Is Vaping Marijuana Safe? Analyzing the Safety of Vaping Marijuana

Is vaping marijuana safe? Explore health risks, dose impacts and regulations in our thorough analysis.

James Ekbatani
June 10, 2024

Understanding Vaping Marijuana

As the use of vaporizers becomes increasingly popular, it's important to understand the possible risks and health implications associated with vaping marijuana. This article aims to address the question, "is vaping marijuana safe?", by delving into the potential hazards of vaping cannabis oil and its etiological link with respiratory failure.

Risks of Vaping Cannabis Oil

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that vaping of any kind can cause or contribute to lung disease. Serious cases of EVALI (electronic cigarette or vaping product use-associated lung injury) have been linked to vaping cannabidiol (CBD) oil. In 2019, an outbreak of severe lung disease from vaping was largely blamed on a chemical called vitamin E acetate, with more than 2,500 people hospitalized or killed by EVALI.

Moreover, several hundreds of cases of e-cigarette or vaping-associated lung injuries (EVALI) have been reported in Canada and the USA, with most patients presenting severe respiratory and gastrointestinal symptoms. A significant proportion of individuals diagnosed with EVALI reported vaping THC products, many of which were purchased from the black market.

Etiological Link with Respiratory Failure

Recent studies have suggested a possible etiological link between vaping cannabis and respiratory failure. According to an article published in the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), vaping cannabis oil can lead to acute respiratory failure. A high index of suspicion among treating physicians is needed to facilitate prompt diagnosis and treatment initiation [3].

In the same article, a series of case studies suggest a link between vaping cannabis and respiratory failure. All the cases vaped a combination of CBD and THC, except one who only vaped THC [3].

These findings add to the growing evidence that vaping marijuana, particularly cannabis oil, can have severe consequences for respiratory health. As such, it's crucial for individuals, especially those with a history of respiratory conditions, to be aware of these risks before deciding to vape marijuana.

It's also worth noting that chronic cannabis smoking is associated with an increased prevalence of chronic cough, sputum production, wheezing, shortness of breath, and acute bronchitic episodes. There is a significant association of marijuana use with symptoms of chronic bronchitis comparable to or less than that of tobacco smoking alone. As such, the safety of both vaping and smoking marijuana remains a subject of ongoing research and discussion.

Health Implications of Vaping Marijuana

Exploring the question, 'is vaping marijuana safe?', requires a comprehensive analysis of health implications associated with this practice. Specifically, understanding the radiographic findings linked to lung injuries, the clinical presentation and diagnosis, and the treatment and recovery process.

Radiographic Findings and Lung Injuries

Vaping marijuana has been associated with a range of radiographic findings that highlight potential lung injuries. Vaping-Associated Lung Injury (VALI) is a primary concern, with findings such as bilateral pulmonary infiltrates visible on chest X-rays and ground glass opacities seen on CT chest scans [3].

In addition, hundreds of cases of e-cigarette or vaping-associated lung injuries (EVALI) have been reported in Canada and the USA. A significant proportion of individuals diagnosed with EVALI reported vaping THC products, many of which were purchased from the black market [2].

Clinical Presentation and Diagnosis

Patients who vape cannabis oil and subsequently develop respiratory distress typically present severe respiratory and gastrointestinal symptoms. The diagnosis of such conditions requires a high clinical suspicion, early intervention, and appropriate clinical measures.

A study conducted by Johns Hopkins Medicine researchers found that participants experienced substantial impairment in attention span, memory, physical reaction time, and motor movement when vaping cannabis compared to smoking the same dose. This impairment could potentially affect functional activities such as driving or daily tasks, emphasizing the potential risks associated with vaping cannabis.

Treatment and Recovery

The treatment for vaping-associated lung injuries involves a multi-faceted approach. Key to the recovery process is educating patients who vape cannabis oil and have developed respiratory distress to strictly avoid vaping. Early diagnosis and appropriate clinical interventions are crucial for a successful recovery.

Public health measures have also been implemented to help address the issue. For instance, Health Canada has established a robust regulatory framework for vaping products, aiming to reduce and prevent vaping uptake by youth and adults who do not smoke tobacco products.

In conclusion, while vaping marijuana is often perceived as a safer alternative to smoking, the associated health implications and emerging research suggest otherwise. It's critical for individuals to be aware of the potential risks and to prioritize their health when considering such practices.

Safety Concerns of Vaping Marijuana

As the popularity of vaping marijuana continues to rise, the question "Is vaping marijuana safe?" becomes more pertinent. To address this question, we must delve into comparisons between vaping and smoking marijuana and understand the effects on the respiratory system.

Comparison to Smoking Marijuana

Vaping marijuana is often touted as safer than smoking it because vaporizers heat, but don't burn, herb, oil, or wax forms of marijuana inhaled through the device. However, vaping marijuana isn't simply safe, and in some ways, it may be more dangerous than smoking weed.

When comparing the two methods, chronic cannabis smoking is associated with an increased prevalence of chronic cough, sputum production, wheezing, shortness of breath, and acute bronchitic episodes. There is a significant association of marijuana use with symptoms of chronic bronchitis comparable to or less than that of tobacco smoking alone.

On the other hand, the use of vaporizers for cannabis consumption is considered a safer method than smoking it, with vaporizers showing a reduction in symptoms of chronic bronchitis related to smoking. Vaporizers may offer a more rapid onset of effects than non-respiratory delivery systems like oral and topical methods [4].

Effects on Respiratory System

The choice between vaping and smoking marijuana has significant implications for the respiratory system. Vaporized cannabis may generate fewer chemicals than smoked cannabis, potentially representing a less harmful mode of consumption. However, high-potency concentrates found in vape pens correlate with a higher incidence of mental and physical health problems, leading to a higher risk of developing acute adverse effects such as paranoia, psychosis, and cannabis hyperemesis syndrome [2].

Conversely, cannabis smoking via combustion, even without cigarette smoking, has been associated with respiratory symptoms, chronic bronchitis, changes in lung function testing, risk of developing COPD, worsening of asthma and COPD, bullous disease, and lung and head and neck cancer due to exposure to carcinogens.

In conclusion, while vaping may have some advantages over smoking marijuana, it is by no means a safe alternative. Both methods pose risks to the respiratory system and overall health. It's crucial to understand these risks before making a decision concerning the consumption of marijuana.

Youth Trends in Cannabis Vaping

Understanding youth trends in cannabis vaping is crucial in evaluating the safety of vaping marijuana and its impact on public health.

Popularity Among Adolescents

Cannabis vaping has seen a surge in popularity among young people, becoming one of the most common methods of cannabis consumption among this group. This trend is not confined to a particular region but is evident across North America. In Canada, for instance, the use of vape pens for cannabis increased from 20% to 26% among adolescents and young adults between 2017 and 2018. A similar pattern has been observed in the USA, with lifetime cannabis vaping among grade 12 students rising from 4.9% to 7.5% within the same period.

Region Increase in Cannabis Vaping
Canada 20% to 26% (2017-2018)
USA (Grade 12) 4.9% to 7.5% (2017-2018)

Influence Factors and Risks

The rising popularity of cannabis vaping among young people can be attributed to several factors. These include a low perceived risk, convenience, discreetness, better taste, and appealing flavors and smells compared to smoked cannabis. Many young people perceive cannabis as being one of the least harmful substances, often viewing it as more 'natural' than others. This perception, however, can lead to a false sense of security and increased use.

Furthermore, advertising for vaping products has also been linked to increased uptake of youth vaping and cannabis use. This is significant, as cannabis vaping is now reported by one-third of youth who vape. It has been associated with several cases of acute lung injury, often involving high-potency forms of cannabis. This exposes young people to several acute and long-term health risks, raising concerns about the safety of vaping marijuana.

These trends and influences underscore the need for further research and regulatory measures to address the risks associated with vaping marijuana, particularly among young people. It also highlights the importance of education and awareness campaigns to correct misconceptions about the safety of vaping marijuana and inform young people about the potential risks.

Regulatory Measures for Vaping Products

Regulation plays a critical role in safeguarding public health and safety, particularly concerning the use of vaping products. Let's explore the strategies implemented by Health Canada and how they are designed to protect public health.

Health Canada's Regulations

In response to the rising concerns about the safety of vaping, Health Canada has established a robust regulatory framework for vaping products, including those containing cannabis. The aim of this framework is to provide Canadians with information about the risks associated with vaping, thereby reducing the uptake by both youth and adults who do not smoke tobacco products.

Vaping products that do not contain cannabis fall under the jurisdiction of the Tobacco and Vaping Products Act (TVPA). This Act includes significant restrictions designed to prevent the uptake of vaping products by youth and adults who do not use tobacco products. Additionally, the Canada Consumer Product Safety Act (CCPSA) prohibits the sale of "very toxic" vaping substances containing 66 mg/g nicotine or more due to the potential danger to human health or safety.

On December 19, 2019, Health Canada proposed additional regulations to further restrict the promotion of vaping products. The goal of these regulations is to reduce youth exposure to advertisements for vaping products and protect them from inducements to use these products. If implemented, these regulations would prohibit advertising that can be seen or heard by youth and would require health warnings on permitted vaping advertisements.

For vaping products containing cannabis, regulation falls under the Cannabis Act. This Act establishes the control framework for the production, sale, and possession of cannabis in Canada. Its primary goal is to protect public health and safety, restrict youth access to cannabis, and deter illicit activities related to cannabis.

Protection of Public Health

In Canada, cannabis extracts, such as those found in vaping products, are legally available for sale under the Cannabis Act. Health Canada has implemented stringent regulatory requirements for these cannabis vaping products. These requirements encompass restrictions on ingredients, packaging, and labeling of the products to protect public health and safety.

These regulatory measures underscore the commitment of Health Canada to public health and safety. They provide a comprehensive framework to regulate vaping products, inform the public about potential risks, and protect the most vulnerable populations, such as the youth, from exposure to these products. As the understanding of the health effects of vaping continues to evolve, these regulations will likely be adjusted to respond to new scientific evidence and public health needs.

Dosing Considerations and Impairment

When evaluating the question 'is vaping marijuana safe?', one must also consider the dosage and its potential for impairment. The amount of cannabis used while vaping, specifically the Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content, can have significant impacts on mental health and functional abilities.

Dose Impact on Mental Health

A study conducted by Johns Hopkins Medicine researchers found that vaping cannabis increased the rate of short-term anxiety, paranoia, memory loss, and distraction when the doses were the same as smoking cannabis. This was particularly true for infrequent users. This points to the importance of dose considerations, particularly as vaping is often perceived as a safer alternative to smoking cannabis.

Moreover, for infrequent cannabis users, vaping may deliver too much THC too quickly. This could lead to adverse reactions, such as anxiety, nausea, vomiting, and hallucinations. The study suggested that individuals who use cannabis infrequently need to be cautious about the amount they use with a vaporizer, as it could lead to negative effects and impair their ability to perform daily activities or drive.

Participants who vaped cannabis with 25 milligrams of THC reported higher levels of anxiety and paranoia compared to those who smoked the same amount. Furthermore, individuals who vaped any dose of THC reported higher levels of dry mouth and dry eyes than those who smoked it.

Blood THC Levels and Effects

The same study by Johns Hopkins Medicine also found that blood levels of THC were significantly higher immediately after vaping cannabis compared to smoking it. For instance, at 10 milligrams of THC, blood levels reached an average of 7.5 nanograms per milliliter in vapers, compared with 3.8 nanograms per milliliter in smokers 10 minutes after inhalation.

The table below shows a comparison:

Method THC Blood Levels (nanograms per milliliter)
Vaping (10mg THC) 7.5
Smoking (10mg THC) 3.8

These findings suggest that there are differences in the amount of THC entering the bloodstream when using a vaporizer versus smoking cannabis. This emphasizes the need for careful dosing to ensure safe usage.

Additionally, the research found that participants had substantially higher impairment on tasks related to attention span, memory, physical reaction time, and motor movement when vaping cannabis compared to smoking the same dose. This impairment could lead to functional impairment in activities like driving or daily tasks, highlighting the potential risks associated with vaping cannabis.

In conclusion, it's pivotal to bear in mind the dosage of THC when vaping cannabis. Being aware of the potential mental and physical impairments can help individuals make informed decisions about their cannabis use.

References

[1]: https://www.verywellhealth.com/are-vaporizers-the-safest-way-to-smoke-weed-1124089

[2]: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7757764/

[3]: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7543135/

[4]: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8589923/

[5]: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/news/newsroom/news-releases/2018/12/vaping-cannabis-produces-stronger-effects-than-smoking-cannabis-for-infrequent-users