A recent spike in vaping-related illnesses and deaths has many wondering if vaping is a safe option for medical marijuana users.Over the years, cannabis has been used to treat a variety of pains and ailments, from insomnia and headaches to rheumatism and gastrointestinal disorders. Today, it’s often recommended for IBD, epilepsy, and chronic pain, and initial studies indicate that it could be beneficial for those living with ALS. Some research even suggests that the number of deaths related to the current opioid crisis are reduced in states that have legalized medical marijuana.However, the recent spate of vaping-related illnesses and deaths has some people questioning whether vaping is as safe as previously thought. Here’s what you need to know about the risks of vaping medical marijuana, and how you can protect your health.
The Process Could Be the Problem
No drug, medicine, or course of treatment is entirely without side effects, and cannabis is no exception. The concern with vaping, which has been billed as a safer alternative to smoking tobacco or cannabis, is that there’s still a lot of research to be done on the long-term health effects.Vape pens and e-cigarettes heat substances — such as liquid nicotine, cannabis flowers, or compounds like THC or CBD that have been suspended in oil — which converts the oil or liquid into an aerosol that can then be inhaled. Due to marijuana’s status as a Schedule I drug, what these liquids contain isn’t regulated, and can include other chemicals that change the flavor or consistency. While researchers do urge caution regarding the use of medical cannabis, it’s not so much THC or CBD that pose the problem. Instead, it’s the process of heating and converting the oil into vapor that can be inhaled.“If I had to bet money on whether or not THC is causing these lung-related issues, I wouldn’t put it on the THC compound itself,” says Jacob Borodovsky, an epidemiologist at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. “I would put it on the way in which the THC is prepared and delivered.”Ziva Cooper, the research director at UCLA’s Cannabis Research Initiative, agrees and suggests that cannabis users who are concerned about the safety risks of vaping shift toward less-processed products.“There’s enough concern for there to be a general statement that people should be very cautious about vaping,” she says. “It’s safer, if you’re going to vape, to go with plant product with a known device.”As the FDA continues to investigate vaping-relating illnesses, the CDC has advised that consumers avoid vape pens and e-cigarettes.
Alternatives to Vaping
The good news is that there are other ways to ingest medical cannabis that don’t involve vaping. These include:
Edibles. One of the more common options, food-born cannabis products allow you to ingest THC or CBD orally without affecting your lungs. Some factors to keep in mind are that edibles tend to be slower to take effect, last longer, and can be difficult to dose accurately.
Tinctures. Tinctures are made by suspending oils from the cannabis plant in a high-alcohol solution, which can be administered orally with a dropper. Tinctures take effect faster than other edibles, and are also easier to dose.
Topicals. Creams, lotions, and patches that apply medical cannabis directly to the skin can be a good way to treat conditions like psoriasis.
Choosing What’s Right for You
The bottom line is that every kind of medical treatment is likely to have some side effects. The important question that everyone has to answer for themselves — and discuss with their doctors — is whether those side effects are worth the benefits that the medicine provides. For many, the ability to ease their pain and improve their quality of life means the answer is yes. Have questions about vaping and medical cannabis? Don’t hesitate to contact us at Lakewood Medical Clinic. Our doctors are more than happy to discuss the different options available during your consultation, and help you determine which form of treatment best fits your needs and lifestyle.
Lakewood Medical Clinic is a holistic medical practice promoting the use of cannabis as a complement to traditional treatment. Our mission is to break down the stigma that prevents patients from considering medical marijuana as a treatment option.