I've made a couple. They do give the best high when used correctly. The problem is 'correct use,' since they generally require more presence of mind to operate than a bong or a pipe.
High heat doesdestory most of the THC in smoked pot (estimates vary). Vaporizers heat pot gently; the THC molexules decarboxylate and evaporate in a whitish smoke that feels like (aaaah) water-mist going down your lungs!
A problem with vaporizers is that only leaves in contact with the heating element get hot. Most users, in an effort to heat-up curled leaf edges and higher layers of leaf, tend to overheat and consequently burn the stuff. This is not disasterous since you are now 'smoking' not 'vaporizing' the pot, releasing just as many carcinogenic tars as when you light up a bowl.
Vaporizers sometimes fail to satisfy longtime smokers who associate burning lungs with getting high. They distrust the incredibly smooth taste of the vapors, and they don't like waiting 20 seconds to 1 minute for each hit.
My first vaporizer died after almost 4 hours of constant use at a party. After I explained the theory and operation of the device, people loved it! They were standing in line (!!) in the kitchen to use this thing. I sat in the corner of the room watching them, stoned out of my gourd and filled with happy engineering pride at my creation.
a) must the heat source be electrical, or is it possible to use a butane lighter or other flame source as the heat source?
A butane lighter should work fine... Just build an enclosure around it that allows air-flow for the flame, and keeps the 'bowl' high enuf above the flame so that you don't begin burning the pot. The 'above-bowl' compartment should be sealed-off from the 'flame' compartment. A piezo-butane lighter vaporizer would be portable, and heat-up quicker than the car-lighter/electric devices. You could even conceal one inside a soda-pop can! Imagine pantomiming drinking in public while actually inhaling vaporized killer hydrobud! Would some Mech. E. major please try to pull this one off?
b) will vaporization really work with leafy material directly or must some oil preparation be prepared first.
It works, but it is very difficult to heat all of the leaf parts; those that don't directly touch the heating element don't release their THC. Powdering the pot helps, but in the process, breaks the resin glands on the leaves, accelerating the oxidative degredation of the cannabinoids. (anyone know how quickly they decompose?)
c) a previous poster suggested that it was MORE efficient than combustion. if this is true, why would anyone still be smoking?
I'd refer you to the High Times article "Dr. Lunglife Builds a Better Vaporizer," but your local library probably doesn't stock it. :-) Designing vaporizers is a lot of fun. It's a great exercise in dealing with basic design problems, and solving them with whatever materials are available. I'm working on my third device now, and if it works well, I will 'publish' plans. As for now, here are some tips you might find helpful in your quest.
Typical Supply List:
You want to heat pot/hash to a temperature where the cannabinoids evaporate, but where larger 'tar' molecules don't. This is well below the temp at which grass burns. You then want to trap those vapors and let them accumulate into a nice big hit before you inhale from your device. The car-lighter is mounted so that pot can be placed on it. The enclosure should be airtight except for two openings, a mouthpiece (or tube) and a 'carb' to let air in when you hoover-up the vapors through the mouthpiece. The device should be rugged, and easy to use. It is amazing how much of a buzzkill it is to have to re-connect shoddy wiring, or scrape-up bits of precious fallen pot due to shoddy design! Do it right!
Another is to bend strips of metal to form a 'docking bay' for the lighter element that you slide it into. The metal strips should contact the + and - parts (sides and bottom) of the element and hold it tightly. Try salvaging a flashlight bulb-mount (slide in type) for gripping the sides of the lighter element.
Another solution might be to braze wires directly to the heating element, but this makes for difficult replacement when the heating coil burns out.
To prevent this, you could bend a strip of metal into a rim for the element, but you'd need a brazing torch (0, radio shack) or something similar to attach it. Remember, solder is poisonous and won't hold. (a little bonus if you buy the brazing torch is that you can use it to dispense nitrous oxide canisters :->)
The easiest solution is to simply search for a lighter element with enough of a rim built-in. I know some auto stores sell a type with a 1-2 mm rim, which is just enough.
Another solution is to take the metal cap from those tiny testors model- paint jars (1/2in diameter), clean it, and use it as a bowl which contains the pot and sits on top of the lighting element. I tried this but got poor results because the cap dispersed too much heat.
That should be enough info for any creative, intelligent, self-motivated pothead to work from. I hope to see postings from people who read this and build their own lung-saving vaporizers! It's not that hard; Just do it!
D. S. L.
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