Is Vaping Marijuana a Safer Alternative to Smoking?
Vaping is one of the most popular methods of consuming cannabis. The popularity of vaping has increased rapidly over the last decade as consumers have become more informed about the benefits of vaping. Vaping cannabis is performed by using a vaporizer to heat the cannabis to a level that turns the cannabinoids to vapor without burning the oil or plant matter. While some vaporizers work with cannabis flower, the most popular vaporizers use cannabis oil. Whether it is flower or oil, consumers have identified the safety benefits of vaping as influencing the decision to vape cannabis instead of smoke it. Several studies have identified the health benefits of vaping compared to smoking. Some safety concerns remain relating to the additives found in some cannabis oils used for vaping, as illustrated by the 2019 Oregon vaping crisis.
Moreover, some additional factors, such as using a cotton wick or ceramic coil for vaporization, can also impact the purity of each pull. However, the science demonstrating that vaping marijuana is a safer alternative to smoking is evident. It is essential to understand the science behind what vaping is and why it is safer than smoking to make an informed decision on whether to switch from smoking to vaping.
Marijuana Vaping vs Smoking: The Basics
Most readers are familiar with the traditional process of smoking cannabis. Cannabis is usually smoked using a joint, pipe, or bong. The user lights the cannabis flower on fire and then inhales the resultant smoke. The user ingests THC and other cannabinoids in this fashion, which pass from the lungs into the bloodstream and are rapidly transported through the body to the brain (NIH, 2020). The process is similar if the user is smoking another form of cannabis, such as hash. While smoking cannabis effectively achieves a high, inhaling smoke from any combusted material contains significant health effects. Studies have found that some of the same toxins in tobacco smoke are also found in marijuana smoke.
Marijuana Smoke Has Been Found to Contain Harmful Toxins
Source: Wikimedia Commons
On the other hand, vaping marijuana creates significantly fewer extra chemicals and potential toxins than smoking. Instead of combusting the cannabis, vaping involves heating the cannabis to a level that turns the THC and other cannabinoids into vapor, without creating the toxins that come with combustion (Volteface, 2021). Vaping is usually performed with a cartridge, a pod system, or a reusable pen. Each of these types of vaporizers allows the user to vaporize cannabis, usually in an oil form. Consumers can either fill their vaporizers with oil or insert a pre-filled cartridge or pod, and the vaporizer will do the rest. The experience of vaping cannabis includes a less harsh pull, as the consumer is ingesting vapor instead of harsher smoke. On the other hand, vaping cannabis oil results in a more concentrated pull of THC than smoking, meaning that the high of vaping can be more intense.
The 2019 Oregon Vaping Crisis: Vaping Faces a Health Crisis
In 2019, the honeymoon between consumers and vaping began to fade. Vaping is far healthier than smoking, and consumers flocked to vaping for its comparative health benefits. However, in 2019 a wave of hospitalizations occurred due to vaping, which significantly raised public health concerns over vaping cannabis. On the one hand, it was quickly found that the main culprit in the crisis was an additive called vitamin E acetate, which is very rarely found in any cannabis vaporizers but was common in e-cigarettes.
Mary Jane’s, a Cannabis Retailer in Eugene, Oregon
On the other hand, this crisis raised the level of scrutiny regarding additives in marijuana vaping products, causing regulators to ban other additives such as the toxic terpenes squalene and squalane (Schaneman, 2020). Although cannabis vaping was not the main culprit, consumers scaled back their consumption of cannabis vaping products, and regulatory bodies quickly began to ban the offending additives. However, consumer confidence was quickly restored, and vaping began to recover its rapid growth within a short period. Indeed, the overall impact of the crisis is an increase in consumer confidence, as consumers now are more knowledgeable about which additives are dangerous. They are also comforted that these harmful additives are now illegal in most legal cannabis markets.
So Why is Marijuana Vaping More Healthy Than Smoking?
While the vaping crisis raised a cause for concern, research has continued to demonstrate the health benefits of vaping compared to smoking. The health benefits of vaping compared to smoking primarily result from the dangers of ingesting smoke of any kind. As stated by Volteface (2021), with vaping “the THC is released but the smoke containing tar and toxins is significantly reduced.” Vaping is more healthy than smoking because vaping does not cause tar and toxins to be released into the body. For example, Tashkin (2015) found evidence to confirm that there are significantly fewer toxins contained in cannabis vapor than in cannabis smoke.
Moreover, cannabis flower can acquire contaminants such as mildew and spores, which can add to the toxicity of marijuana smoke. In contrast, such contamination is not possible with cannabis oil used for vaping (CCT, 2020). Cannabis oil is not only safer when vaped, but it is also less likely to become moldy or otherwise contaminated, again reducing the health risks. Finally, an underlooked element of the public health benefits of vaping is the association between smoking cannabis and smoking tobacco. Researchers have identified vaping cannabis as a way to cut down on public tobacco smoking rates because users are far more likely to combine tobacco with cannabis smoking than they are to connect it with cannabis vaping (Gartner, 2015). Overall, there is clear evidence to show that vaping instead of smoking cannabis leads to several health benefits.
Other Factors that Influence the Health Impact of Vaping
While the evidence clearly shows that vaping is more healthy than smoking cannabis, the safety of cannabis vaping products can vary significantly from product to product. As mentioned above, some cannabis products can contain toxic additives. Additionally, the way that a vaporizer is constructed also can change the health impact of vaping. One of the most critical factors in determining the safety of a vaporizer is the atomizer, the part of vaporizer that heats up and vaporizes the cannabis oil.
Specifically, significant health impacts have been identified with the use of cotton wicks in a vaporizer. In this method, a metal coil is heated by the cotton wick. When the coil material loses its moisture saturation, dry hits can occur, both unpleasant and unhealthy (de Rauly, 2018). Instead of heating the coil, taking a pull from an unsaturated atomizer will burn the cotton wick. Not only does this result in a harsh and bad-tasting hit, but the burning of the wick also releases dangerous chemicals such as aldehydes, which are linked to neurodegenerative disease, heart disease, and some types of cancer.
The Cilicon Plus Elevate S2, with Ceramic Heating Coil
The health issues associated with cotton wicks have caused many consumers to turn to ceramic coils for the heating mechanism of their vaporizers. For example, Cilicon vaporizers exclusively use ceramic coils. Ceramic coils improve the safety of vaping by removing the potential of a dry hit. By using premium raw material production, medical-grade metal, and food-grade silicon material in the atomizer, Cilicon vaporizers reduce the level of extra toxins released during vaporization.
The premium sourcing of all materials ensures that only materials that have been rigorously tested for safety are used in the ceramic coil component. Moreover, Cilicon vaporizers include the ability to heat cannabis oil to a relatively low temperature, hot enough to vaporize the cannabis but not hot enough to cause any deterioration of the atomizer. Vaporizer with ceramic coils are proven to be safer than devices that use cotton wicks. Therefore, ceramic coils are fitting for helping Cilicon achieve its goal of providing the safest and healthiest possible products to its customers.
Several factors contribute to the health impact of vaping as compared to smoking cannabis. Vaping cannabis allows consumers to avoid the inherently unhealthy process of smoking. As always, consumers must be careful about the products they are consuming. Cannabis vapers should pay attention to the additives used in the cannabis oil they are consuming to ensure a safe experience. Additionally, people who vape cannabis should always be on the lookout for the safest and healthiest types of vaporizers, such as those that use ceramic coils.
Nonetheless, the well-informed cannabis user can find vaping products that are much safer than smoking. When deciding between vaping and smoking, every consumer needs to research the health impacts of smoking compared to vaping. For those that prioritize health, vaping may be an intriguing option for their cannabis consumption needs.
CCT. (2020, April 21). Vaping vs smoking weed: Differences, benefits, effects & safety tips. Colorado Cannabis Tours and 420 Hotels. Retrieved September 10, 2021, from https://coloradocannabistours.com/guides/vaping-vs-smoking-weed/.
de Rauly, A. D. (2021, June 23). Why are cotton wicks dangerous when vaping cannabis? Blinc Group. Retrieved September 10, 2021, from https://www.theblincgroup.com/why-are-cotton-wicks-dangerous-when-vaping-cannabis/.
Gartner, CE. Mull it over: cannabis vaporizers and harm reduction. Addiction. 2015 Nov;110(11):1709-10. doi: 10.1111/add.13139. PMID: 26471154.
NIH. (2021, April 19). What are marijuana's effects? National Institute on Drug Abuse. Retrieved September 10, 2021, from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/marijuana/what-are-marijuana-effects.
Schaneman, B. (2020, December 17). Oregon cannabis regulators BAN additives first seen in vaping CRISIS, require more disclosure. MJBizDaily. Retrieved September 10, 2021, from https://mjbizdaily.com/oregon-cannabis-regulators-ban-additives-first-seen-in-vaping-crisis/.
Tashkin, DP. How beneficial is vaping cannabis to respiratory health compared to smoking? Addiction. 2015 Nov;110(11):1706-7. doi: 10.1111/add.13075. PMID: 26471152.
Volteface. (2021). Why vaping weed is healthier than smoking it, according to science. Volteface. Retrieved September 10, 2021, from https://volteface.me/feature/vaping-weed-healthier-smoking-according-science/.