In the epic battle of smoke versus vapor, everyone is a winner. Let’s be honest, smoking is one of humanity’s oldest pastimes, connecting cultures and uniting individuals around the globe. After all, smoking transcends the boundaries of language. Similarly, vaporization has been around for much of recorded history. Centuries ago, ancient cultures would gather around red-hot stones, throw seeds on top and proceed to bathe themselves in the aromatic vapor released into the air. How is it, then, that so many people still are unacquainted with what vaporization actually is? Awareness of the benefits of using a vaporizer is rapidly increasing, thanks to strong networks in the smoking subculture, but there are many questions left to answer.
Let’s start from the top. What is a vaporizer? Vaporizers are devices used to heat various herbs, oils and extracts to a temperature high enough to release desired active therapeutic components, but below the point at which such substances burn. Modern day vaporizers are quickly gaining popularity as a cleaner alternative to smoking, eliminating toxic carcinogens and providing the true aroma of your blends. One can enjoy the pleasantness of different substances without the lingering smell of smoke on one’s tongue, hands and clothes. Better yet, no smoke means no second-hand smoke! Since no combustion occurs, the vapor produced is cooler in temperature than smoke and is less likely to irritate a sensitive throat.
While knowledge of vaporizers and the clear advantages of vaporization is quickly growing, the history and origins of the device remains hazy. Vaporizing traces its roots back to Ancient Egypt, as evidenced in “The History of Herodotus” (1928, Dial Press, Inc., p.226, Book IV). During 5th century B.C., Herodotus, who is often called the “Father of History”, recorded his account of the ancient practice enjoyed by Scythians. “The Scythians take some of this hemp-seed and… throw it upon the red-hot stones; immediately it smokes and gives out such a vapor as no Grecian vapor-bath can exceed; the Scyths, delighted, shout for joy.” The steady heat from the baking stones would produce a pleasant smelling vapor uncontaminated by smoke. The same principle of heating without burning is the basis of many aromatherapy products today.
The concept of using a stone as a heating element to create a vapor was later refined in the form of a hookah. Heated by a charcoal, a hookah does not actually burn the material. Instead, it is designed to vaporize all the honeys and sugars in which the shisha material is marinated. That explains why the material remains in the hookah bowl, as opposed to turning to ash like a cigarette would.
The origins of the hookah date back over 1,000 years, invented in the northwestern provinces of India. Early hookahs were simple and primitive, often made from a coconut shell base. About 500 years ago, when the hookah made its way into Turkey and become popular among intellectuals and the upper class, hookah designs became more ornate. The hookah grew in size and complexity and became similar to models that we are more familiar with today.
After the popularization of the hookah, several centuries passed with virtually no notable technological advancements in vaporization. Finally, in the late 20th century the modern day vaporizers began to take form. In the 1970s, a vaporizer known as the Tilt was created. According to the manufacturer, laboratory tests demonstrated that it released 79% less tar than a regular pipe. The Tilt would not be on the market for long, as it was withdrawn in the early 1990s due to the passage of anti-paraphernalia laws. This absence was soon filled thanks to the efforts of a Cherokee medicine man.
Eagle Bill Amato, born in 1942 as Frank William Wood, has been labeled the “Father of Vapor” and is often credited with singlehandedly sparking a vaporizer revolution that lead to the invention of hundreds of different vapor delivery techniques. Eagle Bill was introduced to vaporizing in 1993 by a Californian grower who used a heat gun to vaporize medical herbs. In an effort to design a more affordable means of vaporizing while simultaneously raising public awareness, Eagle Bill invented the “Shake and Vape” based on the very same Ancient Egyptian methods of using indirect heat to vaporize and release active therapeutic compounds in various herbs. The Shake and Vape was a simple but innovative design – a glass pipe that relied on heating the bottom of a glass bowl with a flame rather than lighting the substance itself. Pioneered by a Native American, the Shake and Vape was nicknamed the “peace pipe of the future”.
Eagle Bill’s invention would be the catalyst for rapid technological and product developments in the vaporizer industry. The BC Vaporizer, developed in 1994 by a Canadian company, was one of the first electric vaporizers. Whereas many vaporizers operate via convection-style hot air flow, the BC Vaporizer utilized a conduction-style heating process, which means the plant materials come in direct contact with a hot surface.
Reflective of the diversity comprising the smoking demographic, there are a multitude of vaporizers available today that can be matched to an individual’s unique needs. Stationary models are very popular, providing a convenient way to vaporize in the comfort of one’s own home. These units usually require connection to a power outlet, so many consumers keep their home-based unit on bed-side nightstand or coffee table. Currently, the biggest trend in vaporizers is a shift toward total portability. Vaporization enthusiasts are jumping at the opportunity to carry a pocket-sized device that offers flexibility of use. Manufacturers such as Ploom and Magic Flight have mastered the art of discretion without compromising quality and efficiency. By offering units that fit in a shirt pocket as well as they fit in the palm of one’s hand, these companies are providing consumers with a new outlook on the options vaporizers provide. Now, users can bring their favorite portable vape on a hike, to the beach; the possibilities are endless!
When it comes to efficiency, vaporizers offer consumers a much higher value than combustion ever will. As any smoker knows, after combustion, the remaining materials have turned into ash. Vaporizers provide quite the opposite experience. After the desired compounds have been released, the structure of the “already been vaped” (ABV) blends remains intact, although, the materials will be much drier and darker in color. Although most of the active ingredients have been vaporized, users can save their ABV.
blends to further extract active compounds through revaping, cooking with, or even making a tincture. This allows users to truly get the most value out of any blend.
Like telecommunications, there have been more technological advances in herbal vaporization in the last two decades than the previous two millennia. What will the future bring? Who knows, but as you ponder what’s to come, remember to appreciate the past, because it led you to the present, which will guide you in the future.