Before this review, the last time I had smoked a vaporizer was at the High Times office more than nine years ago. (Perhaps it was longer. Who can remember?) It was the Volcano by Storz-Bickel back when they were first hitting the market. It sat ceremonially on a desk in a room that the magazine’s staff specifically used for getting high. I found the Volcano’s inflatable bag design really appealing; it made the experience as communal as passing a bong around. I’ve never forgotten how impressed I was with how real the magazine’s employees kept shit over there, as many of them had quality stashes in their desk drawers and the place was littered with those gourmet “Tainted” brand of edibles back before dispensary-bought edibles were really popular. Anyway, I digress.

For those unfamiliar with the technology, a vaporizer is a device that allows herb smokers to smoke–without the smoke. Vaporizers work by heating the weed to a temperature that activates THC and the other compounds responsible for getting people high without burning the vegetative or leafy material, which is essentially just a carrier of the psychoactive constituents. Since there’s no flame–and ideally no smoke, just vapor–this greatly reduces the carcinogens and other toxins caused by combustion. It also tends to taste better. As much as I enjoyed the Volcano, it seemed way too expensive. (It was about the price of a roundtrip flight with hotel to Amsterdam at the time.) And as a bong aficionado, there’s something to be said about the psychological reinforcement that only a billowing bong hit can provide. For years, a clean, straight glass bong was the primary means I used to enlighten myself. But it comes at a cost–specifically to your lungs–and if you’re a dedicated connoisseur like myself who’s in it for the long haul, this can get increasingly taxing. Sure, some of the tar and crap gets filtered through the water (that’s why bong water is so nasty), but no matter how much ice you pack the bong with, it’s never going to reduce the toxins as effectively as a vaporizer. It’s proven, by science. Or at least by taste.

So, I decided it was time to move beyond my vaporcism and see what technology has wrought since my first exposure almost a decade ago. Although the desire for better lung health did play a part, the real impetus for change came when ANIMAL’s managing editor, Joel Johnson, told me he had a brand new portable vaporizer and if I reviewed it, I could keep it. For me, this was a very important development. Not just because it was free, but because of the fact that this could come in very handy in an office environment. Like the one we’re currently occupying, maybe. (Or any residential apartment situation where a nosy neighbor or obnoxious landlord can become a nuisance during the simple act of lighting up.) After all, if there’s no smoke, there’s far less pungent, lingering smell to go along with it.

I agreed and a few days later, he handed me the WISPR. Designed by Oglesby & Butler, an Irish company that knows a thing or two about butane-powered tools, it resembles a portable vintage transistor radio all the way down to its fixed-antenna-like mouthpiece, which a friend incessantly referred to as “the duck’s dick.” (A point he reinforced by sending a YouTube video of an actual duck’s dick). The highly portable device comes with an easy-to-follow instruction manual that makes vaping right outta the (cool white) box it comes in quite easy. The interior packaging also doubles as a weed tray, if you don’t have a classier option at hand. The WISPR vaporizer runs on butane, which works well as an efficient heating source. And like the Volcano, the WISPR makes for a very communal smoke, as it can be also be passed around pon di left hand side. The unit will continue to cycle on and off automatically as indicated by its neat little orange light. What’s especially encouraging about using the WISPR is that by the fourth round it reaches optimal temperature–that’s when it starts working even better than the first few puffs, all the better to share.

While we were testing the WISPR, a coworker handed me the Magic-Flight Launch Box. By far the most simply designed of all the vaporizers, the mostly wooden implement fits in the palm of a hand. This is an excellent feature for public vaping and getting high discreetly in venues that generally don’t permit it. One drawback of the Magic-Flight is that it’s powered by batteries. Although they’re rechargeable, it still takes the unit longer to heat up than the Volcano or WISPR. But it’s also the most portable, easy to use, and the cheapest.

(Illustration: Nate Cepis/ANIMALNewYork)