The history of herbal vaporizing goes back to a time before anyone could write about it. People learned early on that you could heat rocks in a fire, pull them off to the ceremonial shelter or corner of the longhouse, and place healing aromatics on top of them to efficiently release the medicine within. Even after the development of agriculture and architecture, members of many ancient civilizations also practiced similar rituals. Having once developed it, humanity has never forgotten the power of heat upon plant. This exact practice is still in use today in societies at every level of technology and sophistication.
Of course, there’s only so much we can learn about our path to the world of modern vaporizers from the ancients. There were a lot of stops and starts along the way, and long periods of time where nothing very important happened to further the technology. Today’s state of the art hand-held and table-top devices would thrill our ancestors but wouldn’t make a lot of sense. So, what we’ll look at is how we got from there to here.
The first big innovation was, quite simply, the development of the hookah, which is designed with the idea heating up your dry botanical material to less than the temperature of combustion. If it’s working right, your hookah should be providing you with a cool vapor, not smoke. This was a huge leap, if you consider the difference between containing any gas in a whole room versus a small glass chamber. This also has the effect of concentrating the desired product and allows you to draw that concentrate into your lungs.
That development was for centuries the peak of style and control in medicinal vapors, pretty much right up until the 1990s and the application of “heat gun” type hardware by various innovative explorers. At first totally non-commercial applications inspired the development of the “Globe” type table top systems. They were interesting but not long beloved, consisting of basically a glass bulb with a hotplate and some tubing, they did not provide really great temperature control and were quickly obsolete. What they did do was to prove that there was a market for a product that could effectively sublimate floral material into a safer and smoother inhalable gas. From that point on the innovations have come quickly, one design inspiring the next to be better, faster, scaled up, scaled down, sexier, or stealthier.
You had the cone shaped “Volcano” models that used forced air to fill a balloon. Then the hookah inspired “whip” style that used tubing and a glass wand placed into a heating chamber, they had good temperature control and convection heating. This second generation of table top models had a lot going for them, and many are still in use today, but they lacked one important quality: portability. There are a lot of great places in this world to use botanicals, and at home on your kitchen table is only one of them.
So, in about 2006 we started seeing the pocket-sized portable vaporizers on the market. Light weight and battery powered, these machines could pretty much go wherever you went, plus had a primitive digital temperature control to “volitize” your desired compound. They left plenty of room for improvement by being quite expensive and having a short battery life.
When the next generation was released in about 2009, they were the affordable, simple, and attractive “Launch” boxes. Great for beginners wanting to get themselves accustomed to a different process, and convenient even for experienced herbalists. They had a simple chamber for dried botanicals, an easy to understand lid, and produced plenty of vapor. This design was the standard for portability and functionality for a number of years, though there were some battery-operated tabletop hybrid “Airizers” that you could take around with you that made a splash. They were appreciated for having a high level of control over temperature and vapor production and could be taken to many of the places people might gather for group aroma therapy. The “Airizer” type design really got people to a point where they expected to be able to customize their experience.
Which leads us to the current state of the art. Hand held, highly adjustable, portable, efficient; The modern personal digital vaporizer. We’re not saying that this is the end of the line for the delivery of herbal treatment, but it does account for everything humanity has accomplished so far in its quest for precision and safety in a delivery system for botanical remedies.
Hopefully you’ve learned a little bit about how and why we’ve arrived at this moment in the history of vaporization, and maybe even started thinking a little bit about where we’re headed from here.
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