When comparing smoked, vaped, and inhaled cannabis, the THC inhaler delivers the highest level of THC to the blood and lasts two hours before it starts to drop.
A report published in JAMA Psychiatry, called Marijuana as Medicine: Assessing the Science Base, was published by the Institute of Medicine. The paper recognized that scientific data indicates the value of cannabis and cannabinoid-based medicine for: pain relief, nausea and vomiting, appetite stimulation, and spasms. It did not, however, consider that a THC inhaler would be the most efficient and effective delivery method. We found that out by digging a little deeper.
THC Inhaler Is A Safe Way to Get Medicated
The study recognized that smoked cannabis is a “crude THC delivery system that also delivers harmful substances.” Although ‘smoking’ is associated with various health risks, combusted cannabis still lacks the carcinogenic effects of tobacco smoke. It is nevertheless associated with increased respiratory symptoms and aerodigestive cancers.
An alternative method is vaping. Vaporization of cannabis delivers cannabis medicine while avoiding the toxic by-products of combustion. This is achieved by heating the plant to 180-2000C which prevents combustion. Smoke toxins form at temperatures of 2300C and above.
THC Blood Levels Vaping vs. Smoking
The first published pilot study to test the effectiveness of a vaporizer in the setting of cannabis use was conducted a decade ago. They used the Volcano® vaporizer for a study. The study randomly assigned eighteen healthy subjects to the ‘vaporized cannabis group’ or the ‘smoked cannabis group’. The duration of the study was 6 days.
The authors reported no difference in plasma THC levels between the groups. This indicates that the effective dose of THC available after vaporization is no different than that for smoking. Individuals using the vaporizer, however, had reduced levels of carbon monoxide (CO).
Another study confirmed these findings, using a 54mg dose of THC. There was no difference in THC levels between smoking and vaporization. Participants that vaped had significantly lower carbon monoxide levels.
THC Inhaler is a Better Option
Using an inhaler as an alternative to smoking or vaping was explored in a single-dose open-label study for patients suffering from chronic neuropathic pain. Eight enrolled patients used a novel portable thermal-metered-dose inhaler (tMDI) for cannabis, which delivered a 15 mg dose.
Plasma levels of THC and its metabolite were constant over the two hours after inhalation. Participants reported a 45% reduction in pain intensity at 20 minutes following inhalation. This benefit approximately 90 minutes. The only side effect reported was a tolerable, lightheadedness, lasting 15–30 minutes and requiring no intervention.
It becomes apparent that how you choose to take your cannabis plays a crucial role in availability of THC to the peripheral and central receptors. And the availability of THC will control pain levels.
What About Other Cannabinoids?
The science supports the potential therapeutic benefit for using both vaporizers and inhalers as an alternative to smoking. Other cannabinoids, such as CBD, CBG, and CBN may have similar patterns of bioavailability. This study, however, specifically examined availability and distribution of THC in blood plasma.
Additional studies may evaluate plasma concentrations of other compounds in cannabis in order to compare vape versus inhaler. There is concrete data nevertheless, that supports the use of THC inhalers for asthma and chronic neuropathic pain. The high level of THC via this delivery method could be therapeutically beneficial for many diseases.
Inhaled cannabis provides more stable THC levels, which is a great benefit to those in chronic pain. When vaporized, the concentration of THC in blood decreases dramatically within the first 60 min and remains present for 6 hours, but in very low concentration, thus potentially benefiting conditions that need immediate symptom relief.