Currently, 36 states and four territories have legalized cannabis (also known as weed or marijuana) for medical use, with 15 states, two territories, and the District of Columbia considering legislation to legalize the drug for adult use. It’s reasonable that if you’re a very new and novice cannabis user, all the information and choices as smoking or vaping available may be a bit perplexing.
A marijuana vaporizer is something you’ve undoubtedly heard of or seen before (often referred to as a vape or vape pen). So, how can you know whether a product is suitable for you or one of the finest marijuana vaporizers available? We’ve got your back.
But, before we begin, there are a few things to consider. The fact that we can even have this discussion is a consequence of the tremendous progress achieved in cannabis legalization and normalization over the last few years. And it’s essential to recognize that certain communities, particularly communities of color, have been and continue to be disproportionately impacted by restrictive legislation.
The same prohibitionist mindset that causes and maintains these inequalities makes it exceedingly difficult to research cannabis, particularly the impacts of smoking and vaping. With that stated, here’s what we know and don’t know about the possible advantages of using a vape, as well as how to select the appropriate one for you.
To begin, how dangerous is inhaling cannabis smoke?
It’s a little more complex than you would think. Although we can estimate the hazards of smoking cannabis in comparison to, say, smoking cigarettes, we haven’t been able to calculate the absolute risks of smoking cannabis on its own.
SELF speaks with Mallory Loflin, Ph.D., a researcher at the University of California San Diego whose study focuses on the potential applications of medicinal cannabis among veterans. (To be clear, we are just discussing health hazards here.)
But there are a few things we do know: The act of combustion, like everything else that burns, produces chemicals that may cause lung irritation, resulting in coughing or wheezing in the short term, according to Dr. Loflin.
Some of the chemicals produced in that process have also been linked to an increased risk of diseases such as lung cancer. But it’s unclear if frequent cannabis users’ exposure to such pyrolytic chemicals (which are formed when plant material is burnt) would produce long-term issues.
According to Jordan Tishler, M.D., medicinal cannabis specialist at InhaleMD in Boston, one good long-term research that investigated long-term cannabis usage was published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention in 2006.
Researchers collected data from 1,210 people in Los Angeles who had a history of lung or other upper aerodigestive cancers (such as oral or laryngeal cancers) and 1,040 control participants who did not have a history of those cancers but were matched to the other participants based on age, gender, and neighborhood.
The researchers then interviewed all of the individuals about their cannabis usage, including the frequency, kind, and duration of use. They were also quizzed on their usage of other drugs, such as cigarettes and alcohol, as well as their demographic information and family history of cancer.
After statistically correcting for cigarette use, the findings revealed that there were no significant correlations between cannabis usage and the likelihood of getting cancer—people who reported using cannabis were not substantially more or less likely to be in the cancer or control groups. The study’s authors admit that selection bias and the challenges of asking individuals to remember their own drug usage may have influenced their findings.
Furthermore, Dr. Loflin points out that statistically disentangling the dangers connected with smoking isn’t the same as employing individuals who have had long-term experience using cannabis (which are, understandably, difficult to find). However, the researchers conclude that “the connection of these malignancies with marijuana, even long-term or severe usage, is not substantial and may be below practically detectable levels.”
So, although there are still many unresolved concerns, any problems with smoking cannabis seem to be mainly limited to the time you’re really smoking.
“My takeaway is: Let’s avoid smoking wherever possible, because why not?” According to Dr. Tishler. “This way, we don’t become exposed to things we may be scared of, even if they don’t seem to be creating a problem.”
According to Dr. Loflin, who recently coauthored a review of prior research comparing the consequences of smoking vs vaping, vaporization may be helpful in avoiding those chemicals and reducing those acute problems (e.g., lung irritation)—but only under specific conditions.
When the physical smoke associated with cannabis smoking is removed, what additional health concerns should you be aware of? Again, under present laws, it’s complex and difficult to research, but we do know that cannabis may briefly raise your heart rate, make you feel tired or drowsy, impair your short-term memory, and create some temporary anxiety. Using a vaporizer, of course, does not remove these dangers.
Vaporizers are ubiquitous, but is vaping any healthier than smoking?
Cannabinoids (the chemicals that produce a high and some benefits) are released by cannabis at temperatures lower than those at which it burns. So, according to Dr. Tishler, the entire purpose of utilizing a vaporizer is to heat the herb to the point where it releases the things you want it to without combusting.
Although there hasn’t been a well-controlled direct comparison of the effects of smoking vs vaping cannabis, the data we do have indicates that using a vaporizer lowers your exposure to the potentially harmful chemicals linked with smoke. “We already know that smoked cannabis has substantially less pyrolytic chemicals than smoked tobacco,” Dr. Loflin adds. “And there have been many studies that indicate that when you compare smoked cannabis to vaporized cannabis (using a particular kind of vaporizer), you really, really decrease the quantity of pyrolytic carcinogenic chemicals.”
For example, 2004 research published in the Journal of Cannabis Therapeutics compared the chemicals present in cannabis smoke to those produced through vaporization. It discovered that, for the most part, cannabis vapor contains what you’d anticipate (and want) to see: cannabinoids. Although several of the same pyrolytic chemicals were found in vapor that were also found in smoke, they were found at much lower concentrations in vapor than in smoke.
So far, research on how this transfers to real people is encouraging:
“Data from my lab show that cannabis users who report symptoms of bronchitis or respiratory irritation show significant improvements in lung function and symptoms of bronchitis after switching to the vaporizer for a month,” says Mitch Earleywine, Ph.D., psychology professor at the University at Albany, SUNY.
Indeed, in one of Dr. Earleywine’s research, published in the International Journal of Drug Policy in 2010, 20 individuals who used cannabis and experienced symptoms of lung irritation all converted to using a vaporizer for one month. Eight of the individuals got a respiratory illness after that month. However, the 12 who did not reported substantial improvement in their symptoms. Even though this is tiny exploratory research, it indicates that vaping causes less lung problems than smoking.
If you are looking forward to quitting smoking, get yourself a vape! Look on some testimonials we have in our website in case you want to have a personal opinion. And if you prefer to check out a review of a good dry herb vaporizer, sneak out the Ascent. Enjoy!