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Vaporizer pens look like the e-cigarettes that dispense nicotine, and the vapor smells the same. But these devices are optimized for a potent marijuana resin with high concentrations of THC. (Courtesy of Grenco Science)

Pot Smoke And Mirrors: Vaporizer Pens Hide Marijuana Use

by Miles Bryan
Apr 18, 2014

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Nikki Esquibel, 19, has a medical prescription for marijuana. She uses a vaporizer pen to smoke around her neighborhood in Los Angeles. Vaporizer pens use marijuana concentrates or "hash oil" -- a viscous, yellow resin chemically extracted from the plant.

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It's a sunny afternoon at Kelly's Collective, a medical marijuana dispensary in Los Angeles, and Nikki Esquibel is getting stoned. But you wouldn't know it.

The 19-year-old, who has a medical prescription for marijuana, is "smoking" pot with a handheld vaporizer, or a vape pen. It's sleek, black, and virtually indistinguishable from a high-end e-cigarette.

That's the point, says Esquibel. "I use it mostly around my neighborhood. It's easy to hide." The vapor coming from the device doesn't even have an odor.

Discretion, it turns out, makes for good money. While e-cigarettes have been grabbing the headlines, the vape pen industry has been quietly ballooning. And it's reshaping the business and culture of marijuana.

The latest versions of e-cigarettes contain a battery-powered heating element that vaporizes a liquid containing nicotine. Vape pens for pot use the same mechanism, but the devices are optimized to vaporize the active molecules in concentrated marijuana oils, not nicotine. And just as with e-cigs, there's no fire or smoke.

Pot users are flocking to the pens: One out 3 reviews on Leafly, the Yelp of the pot world, are about vaping marijuana.

The pen doesn't carry the stigma or notoriety of a bong or joint, says Todd Mitchem, an executive at O.pen Vape, which sells its products on the West Coast and in Colorado.

"We are getting people buying vape pens who wouldn't normally come into a [marijuana] dispensary," he tells Shots. "Now, all of a sudden, they have an alternative [to smoking pot]," he adds.

Two years ago, Chris Folkerts was selling vape pens out of the trunk of his car. Today his company Grenco Science has 6,000 square feet of prime real estate in central Los Angeles.

"You could never get your mom to hit a bong," he says. "But your mom would potentially hit a G Pen. My mom did. My grandmother did too! And I have god-fearing Christian grandparents from the Midwest. When they tried it, I knew I was onto something."

Most vape pens don't actually vaporize the marijuana plant. They're loaded with marijuana concentrates or "hash oil:" a viscous, yellow resin chemically extracted from the plant. In many places, that extraction often occurs in somebody's kitchen — which can be explosive and dangerous.

And the concentrates can be strong. Really, really strong. Marijuana leaves usually contain about 25 percent THC, the psychoactive chemical that makes you feel high. But the concentrates can contain up to 90 percent THC. Esquibel says she almost fainted when she tried her first hit.

Those high THC levels worry Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws, a nonprofit lobbying group working to broadly legalize marijuana use.

"Between the fact that you can potentially pass out with a single inhalation, or you can have such property damage and potential bodily harm just producing it ... these [issues of the vape pen] definitely need to be addressed," he says. "This is a screaming call for regulation if there ever was one."

Most states, such as California, that allow the sale and use of medical marijuana don't have rules on the books about marijuana concentrates or about vaping the substance. California is considering a ban on concentrates, while Colorado and Washington allow them. The sale and use of vape pens is legal in every state.

And what about the health effects of vaping pot compared to smoking it?

"The problem is that, right now, it's hard to tell how much [THC] you are actually getting when you take a puff of one of these things," says Mark Kleiman, who studies marijuana laws and policies at the University of California, Los Angeles. "The risk of getting wrecked is a lot higher."

And given that the output of vape pens is odorless, Kleiman is also concerned about what the rising popularity of the devices means for parents and teachers.

"For them this will be a nightmare," he tells Shots. "If I am running a school or a house and I have a nose, I can tell if my kids are smoking pot. But if they're using a vape pen, forget about it."

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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Vaporizer pens look like the e-cigarettes that dispense nicotine, and the vapor smells the same. But these devices are optimized for a potent marijuana resin with high concentrations of THC. (Courtesy of Grenco Science)

Strong Quake Rattles Mexico, But No Injuries Reported

Apr 18, 2014

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Nikki Esquibel, 19, has a medical prescription for marijuana. She uses a vaporizer pen to smoke around her neighborhood in Los Angeles. Vaporizer pens use marijuana concentrates or "hash oil" -- a viscous, yellow resin chemically extracted from the plant.

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A powerful magnitude-7.2 earthquake that struck near Mexico's resort-town of Acapulco could be felt as far away as Mexico City, but there were no immediate reports of damage or injuries.

The U.S. Geological Survey says the epicenter of Friday's quake was located about 80 miles northwest of Acapulco at a depth of about 15 miles. The effects, however, were felt 165 miles northeast in the Mexican capital, where shaking startled residents and lasted for about 30 seconds.

The Associated Press says a woman who answered the phone at the civil protection office in Acapulco reported that officials were patrolling the city to check for damage and casualties.

NPR's Jasmine Garsd, reporting from Mexico City, says that while Mexicans are used to earthquakes, this one, which occurred on a holiday at about 9:30 a.m., was particularly strong.

"People started running out in the street," she says, adding that "street signs and street lights were waving back and forth."

"You could see a lot of people still in their pajamas, or barefoot," Jasmine says. "It lasted for quite a bit."

In 1985, a magnitude-8.1 quake killed some 6,000 people and destroyed many buildings in Mexico City.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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Vaporizer pens look like the e-cigarettes that dispense nicotine, and the vapor smells the same. But these devices are optimized for a potent marijuana resin with high concentrations of THC. (Courtesy of Grenco Science)

Should College Dropouts Be Honored By Their Alma Maters?

Apr 18, 2014 (Tell Me More) — From a Top Gun sequel starring drones to Howard University's pick of Puff Daddy as its commencement speaker, the Barbershop guys weigh in on the week's news.

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Nikki Esquibel, 19, has a medical prescription for marijuana. She uses a vaporizer pen to smoke around her neighborhood in Los Angeles. Vaporizer pens use marijuana concentrates or "hash oil" -- a viscous, yellow resin chemically extracted from the plant.

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Vaporizer pens look like the e-cigarettes that dispense nicotine, and the vapor smells the same. But these devices are optimized for a potent marijuana resin with high concentrations of THC. (Courtesy of Grenco Science)

Gefilte Fish Shortage: Best Thing Since The Parting Of The Red Sea?

Apr 18, 2014 (Tell Me More) — A shortage of gefilte fish is causing panic in the middle of Passover. But New York Times reporter Matt Chaban says some observant Jews are OK with not having to eat the love-it-or-hate-it appetizer.

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Nikki Esquibel, 19, has a medical prescription for marijuana. She uses a vaporizer pen to smoke around her neighborhood in Los Angeles. Vaporizer pens use marijuana concentrates or "hash oil" -- a viscous, yellow resin chemically extracted from the plant.

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Vaporizer pens look like the e-cigarettes that dispense nicotine, and the vapor smells the same. But these devices are optimized for a potent marijuana resin with high concentrations of THC. (Courtesy of Grenco Science)

New York's Muslims Push For Public Schools To Close For Eid Holidays

Apr 18, 2014 (Tell Me More) — President of the Muslim Democratic Club of New York Linda Sarsour discusses why she wants the city's public schools to close on holidays like Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha.

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Nikki Esquibel, 19, has a medical prescription for marijuana. She uses a vaporizer pen to smoke around her neighborhood in Los Angeles. Vaporizer pens use marijuana concentrates or "hash oil" -- a viscous, yellow resin chemically extracted from the plant.

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