Marijuana vaporization

Practically every person in this nation has at some point in their life experienced substance use or abuse for themselves or amid family or friends; at home, school in the in the workplace. Whether it is substance abuse or chemical dependency, no other drug has a history of use as that of marijuana. Marijuana comes from the cannabis family which also includes hashish, charas, bhang, ganja, and sinsemilla. Marijuana is the most widely used illegal drug today and the most popular among 18-25 year olds (Johnson, 2004).

The active ingredient in marijuana is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) which is found in the resin that grows on the leaves of the cannabis plant. Individuals use marijuana by either smoking the dry leafy substance in a pipe or bong or ingesting it as part of food such as brownies or cookies. A number of marijuana users also mix the substance with other drugs such as cocaine. The most recent method of using marijuana is via vaporization. Although it is a fairly new method, vaporizers have been in existence for several years.

In spite of its popularity, marijuana is not only one of the oldest psychoactive drugs; it is also the most controversial drug in the United States (Johnson, 2004). Recreational marijuana users describe the effects of the drug as being euphoric, enhancing their sense of taste, touch and smell. Users describe feeling relaxed and having an increased appetite. “Users believe that they can hear, smell, and feel everything going on around them. The enhanced senses put users ‘on edge’. This is not paranoia, but hypervigilance” (Johnson, p. 45). Use of marijuana in high doses can intensify these effects and cause users to experience hallucinations, image distortion, and delusions. Marijuana can impair a driver’s ability to operate a motor vehicle just like alcohol, linking the substance to a serious number of vehicular and non-vehicular accidents (Johnson, 2004). Marijuana users have consistently tried to convince non-marijuana users that this drug is harmless. Young people who use marijuana claim they use it in order to
deal with their “problems”. However, marijuana use, especially in young people, tends to cause anxiety or panic attacks, depression, as well as other mental health problems.

Habitual marijuana use has been linked to long-term problems including poor academic work, poor job production, and risky sexual activity. Marijuana use has been linked to sexual assaults and to individuals contracting sexually transmitted diseases. The use of marijuana warps a person’s cognitive thinking which can result in an individual having sex with multiple partners, having sex at an early age, and failing to use protection during sex, such as using a condom. Apart from affecting cognitive thinking and causing other psychological problems, marijuana use has also been linked to various physical and medical problems. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (1998), marijuana use causes harmful effects on the
brain, lungs, and reproductive system. For example, prolonged use of marijuana has been found to cause a decrease in male hormone testosterone as well as a reduction in female estrogen levels. Marijuana use is also found to cause damage to the formation of sperm in males and impair ovulation in females which has been associated with an increase in miscarriages (Levinthal, 1999).

In addition, although there is no direct evidence that marijuana use causes lung cancer or other lung diseases, it does have a negative effect on the function of the lungs (NIMH, 1997). Marijuana smoke consists of gaseous and particulate matter that can potentially cause symptoms that can lead to respiratory problems (Earleywine and Barnwell, 2007). The National Institute of Health (1997) states that marijuana is found to be advantageous when used by patients going through chemotherapy to reduce the nausea and vomiting. It is also found medically useful on AIDS patients to stimulate
their appetite; on patients with multiple sclerosis and spinal cord injuries to treat spasticity and nocturnal spasms as well as to control seizures and manage neuropathic pain (Johnson, 2004).

This is where the controversy comes into play. Marijuana is an illegal drug in most of the states. If a person is found in possession of marijuana, that person will likely face criminal charges. Many people believe marijuana should be legalized because of the medical benefits it provides. However, because of the inhalation of toxins and other particulate matter associated with smoking marijuana, a safer more acceptable method of administration is necessary. According to the Institute of Medicine, smoking is not a desirable method of administration for potential therapeutic effects of marijuana (Abrams, Vizoso, Shade, Jay, Kelly, and Benowitz, 2007). Vaporization is a relatively new method of administration for marijuana. This device delivers inhaled THC while reducing toxic byproducts of smoking marijuana caused by combustion (Abrams, et al., 2007). The vaporizer heats the marijuana to a temperature between 180 and 200°C which releases cannabinoids in a fine mist without producing toxins related to combustion (Earleywine and Barnwell, 2007). “Respiratory symptoms in heavy users are one well-documented negative consequence of cannabis consumption” (Earleywine and Van Dam, p. 248). Although not much research has been conducted on actual individuals using marijuana vaporizers, a few publications do suggest that the vaporizer is the best method of administration for marijuana in limiting respiratory symptoms in users Earleywine and Van Dam, 2010). In a study conducted by the University of New York at Albany and the University of Southern California, researchers found that respiratory effects of marijuana and cigarette use decreased when using a vaporizer. “The data reveal that respiratory symptoms like cough, phlegm, and tightness in the chest increase with cigarette use and cannabis use but are less severe among users of vaporizers” (Earleywine and Barnwell, p. 4). According to this study, vaporizer use as a method of administrationhas both pros and cons. The decrease of respiratory symptoms is a definite pro in comparison to combustion. However, the cost of a vaporizer can be considered a con. The cost for a vaporizer can range as high as hundreds of dollar (Earleywine and Barnwell, 2007).

In a second study conducted by the University of New York at Albany in 2010, researchers found a dramatic improvement in the participants’ respiratory symptoms. Two of the four participants were cigarette smokers and all four were marijuana smokers. The results showed a drop in respiratory symptoms from 25% to 83%. Also, “respiratory symptom changes were higher among the cigarette smokers (dropping 83% and 66%) than in the non-smokers (dropping 50% and 25%)” (Earleywine and Van Dam, p. 246). Apart from the improvement and changes in respiratory symptoms in the participants of this study, all four participants reported a delay in feeling high when using the vaporizer as compared to smoking the marijuana. Two of the four participants reported using a higher dose of marijuana in order to feel a high faster. All four participants reported they intended to continue using the vaporizer as their method of administration for marijuana. Yet, they also suggested that “a smaller, battery-powered device might prove more appealing to regular users” (Earleywine and Van Dam, p. 247). According to the University of California in San Francisco, “a smokeless cannabis-vaporizing device delivers the same level of active therapeutic chemical and produces the same biological effect as smoking cannabis, but without the harmful toxins” (2007). In this study by the University of California in San Francisco, eighteen individuals participated in this study. Researchers studied the effectiveness of the vaporizer by providing the participants three different strengths of cannabis. The participants were instructed to use the cannabis by two delivery methods, smoking and vaporization, three times a day.

The results showed that the levels of carbon monoxide increased when the participants smoked the cannabis, but showed very little to no carbon monoxide when using the vaporizer. According to Donald I. Abrams, MD, study leader author at UCSF, “Using CO as an indicator, there was virtually no exposure to harmful combustion products using the vaporizing device” (Abrams, Benowitz, Vizoso, Jay, Shade, and Kelly, p. 1). In addition, the participants reported no difference in the high received from using both methods. According to study co-author, Neal L. Benowitz, MD, UCSF, the majority of the participants preferred the vaporizer over the smoking because it was the safest method of administration producing the fewest side effects (Abrams, et al., p. 1). Although, based on these studies, the vaporizers appears to be the safest method of administration of marijuana in dealing with respiratory symptoms and pulmonary problems, marijuana use is still illegal in most states and can lead to substance dependency. Marijuana can impair a driver’s ability to operate a vehicle as well as create serious psychological and physiological problems for heavy users. Hence, the vaporizer cannot protect a marijuana user from these negative consequences.

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