In Canada, more and more medical marijuana users are opting for vaporizing as an alternative to smoking their medication. This observation was made by Dr. Ian Mitchell of Vancouver’s University of British Columbia. The emergency physician and clinical assistant professor did describe the increasing popularity of vaporizing as a trend, rather than an increased awareness of vaporizing’s health and harm reduction benefits. However, he also expressed the opinion that greater awareness of its benefits is inevitable due to increased use of vaporizing in the medical marijuana market.
Vaporizing involves placing raw marijuana or THC oil into a vaporizer, which may be a portable, handheld device or a machine powered by a mains source. The cannabis or cannabis product is heated to a temperature just below combustion, which essentially releases the active components in vapor form. At present, only one vaporizer is approved for use by Health Canada. This particular model is sold for about $600.
The increasing popularity of vaporizing comes at a time when the country is involved in a raging debate centered on the use of medical marijuana. The debate has been brewing since the April 2014 publication of Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations or MMPR. In the commentary, concerns were raised with regard to the importance of establishing clear-cut guidelines for the prescription of medical marijuana.
One of the issues brought forth in the succeeding debates was the relative benefits and drawbacks of vaporizing versus smoking cannabis. One of the authors of the document, Dr. Meldon Kahan of Toronto’s Women’s College Hospital, said that although vaporizing did provide some benefits with regard to eliminating the harmful effects of smoke, the method still has some drawbacks of its own. Kahan emphasized that vaporizing still entailed risks associated with THC ingestion, particularly intoxication and cognitive impairment. For Kahan, vaporizing marijuana only made it a ‘safer’–rather than ‘safe’–medicine.
Like many physicians struggling to come to terms with the legalization of medical marijuana, Kahan and Mitchell are of the opinion that there are still significant obstacles that stand in the way of wider spread prescription of marijuana. In Canada as in the United States, most doctors still remain hesitant to prescribe marijuana to their patients, despite the registration of more than 40,000 medical marijuana users in Canada and even more in the United States.
With regard to the use of vaporizers, Dieter MacPherson expressed the opinion that more policy discussions are required in order to legitimize the use of these devices. For the executive director of the Victoria Cannabis Buyers Club, the issue is not so much about the efficacy and safety of vaporizing, as the circumstances surrounding its use. MacPherson was especially emphatic with regard to potential controversies surrounding the use of vaporizers in public and in places of work. Like many proponents as well as critics of legalization, MacPherson emphasized the need to define appropriate and inappropriate use of vaporizers. This sentiment echoes concerns of doctors such as Kahan and Mitchell, who are also pushing for greater awareness of the availability of vaporizing as a safer and healthier alternative to smoking cannabis.