For 26 of my 36 years I suffered with debilitating migraines dubbed “cluster headaches” by the medical community. Over the years I tried painkillers of various varieties with limited success. Four years ago at the age of 32 I was offered medical cannabis by my doctor. While the cannabis helped with the migraines, I was disturbed by the fact that I was directed by medical professionals to smoke my medicine. Having never smoked a cigarette, I found the concept of inhaling plant materials, together with potential toxins into my lungs, a strange “cure” for my ills. Thus began my quest to find the healthiest, most effective delivery system for medical cannabis and the idea for Kanabo Research was born.
On January 26, 2017, the tech world was rocked by a surprise announcement from one of their giants – Apple. They announced that they had filed patents for an Apple vaporizer back in July of 2016, a few months before Californians voted to legalize recreational Cannabis in their state. The question on everyone’s lips: Is Apple entering the Cannabis vaporizer market? The details of the patents filed are excruciatingly vague, so no one knows exactly what the Apple vaporizer will be for. Speculation is rife and it would surprise no one if Apple is interested in the expanding Cannabis vaping market. Why does vaping represent the future of the Cannabis market, and in particular the medical Cannabis market?
Smoking is the conventional way to consume cannabis, but the many health risks associated with smoking are well known. The combustion process releases dangerous toxins, and inhaling plant material is damaging to the lungs, heart and body. Smoking has been an identified source of carcinogens since the 1930’s, however in some circumstances, the benefits of inhaling cannabis smoke are thought to outweigh the detrimental effects of inhaling carcinogens, tar, cellulosic material, and other toxins.
Enter vaping – a much healthier alternative to smoking cannabis. Vaping offers the benefits with far less inhalation of carcinogens, tars, and other toxins. Vaporization occurs at lower temperatures than combustion – hot enough to extract the beneficial compounds of the plant without releasing the damaging ones.
So vaping is undoubtedly healthier than smoking but is it also healthier than other ways to take medicines? Let us compare vaping to some alternative delivery systems. These include pills/capsules, sublingual sprays/tinctures, and topical lotions or patches. Not all routes of administration are equal, and the key difference lies in the bioavailability of the active medicinal compounds in cannabis such as cannabinoids and terpenes.
Bioavailability is the proportion of a drug or other substance that enters the circulation and has an active effect on the body. Temperature control and route of administration are crucial to bioavailability, and thus treatment efficacy, which is affected by degradation in the stomach, poor absorption in the body, and metabolism in the liver. Additionally, for higher bioavailability levels, medicinal compounds must be heated to specific temperatures to derive the medical benefits of terpenes, something only possible with vaporizers. For medical Cannabis, oral ingestion leads to around a 10% bioavailability because the active ingredients are faced with stomach and liver metabolism, whereas vaping leads to about a 50% bioavailability of cannabinoids.
Oral ingestion of cannabis can feel like a roll of the dice, as it produces two contradictory effects that can mitigate the therapeutic value. The patient must simultaneously deal with the low bioavailability of the oral dosage, and with the transformation of the delta-9-THC into 11-hydroxy-THC in the liver and the stomach. While it is true that 11-hydroxy-THC is a longer lasting and stronger drug, its effects are unpredictable and vary considerably from patient to patient, metabolism to metabolism. Vaping controls for this effect and ensures that the delta-9-THC is absorbed via inhalation to reach the brain quickly. This speed together with the higher bioavailability of active ingredients makes for a more reliable and measurable treatment protocol than oral ingestion. Many patients require fast relief and cannot wait up to 90 minutes to feel their medication take effect, especially those struggling with seizures, migraines, or chronic pain.
In the medical community, there is a strong movement away from smoking, which has already been banned from many medical cannabis markets in the US like Florida and Arkansas. Regulators in both New York and Pennsylvania are considering similar regulations. Minnesota has banned both smoking and vaping flowers, limiting their market to vaping extractions as well as oral and topical routes of administration. In both Europe and South Africa, there is a strong preference for non-smoking consumption alternatives. Market and health trends indicate that smoking will no longer be applicable to the medical cannabis market within the next few years, and that recreational smoking will also decline in favor of vaporizers and other routes of administration. In Israel, the Ministry of Health has specifically banned licensed medical cannabis patients from smoking in public. Vaping extracts is permitted. Vaporizing is more portable, discreet, and easy-to-use than smoking. In addition, vaporizer devices will continue to benefit from the user friendly enhancements developed for the e-cigarette market including color coded lights and vibrating alerts.
The last word on vaping goes to the purported inventor of the modern form of the cloud vape pen Hon Lik, a pharmacist and inventor from Beijing, China. Lik’s father died of lung cancer and Lik being a smoker himself sought a way to continue smoking without meeting the same fate. In interviews Lik imparts the following about the origins of his invention: “The idea of the electronic cigarettes came to me in a dream in 2000. Coughing and wheezing, I imagined I was drowning, until suddenly the waters around me lifted into a fog.”