What are the benefits and risks?
Both smoking and vaporisation are methods of inhaling plant-based medicine that involve heating of the cannabis flower to create a vapour which is then inhaled.
When medicinal cannabis is in dried form, the compounds that elicit an effect in humans, or cannabinoids, are inactive. Heating the dried flower at high temperatures by combustion (smoking) or vaporisation results in a process called decarboxylation which transforms the inactive compounds in medicinal cannabis into an active forms, namely into cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
Smoked medicinal cannabis results in a rapid onset of action (usually within minutes), higher blood levels of THCand CBD and a shorter duration of effect as compared to ingested cannabis. Peak concentrations are reached within 30 minutes and the effects may last for two to four hours.
Smoking has traditionally been the most common route of administration for recreational cannabis use, however it was found to have considerable individual variability because of the unknown concentration of THC in the products being consumed. At least 40% of the THC dose in the medicinal cannabis is lost in side stream/combustion when smoked, making it difficult to predict a therapeutic outcome. For this reason, and due to the well-documented evidence that smoking in general is harmful, smoking of medicinal cannabis products is not supported by the current legislation.
Vaporising medicinal cannabis results in a similar rapid absorption and high blood concentrations as smoking it. Medicinal cannabis is heated just at the right temperature, which is considerably lower than smoking temperature, hence combustion does not take place. If there is no combustion, fewer toxins and no side stream “smoke” are produced, making passive exposure less of a problem. First effects occur within 90 seconds and reach a maximum after 15 to 30 minutes, before wearing off after two to four hours.
Vaporising heats the medicinal cannabis at a lower temperature without burning it and releases the cannabinoids and terpenes in the form of a vapour, which is then inhaled. The terpenes are responsible for the aroma characteristics of cannabis.
Given the rapid onset of action, vaporising medicinal cannabis products might be more suitable for symptoms or conditions where rapid relief is required. The amounts of THC and other cannabinoids delivered by the vaporiser are dependent on the temperature, the duration of the vaporisation and the volume in the vaporiser.
When new to vaporising or making the change from smoking, starting with a low dose is important. Studies suggest that vapourising medicinal cannabis delivers a higher amount of active ingredients than smoking, which may increase the likelihood of adverse effects.
What are the benefits of vaporisation vs smoking?
Vaporising prescribed plant-based medicines has many benefits. As well as a reduction in exposure to toxins such as tar and carbon monoxide, it is associated with a reduction in respiratory symptoms such as cough, phlegm, and chest tightness and less wastage. Additionally, vapourisation of plant-based medicines produces less odour compared to smoking.
When is vaporisation not recommended?
Whilst vaporisation is considered safer than smoking, there are still risks associated with vaporising and inhaled forms of medicines are not recommended for anyone with known respiratory tract or lung conditions.
What temperatures are used to vaporise plant-based medicines?
Different cannabinoids and terpenes are released at different temperatures. Many vaporiser devices give you control over the temperature at which the flower is heated. This can result in variations in therapeutic effects. Generally speaking, when vaporising at lower vs. higher temperatures a difference in therapeutic effects may be noticed.
Common practice is to start at lower temperatures and to increase or decrease slowly until optimal therapeutic effect.The ideal temperature may vary depending on the variety of the dried flower or depending on the situation and symptoms, for example some patients may choose lower temperatures during the day and higher temperatures in the evening. Some dried flowers will have a recommended vaporising temperature based on the properties of the medicinal cannabis flower that has been prescribed.
In summary, vaporising and smoking dried herb are two methods of inhaling medicinal cannabis, both involving heating the cannabis flower to create a vapour for inhalation. Smoking results in a rapid onset of action with higher blood levels of cannabinoids but is discouraged due to variable THC concentrations and health risks associated with smoking. Vaporizing offers similar rapid absorption, fewer toxins, and less odour, more cannabinoids, making it a safer option, especially for those needing quick relief, but requires careful temperature control to optimise therapeutic effects and reduce the risk of adverse effects.
There are a variety of ARTG listed medical vaporizers available in Australia that our team of Pharmacists are happy to provide advice on. To learn more about medicinal cannabis or ask any questions, please contact our team on (03) 9077 2446 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit one of our dispensaries.