A man smokes out of the Cloud EVO unit during the San Francisco Cannabis Cup. Photo by Gracie Malley/Staff
Every year, thousands of cannabis enthusiasts flock to cannabis competitions, which are gaining momentum in the U.S. as pot laws grow more relaxed. Many go to sample the flowers, edibles and concentrates given away so freely in the medication area. Others go to vend products geared toward the cannabis consumer. And a few go to compete. We followed ganjapreneur Seibo Shen, founder and CEO of VapeXhale, on his journey to contend for best glass, best product and best booth at a recent San Francisco Bay Area cannabis competition.
After taking top prize for best product at cups in Seattle 2012 and Los Angeles 2013, along with second place in all three categories this year in Denver, his goal may not be as lofty as it seems.
When I met up with Seibo at one of VapeXhale‘s booths, a number of attendees swarmed the table, fascinated by the new product that bills itself as “the next evolution in vaping.” The bunch was so persistent that several minutes passed before Seibo could finally sit down for a chat. It didn’t take long for me to realize that he is clearly onto something.
There is no recent evolution in cannabis consumption that is more revolutionary than vaporizing and none more ubiquitous than dabbing. The VapeXhale Cloud EVO takes dabbing to the next level. It combines technology with sheer cannabis connoisseurship to produce what I’ve come to describe as the vaporist’s vaporizer. Its unique extraction process utilizes hot air as opposed to a hot surface; technically, its users aren’t dabbing anything.
“It’s the evolved way to dab,” says Seibo, who’s been vaping daily and almost exclusively since 1997. “It’s the world’s first dabless vaporizer.”
VapeXhale achieves a few other noteworthy firsts in the cannabis industry. Created by a former top-ranking software sales executive on a mission to improve the perception of cannabis by making its consumption a healthier endeavor, the Cloud EVO is virtually a crowd-sourced invention. Seibo says he started a blog seeking to design the best vaporizer, then compiled the most potent ideas that poured in from countless engineers to develop what may just be the world’s first crowd-sourced vaporizer.
The VapeXhale Cloud EVO, which is designed for both concentrates and flowers, is also the first vaporizer with an all-glass vapor path. Furthermore, it produces consistent heat that adjusts to accommodate everyone’s unique inhalation style. And if that weren’t enough, according to Seibo, his device also makes vaporizing more efficient, making your pricey concentrates last three to four times longer.
Frankly, he had me at “all-glass vapor path.” As every chronnoisseur knows, when it comes to flavor, glass is second to none. I was eager to give the Vapexhale Cloud EVO a try.
Seibo walked my companion and me to the medication area where the second
Vapexhale booth was endlessly dishing out dabs. A dabtender placed a small amount of Sour Diesel full melt onto the apparatus and instructed me to inhale slowly. Because this was going to be my first hit of a weekend-long pot party, I decided to inhale, in fact, very slowly. I took a miniscule inhalation – equivalent to that which would normally give me a baseline buzz. But the instant I vapeXhaled, I could tell this was going to get me much higher than anticipated.
Being a ganja critic and professional chronnoisseur, I took notes. I noticed immediately the smoothness of the hit – not even a remote urge to cough. I experienced no throat irritation at all and no sense that my lungs were being taxed as I commonly experience from dabbing. The flavor was immaculate and immense – so much so that I strongly considered having another taste. Instead, I decided to apply my motto, “Pace yourself before you disgrace yourself,” with the intention of returning after I knew just how stratospheric the Cloud EVO was going to get me.
Let’s just say I never made it back. Not only did I not go back, I got so ludicrously high off that tiny toke that I didn’t take a single hit of anything else for the rest of the day. I passed booth after booth that offered dab after dab and even though I am a devout, daily dabber, I was simply too high to indulge further. In fact, I was the highest I ever remember being off cannabis and I get stoned for a living.
I’ve always been one to laugh when people say pot makes them trip – “Look, a lightweight! How cute!” – but after just one hit off the Cloud EVO, that lightweight was me. Two hours and not enough water later, everything went white. I was momentarily convinced I had been dosed with something psychedelic, I literally almost fainted and a nearby gong playing a steady tone made me realize that for the first time, I’d been hempnotized, almost into unconsciousness. It was more than I’d bargained for, but in the realm of THC consumption, I can’t say that’s a bad thing.
On first blush, the VapeXhale Cloud EVO is hands-down the best vaporizer I have personally ever used. But the judges at the cannabis cup didn’t base their decision on my opinion and VapeXhale failed to place in the competition.
Nevertheless, Seibo’s brand of evolution expands beyond having a next-level product that any health-conscious cannabist would lust after. If evolution is the name, then stepping up the image of cannabis culture is the game. And on that point, Seibo undeniably succeeds.
At cannabis cups, known and often derided for their rampant objectification of women, Seibo deliberately seeks out assistants who are well-spoken and confident, basing his multi-gender selection on personality, not sex appeal.
“When you go to a software trade show, the women there are just humans, humans that interact with you. They’re not there to be eye candy. I don’t like to see people being objectified. That’s not the way I want my company to be perceived.”
And attendees tend to take notice.
“I get so many people telling me, ‘The girls in your booth are awesome! They’re articulate, they’re intelligent and they give your company a really good image.’ That makes me feel good.”
But if the evolution of cannabis consumption follows from the evolution of cannabis consumers’ health consciousness, how come some cannabis cups lag so far behind in evolving with the social consciousness of cannabists?
Although it may appear that the advent of these gatherings is recent in the U.S., they’ve been going on at least 10 years in California. And while some, like the Emerald Cup, have evolved – turning clandestine competitions by growers, for growers, into public festivals with multiple stages showcasing music of many genres, eschewing the objectification of women, and in many ways setting the standard for pot competitions – other cups can feel like a time-warp.
Not just in progressive circles, but in society at large, it seems that objectification of women has long been considered socially unacceptable. Likewise, music that refers to women as “bitches” and is peppered with excessive use of the “n-word” has been considered socially unacceptable among the progressive population for some 20 years or longer. And it’s the progressive population that tends to favor cannabis. With all the momentum gained in recent years, Seibo contends that it is counterproductive to promote such an antiquated image, particularly in the context of California, where any cannabis competition must be billed as a medical cannabis competition.
“As much as I love Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg,” Seibo points out, “I’ve never heard them playing at my doctor’s office. I’m okay with [gangsta rap] on a personal level, but when I think about the movement as a whole, this type of stuff has to be minimized… for the greater good of the cannabis movement. We need to not give journalists who cover these events ammunition to shoot down our movement.”
Seibo believes perceptions would evolve if more people owned up to their cannabis use.
“Everyone thinks that cannabis users are lazy slobs. But in reality, if they knew how many senior level executives are cannabis consumers, they would think the inverse.”
Seibo compiled data from his career in the software industry and found that of 278 Fortune 500 executives, 83 percent of them consume cannabis at least once a week.
“We just have to make them feel comfortable coming out. And once they do, I think it’ll be a game changer.”
However, Seibo is quick to point out that he doesn’t think professionals in mainstream society would ever come to a cannabis cup. Indeed, wandering the grounds of most cups often gives one the feeling of being trapped in some college boy’s bachelor pad: no comfortable place to sit; posters of bikini-clad women all over the walls; pants sagging to a comically extreme degree; the munchies are heart attacks in a bag; there’s really bad gangsta rap playing really loudly and no toilet paper in the bathroom. It’s not an environment most professionals would feel comfortable spending the day in, no matter how good the weed is.
If cannabis competitions are going to have any hope of appealing to wider audiences, they’d do well to take a lesson from Seibo.
“There’s a different way to throw these events where the more casual cannabis user would be much more open to attending.”
Soon enough, pot competitions will have no choice but to evolve in the ways that so many cannabis consumers already have. As laws continue to abate and more cannabists come out of the closet, male 20-somethings will no longer be considered the majority of cannabis consumers and pot competitions will have to shift if they want to attract this broader, untapped demographic.