Brain and Body

“Cannavaping” Could Be an Efficient and Safe Way to Deliver Medical Cannabis

May 27, 2016 | Kelly Tatera

Different types of e-cigarettes
Photo credit: (CC by SA 2.0)

The researchers were inspired by the illegal practice of “dabbing.”

Scientists at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland say that electronic cigarettes could provide a safe and effective way to deliver cannabis for medicinal purposes.

The researchers were inspired by the illegal practice of “dabbing,” which involves smoking concentrated doses of cannabis — butane hash oil (BHO) — that are extracted from THC using a solvent like butane or carbon dioxide. The sticky substance is “highly enriched in THC,” the researchers write, and its concentration is typically 15 to 30 times higher than that of regular flower buds.

After creating cannabis-packed oils for e-cigarettes, the researchers found that vaping them could deliver useful levels of the active ingredients in cannabis — dubbing the treatment “therapeutic cannavaping.”

The team explains that cannavaping would allow patients to receive regular microdoses of marijuana’s active ingredients throughout the day, something that’s currently not possible with pills containing cannabis extracts.

“This could be a great approach to using these kinds of cannabinoids,” Vincent Varlet, who took part in the work, told The Guardian. “The aim is not to get high, the aim is to get cured.”

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In the study, which has been published in the journal Scientific Reports, the scientists used butane gas to extract cannabinoids from cannabis to create the concentrated butane hashish oil. Next, they tested how well the oil was atomized — converted into very fine particles — in e-cigarettes that already exist on the market.

The researchers conclude, “Cannavaping appears to be a gentle, efficient, user-friendly and safe alternative method for cannabis smoking for medical cannabis delivery.”

Plus, the researchers found that butane hashish oil is not very soluble in the liquid refills used in commercial e-cigarette vaping, which leads them to believe there would be a low risk of people abusing the drug through vaping. However, they do report that there is a potential for misuse “based on dabbing practices and widespread accessibility to more sophisticated e-cigarette devices.”

“I think it’s a great idea, but this would be illegal in the UK,” said David Nutt, head of neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College, London, who wasn’t involved with the research. “I hope parliament makes cannabis a medicine soon.”

Michael Bloomfield, a clinical lecturer in psychiatry at University College London, who also didn’t partake in the research, had some concerns: “From a harm reduction point of view, cannavaping sounds like it may be a good thing, but if this is going to be used as a medicine, it has to go through all the same checks and balances as other medicines,” he told The Guardian.

“Branding cannabis use through an electronic cigarette as ‘therapeutic cannavaping’ is worrying given that proper randomised controlled trials need to be conducted on any medical intervention to demonstrate their effectiveness,” he continued, “something that is currently lacking in much of the ‘medical marijuana’ market.”

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