The Facts About Cannabis: Why is Vaporization Better than Smoking?
As cannabis continues to permeate the mainstream, it’s forcing a perspective shift for many of us who once felt uncomfortable even discussing marijuana. And one of the areas in which the “Green Revolution” is inspiring the greatest change has to do with our health.
A few short years ago, cannabis was perceived to be an inherently dangerous “gateway drug.” Now, validated and careful research indicates that it holds great promise in treating a host of chronic diseases and conditions ranging from anxiety to multiple sclerosis to side effects of cancer treatments and beyond.
As our perception of cannabis changes, so do our ideas regarding how to use it. And invariably, one of the first questions that arises for those accessing cannabis’ medicinal benefits is: What’s better for me, vaping vs smoking?
Anecdotally, many cannabis users prefer vaping because it’s simple, effective, and gentle on our lungs. But an increasing body of research indicates that the benefits of vaping extend far beyond those first impressions. Let’s take a closer look at what happens on the physical level when we inhale smoked cannabis vs. vaporized cannabis.
Vaping vs Smoking: Not All Smoke Is Created Equal
Vaping and smoking cannabis both deliver the benefits of the cannabis plant, but there are important differences in what we’re actually inhaling.
When we smoke cannabis, we’re burning the dried flower buds of the plant and then inhaling the smoke that’s produced, either through a simple pipe, a more complex water pipe—aka a bong—or through a cannabis cigarette, aka a joint or pre-roll.
While the smoke produced by burning cannabis is objectively not as harmful as that produced by burning tobacco, that’s not to say it’s completely benign. When cannabis combusts, it releases a complex blend of particulate matter, some of which—including tar and ammonia—are potentially carcinogenic. What’s more, cannabis smoke typically promotes a respiratory immune system response. In other words, you may react by coughing or sneezing or feeling tightness, irritation, or a burning sensation in your airways.
In comparison, when cannabis is vaporized, or “vaped,” it doesn’t actually burn. Instead, the plant matter is heated to a temperature at which its volatile oils—the compounds containing cannabinoids such as THC and CBD as well as terpenes, a broad group of powerful aromatic hydrocarbons—are released as a fine mist.
Vaping vs Smoking: Sifting Through the Evidence
Because of the current legal environment in which cannabis is a Schedule I controlled substance at the federal level, there is still a great deal of cannabis research to be done. But even an early study comparing vaping vs. smoking from 2007 found that vaporizing offered clear benefits over smoking. As the study concluded:
“The use of a vaporizer predicted fewer respiratory symptoms even when age, sex, cigarette smoking, and amount of cannabis used were taken into account.”
– Earleywine and Barnwell, 2007
That’s not to say vaping is completely free of risks. When vaporizing plant matter, or “flower,” the cannabis must be ground to a very fine consistency, and the vaporizer must be set to an appropriate temperature both to avoid burning the plant (and thus sacrificing many of the benefits of vaporization) and also to ensure the most complete and beneficial release of compounds such as cannabinoids.
As you can see, there are many variables when it comes to delivery methods for cannabis medicines. All things being equal, vaporizing is a safer, more effective way to access cannabis than smoking it. That’s one of the many reasons Vireo Health offers our proprietary Vireo Spectrum™ products in a vaporizer format as well as in oils and capsules.
If you have questions or concerns about vaporizing cannabis, please don’t hesitate to write us an email. We’d love for you to join this important conversation.