Tobacco smoking has been the number one enemy of public health since the 1970s. Countless anti-smoking campaigns over the years have highlighted everything from cigarette smoke’s toxic constituents to the ravages of diseases like emphysema and lung cancer. Vaping became a substitute demon when it was birthed in 2007. How ironic that both are now called into question in the medical cannabis space.
Many of the states that allow medical cannabis do not allow raw flower smoking. Yet some of those same states allow vaping. That is all well and good, but there has been an aggressive campaign against nicotine vaping for more than a decade. It looks too much like smoking, and anti-smoking advocates cannot abide that.
So where do we draw the line for medical cannabis? Should smoking and vaping be allowed? Should both be banned, or should vaping be allowed as a safer alternative to smoking? No one really knows. On top of that, much of the difficulty in sorting things out is directly related to our knee-jerk reactions to vaping.
- Smoking Is Bad for Your Health
The debate over whether or not smoking is bad for your health was settled years ago. Combustion of any type creates toxic substances. We know that tobacco smoke contains thousands of dangerous chemicals that smokers inhale with every drag. It is not clear how many might be in marijuana smoke, but we do know they are there. It is impossible to burn something without producing them.
Utahmarijuana.org, an organization of qualified medical providers (QMPs) who help patients obtain their medical cannabis cards, explains on their website that smoking marijuana is “associated with decreased lung and respiratory health.” They do not recommend smoking. Instead, they recommend topicals, ingestibles, and other alternative products.
Smoking marijuana is illegal in Utah under all circumstances. However, the law does allow for vaping. Incidentally, Utahmarijuana.org cites a 2017 National Academy of Science study suggesting that vaping ground cannabis is not linked to a higher risk of developing lung cancer.
Vaping Is Not As Bad
Researchers still have not concluded that vaping is entirely harmless. However, a general consensus of vaping’s relative safety is emerging. More and more experts are coming to the conclusion that vaping, if not completely harmless, is at least not as bad for your health as smoking. Thus, vaping is a safer alternative to people who either cannot or will not stop using tobacco.
The same thinking can be translated to the medical cannabis arena. In states where smoking is not allowed due to health concerns, vaping is a reasonable alternative. Vaping provides a very similar experience. It gives patients the most immediate relief of their symptoms by taking in active ingredients directly through the lungs.
The only problem here is reconciling a pro cannabis stance with an anti-tobacco stance. If we are not going to condemn THC and CBD vaping, we cannot condemn nicotine vaping with any credibility.
- Smoke Is the Real Danger
Many tobacco experts have explained that smoke is the real evil of tobacco smoking. In other words, nicotine poses very little danger to tobacco users. It is not nicotine that causes lung cancer and emphysema. It is not nicotine that kills smokers. The danger is the smoke itself. Smokers die because of the toxic chemicals burning tobacco produces.
By the same token, the real danger of smoking medical cannabis is the smoke itself. It doesn’t make sense to treat a medical condition with a cannabis delivery method capable of causing significant respiratory problems. Smoking marijuana amounts to taking a risk that the cure is worse than the illness it is meant to treat.
Vaping and Diffusion
Vaping and defusing are viable alternatives to smoking. In a vaping scenario, patients use a specially designed device that heats a THC liquid to the point of vaporization. It works much the same way as converting water to steam via a teakettle. Patients inhale the vapor just as they would smoke.
Diffusion works a little differently. It does not rely on a liquid. Rather, cannabis flower is placed in the diffuser in small amounts. It is then heated to a temperature high enough to release its active components. However, the raw flower never gets hot enough to burn.
- Smoking and the Recreational Issue
It is clear that vaping has its advantages over smoking. Vaping offers similar relief without exposing patients to the toxic chemicals produced by combustion. So why do some states still allow smoking? Why is the Florida Joint Commission on Medical Marijuana currently developing rules for doctors who wish to prescribe smoking medical cannabis?
Some suggest that allowing smoking is just a way to give patients more choices. Others would argue that it is a gateway to recreational use. Both sides make compelling points. For example, consider those patients who come to the medical cannabis arena having already use the drug illegally.
Long before there were medical cannabis laws, a certain segment of the population was more than happy to self-medicate. They did so largely by smoking. Upon obtaining a medical cannabis card, would they instantly stop smoking in states where it isn’t allowed? It is possible but not likely.
Not allowing smoking either removes those patients from the equation or forces them to continue using cannabis illegally. Proponents think this is neither wise nor fair. They would like smoking to be legal so as to allow such patients to continue using cannabis the way they always have.
The other side of the coin relates to accessibility. As long as smoking remains illegal, patients have to choose other delivery methods. This forces them to exercise a bit more self-control when both purchasing and using. Those who want smoking to remain illegal say that keeping it that way makes it easier for regulators to control individual use.
- Lots of Questions Remain
Medical cannabis smoking and vaping are topics worthy of discussion. They are topics that engender plenty of legitimate questions. As we seek to answer those questions, one thing should be crystal clear: we cannot have dual standards for tobacco and cannabis and still claim that the entire discussion is about health.
Smoking is bad for your health regardless of the substance you are using. Likewise, if vaping is a safer alternative to be promoted for one legal substance, it should be treated the same way with another legal substance. Anything short of that amounts to mere duplicity.