Medical cannabis and vaporising: Why we recommend vaporising as opposed to smoking

Medical cannabis has been available for prescription in the UK since November 2018, and since then an ever-growing number of patients have been able to access these medicines. Now, the UK has approved three vaporisers for the medical use of cannabis, offering specialists doctors the ability to recommend these medical devices as the safest way to consume prescribed cannabis flower.

The industry and clinical research regarding medical cannabis prescriptions have evolved significantly since the initial law change, leading to a wider variety of medical cannabis products now available for clinicians to prescribe for a range of complex conditions. Depending on their condition and medical needs, patients may be prescribed medical cannabis in the form of oils, topicals and medical cannabis flower for vaporising.

A variety of licensed and unlicensed medical cannabis products can now be prescribed to patients in the UK with cannabis flower remaining one of the most commonly prescribed.

Our doctors prescribe cannabis flower to be administered only by vaporisation by specialist medical cannabis vaporisers due to the implications that smoking has on health.

The Harms of Smoking Medical Cannabis

Inhalation of smoke from cannabis flower when smoked carries significant health risks. Much like with tobacco, the burning of cannabis (and any other plant material) can produce carcinogens and other harmful materials. Exposure to these compounds can lead to health complications. This is why cannabis flower products prescribed in the UK must be administrated using a medical-grade vaporiser. Smoking also produces changes to the active compounds in the cannabis plant resulting in different levels to that intended when initially prescribed.

Medical Cannabis Vaporisers

Three vaporising devices have now been approved for medical use in the UK: the Storz-Bickel Mighty MedicMighty+ Medic and the Volcano. Storz & Bickel Gmbh & Co. is a German-based company that specialises in the production of reliable medical-grade vaporising devices.

Vaporising devices are used to heat a material – in this case, medical cannabis – to the point of producing a vapour. While vaporisers are now commonly used as an alternative for smoking tobacco, these should not be confused with the devices approved for use with medical cannabis.

Rather than burning the plant, vaporisers are designed to gently heat the product. This gentle heating causes the plant material to produce a vapour. The three Storz & Bickel Gmbh & Co. devices allow the user to precisely adjust the heating temperature, giving full control over the density of the vapour. Studies1,2 have shown that by heating cannabis to a temperature between 170 to 200oC allows for the effective dissipation of cannabinoids and terpenes without burning of the cannabis flower (which occurs at 230oC and above).

Evidence suggests that the vapour produced using these devices makes for a less harsh and less harmful means of administration when compared with cannabis smoke. But is it as effective?

Vaporising vs. Smoking Medical Cannabis

Several studies have aimed to assess the benefits and implications of vaporising cannabis as an alternative to smoking.

Bioavailability

One study, published in 2007, compared the effects of cannabis delivered through smoking with those of cannabis delivered using a Volcano vaporiser1.

It was found that participants using both methods of administration presented similar levels of THC over the 6-hour study period. This implies that the vaporiser was effective at delivering active therapeutic ingredients contained within cannabis flower. Verification studies support this finding, indicating that the bioavailability of vaporised cannabinoids using the Mighty Medic and the Volcano Medic devices is 29-35%.

Another study assessed the efficacy of cannabis when delivered using a novel portable thermal-metered-dose inhaler for chronic neuropathic pain2. The researchers found that patients exhibited a 45% reduction in pain intensity 20-minutes post inhalation.

Toxic Products

In the study assessing the Volcano vaporiser, participants who used the Volcano cannabis vaporiser exhibited “little if any increase in carbon monoxide after inhalation of THC from the vaporiser”1. In comparison, participants who inhaled THC from cannabis cigarettes had substantial increased in carbon monoxide levels in their blood stream.

The researchers of this study concluded that inhalation via the Volcano vaporiser “is expected to be much safer than smoking marijuana cigarettes.”1 Moreover, participants in the study also reported a preference for the vaporiser compared with smoking cannabis cigarettes.

UK Approval for Medical Use

Storz & Bickel Gmbh & Co. now produce the only battery-powered medical herbal hot air generator to be certified for medical use. The company’s Mighty Medic, Mighty+ Medic and Volcano Medic vaporisers are the first and only medical-grade vaporisers to be approved in the UK.

Given the findings of past clinical and verification studies and the subsequent UK approval of Storz & Bickel Gmbh & Co.’s vaporising devices, Sapphire Medical Clinics exclusively recommends the use of medical-grade vaporisers for the administration of medical cannabis flower.