Included in the Medical Marijuana Clinical Plan is a study of the effectiveness of water pipes in filtering marijuana smoke. This project has been mentioned in previous MAPS newsletters. The study is designed to determine if there are safer ways than a standard marijuana cigarette to administer the therapeutic components of marijuana, while at the same time still retaining the advantages of smoking over the oral THC pill. These advantages include smoked marijuana's rapid onset of effects, the patients' ability to self-titrate their dose, and the delivery of a complex set of constituents of the marijuana plant which may work more effectively than THC alone. If we can demonstrate that a specific water pipe does indeed have a beneficial advantage over a standard marijuana cigarette, we will distribute the pipe to all AIDS patients in the wasting syndrome study. Good news - all the funds needed for this study, $28,800, have been successfully raised. The study will take place under the direction of Dr. Hoffman at the Institute for Smoking and Health in New York. This study is possible primarily because MAPS received a grant for this project of $18,000 from a single donor who gave $14,000 outright, and also submitted the winning bid of $2,000 each in the MAPS auction of the two original art Doonesberry cartoons donated to MAPS by Garry Trudeau. The remaining funds for the study were obtained from Dale Gieringer of California NORML and Ed Rosenthal of Quick Trading and Ask Ed fame, both of whom donated $5,000 each. Rounding out the sum, an additional $800 is coming from numerous small donations to MAPS.
Only two of the pipes made health claims. One inventor installed a filter in the inhalation tube between the water bowl and the mouthpiece. No evidence was presented indicating that the filter selectively filtered out particulate matter as opposed to simply reducing both particulate matter and THC. The other designer placed stones in the water to lengthen the path of the smoke through the water. Once again, there was no evidence that this actually increased the amount of filtering done by the water.
The study has two phases. First, smoke from three different types of pipes will be tested in a rough, quick way to determine their relative amounts of THC and one representative tar. Second, the water pipe that delivers the highest THC/tar ratio will then be run through a very comprehensive analysis comparing the materials in the smoke from the water pipe to the materials in the smoke from a standard unfiltered marijuana cigarette.
The three pipes to be tested in the first phase of the study are quite different from each other. The first is a rather interesting water pipe with a small battery operated fan blade immersed in the water. The fan blade creates turbulence in the water in order to increase the mixing of the smoke with the water. Theoretically, this should result in more filtering action than if the water was still. The second water pipe is being designed by Nick Cozzi and a MAPS member who was inspired by Nick's article to see if he could design an efficient water pipe that would incorporate various filters. Nick will suggest the filters (a gas diffusion frit and a cigarette-type particulate filter) and the MAPS member will build the prototype.
The third pipe that will be tested is not a water pipe. This pipe exploits the fact that THC and other cannabinoids will vaporize at a temperature below that of the burning point of marijuana. The pipe enables people to inhale marijuana vapor containing THC and other cannabinoids rather than marijuana smoke containing THC along with all sorts of particulate matter, tars, and some gaseous products of combustion. This pipe is likely to produce very little particulate matter and deliver little or no undesirable gas combustion products.
The pipe uses an electric heating plate rather than matches. It works by heating the marijuana enough to vaporize the THC. It then gathers the vapor in an enclosed space and delivers the vaporized smoke to the smoker through a standard mouthpiece. While this pipe is likely to be the best from a health standpoint, it will probably take some further refinement before it can be made easy to use, reliable, and efficient in terms of getting as much of the THC out of the marijuana as possible. Because of the more practical nature of the water pipes compared to the vaporization device, we will conduct the comprehensive test with whichever water pipe performs the best in the initial trial.
After over a year of effort, the MAPS study of the effectiveness of water pipes in filtering marijuana smoke is about to begin. I would like to express my deep appreciation for the generosity of the MAPS member who believed in the importance of this study, and in putting this matter to a scientific test.