Vaping Terms: Volatilize

“Volatilize” is a word you’ll see crop up from time to time on vaping message boards and blogs. It’s one of those words people toss out in an offhand manner, either assuming that everyone else knows its meaning, or (perhaps more commonly) not really understanding the idea they’re expressing. We thought we’d take a look at the word and see if we could shed some much needed light into the murk of this “insider” terminology.

            One thing that most people will key onto quickly is that the much more common term “volatile” seems like it’s similar enough to be related. Which it is. Most often in everyday English volatile is used to describe a person who goes from one emotional state to another very quickly, and not in a good way. In chemistry the same word describes a substance that changes from one physical state to another very quickly, usually from liquid to gas, but not necessarily in a bad way .  (Interesting side note, when a material changes from a solid to a gas it “sublimates” which is related to the word “sublime”. Aside from being a rock band from the 90s, sublime means that something is lofty or worthy of praise. So an early chemist must have been very impressed to witness some reaction.)


             Since we’re generally speaking about dry herb vaping here, we’re also talking about a chemical process that goes something like this: heat is applied to the material which hurries along and allows us to control the decarboxylation (explained here in another entry) and vaporization of a liquid that is present and which we would like to put to use in our bodies. That liquid becomes vapor because it is volatile enough to become a gas at a temperature much lower than what the herbs burn at.

 Now, the above paragraph may seem as though it contains a contradiction in terms. We said we were vaporizing dry herb, and then we said that we were turning liquids into gases. The word “dry” is usually understood to mean that liquids aren’t an issue, or even that they are not around at all. Well, as is often the case when you start to understand things on a deeper level, the truth is a touch more complicated. See, while almost all the water has been removed from your botanicals making them dry in that sense, almost all of the liquid acids and oils are still there. They are volatile liquids, but they vaporize at a lower temperature than water.

Okay, so far we’ve established what volatility is, we’ve shown you how it applies to vaping, we’ve even explained a little bit about what kind of volatiles there are in your dried botanicals. What we haven’t done is answered the question that prompted us to write this entry, and hopefully the one that led you here; What is the difference between vaporize and volatilize? You definitely see those words used interchangeably in articles and on discussion boards around the web. Even here, in what you’ve been reading the past few minutes, it’s not that clear there’s a difference, and that’s because they’re so closely related that they pretty easily stand in for each other even when used entirely correctly. At least when the subject is vaping and how it works.

Basically, you can vaporize anything. Apply enough heat over a short enough time, and you’ll get vapor from whatever object you’re working with. You can only volatilize fluids that we would describe as being “volatile”. Which the terpenes and other active compounds we’re getting from our personal vaporizers definitely are.

So there it is. Hopefully you can utilize the information here in your discussions about the benefits of vaporizing and the nature of the herbs we use.

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