How the Rise of the Vaporizer Is Changing Pot Culture

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July 2 2014 10:22 AM

A High-Tech High

How the rise of the vaporizer is changing pot culture.

(Continued from Page 1)
Firewood 2.1 Vaporizer, Unfinished
The Firewood 2.1.

Photo courtesy Firewood

The Firewood vape ($94.95) is also idiot-proof, but instead of plastic it’s made from gorgeously grained maple, walnut, or cherry. You’d be chuffed to craft something this lovely in a high school shop class. It’s elegant enough that you might not be ashamed to leave it out on a side table in your living room.

My personal favorite—and, perhaps not coincidentally, the most expensive vape I tried—was the Firefly ($269.95). It’s solidly constructed with gleaming aluminum and glass. It sports retrofuturist lines, like a 1930s vision of some fantastically advanced gizmo. It had the fewest moving parts of any of my test vapes, and seemed the least likely to break.

While most other vapes climb to their target temperatures automatically, the Firefly has more of a stick-shift feel. You press a trigger on its side to heat it up, and then release the trigger when you want to cool it back down. Inhaling creates a convection effect, pushing hot air across the herbs, and various micro-ingredients of the marijuana vaporize at different heat levels. There’s no temperature readout on the device, but through trial and error you’ll discover how long to hold the trigger to produce a vapor of ideal flavor and richness. (And it really is flavorful. Much yummier than the acrid, smoky goulash you might inhale from a joint or pipe.)

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With its monochrome aluminum and lone button, the Firefly looks a lot like one of Apple’s slick consumer devices. Which is no accident. Firefly co-founder Mark Williams spent years leading Apple development teams before he quit to launch his vaping company in 2011. Williams met his co-founder, a Brown computer science grad and former Silicon Valley user experience designer named Sasha Robinson, at Burning Man. Both found they were intrigued by vapes but were dissatisfied with existing products. “I’m an athlete,” says Williams, “and it was clear that smoking was taking a toll on my body. I got excited about making a vaporizer that was more functional and also more beautiful than its competitors.”

The Firefly went on sale in December and, seven months in, the company is already profitable. “Our only problem is keeping them in stock,” says Williams. “There’s a tremendous amount of demand.” Wells Fargo analyst Bonnie Herzog has pegged the current worldwide vaping market (including e-cigarettes, which make up a hefty share) at $2.5 billion, and Williams says projections suggest it might reach $18 billion to $20 billion within four years. “Things are trending quickly,” says Williams, who also thinks the Firefly can catch some of the tobacco vaping business, as it works just as well for that purpose. “The whole idea of vaping is diffusing into the public consciousness.”

I have mixed feelings about this. Vaping nurtures a techie, gear-focused mindset that I find vaguely at odds with the Zen mojo of classic stoner culture. Vapes are sleek and digital. They’re about temperature specs, battery capacity, and debates over whether a medium or a fine grind is the more optimal milling granularity. (I’ve no doubt, for instance, that some vaping know-it-all in the comments will empirically prove I’m a moron for preferring the iPhone-like Firefly over the Android-ish Vapir, which gives precise temperature readouts and supports more mouthpiece accessories and seemed to heat up more quickly in my tests. Take it easy, please, it’s only one man’s opinion. For further guidance, I recommend the entertaining VapeCritic.com, where a no-nonsense bro with a tristate twang demonstrates the pros and cons of these and many other entrants.)

The very fact that vapes could engender an argument over specs encapsulates my problem with them. I guess what I’m saying is: The whole vaping ethos harshes my mellow. Vapes are expensive, possibly complicated to maintain and repair, and are yet another thing to plug in and keep charged. It feels way chiller and more comforting to just roll a spliff when the spirit moves.

Still, the health benefits alone may be enough to justify the switch. Last week, when a friend passed around a joint after our pickup basketball game, I couldn’t believe how sharply the smoke spiked into my lungs. I’d grown accustomed to those gentle, delicious wisps of vapor.

The truth is, there are lots of different ways to mesh drugs with your lifestyle. You can put a thousand-dollar espresso machine in your pantry and brew your coffee from beans defecated by Asian palm civets, or you can grab a medium Dunkies with cream and two sugars as you sprint to your subway stop. You can carefully uncork and decant a Belgian Trappist ale into a crystal goblet, or you can pop open a Coors Light tallboy and slam it straight from the can. You can argue about hop balance, vineyard soil minerality, and THC concentrations, or you can shut up and get hella nice. Some people need ritual and backstory and accessories, other people are mostly in it for the buzz.

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