(Photos: Jake Lewis)
REMINDER: Unless you live in any of the places where cannabis is legal for medical or recreational use, remember: it's still illegal to smoke it or vape it or consume it in any way.
Long gone are the days in which "vaporising" meant collecting weed fog in a big plastic bag and desperately trying to inhale it all in one go. These days, there's a market for high-tech portable weed vapes equipped with features like Bluetooth (for tracking your tokes-per-session PB?) that allow you to just load up a cone and inhale like you would with an e-cig. And considering cannabis vaporisers are thought to actually help with respiratory problems, instead of actively causing them, that's surely no bad thing.
Of course, this kind of tech comes at a cost. So I got hold of five high-end vaporisers to see which ones are worth the money, with a little expert input from medical user and President of the United Kingdom Cannabis Social Clubs, Greg de Hoedt, who brought along a selection of his medicines for the reviews.
GRASSHOPPER, BY HOPPER LABS
This £200 device is "hand-assembled" in California, and apparently production rarely keeps up with demand. So it's like the Yeezys of the vape world, I guess? Which is presumably a good thing?
Yes. Yes it is a good thing. The efficiency is great: you get six or seven big hits out of 0.2 grams of flower. Plus, it looks like a pen, which is handy if you want to avoid vape enthusiasts talking to you even at all.
Negative points: as it's so small and linear, at no point does the vapour get the chance to cool down, meaning you'll burn your lip if you're not careful. This can be mitigated by adding bits of glassware, but that – of course – means it no longer serves as a handheld. The Grasshopper also lacks battery life, running out of a full charge after two bowls, but the battery is only slightly bigger than an AA, so it's not a hassle to carry extras around.
GREG SAYS: "If NASA made vaporisers I reckon they would look like this. Fits in your top pocket nicely, heats up within seconds, this is a perfect 'hit and run' device for the busy cannabis consumer. It's equally attractive to a discreet recreational user or medical user who needs a form of quick and efficient medicine delivery. Coupled with a nice piece of glass, the hit is phenomenal!"
VALUE FOR MONEY: 8/10
CRAFTY, BY STORZ & BIKEL
This one's made by the company that created the "Volcano", the first ever high-spec vaporiser, and retails at £220. It's definitely one of the stronger-hitting vapes we try; after finishing a 0.3 bowl you feel like you've smoked a joint double the weight.
Unlike some other vaporisers, this is a "session-style" vape, where you really have to finish your bowl in one go. That may not bother people with a higher tolerance, but probably isn't ideal if you're prone to throwing up immediately after playing smoking games like "traffic lights", or just after smoking a load in one go. Mind you, thanks to the technology using both conduction and convection, the flavour's great, so you'll probably feel like finishing the bowl anyway.
It's high-tech, hooking up to a smartphone via Bluetooth to allow temperature control and access to other settings, but again races through battery life. An hour's charging to get you to full battery only survives two to three bowls.
GREG SAYS: "This is the steam train of vaporisers. Hits you like a train. If you want guaranteed vapour clouds and a device that will thoroughly extract the essential oils from the herbs, then this is it. The battery life is a big disappointment, though."
VALUE FOR MONEY: 9/10
THE FIREFLY 2
This device is the most expensive of the lot, retailing at £310 (Firefly provided VICE with one of its devices for this review). It seems to have had a bit of a Marmite-y reception on the forums, with some feeling ripped off and others calling it the best vaporiser on the market, but in reality it's just a device with some pros and some cons.
Pros: if you're the kind of weed user who wants to taste what you're inhaling, this is the one. None of the other devices we try extracts the flavour out of the flower like the Firefly. It's very efficient, once you've got the hang of it; 0.1 of gram provides you with more puffs and than you'd expect. It also heats up on demand, allowing you to take a toke whenever you please, and works much better with concentrates than the other devices being reviewed, which is particularly good news for a medical consumer.
Cons: It's super expensive, and it's tricky to get the hang of using it to produce thick clouds of vapour. Considering the price, it should be a more user-friendly experience. However, after some trial and error you'll eventually get there.
GREG SAYS: "Amazing with concentrates – nearly as good as a proper dab. Once you've mastered it, the control you have over the hit – coupled with the smoothness – makes it a great option. I really like the general feel of the vape and the way the bowl glows orange when it's ready."
VALUE FOR MONEY: 7/10
PAX 3, BY PAX LABS
If Apple made vaporisers they would look like a Pax 3. This one retails at £220, and comes in the kind of premium packaging you can imagine YouTube unboxing vloggers losing their minds over. Plus, it's equipped for Bluetooth control via a free app, which adds to the feeling of a luxury product. It's also pretty discreet, the bowls pack a punch and the battery is great, charging to full in half an hour and lasting 15 or so loads.
The downfall here is the flavour, which isn't horrendous, but is overshadowed by the Firefly 2 and the Crafty.
GREG SAYS: "A nice improvement on the Pax 2 I already own. The battery life really is great, and although this isn't necessarily the most flavoursome or efficient vape, it is incredibly hassle free – no worries about battery life and very easy to use out of the box. I can rely on this having battery for when I need to medicate."
VALUE FOR MONEY: 9/10
VAPCAP, BY DYNAVAP
This one is slightly different: an entirely mechanical device with no battery or electronics. And at £35, the most basic model is the cheapest vaporiser on the market (though with over 80 types the price can reach £130). To get it going you have to heat the very small bowl with a lighter and wait to hear a clicking sound, which means you're ready to go. You'll only get one or two hits before you have to heat it up again, but those hits consist of thick, flavoursome vapour.
The only downside to this device is its learning curve. If not used properly, you can easily combust the material, which isn't useful if you bought it specifically to stay away from smoking. In fairness, it's basically impossible to create a manual vaporiser without a learning curve; it's the nature of the device.
GREG SAYS: "This little device definitely surprised me. I wasn't expecting much, but after a few tries, and getting my technique right, I finally got a lovely hit. I had to load it up again. I can imagine developing an attachment to this device once learning all its little nuances. This is an essential device for a vaper, at least as a back-up for when your electric one has no battery. But even as a standalone it would be great for camping, hiking, walks in the wood; things like that."
VALUE FOR MONEY: 10/10
The manufacturers of these five devices do not promote the use of their products for recreational or medicinal cannabis use in the UK.
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