Understanding Harm Reduction via Vaporization

In the era of rapidly evolving legal cannabis, the smoking of flowers in joints and pipes remains an honored tradition practiced by millions of consumers. Modern technology, however, now offers purveyors of pot novel and—more important—healthier ways of consuming the kind herb. 

It’s easy to understand why cannabis consumers enjoy inhaling their medicine. Onset of effects occurs faster than any other consumption avenue, requiring only about 2.5 minutes (unlike edibles, which take 45 minutes to two hours to begin doing their thing). Also, inhalation is an acceptable method by which marijuana consumers can conveniently share medicine and socialize with like-minded others.  

Vaporization is a technique for heating the resin-bearing glands of the cannabis flower, called trichomes, so they release their molecular bounty in the form of health-giving terpenes and cannabinoids. Unlike combustion, which burns the flowers and creates known carcinogens (including benzene, toluene, and hydrogen cyanide), vaporization has been shown to produce no such toxins. Users who engage in vaporization often report a more enjoyable and less harsh experience that offers none of the telltale aroma of smoking (and less chance, in prohibition states, of revealing one’s lifestyle choice or the reward of a night in jail).  

Vaporization Research

Research has proven the effectiveness of vaporization in eliminating carcinogens from inhaled cannabis and better preserving the cannabinoids and terpenes (relatively delicate molecules that are often destroyed by exposure to the harsh temperatures of combustion). A pioneering study conducted in 2001 by Dr. Dale Gieringer of California NORML found vaporization to be considerably healthier than the combustion of smoking and to deliver better bioavailability in the form of higher percentages of cannabinoids and terpenes. 

The Gieringer study identified additional health benefits gained with the application of water filtration. Reported the study, “There is evidence that water filtration may be quite effective in absorbing some of these gases [hydrogen cyanide and carbon monoxide, among others].” 

Simply put, the world is waking to the health benefits of cannabinoids such as cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and terpenes like limonene, linalool, and myrcene. Those who choose vaporization over smoking enjoy benefits that exceed harm reduction (the removal of carcinogens and other toxins). Vaporization is simply more efficient and selective than smoking, meaning that greater numbers of the valuable cannabinoid and terpene molecules actually reach the intended cellular receptors of one’s endocannabinoid system so they can perform their magic. This efficiency also results in real savings; one’s cannabis stash lasts longer when vaporized instead of smoked. 

Also, smoking of any type—tobacco or cannabis—has quickly become a social pariah. Vaporization produces less odor and an arguably more pleasant aroma than the combustion of flowers. My colleague Warren Bobrow said it well when he described the Hydrology9 as producing “No antagonistic clouds of cannabis smoke attracting all the wrong attention.” 

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