Tobacco smoke contains tars, toxic gasses and radioactive particles which pollute the lungs and harm other vital organs as well. Though the addiction to tobacco occurs due to its nicotine content, it’s the other chemicals in smoke which are harmful to our health. Obviously it’s much easier to quit smoking than to quit using tobacco. To quit smoking, all one has to do is put the tobacco in a vaporizer. To quit using tobacco entirely is of course much harder because of nicotine’s addictive qualities.
There are some people who use tobacco for the sole purpose of rolling cannabis cigarettes, or joints. The tobacco keeps the joint burning so one doesn’t need to relight it all the time. But with a vaporizer such people can enjoy the benefits of cannabis without the need to add tobacco. Especially for patients using medical marijuana it would be much better to simply use a vaporizer than joints.
Cannabis is one of the most popular smoked herbs in the world, not because it is physically or mentally addictive, but because users experience certain benefits. But cannabis smoke does in fact contain more tars than tobacco smoke. That’s why it is advisable to quit smoking cannabis too, and start vaporizing it!
Using a vaporizer to self-administer medicinal cannabis
Cannabis sativa and Cannabis indica are two types of hemp with high concentrations of medically useful properties. Though used by many for spiritual and/or recreational purposes, more and more people are discovering that it can be used to alleviate certain types of physical discomfort more effectively than synthetic painkillers, tranquilizers, and other types of medication can.
Although for some illnesses medical cannabis could be ingested, most patients prefer to smoke it. Smoking gives an immediate effect, and once one has achieved the desired level of relief one can just stop smoking it. The effect of cannabis in pills or tablets has a slower onset (especially on a full stomach) and it is more difficult to dose: the tablet(s) may not be strong enough, or conversely the effect may be stronger than one needs and desires. This is why doctors often prescribe cannabis cigarettes (joints) rather than tablets or pills.
Cannabis is sometimes prescribed as an antiemetic to patients undergoing chemotherapy to diminish their nausea. Since the nausea doesn’t allow them to keep anything in their stomach, including tablets, smoking (or vaporizing) is their only option.
In 1996 MAPS (the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies) teamed up with NORML (the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) for a study which compares two simple vaporizers with bongs (water pipes), joints with a filter and joints without one. The smoke or vapour of each was analyzed to determine the amount of solid particles (tar) and the three main cannabinoids. The different means of administration were then rated on the basis of their tar/cannabinoid ratio. The two vaporizers tested 25% better than joints without a filter (the second best means of administration).
In 2006 researchers of the University of Leiden tested the high-tech Volcano vaporizer, containing pure THC preparations. Their conclusion was that “the results of our research suggest that device offers patients a safe and effective means of administering cannabinoids. The resulting absorption of THC in the lungs is comparable to the smoking of cannabis, but without the harmful effects to the respiratory tract.”
In 2007 the University of California, San Fransisco, published the results of their investigation in the Official Journal of the American Academy of Neurology. It said that “Using CO as an indicator, there was virtually no exposure to harmful combustion products using the vaporizing device. Since it replicates smoking’s efficiency at producing the desired THC effect using smaller amounts of the active ingredient as opposed to pill forms, this device has great potential for improving the therapeutic utility of THC.”
When using plant material (flower tops) instead of pure THC preparations, several other cannabinoids as well as a range of other plant components including terpenoids were detected. However, using pure THC in the Volcano Vaporizer, no degradation products (delta-8-THC, cannabinol or unknown compounds) were detected through HPLC analysis. Also, a substantially larger fraction of the THC was delivered to the vapor by using pure THC.
Analysis of the vapor from the Volcano found that using multiple passes it delivered 36% – 61% of the THC in the sample. A more recent study using pure cannabinoid preparations achieved a maximum of 54%. As a comparison, studies of joints smoked via a smoking machine under varying conditions of puff duration and air speed found very similar efficiencies of 34% to 61%. In other words: users can achieve the desired effect with a similar amount of material as when smoking.
These positive results are in contrast to MAPS/NORML’s studies in 1996 which found less encouraging results. As already mentioned above, in this study two simple vaporizer models were tested against water pipes and filtered and unfiltered joints. The smoke produced by each was analyzed for solid particulates (tars) and 3 major cannabinoids. As far as the cannabinoid-to-tar ratio was concerned, the two vaporizers performed up to 25% better than unfiltered joints (second best) in terms of tar emission. However, both vaporizers produced over ten times more tars than cannabinoids, which might relate to the low potency (2.3%) of the NIDA-supplied cannabis used in the study. Surprisingly, the same study found that bongs and filtered joints performed 30% worse than regular, unfiltered joints. The reason was that water pipes and filters filter out psychoactive THC along with the tars, thereby demanding users to smoke more in order to reach their desired effect. The study did not, however, rule out the possibility that water pipes could have other benefits, such as filtering out harmful gases like carbon monoxide. That the results of this study were less encouraging than the studies done by the University of Leiden (in 2006) and the University of California (2007) indicates that the type of vaporizer (the technology used) strongly affects the quality of the vapor.
These studies have not measured the presence of toxic gasses, such as ammonia, hydrogen cyanide and carbon monoxide, though previous studies have indicated unquantified decreases in carbon monoxide with vaporization.
Although vapor is much purer than smoke, using a vaporizer does not completely eliminate respiratory irritation. A puff of strong vaporized cannabis will occasionally cause coughing. This however, could be due to THC itself, which is known to have a strong expectorant effect. It might be as well that one is vaporizing at a temperature that is too high.
You can read much more on the medical applications of vaporizers and cannabis on our Science and Vaporizing Cannabis pages.