If you’re looking for a vaporizer, you already know how many options are available to you. It’s overwhelming. Every brand claims that its model is the best while disparaging its competitors, leaving you unsure what’s fact and what’s part of a marketing campaign.
The emphasis many companies place on the type of heating element their vaporizers contain can be incredibly confusing. Does it matter, as long as the heating element is there and functional? Well, yes. Today we’re going to be focusing on the role of ceramic heating elements in vaporizers to help you make an educated decision.
How Vaporizers Work
You burn tobacco, marijuana, or hemp during traditional smoking to release the active component, whether that’s nicotine, CBD, or THC. You then inhale the smoke. While simple to do, other chemicals and particles in the smoke can negatively impact your health.
Vaporizers aim to solve this issue. Rather than burning a substance, a liquid, wax, or even dry herb is heated until it releases a vapor. You then inhale the vapor without any damage that ash might cause to your lungs and throat.
In a vaporizer, the heating element is what causes the vapor to be released. While vaporizers with glass or metal heating elements are widely available on the market, you’re most likely to come across one that contains a ceramic heating element.
There are two main heating methods that you’ll see no matter which type of heating element you have: conduction and convection. During conduction, heat is applied directly to whatever you have in your vaporizer, although temperatures should never reach the point at which combustion may occur. With convection, the heating element heats the surrounding air. The air passes over or through the substance you’re using, and it’s heated indirectly.
What Ceramic Does
When you’re reading the packaging or product details of a vaporizer and see that it contains a ceramic heating element, you might assume the wax, herb, or liquid you’re using will only come into contact with ceramic or air that has just touched ceramic. That’s not necessarily true. All it means when you see that a vaporizer uses a ceramic heating element is that some part of it contains ceramic. The vaporizer could include other materials.
Ceramic heating elements are often touted as the best and cleanest options for vaporizers because most ceramics have melting points over 3,600 degrees Fahrenheit. As you’ll never reach those temperatures, the idea is that the heating element won’t release particles that might cause health problems or impact the flavor.
The companies telling you this fail to mention that the glass’s melting point is over 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit. Aluminum, the most popular material for metal heating elements, has a melting point of more than 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit.
While the ideal temperature for vaporizing depends on the product you use and personal preference, you’re unlikely to see temperatures much higher than 400 degrees. Beyond that point, you begin to lose the relative health benefits vaping has over smoking.
Ceramic has other, more tangible benefits. It’s less fragile than glass, which makes it better suited for portable vaporizers. It’s also less likely to influence the flavor of what you’re vaporizing. Whether you’re a connoisseur of natural flavors or you prefer vapor that tastes like a dessert, that’s a bonus.
The most commonly reported downside of vaporizers with ceramic heating elements is that it’s challenging to maintain a steady temperature that produces an even heating effect. The higher the quality of the vaporizer you invest in, the less likely you will notice this issue.
Ceramic and Safety
One of the significant reasons many people prefer vaping to smoking is because they believe it’s safer. A 2013 study found that, while there were toxic substances present in the tested vapors, they were present in quantities between nine and 450 times lower than in traditional cigarette smoke.
Further concerns arose about vaping safety after an outbreak of lung injuries between 2019 and 2020 was linked to THC cartridges containing vitamin E acetate. Experts were puzzled, unsure why some people experienced severe illness while others were fine.
Speculation ranged from concern over chemical reactions with the vaporizer’s specific internal components to debates about the dangers of high temperatures. A small study published in 2020 found that two THC cartridges used by people who experienced a lung injury contained charred ceramic and damaged wires, indicating that high internal temperatures had occurred.
The study was unable to say definitively why lung injuries occurred, although the current line of thinking is that high temperatures, when combined with metal and ceramic components, creates conditions in which vitamin E acetate can form. Currently, avoiding high temperatures is hypothesized to be more important than the materials your vaporizer is made from.
Before you purchase a vaporizer, do your research to ensure you’re investing in one that will provide a safe and joyful experience.