Willy Nelson’s recent announcement that he would no longer be smoking weed elicited a collective gasp across the cannabis space. But not to worry, his family assured us. He will continue to vape and consume Mary Jane in other ways.
Fortunately for older adults who can’t or don’t want to smoke, vaping can also provide the fast-acting effects of inhalation, without stress on their lungs.
Vaping is getting a bad rap these days. After a wave of casualties and fatalities linked to additives in unregulated concentrate vape cartridges, consumers are rightfully concerned, and the market is feeling the repercussions.
But vaping is a technique that takes many forms. And vaping cannabis flower – the actual green buds of the plant – can be a safe, economical way for older adults to consume their medicine.
Vaping over Combustion
Smoking cannabis, in a joint, pipe or other device incinerates the plant material, which inefficiently releases the activated cannabinoids, changes the structure of some components, and produces tars and other unwanted byproducts. The smoke can be harsh and irritating to the lungs. And it creates an immediate odor and lingering smell that not everyone appreciates.
Vaping flower, on the other hand, involves heating the cannabis to a temperature where the active compounds in the flower boil and are converted into vapor, which is then inhaled. The vapor is about 10 times cooler and far cleaner than smoke, less irritating to the lungs, and odor-free. The vaping process also preserves more of the beneficial cannabinoids, so that a little flower goes a long way. (For an overview of vaping benefits, see this video.)
For older adults, cannabis medicine can be an onerous out-of-pocket expense that is not covered by insurance. Of all cannabis products, flower is generally the most economical, and provides the best value for the money.
Finding the optimal medicine often entails a process of experimentation with different products. With a vaporizer that works with flower, one can experiment with small quantities of one or perhaps several different cultivars (strains) to discover what works best, in a timely manner and without a major economic outlay. An additional advantage of vaporization is the efficiency of specific temperature consumption, allowing for repeated use of the same material multiple times, as different effects can be elicited by different heat settings.
Over time, the investment in a vaporizer can ultimately pay for itself (explained in this video). And a flower-supporting vaporizer can make an excellent holiday gift for your parents or older friends and relatives.
But is it older-user-friendly?
Dr. Benjamin Caplan, founder of Boston’s CED Clinic, frequently recommends vaping flower to his older patients. “For the less experienced consumers, vaping flower provides a slow ramp up to a desirable result, whether pain relief, anxiety reduction or help falling asleep.”
Caplan finds that his older patients manage to adopt vaping with flower pretty well. The trickiest patients are the ones with arthritis or Parkinsonian tremor, as these devices often require no small amount of manual dexterity.
To see how practical vaping flower actually is for older adults, a Baby Boomer (me) and Silent Generation (my 89-year-old father) tried two vaporizers, the Pax 3, and the FlowerMate Nano.
Vaping Flower with the Pax 3
At the risk of an “OK, Boomer” call-out, I confess that, taking the Pax 3 out of its packaging, I felt like Betty Crocker encountering an air fryer. I found it beautiful, sleek and baffling.
For appreciators of fine industrial design, the Pax 3 is a marvel. The lights change colors and swirl around. It buzzes and warms up nicely in your hand. And it discreetly notifies you with calming green lights that heating-to-vaporization has been achieved and the contents are ready to be inhaled.
But the instructions in the package are frustratingly minimal, which left me to consult the product app and numerous YouTube video tutorials. After watching reviewers in various stages of intoxication walk viewers through the basics, it still took many tries before I could master the product’s various features.
The right guidance, of course, can make all the difference. Richard, a retiree in his 70s, uses his Pax 3 every night for a puff of Indica to help him fall asleep. Dispensary staff gave him a short briefing on how to use the Pax when he bought it.
The technical obstacles are clearly not insurmountable. And when I finally got my Pax 3 charged, loaded and stoked, the experience was, in a word, delightful. The flavor of the terpenes came shining through, and the onset of effect was pleasantly gradually and increasingly perceptible.
The Flowermate Nano
Flowermate V5 Nano
The Nano is a boxy, sturdy device with buttons for controls and a digital display for temperature control that are more straightforward and intuitive. It also comes with a relatively detailed user guide, and fortuitously, a number of detailed third-party tutorials on YouTube.
Inhaling from the Nano is through a borosilicate glass straw, which some older adults may find easier to draw from than the Pax’s flush mouthpiece. Small metal pods that can be pre-filled by a caregiver and left for future use are also included with the device.
Like the Pax 3, once you get the hang of it, vaping flower with the Nano is a tasty and enjoyable experience.
Both the Pax 3 and the Flowermate Nano support precision setting of the heating temperature. In terms of medicine, this feature is useful for optimizing the effects from specific cannabinoids or terpenes.
Dr. Caplan helps patients match the cannabinoids and terpenes that can best address their symptoms. For someone looking for a sleep-aid, for example, he may steer them to a cultivar of flower high in the cannabinoid, CBN.
With the temperature control feature of flower vaporizers, one can set the device to the temperature that corresponds to the boiling point of the desired cannabinoid. CBN, for example, boils at 365° Fahrenheit (thanks, Steep Hills Labs).
The Pax 3 has four factory pre-set temperatures for (360°, 380°, 400°, 420°), but the App also supports custom temperature setting. For those who don’t have the technological facility to negotiate an App, the Flowermate Nano 5 offers a more accessible and straightforward approach to temperature setting.
The Baby Boomer and the Parent
My father gamely tried both vaporizers. He enjoyed the flavor of the CBD-high flower I chose for him, and had no problem inhaling from either device. But he acknowledged that he would not be able to load or use either one on his own. I, on the other hand, look to my vaporizers as partners in an adventure of discovery of whatever strains that Pennsylvania growers can get to the dispensaries (keep trying!).
Vaping flower is a flavorful, enjoyable and comfortable way for older adults to inhale cannabis. It also enables them to economically sample many types of medicine to find what works best for them. But at least in the beginning, they will probably need help learning how to use their device. And those with manual dexterity issues may require assistance when loading the devices as well.
In general, it is useful to remind cannabis companies that older adults use cannabis as medicine, and it would be forward-thinking to ensure that product design, interfaces and instructions take into account their needs as well. In the cannabis industry in particular, there is a tendency to view the markets in terms of generational silos. But cannabis is a medicine for all ages, as will become more evident over time.
Pax 3 – for the flower-vaper who loves finely designed instruments: $199.
Flowermate Nano 5 – the flower-vaping workhorse with easy temperature control: List price: $150.