04/29/2014 05:11 EDT | Updated 06/29/2014 05:59 EDT

The Future Of Marijuana Isn't Smoke, It's Vapour

One of the newest and most popular ways of using marijuana is also one of the most subtle and discreet. They're called vapour pens, and they are quickly replacing joints as the favored way to consume cannabis.

You won't believe how discreet and easy is it to inhale marijuana -- anywhere!

One of the newest and most popular ways of using marijuana is also one of the most subtle and discreet. They're called vapour pens, and they are quickly replacing joints as the favored way to consume cannabis.

Vapourizer tech

Vapour pens are the culmination of vapourizer technology that has developed and improved over the past two decades.

One of the first modern vapourizers was the BC Vaporizer, developed in the '90s. It was basically an upright saudering iron topped with a metal bowl, placed within an upside-down glass jar. The heated bowl would steam the resin off of the buds, to be inhaled by the user through a tube.

The BC Vaporizer is still on the market, but designs have greatly improved since it was created. One of the most popular modern tabletop vapourizers is called the Volcano, which blows hot air of a precise temperature over ground-up buds and into a food grade plastic bag. The vapour bag can then be detached and passed around. The Volcano is what you'll find in many "vapour lounges" like the one run by Jodie Emery on West Hastings.

A little dab will do ya

Over the past year, there has been an explosion in the availability of miniature, pen-sized vapourizers. Some of them can be used with marijuana buds, but they are usually designed to consume extracts like cannabis oil, or other concentrates with names like "budder" or "shatter" or "wax." They're all similar products, varying in specific extraction methods and final consistency.

These concentrated extracts are far more potent than raw marijuana buds, and so only very small quantities need to be used. A single dose of these products is usually called a "dab," and a dab can replace a joint's worth of smoke for most users.

These products usually retail from $50 to $80 per gram. But a single dab is only about two to five per cent of a gram, so a gram lasts a long time.

The problem with dabs is that they can be tricky to consume. Whole buds can easily be rolled into a joint, but inhaling a dab can be difficult. Some people use special glass rigs to do their dabs, but they're a hassle to use and are very indiscreet.

Vapour pens to the rescue

Vapour pens have filled that gap and are becoming the preferred method of consumption for many users. These devices are extremely discreet, and can be used indoors in restaurants and movie theaters -- even on airplanes -- with no problems. The exhalation produces a light mist which quickly dissipates. There is a mild scent, but it fades fast, and the vapor doesn't cling to clothes and skin like smoke. A small amount, exhaled discreetly through the nose, is virtually undetectable.

There are a lot of these pens on the market now; some are cheap and break quickly, but others are high-quality and built to last. New models with added features are regularly being introduced. Prices vary, but most are in the $150 range.

In the long run, I see these kinds of vapour pens dominating the marijuana market. Under true legalization, cannabis extracts and vapour pens will largely replace joints and bongs as preferred forms of use. With proper legal regulation, cannabis users could access clean extracts with precise levels of cannabinoids at the exact desired potency.

Extracts are the essence of marijuana

Under the current prohibition, it's hard for consumers to ensure the purity of an extracted product. Some extraction methods can leave behind unhealthy residue, and it can be dangerous to make these kinds of products at home.

However, under proper legalization, these concentrates will actually be safer -- and easier to test and regulate -- than whole buds. There will be no need to grow cannabis in a controlled indoor environment if we're going to be making extracts on a large scale.

This is because whole buds, whether they are grown indoors or outdoors, are always at risk for biological contamination from bugs, mites, fungus, and mould. For instance, a small amount of powdery mildew is quite common on indoor-grown bud, and is difficult to eradicate without using toxic chemicals.

If medicinal buds have some mildew or mold, it could be harmful to a user who is smoking their medicine in joints. But when the cannabis buds are run through the extraction process, any contaminants are filtered out. Even if the buds did have some amount of mildew or mould, it would all be completely removed and cleansed during extraction.

Properly testing and screening cannabis buds is difficult because you're only ever testing a small sample of the entire batch. It's quite possible for some contaminated product to slip through the screening process and end up on the market. Also, mould can sometimes grow while buds are in storage. When making extracts on a commercial scale, a completely standardized batch can be produced with no variation and no chance of something unwanted slipping through.

This should be the future of legal marijuana: not smoking joints, but using safe, pure extracts with specific cannabinoid profiles, made from buds grown outdoors by farmers, and inhaled discreetly when needed through a portable vapour pen.