If you’re eligible for a medical cannabis prescription, one of the big discussions you’ll have with your doctor is around the method of delivery.
While a lot of patients (especially those with less cannabis experience) will end up with a cannabis oil, many prefer to use dried flower – basically, what you think of when you think of marijuana.
But in Australia you’re not technically allowed to smoke dried flower. Under the guidelines of the Therapeutic Goods Administration, the only way to use cannabis flower is by vaporising it with a medical cannabis vape.
So, why do doctors say you shouldn’t smoke marijuana? And what’s so good about vaping?
The Bad News About Smoking
As the old saying goes, where there’s smoke, there’s fire – and in this case it’s the fire we’re concerned with.
When you smoke medical cannabis, the flame heats the dried flower to temperatures of up to 800C. At this temperature, up to 40% of the cannabinoids and terpenes that give cannabis its therapeutic properties are destroyed.
Lighting the flower on fire also creates a lot of smoke, which is a mixture of leftover cannabinoids, ash particles and carcinogenic byproducts, like tar and benzene. When you inhale the smoke, these particles enter the lung and cause damage and inflammation – rates of bronchitis are much higher in marijuana smokers. This remains an issue even when using a water pipe (also known as a “bong”), which has been shown to strip out the cannabinoids in the smoke, but not the toxins.
Smoke is also abrasive on the lungs, which makes it harder to hold the inhalation for the three seconds required for maximum effectiveness.
How Do Medical Cannabis Vaporisers Work?
By contrast, a cannabis vaporiser (or dry herb vaporiser) operates more like an oven. The patient places their flower in a chamber, which is filled with hot air. As the temperature of the flower increases, the cannabinoids and terpenes begin boiling off and forming a vapour, which the patient inhales.
Note that there are also conduction vaporisers, which use a heating element to cause the same effect. However, these vapes primarily heat the flower closest to the element, so you need to mix the chamber frequently and face challenges with even dosage.
The 6 Major Benefits of Vaping
In a recent survey of more than 7000 medical cannabis patients, more than 88% said they felt the benefits of vaping over smoking. The evidence is clear: vaping is a much better option than smoking when it comes to medical cannabis – both from a health perspective and a financial one. Here are six major reasons why vaping is the best way to consume your medical marijuana.
Water-based vapour is considerably smoother on the lungs, reducing respiratory inflammation and damage and making it easier to hold for the medically recommended three seconds.
Onset is much faster with vaping, reaching peak effectiveness in 90 seconds, compared to half an hour when smoking cannabis.
Temperature control ensures you're getting the best possible return from the therapeutic cannabinoids and terpenes in your flower, while also letting you tailor your experience. For instance, energising terpenes tend to boil off between 160–180C, while more relaxing compounds begin appearing above 180C.
People using vaporisers use up to 40% less flower as they don't need to use as much to feel the medical benefit.
You can travel with your vaporiser and vape in public spaces, whereas smoking cannabis remains illegal (except in the ACT).
Your clothes don't smell like cannabis smoke.
What Medical Cannabis Vaporiser Should I Buy?
There are a couple of things to consider before buying a medical cannabis vape.
The first is quality. In Australia, there are only three vapes that have been approved by the TGA for medical cannabis use: the Mighty Medic, Mighty+ Medic and Volcano Medic, all made by German manufacturer Storz & Bickel.
TGA approval means that these vaporisers have all been subject to rigorous safety and quality testing. While you can purchase other vaporisers online, they haven’t passed through the same testing regimes and so their effectiveness can’t be guaranteed.
The second is whether you want a portable or desktop vaporiser. Portable vapes are, as the name suggests, small, battery-powered devices that you can carry with you and use wherever is convenient. Desktop vapes like the Volcano Medic are larger, more expensive and need to be plugged in at the wall, but offer more power, heat faster and have greater temperature flexibility.
Desktop vapes are generally only recommended if you’re an experienced medical cannabis user looking to harness particular terpenes or cannabinoids. The Volcano Medic has a temperature range of 40–230°C, while the Mighty Medic ranges from 40–210 °C, so the difference for most users is marginal.
Why Are Medical Cannabis Vapes So Expensive?
As might be expected of a TGA-approved vape, the Medic range of vaporisers are premium products. Unfortunately, this means they come with a premium price tag: the Mighty Medic starts at $439 and the Volcano Medic costs $890.
While this is a confronting price point for someone beginning their medical cannabis journey, if your primary prescription is dried flower, the investment should pay off as you’ll use your flower at a much slower rate than if you were smoking it.
What’s The Difference Between Medical Cannabis Vapes and Nicotine Vapes?
Medical cannabis vapes are unique in that they’re created specifically for the purpose of vaporising dried cannabis flower. Generally when you’re talking about nicotine vapes, you’re talking about unregulated devices that vaporise nicotine oil contained in cartridges or ‘carts’.
While designed to produce a nicotine high without the toxins of a regular cigarette, there have been many documented cases of lung damage with these vapes, which are often cheap and poorly made.
Note that you can now also get medical cannabis vape pens, which work in a similar fashion to nicotine vapes, but with cannabis oil instead. The TGA has yet to approve a cannabis vape pen for medical use, but there are a number of quality options available on the market, including the Jupiter Silo and the 510MOD.
Medical cannabis pens are built differently to nicotine vapes and you should never use a nicotine vape with a cannabis cartridge, as they will burn the cannabis, damage your device and potentially release harmful by-products.