Cannabis vaporizers and pre-filled cartridges are experiencing a significant surge in popularity, projected to witness a remarkable 50% sales growth from 2017 to 2018. Vaping offers a distinct user experience compared to smoking a joint, but quantifying this disparity can be challenging. Recent scientific investigations, however, have shed light on the matter, revealing that vaping delivers a stronger impact than the conventional joint.
A recent study published in JAMA investigated cannabis usage among occasional users and found that vaporizing cannabis flower led to more pronounced effects compared to smoking the same amount. The intensity of these effects also increased as the dosage increased, indicating that a more cautious dosing approach should be taken when using vaporized flower, especially for infrequent consumers.
While the study’s lead author acknowledged certain limitations, he reiterated the study’s findings. Tory Spindle, a postdoctoral fellow at John Hopkins University’s Bayview Medical Center, expressed surprise at the significant difference in effects between smoking and vaping equivalent doses. He emphasized that vaping has the potential to induce significantly different impairments in all users.
Efficient THC Delivery
Prior studies have consistently shown that vaping is a more efficient method of delivering THC compared to smoking. Building upon this knowledge, researchers aimed to investigate the effects of vaping on various outcomes at two different doses. They also sought to compare these outcomes with smoking equivalent doses and consuming placebo doses of a THC-free substance. The study was conducted at Hopkins’ Behavioral Pharmacology Research Unit from June 2016 to January 2017.
The study involved a group of nine men and eight women with a mean age of 27.3. Prior to the study, all participants underwent a prescreening process to confirm their abstinence from cannabis and other drug use for an average of 13 months.
To assess the impact of vaping and smoking on participants, researchers conducted evaluations before cannabis consumption and at 10 subsequent points within an 8-hour period after consuming each of the six study doses (three vaping and three smoking). Dose consistency was ensured through careful measurement, and participants were unaware of the exact amounts they were using.
Enhanced Dosing Control
The researchers were able to achieve better control over dosing in this study, which likely contributed to the observed differences in results. This was achieved by employing titrated doses, allowing for more precise and carefully-calculated individual doses. Such a research method has proven challenging in previous studies on this subject, but it facilitated a more comprehensive analysis in this particular investigation.
Measurement of Vaporized Flower’s Effects
In order to measure the effects of cannabis, researchers utilized the Drug Effect Questionnaire along with three computerized tasks: the Digit Symbol Substitution Task, Divided Attention Task, and Paced Auditory Serial Addition Task. These specific tasks were chosen based on their previous indication of being influenced by cannabis use and their relevance to workplace performance and operating a motor vehicle.
It is important to note that the study focused on vaping cannabis flower rather than cannabis oil, indicating that further research is still needed in this area.
Comparing the outcomes of 17 participants who vaped and smoked, researchers discovered statistically significant differences at a 25-mg THC dose. Vaping resulted in more pronounced impairment of cognitive and psychomotor abilities, as evidenced by participants’ performance on the computer tests. Additionally, those who vaped reported experiencing more paranoia and anxiety compared to their smoking counterparts.
Similar findings were observed at a lower dose as well. At a 10 mg THC dose, vaporized cannabis flower caused modest harm to cognitive functioning and showed significant differences in mean drug effect scores compared to smoking.
Implications for Consumers
The findings of the study have important implications for cannabis consumers. It is worth noting that the cannabis used in the study had a THC content of 13%, along with small amounts of CBD and cannabinol. This highlights the importance of cautious dosing for infrequent users and new medical cannabis patients who choose to vape. Additionally, it is important to recognize that cannabis products available in dispensaries often have higher THC concentrations than the doses used in the research.
For regular cannabis consumers with a high tolerance to THC, the results of the study cannot be directly applied. It is important to consider that the study had certain limitations, including a limited range of doses and the use of only one strain of cannabis (which was low in CBD). The study also utilized a specific vaporizer type (the Volcano Medic) for the vaping portion and a small pipe for smoking research. The effects of vaping liquid cannabis or using other types of vaping devices were not examined.
Tory Spindle, the lead author, emphasized the need for further research, acknowledging that this study focused on a specific vaporizer model. He highlighted the necessity for additional studies to investigate the applicability of these effects across different variables.
In summary, while the study provides valuable insights, more research is needed to fully understand the effects of vaping cannabis across various strains, THC concentrations, and vaping devices. Consumers, especially infrequent users and new medical cannabis patients, should exercise caution and consider individual factors when dosing, taking into account the potential potency of the cannabis product and seeking guidance from healthcare professionals or knowledgeable experts.
Testing a Variety of Variables
The study emphasizes the importance of conducting more controlled studies that encompass a range of vaporizing and smoking methods. These studies are considered vital as they have the potential to inform dosing guidelines, cannabis policies and regulations, as well as procedures for detecting acute cannabis intoxication.
Ryan Vandrey, the corresponding author of the study, highlighted the need for further research on the long-term effects of vaping, such as the potential risk of chronic bronchitis. While this study sheds light on the immediate effects of vaping cannabis, there is still much to be explored regarding its prolonged impacts.
The study also supports previous research findings that indicate weak correlations between THC blood concentration and the observed effects. THC does not remain in the blood for an extended period, and blood concentration levels can return to baseline before the individual stops experiencing the effects. This emphasizes the complexity of determining cannabis intoxication and impairment, indicating that relying solely on blood THC concentrations is insufficient.
In conclusion, the study underscores the necessity of exploring alternative biological and behavioral methods for detecting acute cannabis impairment. Further research is required to fully understand the complexities of cannabis consumption and its impact on individuals.