The vaporizer that marijuana users will spend $600 on, and the health-conscious pot head who created it

A proud “suit and tie” stoner.
A proud “suit and tie” stoner.
Image: Courtesy Seibo Shen
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With marijuana legalization spreading in the US, the cannabis industry is booming. One company set to reap the benefits is VapeXhale, makers of a high-tech vaporizer, a device used to extract the active ingredients in marijuana and other smokable substances—medicinal herbs like chamomile, for instance, or tobacco.

When people smoke, most of the carcinogens are released by the combustion of the plant material. Vaporizers theoretically avoid setting the weed aflame by heating it just enough to produce vapor, not smoke. They can work by either conduction—a direct heating source—or convection, where heated air is pushed up to the plant material. While the former is cheaper and simpler, the latter has less risk of accidental combustion, so should produce a cleaner vapor. This infographic explains the difference.

Just how high-tech can a vape get? The simplest are vape pens (or electronic cigarettes) which can cost as little as $10. But most devices, using a combination of conduction and convection, cost a couple hundred dollars. VapExhale’s Cloud EVO costs $600. But its creators say that its design—all-glass insides, circulating air, and water pipe head—provides the cleanest, most efficient vapor on the market.

VapExhale is located in San Francisco, where medical use of marijuana is legal, but after a successful crowdfunding campaign over the summer, the Cloud EVO is being sold to medical—and, let’s face it, recreational—users all over. We spoke to founder and CEO Seibo Shen about where the industry is going and why he thinks giving consumers a higher high is more fulfilling than working for Yammer.

Q: You started out in the software industry—sales for Jigsaw, Successfactors, E2open, and Yammer—so why vaporizers?

Seibo Shen: Well, I’ve been vaping since 1997. I’m allergic to alcohol, so when I first discovered pot, I was like, this is awesome! Except for the smoking part. I’ve always been a health nut. I got interested in vaporizers because they’re healthier than the alternative. Selling software was great, but I was pushing products that replaced human workers. People were getting fired.

When I first started this, people said I was an idiot. I’d worked at four different companies with successful exits. That’s supposed to be the dream, but I was getting less joy out of it every time. Now I feel like I’m doing some good.

Q: So who’s going to buy a $600 device for getting high? And is that changing with legalization?

SS: There’s going to be a much more vocal demographic of cannabis users. The landscape is really changing. A lot of our customers are actually 50 or older—they’re medical users, and they want the highest, healthiest dose in the shortest period of time, which is what we offer.

I’m excited to see the stigma decrease. You’ll see more people like me—suit and tie cannabis smokers. Of course there will be a lot of recreational users, but if we’re going to point fingers at the dangers of recreational pot, let’s point fingers at big pharma and tobacco, too. I dose twice a day, and it’s helped me a lot. I have problems with low appetite and back pain, and this makes my life better. That’s true for a lot of people—lives are improved.

Q: But can inhalants ever really be healthy?

SS: Obviously, the best thing for your lungs is clean air. But studies have shown that a lot of the toxins and carcinogens associated with smoking are avoided with vaporization—98% of carcinogens don’t show up. We’re hoping to sponsor some more scientific studies that use our device specifically, because we think we’ve improved on those figures a lot. In a lot of vaporizers, for example, the air path isn’t separated from the electrical components, so you have to worry about fumes and particulates when you get to a certain temperature. We fixed that, and we also use a glass heater in the device. Most vapes use ceramic, but glass is inert and nonreactive. It’s more expensive, but it’s a better choice. I mean, think about drinking fine wine. You put it in a glass because it won’t react with the wine and change the flavor. Cannabis has flavor too!