Vaping Medical Marijuana: The Benefits & Risks
Today’s medical cannabis users have many more delivery options than they did in the past. One such choice available is vaping, which involves heating up the flower or oil extracted from the plant without igniting it. This process gives the medical cannabis patient access to cannabinoids and terpenes while limiting exposure to potential carcinogens like benzene and carbon monoxide. Our Florida Medical Marijuana Doctors can help inform you on the benefits of vaping for your health conditions. To find out if you pre-qualify as a patient, take our 5-minute online eligibility survey.
Vaping Dry Flower
Most of us have heard of smoking cannabis using a joint, water pipe, or bong. These processes include lighting the flower to release the chemicals found in the trichomes, or sticky flower portions of the plant. Unfortunately, fire also causes contaminants to be released; these can affect your breathing and health. People with lung problems like chronic bronchitis, asthma, COPD, or lung cancer may not want to expose themselves to these chemicals. For them, vaping can be an attractive alternative as well as a way to benefit from using the whole plant.
Another factor to consider is one of stealth. If you smoke a joint, everyone around you knows what you’re up to. The odor of burning cannabis is unmistakable. As hard as you may try, using a traditional delivery device to smoke cannabis results in smells and clouds that advertise what you’re doing. Vaping doesn’t cause large clouds of smoke and the odor won’t cling to your clothes. It’s the most discreet method of ingesting dry flower currently available.
Dry herb vaping uses heat to release the active chemicals in cannabis. By heating the plant to its optimal temperature without lighting it on fire, terpenes and cannabinoids are converted into a vapor; this vapor can be inhaled into the lungs like smoke from a joint or bong. The temperature used to release the vapor helps determine the taste, potency, and character (harsh vs. mellow, strong vs. mild) of the draw. While some terpenes are released at temperatures as low as 311°, CBD requires a temperature of 356° while the terpenes linalool and humulene need the flower to be heated to 388° in order to vaporize.
There are several different styles of dry herb vaporizers ranging from very simple and relatively inexpensive to complicated and costly. They all have benefits and drawbacks based on functionality, temperature achieved by the device, options for vaporization, cost, and portability. Your Florida cannabis doctor can help you determine which one would be most effective for your particular situation and needs.
- Handheld vaporizers, which are also called vape pens, can cost as little as $20. They are generally easier to operate, but there are drawbacks. They often only have one heat setting, and this can limit the amount and effectiveness of cannabinoids and/or terpenes you inhale when using them. However, they are highly portable, rather inconspicuous, and may work best for novices when deciding if vaping is a good delivery option for them.
- Portable dry herb vaporizers provide more heat options than handheld ones. They are generally larger than vape pens. Most have a USB rechargeable battery though some do have removable power sources. The mouthpiece is generally built into the vaporizer.
- Desktop vaporizers are most often used at a table or counter. They are larger and more bulky than handheld or portable vaping devices. They generally come with a wall plug because of their higher power requirements. Desktop units have the benefit of several attachments, which include whip tubing for group smoking, a direct draw mouthpiece allowing for smoking right from the device by 1-2 people, and a bag or balloon to store the smoke as it leaves the device. Once removed, the bag can be used by one or more people to inhale the vapor.
Vape Oil and Cartridges
Cannabis vape oil usually contains water or alcohol; propylene glycol (PG), polyethylene glycol (PEG), vegetable glycerin or medium chain triglyceride oil (MCT); flavoring; and cannabis oil or liquid THC. The additives are used to thin down the honey-thick liquid resulting from cannabis oil extraction so the vape oil can be used in a delivery device.
Vape oil purchased at a dispensary most often comes in pre-filled cartridges. They are designed to be used with vape oil pens, which can be purchased at dispensaries along with the cartridges. Not all cartridges and pens are interchangeable, so if you use products from more than one dispensary you may need to have more than one delivery device. You can also find vape pens at the local smoke shop. These devices can range in price from $20 – $250 or more.
THC concentrate can also be vaped, though it requires a different delivery device because of the thickness of the product. Dab pens are used for vaping concentrates or wax. They contain a wick which draws the heated concentrate into a chamber where the vapor is released. They are not made to be used with vape oils, just like handheld vape pens are not created to handle the thicker consistency of a concentrate.
Vaping Flower vs. Vape Oil
People who use dry herb vaporizers and vape oil devices often notice a distinct difference between the two products. There are good reasons for this.
- Vape oil is often made from trim, which may contain a higher concentration of THC if it is properly refined into what is called a cannabinoid fraction or distillate. However, it also has lower levels of terpenes, which are substances that help lead to the “high” achieved when smoking flower.
- In the search for higher levels of THC in cannabis plants, other cannabinoids are sometimes neglected, which negates the “Entourage Effect,” or what happens when CBD, other lesser-known cannabinoids, and terpenes act in unison to provide a higher quality experience.
To make sure you’re getting a good vape oil, check the packaging and lab results for the product you’re interested in trying. Look for the use of native cannabis terpenes; the presence of CBD (this indicates a larger portion of the plant was used); a terpene content ranging from 5% – 20%; the presence of CBG, CBN, THCV, and other less common cannabinoids; a THC content between 50% – 70%; and a darker color to the oil. Clear, light-colored oil means less of the original plant matter remains and you’re not going to get the same effectiveness as you would with a darker product. A higher THC content generally indicates a distillate, which has been purified so that most of the non-THC containing plant matter has been eliminated from the product. High-THC distillates no longer contain original terpenes or non-THC cannabinoids.
Health Risks Associated With Vaping
While people who use vaporizers for cannabis are exposed to far less chemicals and toxins than those who smoke it, there are still some valid health concerns to be considered.
- Exposure to dangerous chemicals. Vape oils can be made with chemicals like propylene glycol or polyethylene glycol, which convert into formaldehyde when exposed to temperatures above 370°. For this reason, keeping the vape pen temperature as low as possible while still achieving the desired results is preferred.
- Those who use cannabis less frequently via vaping can get a more intense high. It’s important to remember that tolerance develops as you use cannabis, and the old mantra, “Start Low, Go Slow,” applies to vaping as well as other methods of cannabis use. Because vape oil is more concentrated, patients may find they need less than they would if they were smoking flower.
- Breathing problems. Vaping can cause bronchial spasms and aggravate the symptoms associated with asthma. It can also lead to tightness in the chest, coughing and wheezing in some patients.
- Cancer risk. While the risk is much less than the one posed by smoking, it is possible to be exposed to carcinogens such as tar, pesticides used on the plants, and other chemicals used in creating vape oil.
- Effects of vaping high THC products. Patients who have never vaped oils or distillates may experience dizziness, low blood pressure, increased heart rate, anxiety, and even temporary memory lapses. These symptoms most often go away when THC is eliminated from the body.
- Amplified symptoms associated with mental illness. Some – not all – patients who vape either dry flower, vape oil, or distillate may notice an increase in the symptoms of depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia. While this doesn’t happen to everyone, it is good to be aware and monitor for changes that may indicate the need to choose another route or lower the dose of cannabis used when vaping.
If you feel you might benefit from vaping cannabis flower, speak to your Florida Medical Marijuana Doctor about having it added to your recommendation.