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A Brief History of Vape Pens

Posted by Daniel Gordon on

Vapes, terp pens, e-cigarettes - today there are a million ways to talk about the magic devices behind this burgeoning industry. You see people walking on the street with them. You can plug them into the wall or into your phone. But it wasn’t always this way. In fact, vaping only really emerged as a popular method of consuming cannabis in the last ten years. So, day we’re going to explore the history behind this multi-billion dollar industry.

Vice in the Time of Prohibition

Our story begins in 1927 with Joseph Robinson, a New York inventor who filed a patent for an “Electric Vaporizer.” In his words:

“My invention relates to vaporizing devices for holding medicinal compounds which are electrically heated to produce vapors for inhalation, and to provide a device for individual use which may be freely handled without any possibility of being burned.”

In all likelihood, Robinson intended his invention to be an alternative to smoking cigarettes which, at the time, were being consumed by over half of all Americans. That along with the added legal pressures of Prohibition meant that people were hungry for new ways to experiment without getting arrested. Perhaps because of this, Robinson would have to wait a whole three years until his patent was finally approved by the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Even then, it would be a few decades before the movement toward vaporizers would see mass popular support.

The Psychedelic Sixties

By the time we get to the Sixties, cultural attitudes were finally beginning to change. A small number of people were beginning to wake up to the fact that smoking cigarettes was a serious health risk. One of those people was Herbert A. Gilbert, who quit smoking by going cold turkey and sought to create a device that could help others quit by consuming “heated, moist, flavored air” instead of burning tobacco. Thus, he patented a “smokeless non-tobacco cigarette” in 1963. His device was designed to be battery operated, a major innovation, and could be used as a medical inhalation delivery system.

2003: The Year Hon Lik Invented the Modern Vape Pen

Finally, after numerous stops and starts in the vaping movement, a Chinese pharmacist named Hon Lik invented the device that would become the standard for the vaping community from then on out. His father had just passed away due to lung cancer and Hon Lik, himself a 60-cigarette-a-day smoker, realized that he needed to make a major change to his life if he wanted to avoid the same fate.

Dreaming the Future

Hon Lik has spoken about how the inspiration for his invention came to him in a dream. He dreamed of being submerged in water, fighting for air when suddenly the water surrounding him turned into a vapor that he could breath. This dream led him to develop the modern vape pen, complete with a battery, plastic cartridge containing a nicotine solution, and an atomizer.
The invention was an immediate hit. In 2007, the first vape pen entered the US market and the rest, as they say, is history.

The Anatomy of a Vape Pen

Now that you’re caught up to speed on your vape pen history, let’s take a look at the anatomy of the modern vape pen, starting with the battery. The battery is at the end of the vape pen and is power source for the device. This is also where vape pen chargers plug in. Further up is the atomizer - the element that provides the heat to vaporize the contents of the cartridge. Atomizers are typically housed in either steel or ceramic as they are durable materials that are conducive to regulating heat. The atomizer is connected to the vape pen’s cartridge which contains the dry herb or cannabis concentrate. This cannabis concentrate is typically composed of cannabinoids extracted from the plant source mixed with terpenes to give the cannabis oil its flavor. Most cartridges are disposable, but there are some that are also refillable. Next up is the filter - a ceramic or glass filter that cools the the air within the vape pen, preventing heat from entering the mouthpiece. Finally, the mouthpiece is the part of the device that makes direct contact with your mouth.

Wax - A Safer Smoke?

One of the most popular forms of cannabis concentrate out there is wax. It’s typically more flavorful than other forms of concentrate and makes for a less carcinogenic vaping experience. The only problem is that most wax is too thick to be vape and that’s where wax liquidizer comes in. Wax liquidizer is a thinning agent that is mixed with wax which makes it the perfect consistency to be vaped.

Vape Juice - Vaping without Cannabis

If you’re looking to vape but don’t necessarily want to go straight for actual cannabis derived materials, vape juice is a popular alternative. In order to achieve the same sorts of heady effects you’d experience with a traditional vape, nicotine is added to the juice to give it an extra kick. However, there are plenty of brands out there that sell nicotine-free vape juice is you’re just looking for a flavorful experience. Vape juice comes in two categories: propylene glycol (PG) and vegetable glycerin (VG). PG is known for producing a sharp “throat hit” when inhaled which is something many ex-smokers crave. PG also flavors better, allowing for a more accurate flavor profile. That said, VG offers a thicker, smoother experience. It’s important to keep in mind that these are not mutually exclusive. You can experiment with a ratio of VG:PG in your vape pen and find what works for you.


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