DISCOVER CANNABIS

Choosing and Using Vaporizers

From dry flower vaporizers to distillate pens, vape technology gives us even more choices in how we consume our cannabis. Learn how the two methods differ, how they compare to smoking, and what you need to know to choose the best cannabis for you.

No doubt, you’ve heard about vaping in the news. From teen-enticing nicotine juice to cases of lung damage and hospitalization, there are a lot of concerns, but little information on how these issues relate to the newly legalized products from Canadian Licensed Producers (LPs).

By the end of 2019, Health Canada will start regulating cannabis-derived vape pens, and consumers will be faced with tough choices. Here’s some pertinent research that may help you decide what’s right for you.

Did You Know that One Form of Vaping Has Been Legal Since 2018? 

Possibly the most confusing part of the vaping conversation is that it can refer to two completely different products: dry herb vaporizers and liquid extract vape pens.

Dry herb vaping means putting ground bud into an electronic vaporizer instead of a joint, pipe or bong. This type of vaping was legalized along with recreational smoking and is not associated with vaping illness.

There are two types of dry herb vaporizers: desktop (like the medical-grade Volcano) and handheld (like the Pax 2). Both work the same way, by heating dry cannabis until the active compounds from the plant vaporize. You inhale the vapour, which contains those compounds, including THC, CBD, terpenes and flavonoids. The effects are similar to smoking, with the compounds getting absorbed through your lungs into your bloodstream. Vaping generally starts to kick in within 15–30 minutes, and a moderate dose would typically last between 3–6 hours1, although everyone’s processing rate for cannabinoids is different.

 

Learn More: Different Methods of Consuming Cannabis

 

The biggest difference with dry herb vaping is that you don’t inhale burnt material like you would from a bong or joint. Vaporizers shouldn’t get hot enough to burn the bud (around 230°C/446°F).

One reason that consumers are increasingly switching to vaping2 3 is that the burnt material from smoking cannabis has been found to do nasty things to your lungs. Just like a cigarette, a burning joint produces cancer-causing chemicals, like polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, benzenes, acetaldehyde and more4. Studies so far show that dry herb vaping produces less of these compounds5 6 7.

But in spite of the indications that vaping at lower temperatures causes fewer lung problems than smoking8, it’s important to note that not all vaporizers are created equal. Lower quality units sometimes overheat the bud and put your lungs at risk9. When you choose a vaporizer, choose a high-quality device that lets you set the temperature and keep it below 230°C or 446°F.

Another advantage of vaping dry herb is that by using a device with fine temperature control, you can target certain terpenes or cannabinoids by heating to their individual vaporization points. Whether you love the taste of citrusy limonene or find that linalool helps soothe you to sleep, a good quality dry herb vaporizer can help you customize your experience.

Some people also find that vaping at lower temperatures lets them enjoy their cannabis without the throat irritation they get from inhaling hotter clouds. Some vape designs have an adapter to attach a bubbler, which also helps cool the vapour.

The last reason why some people choose to vape dry flower is that it's more economical than smoking. Even after you factor in the cost of a quality vaporizer, people who vape can save money because they can use less bud in their vaporizer than they would in a joint or pipe. A recent study found that consumers who rated their experience after smoking a joint and compared it to vaping the same amount of flower found that vaping made the cannabis more potent10.

Other consumers stretch the value of their flower by reusing their leftovers after vaping (sometimes called Already Vaped Bud, or AVB) to make DIY edibles. Vaporizers leave cannabis decarboxylated, meaning it has been heated enough to turn the inactive THCa into THC. Of course, some of this THC gets vaporized and inhaled, but some of it remains in the bud, and this makes AVB ready to make your own tincture (by soaking into alcohol) or infused oil (by slow-cooking into oil or butter). Turning last night’s session into a batch of homemade gummies can help you squeeze every bit of benefit from your bud.

 

Safety and Cannabis Vape Pens

How Do Dry Herb Vaporizers Compare to Extract Vape Pens?

Vape pens are similar to dry herb vapes, except that they heat a liquid (a concentrate, extract or distillate) rather than whole cannabis. They only come in handheld versions.

These products have been popular on the grey market for several years because people find them convenient and discreet, and the concentrated liquids are more potent than natural flower.

However, illegal-market vape pens are currently at the center of a public health emergency around vaping-related illnesses. Investigators in the U.S. have found that most of the people who’ve fallen sick were using illegally produced vape pens containing vitamin E acetate and other substances that are causing critical lung damage11.

Health Canada issued a statement on October 11, 2019, with recommendations for Canadians who are considering vape pens, including:

If you use vaping products, do not buy them from illegal or unregulated sources, including products containing THC. Products obtained from the illegal market are not subject to any controls or oversight and may pose additional risks to your health and safety.
•  You should never modify vaping products or add any substances to these products that are not intended by the manufacturer.
You should let your health care provider know about your vaping history, especially if you have respiratory symptoms.

On October 23, 2019, Health Canada spokesperson Maryse Durette corresponded with Leafly.ca and explained how the vape pens produced by Canadian Licensed Producers would be monitored and regulated12, stating, “All federally licensed producers of all legal cannabis products must comply with good production practices, product formulation restrictions, quality standards for ingredients, limits on microbial and chemical contaminants, and mandatory testing requirements, among other strict requirements.”

Specifically about vaping products, Durette said, “Some of the regulatory requirements pertaining to inhalable cannabis extracts, such as vaping products, are even more stringent than for non-inhaled products. Health Canada will continue to monitor all available data sources and surveillance systems and will take additional action, if warranted and appropriate, to protect the health and safety of Canadians.”

With the Cannabis Act’s official mandates to protect public health and displace the unregulated market, the decision to go ahead with legalizing vape pens has been carefully considered. If all goes well, the legal market will provide a carefully tested, monitored and accountable source for these popular products. However, the investigation into the official cause(s) of vaping-related illness is ongoing, so it’s up to the consumer to decide how they weigh the risks and benefits of experimenting with vape pens. 

Is Vaping Right for You?

Here are the facts, as we know them now, that you should consider before you make a decision about vaping:

• There are two distinct types of vaping: dry flower and liquid extract
• Dry flower vaping has not been associated with vaping-related lung injury
• Vaping dry flower below the temperature of combustion (230°C or 446°F) produces fewer cancer-causing compounds than smoking cannabis13 14 15
• Illegally produced vape pens have been linked to lung damage and vaping-related illness16
• Health Canada advises Canadians to avoid illegally produced vape pens and let your doctor know if you use vape pens so they can monitor your lung health17
• If you’d prefer to avoid all risks to your lungs, you can use non-inhaled cannabis products, like oils, capsules, edibles and topicals.

If you have more questions about cannabis vaping products, make sure to get answers before you make your choice. Talk to your doctor or cannabis educator and stay tuned to further statements from Health Canada for updates on vaping safety.

Armed with the facts, you can make the right choice for you.

 

References

[1] Huestis MA, Henningfield JE, Cone EJ. Blood cannabinoids. I. Absorption of THC and formation of 11-OH-THC and THCCOOH during and after smoking marijuana. J Anal Toxicol. 1992;16(5):276-282.

[2] Lee DC, Crosier BS, Borodovsky JT, Sargent JD, Budney AJ. Online survey characterizing vaporizer use among cannabis users. Drug Alcohol Depend. 2016;159:227-233.

[3] Cranford JA, Bohnert KM, Perron BE, Bourque C, Ilgen M. Prevalence and correlates of "Vaping" as a route of cannabis administration in medical cannabis patients. Drug and alcohol dependence. 2016;169:41-47.

[4] Huber GL, First MW, Grubner O. Marijuana and tobacco smoke gas-phase cytotoxins. Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 1991;40(3):629-636.

[5] Abrams DI, Vizoso HP, Shade SB, Jay C, Kelly ME, Benowitz NL. Vaporization as a smokeless cannabis delivery system: a pilot study. Clin Pharmacol Ther. 2007;82(5):572-578.

[6] Gieringer DH. Cannabis “Vaporization”: A Promising Strategy for Smoke Harm Reduction. Journal of Cannabis Therapeutics. 2001;1(3-4):153-170.

[7] Gieringer D, St. Laurent J, Goodrich S. Cannabis Vaporizer Combines Efficient Delivery of THC with Effective Suppression of Pyrolytic Compounds. Journal of Cannabis Therapeutics. 2004;4(1):7-27.

[8] Earleywine M, Barnwell SS. Decreased respiratory symptoms in cannabis users who vaporize. Harm reduction journal. 2007;4:11-11.

[9] Pomahacova B, Van der Kooy F, Verpoorte R. Cannabis smoke condensate III: The cannabinoid content of vaporised Cannabis sativa. Inhalation Toxicology. 2009;21(13):1108-1112.

[10] Spindle TR, Cone EJ, Schlienz NJ, et al. Acute Effects of Smoked and Vaporized Cannabis in Healthy Adults Who Infrequently Use Cannabis: A Crossover Trial. JAMA Netw Open. 2018;1(7):e184841-e184841.

[11] Lewis N, et al. (2019 October 22). E-cigarette Use, or Vaping, Practices and Characteristics Among Persons with Associated Lung Injury—Utah, April–October 2019. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report Early Release. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/68/wr/pdfs/mm6842e1-H.pdf.

[12] Tennant L. (2019 October 25). Health Canada speaks on the vaping illness crisis. Retrieved from https://www.leafly.ca/news/health/vapi-health-canada-need-to-know . Accessed on 29 October 2019.

[13] Abrams DI, Vizoso HP, Shade SB, Jay C, Kelly ME, Benowitz NL. Vaporization as a smokeless cannabis delivery system: a pilot study. Clin Pharmacol Ther. 2007;82(5):572-578.

[14] Gieringer DH. Cannabis “Vaporization”: A Promising Strategy for Smoke Harm Reduction. Journal of Cannabis Therapeutics. 2001;1(3-4):153-170.

[15] Gieringer D, St. Laurent J, Goodrich S. Cannabis Vaporizer Combines Efficient Delivery of THC with Effective Suppression of Pyrolytic Compounds. Journal of Cannabis Therapeutics. 2004;4(1):7-27.

[16] Lewis N, et al. (2019 October 22). E-cigarette Use, or Vaping, Practices and Characteristics Among Persons with Associated Lung Injury—Utah, April–October 2019. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report Early Release. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/68/wr/pdfs/mm6842e1-H.pdf.

[17]Tam T, et al. (2019 Oct 11). Statement from the Council of Chief Medical Officers of Health on vaping in Canada. Public Health Agency of Canada. Retrieved from https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/news/2019/10/statement-from-the-council-of-chief-medical-officers-of-health-on-vaping-in-canada.html. Accessed on 29 Oct 2019.