What is a vape pen and how do they work?

What is a vape pen and how do they work?
Adam Parsons

Vape pens are now a common sight in the homes and pockets of cannabis lovers. Despite their popularity, however, many are not exactly sure how they work. Just as it's important to know what you're vaping, it's key to be familiar with the vape itself. With that in mind, we'd like you to join us as we detail the ins and outs of our beloved vape pens.

Back in the day, if you wanted to smoke weed on the go, you’d either have to carry around sensitive pieces of glass, or find somewhere to roll a joint and pray you didn’t get caught. Technology has come a long way, though, and we now have vape pens that help us enjoy potent buds and concentrates (almost) anywhere we want. Fortunately, if you haven't used one before you’ll find they’re not only simple but one of the easiest ways to enjoy cannabis. We take a look at exactly what vape pens are and how they work.


Before we get too far into that discussion, we should explain what exactly a vape pen is. There are variations across types, as we’ll explain later, but there’s a standard theme that applies across the board.

In lay terms, a vape pen is a pen-shaped device that produces cannabinoid and terpene-rich vapor you can inhale. The contents responsible for these cannabinoids and terpenes could be cannabis in dry herb form, or in concentrate form; either way, you just have to make sure the pen is compatible.


So, how does it go about producing this vapor, you wonder? That answer lies in the connection between the three parts of a vape pen: the battery, the heating chamber, and the mouthpiece.

When you take a hit from a vape pen, the battery uses its power to warm up the heating chamber, which contains either cannabis flower or concentrate. It heats up especially quickly since the internal heating element makes direct contact with the cannabis, but doesn’t combust it.

See, said heating element is notably cooler than a flame, so the weed gets decarboxylated (activated) without combusting. That’s why the process creates vapor instead of smoke, and why vaping is considered a distinct practice from smoking.




Right off the bat, the fact that you aren’t inhaling smoke when you vape is a huge advantage. See, combusting weed with a lighter flame creates all sorts of carcinogens and harmful chemicals. All of that ends up in your lungs when you inhale, causing the drowsy, woozy sensations that some associate with traditional smoking. Some enjoy that, but it’s also not very healthy, and could lead to breathing issues down the line if your use is excessive.

You don’t have to deal with any of that when you vape. With no harmful chemicals interfering, you can feel the pure, full effect of the cannabinoids and terpenes in your weed.


Speaking of that, low temperatures also mean none of the compounds in your bud or wax get burnt off. Lighter flames, in contrast, burn at around 800ºC (1472ºF), meaning a majority of the THC, along with the other cannabinoids and terpenes, are charred before you can even enjoy them.


Besides letting you get the most out of your weed, vaping also allows for optimal convenience. There’s no dealing with weed or wax getting on your hands and clothes, or grinding, rolling, and packing on the go. Just make sure the pen’s charged and loaded, take it out of your pocket, press a button, and vape away! Also, vape pens are cheap compared to their larger vaporizer counterparts. 



It’s not all a great time with vaping, though. See, making sure the pen is charged and loaded is easier said than done when life gets in the way.

Maybe you get too distracted working, have to head out quickly, and don’t realise you forgot to reload it. Even worse, you may have loaded it but not brought a charger with you. You could be fine for a couple hours, but you’ll have no way to enjoy your weed afterward.


Besides that, unless you’re using disposable cartridges (we’ll explain later), you’ll have to worry about cleaning. Glassware gets dirty too, sure, but you can just soak that in rubbing alcohol, salt, and water to clean it out. We shouldn’t have to explain it to you, but don’t try doing that with a vape pen unless you don’t want a vape pen anymore.

That being said, cleaning a vape is more tedious than difficult, so this extra maintenance shouldn’t be a dealbreaker.


So, if you’re sold on the idea of a vape pen, it’s time to think about what specific type you’d like. There are a few options out there, and some important differences to note in turn.


If you’ve seen a casual stoner using a vape pen out in public, chances are it was a 510 thread.

The name simply refers to the battery connection port. See, you screw the cartridges into a female connection with five 0.5mm threads, and the cartridge itself has another five threads of the same size. 5 + 5 threads is 10, and they’re all 0.5mm. Thus, 510 thread.

Since you can’t purchase fully assembled pens with a cartridge, people will buy the batteries at smoke shops, and purchase disposable pre-filled “carts” at the dispensary or coffeeshop. In turn, you’ll only find cartridges that contain cannabis concentrates, as pre-filled cartridges with flower wouldn’t really work.

You can find batteries at prices starting as low as $15 USD; full-gram cartridges typically go for $30–50 each.


Spend a bit more money upfront, and you can get a vape pen with a permanent, refillable cartridge for your dabs. Instead of blowing money on 1g cartridges, you could just buy the dabs themselves, or even make them at home! If you’re planning on using your pen often, this option will pay for itself over time.

Sure, you’ll have to deal with cleaning it out, and you’ll have to refill it fairly often. However, little else will give you this much control over your vaping experience.

The cheapest batteries run slightly north of $40, and most higher-quality options are over $100. Rest assured, however, that you’ll very likely get what you pay for (in a good way).


Alternatively, you can get a vape pen with a permanent, refillable chamber for dry herb. After all, concentrates aren’t for everybody, and some people enjoy the process of grinding fresh buds.

Vaping dry herb will also show you how far your cannabis can really go. Let’s say you load up a vape pen with the same amount of weed you’d load in a small bowl. While three people would normally get one hit out of that amount, you could pass the vape pen around three to four times before it’s done.

Expect to pay the same amount you’d pay for a dab pen. Cheaper options will run you between $40–60, and the premium selections will go for around $100–250.


For those who either can’t or don’t want to decide between concentrates and flower, hybrid pens are in your corner. Their heating chambers are engineered to handle both, and you can switch between both with ease.

Convenience comes with a price, though, as quality hybrid vape pens will run you anywhere between $250–350+. They’ll also be the highest-quality out of any you’ll find on the market, so you won’t have to worry about replacing it for a long time.



Speaking of that, many of you may be wondering how long a vape pen will last.

Generally, 510 batteries will last a few months to a year. Although rechargeable via USB, cheaper models might not survive too many bumps and bruises; once again, you get what you pay for. Higher-quality models may last 1–2 years or more, but really, the exact lifespan comes down to whether you’re taking care of it.

If you routinely clean it out and replace the coil when necessary (if it’s a non-510 pen), you could get two or more years out of a cheaper vape. If it’s higher quality, it could last over four years!


Vaping CBD may not seem like a great time to the stoners amongst you, but many find that hits of cannabidiol on the go keep them operating smoothly. In fact, even stoners have wondered whether it’s better to vape CBD or THC-heavy strains.

Is one necessarily better than the other? Let’s explore the options you have in both categories and make a comparison.


Now, you won’t find vape pens specifically designed for CBD, since those same vapes can handle THC-heavy concentrates and buds. However, it’s still worth considering the different forms in which you can enjoy this cannabinoid.


Just as there are THC cartridges for 510 thread batteries, CBD oil carts are often available in the same stores, and more!

While you’d usually have to deal with sublingual oils or pills when taking CBD at work, a vape pen makes it as easy as stepping outside, pressing a button, and taking a deep breath in. Then, when you’re done with it, just throw the cart away!


Enjoying CBD is even easier if you have a vape with a refillable e-liquid container. Just fill up your pen with the vape juice like you would if it were nicotine. You’ll create less waste this way, too, but you’ll have to consider sourcing specific vape juice containers.


Now, let’s compare those experiences with those that come with vaping THC.


Now, if you know anything about THC cartridges, it’s probably the fact that they can get you very, very high. The vapor isn’t nearly as intense as smoke from a joint or bong, so you don’t perceive the hits as potent. They definitely are, though, and you’ll really know once you’re five in and can’t stop giggling or slumping over.


Vaping dry herb, as we discussed before, is how you can truly get the most out of your buds. You can’t load very much into a vape pen at once, but that small amount will last you longer than you’d expect.

Since it’s not being combusted, you’ll also get to experience the full cannabinoid and terpene range. That means you’ll experience the most potent flavours and effects you could possibly get out of a given strain.

Also, while this subsection is under THC, you can vape CBD buds in the exact same way.


Given that you can get disposable cartridges pre-loaded with concentrate, you may be wondering why you’d bother loading the dabs in yourself. Well, besides avoiding loads of waste, you’ll find dabs that aren’t pre-loaded into cartridges are noticeably cheaper. Since they’re the same dabs you’d find in a cartridge, you’ll get just as high, too!

Thc vape pens

You may be completely sold on the concept at this point, but there’s still a question of whether it’s legal for you to even buy one.

Unfortunately, as much as we want cannabis to be legal worldwide, we’re not there yet. In turn, to figure out whether vape pens are legal where you live, you need to figure out if weed is legal in general.

Chances are, if it is, you’ll be able to find a vape pen, as there aren’t many laws against the vapes themselves. Even if CBD is the only legal cannabinoid, you may be able to find pens and cartridges filled with the non-psychoactive substance.


When you figure out if they’re legal in your area, you just have to consider whether they’re actually worth it. Well, if you move around a lot and need a convenient way to enjoy weed, vape pens are perfect for you. If you find yourself only using it at home, though, a desktop vape might be your best option. Even then, vape pens cost less money, get you equally high, and can be passed amongst people with ease.

With all that considered, if you have the money to spend on a battery and disposable cartridges (or a nicer pen with a refillable one), we think there’s no reason you shouldn’t try it out.

Adam Parsons
Adam Parsons

As a professional cannabis journalist, author, and copywriter, Adam has been writing about all things psychoactive, CBD, and everything in between for a long time. In an ever-changing market, Adam uses his BA (Hons) Multimedia Journalism degree to keep in stride with contemporary research and contributing worthwhile information to all of his projects.