When it comes to vaping and vaporizer safety…
The number ONE question that's on the mind of us health-conscious cannabis-connoisseurs is the following:
Are vaporizers safe?
The answer to this question might come as a surprise …
No! Vaporizers are not always safe!
It is possible to not only negate all the harm-reducing effects associated with vaporizers if you (accidentally) combust with your vaporizer …
But it gets worse:
You can damage your health with heavy metal poisoning and other types of poisoning if you get the wrong vaporizer.
Unfortunately not every manufacturer has your health as a top priority. Short term profits sometimes trump ethics, also in the vaporizer industry.
But after reading today's post, worries about putting your health at risk with a dangerous vaporizer will be something of the past.
I'm going to exactly show which parts of a vaporizer have the potential to put you in a hospital bed and how you can avoid the dangerous vaporizers.
Where to get the safest vaporizers.
Starting with the most important part of your vaporizer when it comes to safety…
Or browse by paragraph. Click any of the links below to jump to each paragraph:
1. How to Be Sure You Have a Safe Heating Element
Being the most essential part of your vaporizer, the heating element has the most impact on the safety of your vaporizer.
This part of your vaporizer gets the hottest and has the biggest potential to give off toxic fumes when low-quality materials are in it.
You really don’t want to be inhaling fumes with lead or mercury particles.
The most important piece of advice I can give you with regards to heating elements is the following:
AVOID no-name and imitation vaporizers (a lot of these are manufactured in China and sold on websites like aliexpress.com, alibaba.com, ebay.com and other action-/wholesale-type of websites).
These vaporizers can have extremely low-quality metals or lead soldering in or directly around their heating elements.
You're vaporizing to reduce the harm that's associated with smoking, not to inhale toxic fumes created by a sub-par heating element.
The most simple way to avoid issues like this is to only buy from reputable brands and their authorized dealers (if you have any doubts, please contact us and we'll do our best to help you assess whether you're making a responsible choice).
You can rest assured any vaporizer that you find on Herbonaut has a good and safe enough heating element for anyone but the paranoid (in a good sense!) among us.
If you are a little obsessive about your health (like me), read below for the most up-to-date facts about materials used for heating elements and their safety implications.
Aluminum Heating Element
Aluminum heating elements are extremely precise in their temperature control. Some of the best vaporizers like the well respected Volcano make use of an aluminum heating element.
Although studies have pointed out health risks associated with exposure to aluminum (it's linked to Alzheimer for example) …
The temperatures reached by vaporizers are well below the boiling point of aluminum (660°C / 1220°F). This means an aluminum heating element shouldn't be off-gassing any fumes.
But here's the kicker:
There have been studies that have shown cookware made of low-quality aluminum does leach off at least some aluminum when it comes in contact with acidic products, even though it stays under the boiling point.
Now, are these study results translatable to vaporizers?
If a vaporizer is designed properly, the heating element shouldn't come into contact with any acidic compounds.
However, if your vaporizer has an aluminum bowl or heating chamber, these parts do come in contact with acidic compounds.
Let me explain.
Resin, which is the left-overs of your herb that clog the vapor path of your vaporizer is acidic after all.
That's not all…
Just because the aluminum heating element of the Volcano is safe, does not mean aluminum heating elements of other vaporizers are safe as well.
I would only trust an aluminum heating element if it comes from a reputable and transparent company.
Ceramic Heating Element
Ceramic heating elements are often advocated by manufacturers who use them as the safest.
And while it’s true that pure ceramic can withstand temperatures up to 1648°C / 3000°F, vaporizers rarely reach a temperature higher than 240°C / 464°F (the combustion point of cannabis).
The following logic:
A ceramic heating element has a higher Max-temperature before chemical erosion occurs than aluminum and therefore is safer!
Doesn't hold much ground when the maximum temperature reached is well below the critical melting point/boiling point of the material anyway.
Besides a lot of ceramic heating elements are made of Alumina (Aluminum oxide). Although having a much higher boiling point, Alumina has the same potential to leech off unwanted substances as regular Aluminum…when of a low enough quality.
In other words: ceramic isn’t necessarily safer than aluminum.
Also, be very cautious of manufacturers and sellers who advertise the heating element of their vaporizer as ceramic when there’s only a very small ceramic part in the element!
Again, I can't emphasize this enough:
To avoid issues like this, only buy from reputable brands and their authorized dealers. In our list of highly-rated dry herb vaporizers, you can find vaporizers that we ourselves would feel comfortable using on a daily basis.
What's the bottom line?
Pure ceramic is safe as a heating element, but not necessarily safer than other material types.
Glass Heating Element
Glass heating elements are rare and usually are aluminum or ceramic heating elements covered in a glass shell.
Glass is actually the most inert material that can be used in vaporizers (glass is so inert that in any study where they compare different sorts of cookware, for example, glass is always the material which gets compared with the potentially hazardous material) …
Glass does offer an extra layer of protection.
Besides, it is the best material to preserve the taste of your herb and is totally eco-friendly.
2. How to Be Sure You Have a Safe Air Path
Besides having a big impact on the taste of your vapor, the air path is another part when designed poorly, has the potential to damage your health.
If you didn’t know already …
The air path is the path the air travels from the moment it starts getting used in your vaporizer (this is even before the air heats up), to the moment it starts filling your airways.
The vapor path is something slightly different: it's the path your vapor travels from the moment it starts getting produced to the moment it starts filling your airways.
So what exactly is the difference between the ‘air-path' and the ‘vapor-path'?
The air path is longer. This is because, with most vapes, your vaporizer has to pull in air from outside and heat it before it can produce vapor. The path the air travels before it comes into contact with your herb, is what makes the air path slightly longer than the vapor path.
Why does this matter?
The path the air travels before it starts heating your herbs is important for your safety as well.
Although it's just cold air, particle pollution (micro-particles mixing with air) can occur during this stage as well.
And what happens when these small toxic particles are part of the vapor you inhale?
This all depends on what material it is you're exactly inhaling in the form of micro-particles and the quantities that you're inhaling. But it there is a potential health risk involved with inhaling toxic micro-particles.
Realize the following though:
Particle pollution occurring in the air path before it reaches your heating element is less likely.
Heated air is more reactive than cold air. Cold air isn't very likely to react with the chemicals in the electronics it passes through.
With most vaporizers, there are four (4) materials of which your air path can be made up:
- Stainless steel;
Each of these materials has its own pros and cons. But when talking about vaporizer safety, it is of paramount importance that:
- These materials are of a high enough quality that no chemical reaction occurs when they come in contact with the hot air that gets directed through the vapor path.
A borosilicate glass air-path would be your best option from a safety standpoint, but also from a vapor quality standpoint!
Glass, in general, is the most inert material of these 4 (check out this study for example) and any chemical reaction occurring from the hot air that passes through it is zero (0).
Glass doesn’t absorb anything either. It's no coincidence that the pharmaceutical sector puts full faith into glass to protect products from contamination.
Between the different types of glass, borosilicate glass is best because it's even more chemically resistant to acids. On top of these qualities, borosilicate glass is extremely heat- and thermo-shock resistant.
But even regular glass is better than most other materials in a vaporizer.
Really, an all-glass air-path is what every vaporizer SHOULD have.
Stainless steel, when of the right type (type 304 and 316) is highly resistant to corrosion and is food-safe. What this means is these types of stainless steel are perfectly safe to have in your vapor path (even though stainless steel is less inert than glass).
Some studies have shown stainless steel cookware can give off nickel and chromium when it comes in contact with acidic foods, however, the quantities were way below the daily maximum intake.
To be completely safe, just make sure you regularly clean your stainless steel parts. Don't let resin build in the different parts of your vaporizer, and give acid room to do its corrosive work.
To me, plastic pieces in my vapor path do sound fishy.
Plastic does have a bad name in general when it comes to health, and some types of plastics are definitely not suitable in a vaporizer.
We personally at Herbonaut don’t like Vinyl whip tubing for example, because it’s made from PVC plastic. Even though any PVC/Vinyl whip that comes with vaporizers like the Da Buddha Vaporizer or Silver Surfer Vaporizer does get advertised as food safe, PVC is actually one of the most toxic plastics.
Not only can it leach toxic substances when storing food/drinks…
What I recommend instead, is get a food/medical grade silicone tubing like this one.
There are some plastic types which are safe to be used in vaporizers, here’s a list of food-safe plastics:
- Natural grade Nylon 6 & 6.6 (without additives);
- Polyethylene in grade 300 – 500;
- Polyester (PET);
If there’s any plastic around the heating element, make sure it’s heat resistant to temperatures above regular vaporization temperatures (up to 240°C / 464°F).
Essentially, the only types of plastics which qualify as this are high-performance thermoplastics:
Below you can see a thermoplastic-pyramid with some of the strongest types that exist:
(keep in mind there are many proprietary high-performance thermoplastics which are not in this pyramid)
Also, make sure you regularly clean any plastic and give acidic resin build-up no chance to corrode anything.
Silicone pieces in your vapor path will mostly be present if you’re using a whip.
Again, a silicone whip is perfectly fine, as long as you have medical/food grade silicone (like this one) and don’t let any herb resin build up by regularly cleaning it.
Also, keep in mind:
High-quality silicone is heat-resistant, so there's no need to look for especially heat-resistant silicone.
3. Does My Vapor Pass Over the Electronics of My Vaporizer?
There have been concerns in the past about air passing over the electronics used in vaporizers.
One example is the Arizer Extreme Q, it has been shown cold air passes through the electronics before it gets heated by the heating element and directed through the vapor path.
Currently, there are no documented issues with such an air path. But we do know 1 thing:
A lot of electronics contain heavy metals and other unsafe materials for inhalation. You definitely don't want to be inhaling heavy metal particles in large quantities for example.
I'm not saying you are inhaling dangerous particles when you use a vaporizer like the Arizer Extreme Q. And if you do, they might be well below safety limits.
But know this:
You could be inhaling unwanted compounds, and just because there are no known issues yet, it doesn’t mean there aren’t any.
If you want to take maximum precautions avoid the Arizer desktop models like the Extreme Q and V-Tower. Except for the Arizer Solo 2, the Arizer portables seem to have an air path separated from the electronics.
A Word About the Safety of E-Cigarettes and E-Liquids…
There are several studies that point towards the fact that e-cigarettes and e-liquids used in electronic cigarettes can be unhealthy for your health.
To stay safe if you're an e-cigarette user, it's important to read up on all the vaping health risks. Luckily, a lot of them are preventable with high-quality vaping gear and proper vaping techniques.
The bottom line is:
Electronic cigarettes and e-liquids are not always safe and I recommend to do your due diligence on the products you plan to use before you start vaping, by reading our ultimate guide on vaping health risks.
You learned vaporizing is only healthier than smoking if you use a high-quality vaporizer.
What is a high-quality vaporizer?
Some of you need extra assurance and want to absolutely minimize health risks. To understand how you can get this extra assurance, you learned what type of heating elements and air paths are the safest.
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