Ultimate Guide to Vaping Medicinal Cannabis

Vaporising (aka vaping) is just one of a number of delivery methods patients use to consume and reap the benefits of their cannabis treatments.

by

August 2022

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6

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What is vaping?

Vaping is the process of heating cannabis flower or extract at a high temperature without burning it, allowing cannabinoids and terpenes to be released in the form of a vapour, which is then inhaled. 

Vaping is one of two inhalation methods for consuming cannabis flower, alongside smoking. In medicinal contexts, vaping is preferable to smoking because it reduces the amount of undesired hydrocarbons being absorbed into the body while also alleviating the need for tobacco, which can lead to addiction and other serious health issues. Vaping also allows for a more precise dose to meet the therapeutic needs of a patient, given that less of the THC dose is lost in side stream/combustion.

As of 2022, flower has become the second most approved form of medicinal cannabis (also referred to as ‘medical marijuana’ – learn about the history and implications of this term here) product in Australia.1 This implies that a large number of patients are using an inhalation method to consume their cannabis medication.

Inhalation delivery methods, like vaping, allow cannabinoids to be absorbed directly into the bloodstream through the lungs, making this the preferred method for patients who require rapid relief of symptoms.

How do you vaporise medical cannabis?

To vaporise cannabis, you’ll need a device known as a vaporiser (or vape). While a vaporiser can include any device that releases a particular substance in the form of vapour, doctors will generally recommend a medical-grade dry herb vaporiser for use with medicinal cannabis. Dry herb vapes allow you to vape cannabis flower without burning it so that the plant’s oils can be released as a vapour. With a dry herb vape, the patient receives only the bioactive cannabis compounds needed to experience the medicinal benefits of cannabis – and none of the chemicals or additives that might be found in some other types of commercially available vapes, such as vape pens and cartridges.

When using a dry herb vaporiser, you can also vaporise your prescribed cannabis flower at the optimal temperatures for cannabinoid and terpene activation by using the vaporiser’s temperature setting. This makes it easy to control your experience by adjusting the temperature of your vaporiser to the boiling points of terpenes and other compounds within your cannabis flower to achieve desired benefits.

As always, you should follow the specific instructions for your vaporiser as well as your doctor’s advice for using your vaporiser and treatment and only use your medication as prescribed.

Is it legal to vape medicinal cannabis in public?

It is legal to vape medicinal cannabis in public smoking areas. There are no laws which prohibit the use of medical-grade vaporisers for consuming legally prescribed medicinal cannabis treatments as long as you are in a public smoking area and are not causing a disturbance to others in your proximity. This means that because your cannabinoid medication is a highly regulated substance prescribed to you only, you will need to ensure you are at a safe distance from others, especially children, who may inhale your medication passively. 

You should always carry your medication in its original packaging with the pharmacy label attached as well as any documentation (such as your script and/or approval letter) and identification that can verify your legal patient status if you are stopped or questioned by law enforcement. 

The patient guidance section of the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) website states that cannabis flower treatments or ‘raw (botanical) cannabis’ should be ‘vaporised but not smoked’ for medicinal purposes. Therefore Polln does not recommend smoking your cannabis treatments anywhere, including in public smoking areas, as it is not supported by the TGA.

What are the benefits of vaping vs. smoking?

Vaping medicinal cannabis 

Some of the benefits of vaping medicinal cannabis flower, as opposed to smoking it, include:

  • Rapid onset and fast relief – first effects occur within 90 seconds and reach a maximum after 15 to 30 minutes before wearing off after 2–4 hours. Useful for symptoms and conditions where immediate relief is required.
  • Higher concentrations of active ingredients – vaporising heats the cannabis without burning it,2 which maintains the concentrations and quality of the active ingredients like cannabinoids and terpenes.3
  • Temperature control – patients can control the temperature of their vaporiser to achieve desired benefits based on the boiling points of their cannabis medicine’s ingredients, including cannabinoids and terpenes.
  • Potential reduction in overall consumption – because of the enhanced cannabinoid and terpene uptake, reduced cravings due to no tobacco, and the ability to easily pick up and put down the vaporiser as needed, patients are more likely to stay within their therapeutic window and achieve maximum therapeutic benefits with less cannabis flower than they would need to use when smoking. This reduces the amount of medication needed and saves the patient money over time.
  • Less carcinogens and safer than smoking
  • Legal in public smoking areas with a prescription
  • More discreet than smoking

Vaping comes with its own risks and side effects. It's important to discuss your suitability for vaping with your prescribing doctor and only use your cannabis treatments and vaporiser as advised.

Smoking medicinal cannabis

Although smoking is the most common route of administration for non-medical cannabis use, it is not recommended for medical cannabis patients due to the health risks and the variability and unpredictability of each individual’s response. Here are some things to consider when it comes to smoking medical cannabis treatments:

  • At least 40% of the THC dose in cannabis is lost in side stream/combustion when smoked,2 making it difficult to estimate the amount of THC a patient is receiving.
  • Cannabis smoking, like smoking cigarettes, is associated with increased risk of cancer, lung damage, and poor pregnancy outcomes.4 It can also inflame and irritate your lungs.
  • If you are combining cannabis and tobacco for smoking, you are increasing your risk of many health conditions and diseases including cancer, heart disease and chronic respiratory conditions.5
  • Not supported by the TGA.
  • Less discreet than vaping, and is not supported as a delivery method in public smoking areas – even with a valid prescription.
  • Smoking cannabis with tobacco is more likely to lead to addiction and dependence, which can cause patients to use more cannabis than required. This is primarily due to nicotine – the addictive substance found in tobacco – and not the cannabis itself. 
  • You may need to use more of your cannabis treatment to achieve the same results as you would with vaporising, due to cannabinoids and active ingredients being lost in combustion. This increases the costs of your medication over time

Overall, vaporising cannabis results in similar rapid absorption and high blood concentrations as smoking it, but produces fewer toxins, poses less health risks (when a high quality dry herb vaporiser is used), is more cost-effective over time and leads to greater therapeutic outcomes.

Always follow the advice of your doctor when it comes to how you administer your cannabis medication and only use your treatments and devices as advised.

Is vaping safe?

Although vaping cannabis – particularly with a TGA approved vaporiser – is known to be safer than smoking, it can still come with health risks. In comparison with smoking, vaporisation has been shown to produce the purest stream of cannabinoids and terpenes while containing less than 1/1000th the hazardous substances associated with combustion.6 But not all vaping devices are created equal.

The negative health risks associated with vaping, which include lung injuries, headaches, heart issues and more, are often related to the use of illegally manufactured vape products7 and vape products with chemical profiles that are closer to that of e-liquids. Illegally manufactured or modified vape products and vape products containing harmful chemicals such as vitamin E acetate significantly increase your risk of damaging your lungs. While harmful by-products, including microbial contaminants, harmful chemicals, carcinogens, and addictive substances like dextromethorphan, are often found in black market cannabis oils, unapproved vape pens, cartridges and e-liquids. Vaporiser injuries from unapproved vapes can also range from burns to accidental liquid ingestion and a lung disease known as 'popcorn lung.'

To be safe and effective, prescribed cannabis flower should be vaporised using a TGA-approved dry-herb vaporiser within the correct temperature range as advised by your prescribing doctor.

What are the ideal cannabis vape temperatures?

Knowing the different boiling points of the various cannabinoids, terpenes and other properties within your cannabis flower will help you adjust your vape temperature for the safest and most beneficial experience. Set your vape temperature too low, and you run the risk of missing out on the potency and unique flavours of your cannabis flower, as certain compounds will not have reached the minimum temperature required for them to activate. Similarly, if you set your vape temperature too high – especially at temperatures higher than 230°C – you run the risk of inhaling more toxic compounds and degrading the active ingredients in your cannabis so that they are no longer beneficial to your health.

The optimal temperature range of vaping cannabis is between 180–210°C – but there is room for experimentation within this temperature range to find what works best for you and the ingredients in your flower. While cannabinoids like THC and CBD will ‘activate’ or ‘evaporate’ at lower temperatures within this range, terpenes like linalool or limonene have a higher boiling point, meaning they activate at higher temperatures within that optimal range. So if you’re looking to reap the benefits of specific compounds within your cannabis, you might like to investigate the boiling points for each of those and play around with your vape temperature, with the support of your prescribing doctor.

Polln recommends: Storz & Bickel

Storz & Bickel, owned by Canopy Growth Corporation, are currently the first and only TGA-approved medical vaporisers available in Australia to be used with cannabinoid medicines. These devices are included in the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods (ARTG) (ARTG Identifier 319028) and are available for purchase at Shop Polln.

The MIGHTY MEDIC and MIGHTY+ MEDIC are intended to be used with dried cannabis flower. They are battery-operated and portable, allowing for dose administration at home and on the go.

The VOLCANO MEDIC can be used with dried cannabis flower or liquid cannabinoids dissolved in alcohol. It is a desktop vaporiser which can be used at home, in hospital settings and in medical practices. In one 2016 study, the VOLCANO MEDIC was one of 4 electrically-driven and temperature-controlled vaporizers that were found to “efficiently decarboxylate acidic cannabinoids and release reliably the corresponding neutral cannabinoids into the vapour,”8 suggesting that the device may be a safe and efficient administration of medicinal cannabis and cannabinoids. 

Browse Storz & Bickel vaporisers at Shop Polln. 

Always use your cannabinoid medicine and devices as advised by your prescribing cannabis doctor.

The bottom line

Vaping is just one of a number of delivery methods used to administer cannabis medications. It is known to be safer than smoking while providing greater control over therapeutic benefits and being more discreet and more cost-effective over time. Vaping may be beneficial for patients who require rapid relief from their symptoms, as effects can be felt within minutes. Although vaping with a TGA-approved vaporiser is legal in public smoking areas, you should always keep your medication in its original packaging with the pharmacy label attached and carry your script and identification so you can verify your patient status. And always be mindful of people around you who should not be able to inhale your medication passively.

At Polln, all of our doctors are experts in medicinal cannabis treatments who can help determine which, if any, medicinal cannabis treatment may be right for you while guiding you in the use of any required devices, such as a medical vaporiser. If you are interested in talking to a doctor about medical cannabis, you can sign up as a patient and make an appointment with one of our Polln doctors today.

References
  1. Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) 2021, https://www.tga.gov.au/medicinal-cannabis-special-access-scheme-category-b-data
  2. Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) 2017, https://www.tga.gov.au/resources/publication/publications/guidance-use-medicinal-cannabis-australia-overview
  3.  Lanz C, Mattsson J, Soydaner U, Brenneisen R. Medicinal Cannabis: In Vitro Validation of Vaporizers for the Smoke-Free Inhalation of Cannabis. PLoS One. 2016 Jan 19;11(1):e0147286. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0147286. PMID: 26784441; PMCID: PMC4718604.
  4.  Mack A, Joy J. Marijuana as Medicine? The Science Beyond the Controversy. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2000. 3, HOW HARMFUL IS MARIJUANA? Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK224396/
  5.  Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care 2020, What are the effects of smoking and tobacco? Available from: https://www.health.gov.au/health-topics/smoking-and-tobacco/about-smoking-and-tobacco/what-are-the-effects-of-smoking-and-tobacco
  6.  Meehan-Atrash J, Luo W, McWhirter KJ, Strongin RM. Aerosol Gas-Phase Components from Cannabis E-Cigarettes and Dabbing: Mechanistic Insight and Quantitative Risk Analysis. ACS Omega. 2019 Sep 16;4(14):16111-16120. doi: 10.1021/acsomega.9b02301. PMID: 31592479; PMCID: PMC6777088.
  7.  Chadi N, Minato C, Stanwick R. Cannabis vaping: Understanding the health risks of a rapidly emerging trend. Paediatr Child Health. 2020 Jun;25(Suppl 1):S16-S20. doi: 10.1093/pch/pxaa016. Epub 2020 Jun 15. PMID: 33390752; PMCID: PMC7757764.
  8.  Lanz C, Mattsson J, Soydaner U, Brenneisen R. Medicinal Cannabis: In Vitro Validation of Vaporizers for the Smoke-Free Inhalation of Cannabis. PLoS One. 2016 Jan 19;11(1):e0147286. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0147286. PMID: 26784441; PMCID: PMC4718604.

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