Cannabis and the Lungs

written by Alexandra Arnett @calyx.alex, photographed by Nina Compeau

All too often you will see people make the erroneous claim that smoking cannabis does not harm your lungs. This misconception is often conflated with the statement “smoking cannabis is better than smoking cigarettes,” and while that may have some truth to it, there are still reasons why cannabis smoke is also harmful. This harm comes not so much from the cannabis itself, but the method of inhalation. Cannabis can be inhaled in a various number of ways, from rolling a joint, packing a bowl in a bong or pipe, using a vaporizer or getting fancy with a dab rig. Among other reasons, devices such as a dab rig or a vape pen make research surrounding the effects of inhaling cannabis difficult to conduct.

The current research that has been published on the topic often fails to control for tobacco usage, methods of inhalation and variables like whether or not the flower was free of mold and pesticides. Research has indicated that cannabis smoke has similar carcinogenic effects as tobacco, but there is not a strong correlation between cannabis smoke and lung cancer. Though cannabis inhalation can cause the same symptoms that tobacco inhalation can, like coughing, wheezing and chronic bronchitis, there are some important benefits. Unlike tobacco inhalation, cannabis inhalation is not a primary factor in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), nor does it reduce your lungs’ forced expiratory volume. In fact, research has shown that cannabis inhalation may increase your lungs’ forced vital capacity. The active component in cannabis, delta 9-THC, has even been demonstrated as a bronchodilator along with the terpene pinene.

If you’re concerned about the health of your lungs, there are a few things you can do! The number one suggestion would be to use methods that don’t involve inhalation, like edibles or tinctures. If you like cannabis flower and prefer to inhale, try out a flower vaporizer! By vaping cannabis with heat instead of combusting it with fire, the inhalation of several carcinogens can be avoided. The best products on the market for flower vaporizers include the PAX 2 and PAX 3. For a long-term quality vape to use at home, the original Volcano vaporizer is the number one choice.

To keep with your old school style of a pipe, bong or joint, there are a few simple tricks to create fewer carcinogens from the smoke. One is to stick with glass smoking pieces that have a longer stem. If you’re looking to use a bong, a long neck and an ice catcher design to help cool the smoke is best. In addition, use only filtered water, this helps provide the cleanest filter for the smoke. The best way to light your flower in a pipe or bong is by first lighting a candle (the more natural the better), then light up some hemp wick using the candle and from here you can light your flower with the hemp wick! Through this method you can reduce the inhalation of toxic carcinogens that come with using lighters, this can also be used for lighting joints. In addition to using hemp wick to light a joint, use a crutch or filter and stick with unbleached hemp or rice papers. We have probably all had our experiences with smoking roaches from old joints, but this is not really healthy as it is concentrated with tars and other toxins.

Vape pens fall into a unique category. These pens are made using either ceramic, glass or metal coils, and depending on the battery can be vaped at various temperatures. Words of wisdom for purchasing vape pens include purchasing from brands that don’t use artificial flavorings, botanically-derived terpenes, or MCT oil. Along with using the lowest heat seating, this limits the risk of inhaling any harmful compounds or toxins.

Moving into using dab rigs, there are some very important notes to make. The first is to remember that products used with a dab rig are likely made with hydrocarbons. It is very important to be purchasing these products from a legal dispensary where you know the product has been tested for residual toxins. Temperature is extremely important when using a dab rig and there are a few reasons for this. One is that certain terpenes, such as myrcene, can turn into toxic compounds if heated at high temperatures. Your dab nail should never turn red hot while heating for a dab—you should stop as soon as you see a color change. Dabs should not be taken at temperatures of more than 600 degrees Fahrenheit. The safest nails to use on a dab rig are ceramic or quartz glass that is made in America. Don’t forget to let your nail cool for just under a minute before dropping that dab in your banger!

Overall, the research we do have to go off of tells us that smoke inhalation of any kind is not particularly best for your lungs. Until more research on the subject is done, the precautions listed above are the best steps you can take right now to protect the health of your lungs.

Vaporizers: better for you and your bud

words by Bryan Dorn | photos by Dana Sparks

As marijuana tiptoes towards legalization and legitimacy all over the world, healthy and effective methods of consumption are popularizing. Alternatives to smoking such as edibles, topicals and vaporizers have stepped up to the plate, each with their own pros and cons. However, vaporizers may be the latest and greatest option for consumers looking for the respiratory relief of using edibles and topicals without the slow onset.

“I would smoke a spliff like every night basically,” esays Shae Wirth, musician and marijuana enthusiast. “When I would wake up and try to play the horn I just didn’t have the amount of power behind my lungs as I had before. So I finally was like alright this has gotta change.”

Wirth got his first herbal vaporizer, the Da Buddha, in his freshman year of college in an effort to minimize the smell associated with marijuana smoke — a vaporizer is a device that converts herbal and/or concentrate material into vapor, typically for inhalation. However, the lack of portability made strictly vaporizing difficult for Wirth. It wasn’t until Wirth’s junior year of college that he purchased the portable vaporizer known as the Pax 2, and committed to herbal vaporizers as his regular form of consumption. Wirth describes the difference as night and day. After buying a portable unit and sticking to it, Wirth realized that vaporizers were not only a different way to consume, but a better way.

“If you do wanna smoke a lot, just vape. Because I’ve found it really doesn’t affect my lungs,” says Wirth. “I know tons of music majors who really struggle with this— they’re like coughing in rehearsal and shit —and I’m just like get a vape. That’s the solution, get a vape.”

Vaporizers come in all shapes, sizes and colors, with many having temperature control features. These devices most often take on two forms in the marijuana industry— desktop and portable. Desktop vaporizers, such as Wirth’s Da Buddha, plug into the wall and are typically larger and more expensive than portable vaporizers. Meanwhile, portable vaporizers run on battery power and are typically smaller than desktop units, such as Wirth’s Pax 2. “Usually my friends are kind of hesitant, because they’re like ‘oh vaping that’s kind of  whatever,’ but as soon as they try it they usually like it.

An experiment from 2004 published by the Journal of Cannabis Therapeutics found that marijuana vapor contained three non-cannabinoid compounds while marijuana smoke contained 111— five of which were known organic pollutants that have proven toxic and carcinogenic effects. One of the three non-cannabinoid compounds found in the vapor was the terpene caryophyllene.  Terpenes are organic compounds that gives each marijuana strain it’s distinct smell and flavor profile.

It’s no secret that different compounds boil at different temperatures. The same is true for the various compounds found in marijuana. Vaporizers with precise temperature controls allow marijuana smokers to dial in the high they are looking for by tapping into the various terpenes and cannabinoids associated with the product. This means consumers could experience a whole different suite of compounds, from the same buds, by vaporizing at a different temperature.

Studies have yet to accurately test the differences between an all-vape and an all-smoke lifestyle for marijuana users over a long period of time, and a lot of the research around it is still up in the air. This leaves users to find out the possible health benefits of switching to vaporizers on their own.

While vaporizers may seem like the be-all end-all of healthy marijuana consumption at first, many users still prefer to smoke. According to University of Oregon senior Ryan Lemoine, marijuana consumer, many people complain about vaporizers not hitting as hard or being too expensive. “All types of smoking are very different, like a bong rip is going to hit you immediately and you’ll probably be coughing,” says Lemoine. “Vape smoke definitely lasts a lot longer, and it’s less intense for sure.” This lower intensity means using vaporizers can take more time to get high and have more of a learning curve, according to Lemoine.

Many people can also be deterred by the price of vaporizers. While a small oil pen typically won’t make a large dent in your wallet, some desktop vaporizers can cost up to $600 for the unit alone. These high costs are not easily overlooked by consumers who aren’t planning on vaping regularly or have a tighter budget. However, for consistent consumers who enjoy puffing herb more regularly, the pros and cons of looking for alternatives should certainly be considered.

Quality herbal vaporizers are not commonly stocked at local smoke shops, but it never hurts to look. The popular portable Pax vaporizer can be found at smoke shops such as Midtown Direct. However, websites like Puffitup and Planet of the Vapes have a much wider range of options than smoke shops near campus. Those looking into purchasing a vaporizer should consider multiple options to see what will best fit their price range and lifestyle.