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Is marijuana smoking really smoking when it's vaporizer steam?

Vaporize me

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It's half an hour until closing time; an unseen fan hums. What was once a living room is now tightly packed with glass display cases, showcasing an array of brightly colored water pipes, one-hitters trying to pass as cigarettes, and metal-toothed grinders gleaming under the room's soft, yellow light.

Lauren Bendorf, a cashier at the Freaky's on Platte Avenue, unlocks the vaporizer cabinet. She's a good sport, only eying the clock twice.

"This one is fun," she says, withdrawing what appears to be an oversized black inhaler. "It's good if you are wanting to be discreet, you know?" As she removes the cover at the base to demonstrate where a user would load dry "plant matter" that would be super-heated into vapor instead of burned into smoke, a man wearing a baseball cap with intertwining rings of sweat stains swaggers in, scoffs at the vaporizer, and makes a beeline for the water pipes.

Later, outside, at the base of the stairs, the man in the baseball cap whose name is Chad — "just Chad" — holds a cigarette. The half inch-long ash on its end doesn't bother him. "Vaporizers," Just Chad says. "That crap's for rich bitches that don't know what the hell they're doing."

A day later and four miles away, someone disagrees.

"Someone" being Russell Gardner, store manager at the west-side Independent Records. "A lot of people, people that are health-conscious, come in wanting vapes," he says. "There's no butane; you're not burning the plant so there's no resin; you're not breathing smoke, not getting those carcinogens, only water vapor."

Don't write with it

A vaporizer heats cannabis at 365 to 410 degrees Fahrenheit. Just over THC's boiling point, this temperature range causes the psychoactive ingredients to turn into a gas without burning any of the plant matter.

Gardner's store carries more than 20 kinds. He says the best-sellers are the easy-to-operate vape pens: "The simpler, the better." Vape pens are either fed dry, finely ground marijuana or, similar to e-cigarettes, concentrated oils and waxes.

The Magic Flight ($120.99) does the former. Users deposit marijuana into a small basin on the wooden body, press the heat-activation button, and once the battery-powered warmers reach the appropriate temperature, take the hit.

Gardner says he often has customers who complain their plant-fed device burned the product. "It comes down to reading the manual, knowing your machine," he says. But to make things easier, he often recommends moving toward a device that uses hash oil.

One such pen is the Atmos Thermo W ($59.99). One of the most popular and inexpensive vape pens sold at Independent Records, it's approximately a quarter-inch thick, lightweight and compact. Helped along by its lithium-ion battery and USB charger, it turns oils and waxes into vapor within seconds.

A downside to these oil- and wax-fed vapes, which generally range in price from $40 to $250, is that the atomizers can become clogged. However, if you find yourself needing to replace a part, individual pieces are for sale, and are often universally sized.

Power to the Puff

If the compact devices seem wimpy for you — if simply reading the term "vape pen" makes you want to open-carry a firearm — fear not. There are bigger, meaner machines on the shelf.

One caveat, though, from budtender Josh Burson at the next-door Indispensary: "Big downside would be that most vaporizer people are using the concentrates or the higher-potency types of meds," he says. "So then the tolerance goes up. Something that we really try for is working the medicine, not letting the medicine work you."

If you persist, however, check out the Volcano ($629.99), or what Gardner deems the "Rolls Royce of vaporizers." It allows users to set the temperature, pack the filling chamber with cannabis, attach a plastic balloon, turn on the air to push the vapor into it, inhale, and float away. If you've seen Super High Me, you've seen the Volcano.

Independent Records also carries Da Buddha ($186.99 to $199.99) and Silver Surfer ($269.99) vaporizers. Both large devices are manufactured here in the Springs by 7th Floor LLC, which declined to comment for this article. Gardner recommends Da Buddha, saying the major difference between the two is cosmetic. More important is to make sure you're exhaling steam, not smoke; if it's the latter, it's probably time to turn the temperature down.

No matter what you choose, though, just make sure you do your research.

"In the end it's personal: You have to find out what you are trying to do," says Burson. "Are you working a specific medical issue? Are you trying to find some relief? Vaporizers are tools to be used. Some of the side effects may just be empowerment or self-reliance. I don't really have a problem with that."

newsroom@csindy.com

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