Choosing Cannabis Products

Vapes vs. Vaporizers: What’s the difference?

Heard about vaping but not exactly sure what it means? You’re not alone. Here we explain the difference between vapes and vaporizers to minimize confusion about this method of cannabis consumption.

Vapes and vaporizers in many sizes against a red background

These terms get used interchangeably and can be confusing. What is a vape? What is a vaporizer? How do I know which is right for me?

On the most basic level, both vapes and vaporizers heat a cannabis product to form an aerosol, also called a vapour — instead of burning the product to produce smoke. Devices that are meant for use with dried flower and concentrates are referred to as “vaporizers,” and devices that use liquid distillate are called “vapes.” Each one differs in its portability, price and versatility.

Let’s first look at how these devices work and their key differences, and then dive into the specific options available in each category.

What is a vape?

Also called a vape pen, a vape is a handheld battery-powered device used to consume a liquid cannabis product, such as distillate, full-spectrum extract or live resin. The act of using a vape device is often referred to as “vaping.” There are three major types of vapes, each one with slightly different functions and components.

Types of vapes

Disposable vape pen

A disposable vape, or “all-in-one,” typically consists of a pre-filled cartridge or pod that contains a liquid cannabis product and a battery-powered heating element that vaporizes the liquid. When it’s empty, you throw the entire device away. Some disposables are rechargeable.

510-thread cartridge

This is the most universal vape type: Pre-filled 510-thread cartridges are sold separately and meant to be screwed onto a 510-thread battery. The "510" refers to the specific thread pattern and size, making it easy to switch between different cartridges without compatibility issues. Once the distillate has been consumed, you dispose of the cartridge and can reuse the battery.

Closed-loop system

A closed-loop vape system has pods that are specifically designed to fit one device of the same brand. Unlike 510-thread cartridges, closed-loop vape pods can’t be swapped into batteries outside their proprietary systems.

Get tips to help you troubleshoot the most common issues with vapes.

What is a vaporizer?

A vaporizer is a device that is typically used to inhale plant substances, like dried flower and some concentrates (such as hash or kief). Cannabis vaporizers come in many different sizes and formats, some handheld and others larger and less portable. When shopping, make sure you read the product description carefully to ensure you’re selecting a vaporizer that has the functions you’re looking for.

Types of vaporizers

Dried flower vaporizer

Instead of smoking cannabis in a joint, bong or pipe, you can use a dried flower vaporizer by loading it with ground dried flower.

Concentrate-specific vaporizer

This specialized vaporizer can be used with various concentrates, such as hash, shatter, rosin, wax, kief and live resin. However, it’s important to know that you cannot consume dried flower with this type of vaporizer.

Dual-purpose vaporizer

A dual-purpose vaporizer comes with concentrate-specific attachments that allow you to switch between dried flower and concentrates. You can consume multiple types of products on a single device.

Desktop vaporizer

If portability isn’t a concern, a desktop vaporizer is an alternative that typically offers a greater vapour capacity and more precise temperature control. It can be plugged in and often comes with accessories like balloons and tubes that contain greater quantities of vapour than a handheld vaporizer. This stationary option comes at a higher price and may be compatible with either dried flower or concentrates, or both.

How do vapes and vaporizers work?

Instead of burning the product to produce smoke, both vapes and vaporizers heat cannabis to a high enough temperature that it produces a vapour. Because they’re meant to work with different cannabis products, each type has distinct components and accessories.

Basic parts of a vape

Mouthpiece Emits the vapour, and in many cases activates the heating element when inhaled.
Cartridge or pod Contains the liquid cannabis product to be heated.
Coil or atomizer Ceramic or steel component that contains the cotton wick, ceramic or quartz heating element. The coil heats the liquid cannabis product to produce vapour.
Battery Powers the heating element.
Charger Charges the vape battery (if rechargeable).


How vapes work

  1. Connect the distillate pod or cartridge to the vape battery. (If the vape is a disposable all-in-one, this step isn’t necessary.)
  2. Activate the heating element (typically by inhaling) to quickly raise the temperature of the liquid to the point that it aerosolizes into a fine mist.
  3. Inhale the vapour, which contains tiny droplets of distillate.

Basic parts of a vaporizer

Chamber or oven Holds the cannabis product to be vaporized and pulled through the chamber’s screens and out of the mouthpiece when you inhale. If the vaporizer is compatible with both dried flower and concentrates, it may come with more than one chamber attachment.
Vaporizer The core component that houses the heating element that heats the product.
Mouthpiece Emits the vapour from the chamber. Dried flower vaporizers may include multiple mouthpieces.
Balloon or tube Accessory that holds a greater quantity of vapour. Desktop vaporizers may come with balloons or tubes.


How vaporizers work

  1. Pack ground dried flower or a cannabis concentrate (such as wax, live resin, shatter, hash or rosin) into the chamber.
  2. Adjust the airflow and temperature (if applicable) to suit the product you’re consuming. Terpenes and cannabinoids are released from the cannabis at different rates depending on the temperature.
  3. Activate the heating element (typically by inhaling) to raise the temperature enough to vaporize the cannabis without burning it.
  4. Inhale the vapour, which contains terpenes and cannabinoids from the vaporized flower or concentrate.

Which one should I choose?

Choosing between a vape and a vaporizer depends on the product you intend to consume and your budget and other preferences.

  • Convenient
  • Variety of flavours available
  • Can provide a more predictable dosing experience
  • Delivers the terpenes and cannabinoids of flower or concentrates without smoke
  • Adjustable experience through temperature controls and accessories
  • Some types can be used without batteries
  • Aerosol can include harmful substances, including benzene and styrene, which are potentially carcinogenic
  • Vapes typically use lithium-ion batteries, which are difficult to recycle
  • Requires more prep and maintenance than vapes
  • Greater upfront cost
  • Aerosol can include harmful substances, including benzene and styrene, which are potentially carcinogenic

Cleaning vapes and vaporizers

Proper maintenance of your cannabis accessories will ensure even heating, avoid distorting the flavour and prevent the growth of harmful bacteria and mould.

Vapes are slightly easier to maintain than vaporizers. Vapes need only an occasional cleaning of the mouthpiece and replacement of the coil.

Vaporizers need regular cleaning and maintenance of the heating element, chamber and other components.

Note that here we’re talking about vaping cannabis products, not nicotine. The OCS does not sell nicotine or tobacco products.

Whether you opt for the portability and simplicity of a vape or the versatility of a vaporizer, keep in mind that although cannabis vapour may be less harsh than cannabis smoke, it isn’t necessarily less potent. Always start low and go slow.

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