Health & Wellness

Vaping vs Smoking: Why is Medical Cannabis Vaporised?

Vaping vs Smoking: Why is Medical Cannabis Vaporised?
April 18, 2024
5 min read

In Australia, Medical Cannabis is only prescribed for use with a vaporiser, due to the harmful byproducts of combustion when cannabis is smoked. To avoid this, vaporisers heat plant material below the point of combustion, producing a vapour containing the active ingredients in cannabis. Vaporising offers many advantages to smoking, which we will cover in this article.

Vaping vs Smoking: Why is Medical Cannabis Vaporised?

Benefits of Vaping Over Smoking

  1. When medical cannabis combusts (burns), chemical by-products that are toxic to the body, like carbon monoxide, benzene, and tar. Vaporisation avoids this, reducing ill effects on health while also improving the taste and effects of cannabis.
  2. Cannabis typically vaporises at temperatures between 160-200°C. At 205°C, benzene, a carcinogen, starts to form. At around 232°C, cannabis flower will combust and produce more toxic compounds. Digital vaporisers allow you to set a specific, controlled temperature to avoid combustion and its negative health effects.
  3. Vaporising cannabis is more efficient than smoking. Cannabinoids and terpenes are fragile, and because a flame will heat the flower to around 800°C, around 30% of the THC in cannabis is destroyed, alongside much of the terpenes. Due to this, patients commonly report that switching to vaporising allows them to use three times less flower for the same effect than they were using when smoking.
  4. Another benefit of vaporising is that cannabis vapour does not linger like cannabis smoke. As the vapour clears, so does the smell, in contrast to smoke, which clings to surfaces and clothing. The smell and taste of the vapour itself are generally thought to be much more pleasant and less harsh than smoking.

Types of Dry Herb Vaporisers

It is important to know that there are various types of dry herb vaporisers available in the market today. This information is crucial if you are considering vaping or having difficulty switching from smoking.

The two broad categories of vapes are desktop and portable. A desktop vape requires plugging into the wall, whereas a portable vape operates using a battery and can be carried around. Desktop vapes are more powerful than portable vapes as they can draw more power, but this comes at the cost of sacrificing portability. For patients having difficulty switching to vaping from smoking, a desktop vaporiser will have the power required to provide an experience more similar to combustion.

Dry herb vaporisers can heat flower in two different ways. To achieve vaporisation, they either use convection, conduction, or both. Convection refers to the passing of hot air through the plant material. Conduction vapes heat the material directly using metal or another solid surface. These have their differences, but it is largely down to personal preference. If you are switching from smoking, it is more important to find a style of vape that you enjoy using.

Another type of vaporiser is a hash-filled vape cartridge. Because hash oil (liquid cannabis concentrate) is extremely sticky and hard to smoke, it is commonly found in pre-filled disposable vape cartridges for ease of use. Like dry herb vaporisers, cartridges also have the advantage of applying a controlled temperature and do not combust or harm the active ingredients with excessive heat.

Ideal Vaping Temperatures

Unlike smoking, vaping allows for fine control over your experience and the active ingredients you extract from the flower. Most vapes are digital and can be set at a specific temperature. This is a significant advantage over smoking as it gives you the ability to target specific compounds that may be beneficial for your particular condition.

Because cannabis contains a wide variety of active ingredients that all vaporise at different temperatures, different strains respond differently to heat. For this reason, it is important to know the terpenes and cannabinoids present in a strain to fully benefit from it. You can find the CoA (Certificate of Analysis) of your product on Catalyst or Cannareviews. CoAs may not always contain a terpene analysis as only THC and CBD are required to be tested for. 

Once you have the terpene and cannabinoid analysis, consult a vaping temperature chart to see how your flower responds to heat. Then, set your vaporiser to a temperature above the terpenes or cannabinoids you’d like to extract.

As an example of this, imagine your strain is terpinolene-dominant. Terpinolene boils at around 188°C, so to vaporise it, a temperature at or above that must be used. Conversely, if you dislike terpinolene, you can vaporise it below 188°C. This will allow you to avoid the terpinolene as it remains un-vaporised. This fine control over your experience is a significant advantage that vaping offers over smoking.

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Advantages of Vaporiser Glassware

For patients that prefer the use of glassware, switching to a vaporiser can be a hurdle. However, they are often unaware that a vaporiser can be used with a bong and offers several advantages.

TGA guidelines state that medical cannabis is not prescribed for smoking. It is prescribed for vaporisation only. Bongs can be used with vaporisers. The possession of bongs by medical cannabis patients is made lawful by the Drug Misuse and Trafficking Act 1985. Section 11 (2) states:

“Nothing in this section renders unlawful the possession of an item of equipment by — (e)  a person for use in the administration of a prohibited drug lawfully prescribed or supplied.”

So, using a bong may be considered legal as long as you’re vaping medical cannabis with it and not smoking it. We suggest all patients refer to the TGA guidelines before using medical cannabis.

Using glassware like a bong or a bubbler with your dry herb vaporiser will allow you to come closer to replicating the effect of smoking without combustion. Glassware allows for helpful visual feedback, a larger, smoother hit, and may be more enjoyable than a plastic vaporiser mouthpiece. Using a vaporiser also keeps glassware cleaner for longer, as there is no tar – just condensed vapour.

In order to use your vaporiser with glassware, you need a water pipe attachment (WPA). These are commonly sold as accessories alongside most vapes. They simply attach to your dry herb vaporiser, commonly replacing the stock mouthpiece.

Other Forms of Cannabis

Medical cannabis does not need to be inhaled and can instead be consumed in oil or capsule form. This allows for easy, discreet dosing and eliminates any possible risks caused due to inhalation. There are many options available that don’t involve smoke or vapour – just be sure to ask your prescriber at your next consultation.

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Please note that this blog was not written by a licensed medical practitioner and therefore is not providing medical advice. We do not endorse the use of cannabis or any other illicit drugs. Like any medication, cannabis has potential negative side effects and should only be used under the guidance of a qualified medical professional. For the latest information on cannabis prescription and use, please visit the TGA website. If you are considering cannabis as a treatment option, we encourage you to consult with a licensed healthcare professional.

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