How Do Vape Pens for Cannabis Concentrates Work?

To say vaping has become popular may be the understatement of the decade. Vaping e-cigarettes has largely replaced smoking cigarettes. And, among cannabis consumers, vapes (and, in particular, vape pens) have become a mainstay. Not only are vape pens cleaner, more portable, and much more discreet, than carrying around flower, a resin-filled pipe and a lighter, they’re (generally) safer — provided you buy from a trusted manufacturer.

In fact, vaping has become such a part of popular culture, the Oxford Dictionary named it the “Word of the Year” for 2014. They chose the word not because of the surge in vaping, but the surge in its usage as a word. By 2014, you would have been 30 times more likely to have heard the word vape than just two years prior. It’s nearly 2017, so one would expect that usage has grown exponentially. Bottom line: vaping made the Oxford Dictionary. It’s here to stay! In this evolving landscape of vaping, a variety of equipment like vaporizers for oils have also gained popularity.

So no doubt, you know what a vape pen is. You’ve probably used them. You may even have one. But, you may be wondering: how in the heck do these magical marvels of invention actually work? Great question!

Vape pens work essentially the same way as e-cigarettes; they exploit the same technology. Let’s start with the components:


Rechargeable Battery

Vape pens need power. And, a fair amount in order to heat up your medicine to 400 °F degrees (or 205 °C degrees) — just shy of combustion. The rechargeable battery is what powers your device. Using a lithium ion battery (like you’ll find in your iPhone), provides it with enough high energy density to flawlessly heat up your gear. Typically, the small battery attaches to the tank or atomizer (by being screwed on). When activated, it powers the heating coil system. Voila! Vaporization magically happens.

USB Charger

Obviously, despite the fact lithium ion batteries are powerful and can last a long time, they need to periodically recharge. That’s where the USB Charger comes in. Generally, you unscrew the battery from the tank or atomizer and screw it onto the charger. Plug it into the USB slot on your MacBook Pro. And, a few hours later, you’re all charged up and ready to resume the festivities.

Sensors and Software

Depending on your vape pen, you may need to just inhale and the pen turns on. Other vapes require you to push a button (one time or several times) to turn on to initiate heating. Either way, a sensor is required so that your pen knows when you’re actually trying to depress the button or inhale. And, believe it or not, there’s a little computer in their that manages the parts. Well, maybe not a computer — but, embedded software no less!

Note: Some vape pens allow you to control the temperature of your vape based on how many times you press the button, often with three levels. Why in the world would you need different temperatures? Temperature can influence what kind of high you experience, because cannabinoids activate at different temperatures.

But, generally the ideal temperature range is between 180 - 210 °C. In theory, below 190°C produces a more cerebral high, while temperatures above that induce more of a body high. I say, “in theory,” because unless you have a really high-end (like a medical grade vaporizer), it can be hard to know if you’re really getting the temperature you’re expecting.

The Atomizer

Ah, the atomizer! That little heater in your vape pen; that’s your atomizer. If you’ve got a super fancy vape pen, they may call it a clearomizer or cartomizer. Don’t be fooled. It’s basically the same thing! Basically. If you keep the atomizer saturated with oil from another tank — presumably with polyfill material — you’ve got a cartomizer. Use a silica wick to drop oil from another tank to the atomizer. Now, you’ve got clearomizer. (But, that’s probably more info than you need!)

Bottom line: This tiny little apparatus is what’s responsible for converting the concentrate-infused oil into inhalable vapor.

The Tank (or Cartridge)

The tank (often called a "chamber") or cartridge is what holds the cannabis oil. If the carriage is disposable (meaning single-use), it’s a cartridge. Conversely, if it’s refillable, it’s a tank or chamber. Tanks can be made out of stainless steel, glass, or more commonly, polycarbonate plastic. (People have been known to affectionately name their vape pen's tank. Curiously, too many seem to be named "Frank the Tank." Go figure.)

So now you know the basics of how a vape pen works; next time you enjoy a puff from your favorite pen with friends, you can share your newfound knowledge like a mechanical genius! (Or, maybe you’ll just annoy them.) Either way, enjoy!