Vaping medicinal cannabis would be healthier than smoking the drug with tobacco, researchers claim, and allow regular microdoses not possible with pills
By Ian Sample
Electronic cigarettes can be a safe and effective way to deliver cannabis for medicinal purposes, according to researchers in Switzerland.
Scientists at the University of Lausanne created cannabis-laden oils for e-cigarettes and found that vaping the infusions could deliver useful levels of the active ingredients found in cannabis.
The team claims that “therapeutic cannavaping”, would be healthier than smoking the drug with tobacco, and would allow users to have regular microdoses of the drug’s active ingredients throughout the day, which is not possible with pills containing cannabis extracts.
“This could be a great approach to using these kinds of cannabinoids,” said Vincent Varlet, who took part in the work. “The aim is not to get high, the aim is to get cured.”
Varlet and others used butane gas to extract the active substances, called cannabinoids, from cannabis to create concentrated butane hashish oil. They then tested how well the oil was atomised in e-cigarettes on the market.
Writing in the journal Scientific Reports, the researchers describe how e-cigarettes can deliver therapeutic doses of cannabinoids without getting people stoned. “Cannavaping appears to be a gentle, efficient, user-friendly and safe alternative method for cannabis smoking for medical cannabis delivery,” they say.
In the course of their experiments, the scientists found that butane hashish oil is not very soluble in the liquid refills used in commercial e-cigarettes, leading them to suspect that the risks of people abusing the drug through vaping are low.
“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. In Britain, cannabinoids in vapable oil form would likely be considered “controlled drugs” under the Misuse of Drugs Act, or psychoactive substances under the Psychoactive Substances Act, which comes into force in the UK today. “I hope parliament makes cannabis a medicine soon,” Nutt added.
But Michael Bloomfield, a clinical lecturer in psychiatry at University College London, has concerns about vaping cannabis oil. “We really need more studies and to look at whether cannabis through e-cigarettes can be use for medicinal purposes,” he said. “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.”
“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, something that is currently lacking in much of the ‘medical marijuana’ market,” he said.
Another concern, he added, was the use of flavoured cannabis e-cigarettes that might become popular with younger people, who appear most at risk from some of the harms linked to heavy, long-term use of cannabis.