Vaping, as a method to administer medical cannabis is not necessarily the primary recommendation of medical practitioners for all situations, but for quick onset of action, is often considered the safest and most effective.
Generally, there are three main ways in which to administer cannabis:
- Absorption, sublingual/under the tongue, or topically with lotions, balms, or transdermal patches;
- Ingestion, through edibles or capsules/gel caps; and
- Inhalation, through smoking or vaping.
Of the three methods, absorption of sublingual oil and ingestion through capsules/gel caps are the two preferred methods for medical cannabis administration. Both methods have shown to provide consistent relief for medical cannabis patients.
What exactly is vaping?
Vaping is the act of inhaling and exhaling the aerosol produced by heating a substance. Instead of burning cannabis (which occurs in smoking), the vaping device heats the material (can be liquid/oil or wax extracts, or dried flower/herb) into a vapor, which then condenses into an aerosol (a fine spray of particles).
Vaping dried flowers versus vaping oils
Cannabis oils, extracts, and concentrates are terms describing products containing active components (cannabinoids and often terpenes) of the cannabis flower, which have been extracted from the plant and processed into a concentrated form.
Currently in Canada, as of January 2020, medical cannabis oils are available for ingestion and for sublingual absorption, but not for vaping. It is not recommended to vape cannabis oils, extracts, or concentrates with an unknown carrier substance in a vape cartridge or pen, as this may lead to inhalation of unknown, and possibly detrimental, substances. A cannabis oil may be safe for eating, but not necessarily for vaping.
It is expected that it is only a matter of time before pharmaceutical-grade oils that can be administered by vaping will become available on the market. Meanwhile, only dry cannabis is legally available in Canada as a medical cannabis substance which can be administered by vaping.
There are a variety of vaping devices available, all of which heat cannabis to just under the temperature of combustion, resulting in a rich, carcinogen-free vapor.
Table-top vaporizers are relatively large, stationary units that plug into a power source, and are therefore not portable. However, they offer an advantage over most portable units: higher quality devices usually offer precise temperature control, allowing for fine-tuning of cannabinoid delivery. Specifically targeting the administration of particular components of the cannabis flower enables the efficient relief of medical concerns by focusing results on the known effects of specific active ingredients.
For example, the psychoactive THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) has a boiling point of 147oC whereas the non-psychoactive, calming-effect CBD (cannabidiol) has a boiling point of 180oC. Terpenes (aromatic oils giving cannabis varieties their unique smell and flavor), although their actions are not completely understood, may add therapeutic value to cannabis, and may also play a role in differentiating the effects of the cannabinoids themselves. Therefore, setting the vaporizer temperature to target terpene delivery can also be effective for additional relief of medical concerns.
Portable ‘flower vapes’ heat the dried flower bud at a single, fixed temperature, although portable units with some options for temperature variation are also available.
Portable ‘oil vapes’ administer oil instead of dried flower, and can be open (allowing loading of oils), or closed (using cartridge pens). Once again, at the time of this writing in Jan 2020, there are no legal vape pens or cannabis liquids to vape in Canada.
Recommended action for patients
There are many ways in which patients can administer cannabis-based treatments; sublingual absorption is the most consistent and therefore, generally, the preferred route of administration. However, temperature-controlled vaping of dried cannabis flower is currently considered by medical professionals to be a highly effective method to relieve medical concerns requiring immediate attention: inhalation by vaping provides quick onset of action; temperature-controlled vaping allows for cannabinoid- (and terpene-) specific delivery.
All patients are encouraged to consult with a family physician or a licensed health care practitioner to determine the best medical cannabis-based treatment for their particular medical concerns.
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