaling a big cloud of smoke!
There's even a smart phone app for precise control over temperature, session length and "boost"!
My testers noted the Summit+ does tend to get a tad warm after a few sessions in succession, but it didn't seem dangerous and it didn't bother them excessively. Of course, by then they were busy playing "find your foot."
Customer reviews included such praise as "Awesome vape for the trail" and "amazing," not that one would expect anything else from a review that's posted on the company's own website. Other, outside reviews said it's "definitely one of the best values you'll find" and another was head over heels by the fact that its waterproof nature meant the reviewer could vape in the shower. I don't think any of the panelists thought of that little wrinkle.
The package also includes a manual, pipe cleaners, an extra mouthpiece, a little cleaning brush, extra screens and a couple of different screens that are apparently for the aforementioned "concentrates."
"Aurora the crowd!"
I thought of greasepaint when I found out what you have to put in Dr. Dabber's Aurora, hence the lousy pun.
Anyway, according to the manufacturer, the Aurora is a "variable voltage, magnetic vaporizer pen designed with the user in mind." They further claim it's the "best vape pen and only vaporizer with fully magnetic connections that make for a seamless user experience." Its three "carefully calibrated heat settings" allow you "freedom to experiment, and a sleek, discreet satin finish keeps things low key. The Aurora is the next generation of vaporizer pen, pairing innovative features with Dr. Dabber's signature award-winning 'low heat' technology seen across the entire line of vape pens."
Sounds wonderful, doesn't it? And as mentioned, it's a lovely little unit and a darn shame my "bud-dies" wouldn't try it because it might have been the favourite of the three. The Aurora sells on Dr. Dabber's website for $99.95 USD and they've linked to several reviews of the "pen." Obviously those reviews are pretty positive, since the manufacturer bothered to link to them - and since we couldn't try the Aurora out ourselves properly I dug up reviews from a couple of other publications that claimed to have reviewed it.
The Vape Critic loved it, calling it "somethin special indeed" (perhaps they were too stoned to spell check), while High Times - in what it called the 2016 Medical Cannabis Concentrates Cup - gave it a third place tie for Best Vaporizer. This review said it's "not just a good looking wax pen, but also a highly user-friendly vaping device" and advised "vaping enthusiasts" to "just use the right atomizer and you are in for a great vaping experience."
It really is a beautiful unit, dark black, using those SnapTech magnetic connection rather than having to screw pieces together, and it comes with ceramic mouthpieces, three heat settings, and three "atomizers" because "not all oils & waxes are the same" (I guess they're waxing philosophical…). It's subtle, too: it looks like a cross between a fountain pen and one of those Old Port Tiparillos from my misspent youth, and it's very light - yet doesn't feel in the slightest bit insubstantial.
The magnetic attachments are very strong; they feel more robust than the magnetic lid on the Summit+ (though that's a bit of an "apples to oranges" comparison. It takes a good tug to separate the pieces, which is probably just as well.
There's a USB charger in the package, as well as a little spoon like thingy, a small carrying dish for the vapeables and an anything-but-subtle Dr. Dabber keychain.
"Monumental in capability, the Original microG is a functional anomaly and universally-renowned classic for discreet, easy, on-the-go vaporization of essential fluids." That's how the Grenco Science microG Pen Vaporizer (69.96 US) is described on the company's website. It's another very cool-looking device - even smaller than the Aurora. You can hold it in the palm of your hand and, according to reviews such as this one from a medical marijuana site, it works well, though that particular reviewer had some complaints about it firing up in his/her/its pocket (which I imagine could be pretty scary) as well as an accumulation of residue inside the chamber.
This review, from a site specializing in "vaporpens", says it's "one of the simplest yet most effective wax vape pens out on the market. It requires no setup and is almost ready to use straight out of the box. Its sleek design makes it extremely portable and allows you to feel comfortable using it anywhere!" It also says the Original MicroG "produces vapor like a boss!" I've had bosses in my many careers who produced gaseous emissions, but never like that!
To use the MicroG, you take off the mouthpiece and put the stuff onto the screen that's revealed once the mouthpiece is out of the way. Put the mouthpiece back in place, press the little round button five times to turn on the pen (at which time it flashes with a blue light), then hold the button down to fire up the heating element. It sounds pretty darn simple - and you even get two of the little vapourizers in the package, in case you're in the mood for sharing!
Here's what's in the package:
I have no idea of the credibility or lack of when it comes to these vapourizer review sites, though I have no reason to suspect them either - but the folks there certainly write as if they are not only experienced in these matters, but perhaps enjoying the subject under discussion at the time of writing. Nothing like having hands on reviewers!
The toke of the town…
I don't want to moralize here or to either defend or dump on marijuana and its millions of users. But clearly, prohibition of cannabis has worked about as well as it did for alcohol (though I must admit I've never heard of a "smokeasy") and it's well past time our limited law enforcement resources were freed up to pursue real bad people - like speeders (don't get me started on that one!).
Maybe marijuana is harmful, but is it more harmful than the socially acceptable booze? I don't know. What I do know is that my panel members have been toking for decades and they're all productive citizens who not only contribute to society and the economy at large, they also help keep the snack food makers profitable.
They were also adamant that, at this point in their lives, legalization doesn't really matter much to them. They've been scoffing at the law for decades, as far as marijuana is concerned, and aren't afraid of "the man" coming to get them. They also claimed loyalty to their local small businesspeople, who've risked their own freedom for years in order to spread bundles of joy throughout their neighbourhoods. And the panelists weren't particularly interested in paying more taxes to an always-greedy government, either.
They also figure that once the government has its fingers on the switch, controlling marijuana, it'll get screwed up royally.
Hard to argue that!
Copyright 2016 Jim Bray
Jim Bray's columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.
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