Experts: Vaporizing Healthier, Equally Effective as Smoking Marijuana

Experts: Vaporizing Healthier, Equally Effective as Smoking Marijuana

Experts: Vaporizing Healthier, Equally Effective as Smoking Marijuana
June 22, 2014

Now that New York is soon to be only the second state to implement a medical marijuana program that bans smoking, experts say there may be health benefits to vaporization over smoking.

Dr. Donald Abrams, a cancer and integrative medicine specialist at the University of California in San Francisco, conducted a study in 2007 that showed using a vaporizer instead of a cigarette to smoke marijuana does less damage to a person’s lungs and is equally effective in producing relief for patients.

The clinical trial took healthy 25 to 40 year olds who were chronic cannabis users and divided them into two groups. One group then smoked marijuana cigarettes and the other used vaporizers. During a period of six days doctors tracked the effects of the intake of marijuana through blood tests.

“The difference [between vaporizing and smoking] was that vaporized [patients] had less expired carbon monoxide, which is a marker of exposure to noxious gases,” Abrams said. “In fact, they didn’t have any rise in their expired carbon monoxide, whereas those who smoked [marijuana] cigarettes did.”

Abrams said the “high” the patients felt from tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive ingredient of the plant, was the same when vaporized or smoked. Abrams also noted that using a vaporizer eliminates the more serious risk of second-hand smoke that marijuana cigarettes produce.

Mitch Earleywine, a SUNY Albany professor and a board member of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, conducted a study in 2010 that also showed people who have developed respiratory problems from smoking can improve the symptoms and their lung function by switching to a vaporizer.

“A vaporizer heats flower cannabis to a temperature where a fine-mist vapor that contains cannabinoids appears,” Earleywine said. “It does not ignite the flower, so there are no respiratory irritants.”

However, Earleywine said the way the research field defines vaporization may be different from the way that New York legislators are defining it.

“I fear that Cuomo says ‘vaporized’ and means inhalation from marijuana extracts. They are pharmacologically manufactured and have a lot of potential, but they don’t have the 5,000-year history of safety that we have for the plant,” he said.

Part of the deal reached between Cuomo and state legislators included plans to license five manufactures to grow, package and sell marijuana in secure indoor facilities. 

Abrams compared California’s medical marijuana law, which is broader and allows the use for “any condition for which marijuana provides relief,” to New York’s, which only allows medical marijuana use for 12 diseases, and said despite the health benefits found in his study, he did not believe New York should ban smoking cannabis.

“I guess you should be thankful for any step forward that the state is able to take and maybe eventually they’ll catch up to the rest of us,” Abrams said. 

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Ashley Hupfl