The Triumph of Vaping: Cannabis Research Reveals Vaping is Healthier and Gets You Higher Than Smoking Weed
Vaping is Healthier – Helping to Reduce the Potential Drawbacks of Smoking Marijuana, and Also Increasing the Biological Effects… But the Differences Remain an Exciting, Underexplored Area of Cannabis Research
Medical researchers at Johns Hopkins University recently published a double-blind, placebo-controlled study that proves that vaping is healthier and vaporizing cannabis gets people higher than smoking.
The research scientists, based at the Behavioral Pharmacology Research Unit at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, administered cannabis to 17 healthy adults (9 men and 8 women), who had not consumed cannabis in any form within the prior month.
In addition to finding higher concentrations of THC in the blood of those who inhaled vaporized cannabis, these participants also demonstrated nearly double the number of measurable effects associated with being high. The study found similar results at two different doses of cannabis (10mg and 25mg), both of which where relatively high in THC (13.4%), but low in CBD (0.03%).
“Vaporized cannabis produced significantly greater subjective drug effects, cognitive and psychomotor impairment,” the researchers wrote, “and higher blood THC concentrations than the same doses of smoked cannabis.” The authors of the study, which was published in an American Medical Association (AMA) journal, conclude that “holding THC dose constant, vaporizers appear to be a more efficient cannabis and THC delivery method…” The authors speculated that the discrepancy was due to the loss of some THC, when smoking cannabis, as a result of combustion, but also “sidestream smoke” (i.e. smoke that passes into the surrounding air instead of the smoker’s lungs).
Need for More Cannabis Research
This study makes an important contribution to the ongoing debate around the advantages of vaping cannabis. There are, however, a few important limitations. First, in regards to statistics, the small sample size (17 people) reduces the confidence level and makes it difficult to draw any definitive conclusions applicable to the overall population of cannabis consumers. Given the topic and the research design, however, this would be a good study to replicate with a larger sample size.
One potential complication with the study is that participants were instructed to vaporize the cannabis “three times in a row” to “ensure complete vaporization of the highest dose” of cannabis. Whether this is a normal part of how cannabis consumers use vaporizers is unclear, and, yet, it is almost certain that these extra tokes increased the absorption of cannabis in the blood and, therefore, the effects found in the study. Nonetheless, both participant groups—vapers and smokers—were given the exact same amount of cannabis to consume. Perhaps it would be more accurate to claim that vaping can get you higher if you milk the weed to full effect.
Temperature and the Complexity of Cannabis Compounds
Along with consuming the same amount of cannabis, when study participants used vaporizers, they all used the same fixed temperature setting. However, only one temperature setting was used for the entire study (the authors did not report the temperature used). Thus, the question of what effect different vaping temperatures would have in comparison to smoking cannabis remains unanswered. And, yet, temperature can make a significant difference in terms of the biological effects. In fact, the so called “boiling point” of cannabis is different for a range of different cannabis compounds, including cannabinoids, but also terpenes and flavonoids. To be sure, some cannabis compounds will remain inactive while vaping at lower temperatures.
If, for example, you’re vaping at a temperature less than 356°F (some experts argue it’s more of a range—320°F to 356°F), then there’s a good chance you’re not activating (through the process known as decarboxylation) whatever cannabidiol (CBD) is found in the plant. Similarly, the cannabinoid CBN is not activated until it reaches a temperature of at least 365°F. THC, in contrast, can be activated at 315°F, a significantly lower boiling point.
Given that cannabinoids and terpenoids are known to have different biological effects, and also work together with THC in different ways—including, in the case of CBD, reducing the anxiety that THC can cause for some people—the different temperatures used may help to explain some of the different research results found in cannabis studies such as this. In essence, particularly when taken together with the terpenoids of the cannabis plant (e.g. myrcene, linalool, pinene, humulene, limonene, etc.), temperatures that are too low could reduce what’s known as the entourage effect, leading to different, statistically significant results.
Finally, given that this particular study examined “infrequent users,” it would also be helpful to know if the results would change at all with moderate or heavy cannabis users.
Requiring less THC for the same high is not the only advantage that vaping may have over smoking cannabis. Scientific evidence suggests that vaping is also safer.
Drawbacks of Smoking Cannabis
No doubt, the driving factor behind the interest in alternatives to smoking, as a method of consuming cannabis, is the accumulation of evidence that suggests “regular marijuana smoking is not perfectly harmless.”
It is important to note at the outset that smoking cannabis does not cause lung cancer. While this myth has gained considerable currency—in part because smoking tobacco does cause lung cancer, but also due to decades of anti-pot propaganda—the reality is that numerous medical studies have dispelled this common misconception—including a large UCLA study in 2006 that found “no link between weed and lung cancer.”
According to the lead researcher, “We hypothesized that there would be a positive association between marijuana use and lung cancer, and that the association would be more positive with heavier use…What we found instead was no association at all, and even a suggestion of some protective effect.” This “protective effect” has been confirmed by other cannabis researchers, including University of Colorado’s Robert Melamede, who explains, “Components of cannabis smoke minimize some carcinogenic pathways whereas tobacco smoke enhances some.”
Nevertheless, the lack of lung cancer, or the relative safety of smoking cannabis in comparison to smoking tobacco, does not mean that smoking cannabis is the ideal delivery mechanism. In fact, smoking cannabis has been associated with chronic bronchitis (which subsides when users quit smoking), large airway inflammation, and respiratory infections, but also, according to a 2010 study, “shortness of breath, and coughing up phlegm.” Yet, none of these risks are understood to result from the cannabinoids, but, rather, from the “extraneous byproducts of pyrolysis in the smoke.”
Benefits of Vaping Cannabis
Humans have been smoking cannabis for hundreds of years. In fact, according to the ancient Greek historian Herodotus (circa 484—425 B.C.), the Scythians were inhaling cannabis smoke as far back as the 5th century B.C. Only recently, with the discovery of the various harms of smoking, have alternative methods of consuming cannabis picked up steam. Vaping, for example, believed to be both safer and healthier than smoking, has become wildly popular over the last several years.
Vaping, in essence, applies heat to the cannabis flower or extract sufficient to release the desired cannabis compounds in a vapor of active cannabinoids, terpenoids, and flavonoids, without releasing the harmful toxins that are produced when cannabis is smoked. In fact, reducing the harmful toxins ingested from smoking cannabis is what vaporizers are specifically designed to do.
Vaporizers, however, do not eliminate all harmful byproducts. But they do reduce the harmful byproducts that are ingested when cannabis is smoked, including “tar (phenols and carcinogens such as benzopyrene and benzanthracene), ammonia, hydrogen cyanide, and nitrosamines.” In fact, a 2009 study in The Netherlands found that vaping “extracted more active cannabinoids with fewer carcinogenic byproducts than smoking.” A 2007 study at the University at Albany found that vaping led to “fewer respiratory problems” than smoking cannabis.
But these are just some of the reasons that vaping is gaining steam with cannabis enthusiasts. Survey research has in fact revealed a number of other arguments cannabis consumers use in favor of vaping over smoking, including the claim that vaping results in a “more positive effect,” and that it is “a more efficient” and “cost effective” way to consume cannabis. Other cannabis survey respondents argue vaping has a “better taste” and, given the lack of smoke, they are able to consume cannabis more discreetly.
Not surprisingly, these findings are consistent with new data from Deloitte that shows smoking cannabis is a “dying trend.” According to the report, the legalization of cannabis is attracting consumers who are more health-conscious and less likely to put their health and safety at risk. These cannabis consumers – from millennials to the elderly – are also reportedly drawn to the alternative methods of consumption, particularly cannabis edibles and beverages.
Article by Johnny Welch, Cannabis Sativa Inc staff writer.
Vaping Is Healthier & Gets You Higher