As new technologies deliver alternatives to smoking dried cannabis flowers, the process of getting high can get complicated depending on the alternative method. For vaporizers, a variety of online sources claim to know the best temperature settings for individual cannabinoids and terpenoids, but how trustworthy is that data?
When researchers in the Netherlands set out to determine the effectiveness of vaporizers for THC and CBD administration, they went for an old classic in the market: the tried-and-true Volcano by Storz and Bickel. While it wasn’t the first medical study done using a Volcano, the third part of a three-part study concerning cannabis consumption done by the University of Leiden had some interesting insights about the most effective way to use a Volcano.
They placed dried cannabis flowers in the chamber and vaporized at 170 °C (338 °F), 185 °C (365 °F), 200 °C (392 °F), 215 °C (419 °F) and 230 °C (446 °F). They passed the vapor through solvents to dissolve it and analyzed its composition using high-performance liquid chromatography. The scientists also did the same for the smoke coming off a joint for comparison.
They found higher temperatures more efficiently forced cannabinoids into the vapor form. Since they knew exactly how much THC their Bedrocan variety of flower had (16.9 % total), they calculated the yield of cannabinoids at each temperature. At 170 °C, the Volcano only yielded 24%; at 200 °C it yielded 60%; and at 230 °C the Volcano managed to put 77% of the cannabinoids from the original flower into vapor. Smoking cannabis in a joint only yielded 43% of the cannabinoids.
As far as the behavior of specific cannabinoids at different temperatures, they only analyzed THC, THCA, CBG and CBN.
THC showed a marked increase in availability with increasing vaporizer temperatures. Temperatures lower than 200 °C had higher levels of THCA than at 230 °C, meaning decarboxylation isn’t complete at lower temperatures.
CBG needs temperatures higher than 200 °C to vaporize, increasing by 90% from 200 °C to 230 °C. CBN content was low across the board but increased slightly with higher vaporizer temperatures.
When testing for by-products in the vapor, higher temperatures do not generate larger amounts of by-products, just higher amounts of cannabinoids (mainly THC). The largest generator of by-products was, obviously, the cannabis cigarette. Vaporizers delivered double the cannabinoids that a joint did, mainly due to THC burning in the red-hot cherry.
One potential drawback in this study is that the researchers only analyzed the first balloon coming off the vaporizer. If you’ve ever used a Volcano, you may know that the first balloon is always the weakest one, especially at lower temperatures.
High Times did its own study using an Herbalizer, a similar system that fills up balloons and lets you adjust the temperature. Weighing the sample of herb before and after vaporization, we were able to run our own simpler experiment.
At 350 °F (176 °C), the first balloon’s worth of vaporizing left us with 92% of the samples mass, the second left us with 88%, the third left 80% and the fourth left us with 76%. The fourth balloon tasted noticeably “beat,” as far as vaporizers go.
At 420 °F (215 °C), the first balloon left us with only 75% of the original sample. This means that vaporizing at 420 °F removes the same mass from the herbal sample in one balloon as at 350 °F in four balloons. Lower temperatures seem to stretch out the vaporizing process, but do they deliver the cannabinoids in the same form? It seems higher temperatures are better for CBG delivery, and better for making sure all the THCA is converted to THC.
Don’t be weary about temperatures higher than 400 °F because of combustion, auto-ignition of cellulose material (like leaves) will rarely take place at temps below 290 °C (554 °F), according to a study done by the National Institute of Standards and Technology from the Building and Fire Research Laboratory. Despite what the title of a certain book might tell you, vaporizers don’t normally get anywhere near the temperature required for cannabis to combust.