When THC vape pens first hit the market, they were as easy to use as joints and pipes. Maybe even easier.
As long as there was weed juice in the tank and the battery was charged, all you had to do was press the button on the pen and inhale.
Modern vape pens work essentially the same way. The best ones can be more complicated to figure out, though, because they’re likely to have extra buttons, dials, or even a touch screen.
Those extra controls are worth understanding because they control the pen’s vaping temperature. And believe it or not, temperature plays a major role in determining what medical benefits you’ll receive from your weed — and how high you’ll get.
In fact, vaping with the right amount of heat can be just as important as choosing the right strain.
Let’s understand why, and look at the key elements of a vaping temperature chart.
How Heat Affects Smoking and Vaping Experience
You probably know that vaporizers heat cannabis instead of burning it. You probably don’t know why that drastically changes the user experience.
What Happens When You Smoke
There’s no mystery involved in smoking marijuana. You burn the flower and inhale the smoke that’s produced.
That process is enjoyable, but it’s definitely not optimal. Here’s why.
The combustion point of cannabis (the point at which it begins to burn) is approximately 450°F. Its temperature usually gets much higher when you smoke, however, because the flame from a lighter reaches temperatures ranging from 600°F to 4,000°F.
What difference does that make, as long as you’re able to create sweet weed smoke? You’d be surprised.
The boiling point of THC is 315°F. It produces less-psychoactive vapor at lower temperatures, but once the THC begins boiling it releases a vapor that will get you high. So the “sweet spot” for heating weed is between 315°F and its combustion point of 450°F.
Here’s why 450°F is a critical number. When cannabis is subjected to temperatures above its combustion point, it begins releasing toxic compounds like carbon monoxide, dioxins, benzene, and tar that are so dangerous to cigarette smokers. Those substances apparently don’t cause lung cancer when they’re in weed, but they’re still hazardous to the lungs.
So when burning weed subjects the flower to temperatures much higher than its combustion point, it creates toxic smoke.
There’s more to the story, too. High temperatures can destroy some of the important components in weed, making its smoke less potent, less flavorful, and less medically effective. We’ll discuss that in more detail shortly.
By contrast, vaping prevents the combustion of cannabis and allows you to control the amount of heat that cannabis is exposed to.
What Happens When You Vape
Vaporizers (including vape pens) heat weed to temperatures above THC’s boiling point but below its combustion point. Psychoactive vapor is created, but not the toxic chemicals that are produced when the bud is burned.
Vape pens without user controls are generally set to heat cannabis to temperatures anywhere between 375°F and 440°F, with each manufacturer choosing their products’ standard heating temperature.
When you activate a vape pen, the heating element quickly generates the designated amount of heat, and vapor is produced. What’s in the vapor, though, depends on the specific temperature that the weed’s exposed to.
That’s because each of the substances in cannabis has a different boiling point.
Cannabis Components and Their Interaction With Heat
THC isn’t the only cannabinoid in marijuana, of course. There are more than 100 of them. CBD is the best-known; CBN and CBG are among others that have been found to provide health and wellness benefits.
There are also terpenes and flavonoids in weed. They’re responsible for flavor and aroma, and many terpenes contribute their own health benefits. All combine to boost the effectiveness of THC thanks to what’s called the “entourage effect.”
And each of those components boils at a different temperature. Here are just a few examples.
CBD’s boiling point is 356°F. To activate that cannabinoid’s medicinal effects, weed has to be exposed to temperatures higher than the 315°F that THC requires for activation. CBG’s boiling point is much lower, at 126°, but CBN’s is even higher, at 365F°.
There’s a similarly widespread activation temperature for the most important terpenes: 320°F for caryophyllene, 334°F for myrcene, 349°F for limonene, and 388°F for linalool.
Most smokers don’t buy an ounce simply to benefit from the flower’s CBN, myrcene, or linalool. Some medical patients do, however, so they may need to know the boiling points of each substance.
Why? Because modern vape pens allow you to adjust the temperature at which they operate. Some just have “low,” “medium” and “high” settings. Others let you set the temperature with pinpoint accuracy, either with digital settings or by selecting the voltage at which the device operates.
Let’s look at optimal temperatures for vape pens.
Optimal Temperatures for Vaping
You may not need all of the specifics in the following chart. In that case, you can skip to our more general look at what a vape pen’s “low,” “medium” and “high” settings will mean for the vaping experience.
Vaping Temperature Chart
These are the boiling points for each of weed’s important components. Cannabis must be heated to each temperature or above, to realize the benefits of the cannabinoid or terpene.
General Guide to Vaping Temperatures
The low, medium and high-temperature settings on a vape pen will provide vastly different user experiences. Here’s what to expect from each — bearing in mind that the weed strain plays as much of a role as the temperature it’s vaped at.
Low Temperatures: A Mild, Functional High
This setting usually generates heat slightly above THC’s boiling point, between 325°F and 350°F. It activates THC and several terpenes, but the vapor won’t be as strong as it will be at higher temperatures, because not as much of the weed’s THC will be released.
Expect a mild but invigorating high, noticeable but not enough to prevent function or productivity for most people. The vapor will be cool; the flavor will be light and enjoyable.
These lower temperatures are ideal for those who are new to weed, or those who experience anxiety while smoking.
Medium Temperatures: An Enjoyable Buzz
When heated to 350°–385°F, cannabis produces vapor that delivers the type of high you’d expect when smoking good-quality weed. Almost all of the cannabinoids and most of the terpenes are activated, and most of the THC is volatilized.
The experience is likely to be euphoric and relaxing, although the amount of couch-lock you’ll feel depends on the strain you’re vaping. In short, it will be a very good high without getting totally baked.
The vapor will be warm and thick, with a richer taste.
High Temperatures: It’s Showtime
Temperatures above 385°F (but below weed’s combustion point) are for those who are vaping to get stoned. The most common effects are the ones you’d expect from very potent weed with high THC levels: an intense head high, lethargy, and drowsiness. You’ll probably have the munchies, too.
The vapor will be hot and less flavorful and the flavor will be more difficult to distinguish — but the experience may well be worth it.
Vaping Temperature Chart: FAQ
Q: What’s the best temperature for vaping if you want the medical benefits of weed?
A: High temperatures are ideal in most cases because you’ll want to activate the CBD, CBN, and CBC in your cannabis. The terpenes with high boiling points can also be beneficial. If you can set the exact temperature on your vape pen, 425°-430° is a good range.
Q: Will vaping at a high temperature produce couch lock even if you’re using an energetic Sativa like Jack Herer?
A: High temperatures won’t change the profile of a weed strain, but they’ll take you to the “outer edge” of what the strain can do. In other words, you might not be locked to the couch when you vape Jack Herer at 430°, but you’re likely to experience more of a sedating high than if you were vaping it at 330°.
Lovestead, T. M., & Bruno, T. J. (2017). Determination of cannabinoid vapor pressures to aid in vapor phase detection of intoxication. Forensic chemistry, 5, 79-85. 
Loflin, M., & Earleywine, M. (2015). No smoke, no fire: What the initial literature suggests regarding vapourized cannabis and respiratory risk. Canadian journal of respiratory therapy: CJRT= Revue canadienne de la therapie respiratoire: RCTR, 51(1), 7.