Two new studies, one from University of California-San Francisco, and the other from SUNY-Albany, provide strong evidence that vaporization has promising potential as a method of medical marijuana delivery. The first study, published online by the journal Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics, was conducted at UCSF by a team led by Donald Abrams, MD, and compared a commercially available vaporizer to smoking in 18 volunteers. The researchers found that, “vaporization of marijuana does not result in exposure to combustion gases, and therefore is expected to be much safer than smoking marijuana cigarettes.” Dr. Abrams was able to obtain permission from FDA to conduct his study based in part on data on the composition of the ingredients in marijuana vapor gathered in research sponsored by MAPS and CaNORML. That line of MAPS-sponsored research is currently blocked since NIDA has refused to sell marijuana for additional studies. Click here to read Dr. Abrams’ full report.
The second study, conducted by Mitch Earleywine, PhD, at SUNY-Albany, and published in Harm Reduction Journal, was based on an extensive survey of over 7,000 marijuana users. After adjusting for variables such as age and cigarette use, Earleywine found that vaporizer users were 60 percent less likely than smokers to report respiratory symptoms such as cough, chest tightness or phlegm, and that the effect of vaporizer use was more pronounced the larger the amount of marijuana used. Click here to read Dr. Earleywine’s full report.
MAPS hopes to eventually put vaporized marijuana through FDA clinical trials, but has been stalled since June 2003 because of NIDA’s monopoly on the supply of research-grade marijuana. Research into alternative delivery methods such as vaporization was one of the primary recommendations of the Institute of Medicine’s landmark 1999 report on medical marijuana.
Marijuana vaporization is an effective delivery method because it has the rapid action and easy dose adjustment of inhalation, but without the respiratory hazards associated with smoking. Unlike smoking, a vaporizer does not burn the plant material, but heats it just to the point at which THC and cannabinoids vaporize into steam.