Cannabis Corner: Smoking, vaping, or dabbing Oh, how to ingest cannabis?

By Marcella McClure

Hi Readers, Let’s leave the science of cannabis and move on to more practical aspects of medicinal use.

Thank you for sticking with me through the science describing the dance between the endocannabinoid system and the phytocannabinoids (THC, CBD and others) and the entourage effect of the terpenes from the cannabis plant. You now have basic knowledge of what molecules of cannabis affect the balance of the body by interacting with the endocannabinoid system. There is a lot more to this science dance. Please feel free to ask me questions or make suggestions as to the topics of future columns.

In the meantime, I will cover how to use cannabis.

How to use cannabis

First you need to know that only the flowers of the cannabis plant are used. It is in the flowers that the THC, CBD and terpenes are most concentrated. Little to no medicinal effect comes from the leaves. They are just not worth ingesting in any form.

Should one smoke or vaporize the cannabis plant? What is the difference?

Smoking cannabis is combustion of plant material. Taken to high temperatures and burned to ash, toxins, including carcinogens, are released from all plants by this process. So rolling a joint or using a bong requires the combustion of the flowers and, therefore, the potential inhalation of more than 100 toxins found in the cannabis plant.

Vaporization is a more gentle process that uses specific temperatures to release specific compounds from plants.  The end product of vaporizing cannabis is a brown coffee ground-like substance that still has some cannabinoid activity. This is the part of cannabis that makes one feel dopey and silly. This leftover product can be used in cooking or sprinkled on ice cream and gives a person with a very relaxed feeling when eaten. Vaporization does not produce temperatures high enough to release any carcinogens. The act of vaporizing cannabis is called vaping.

Even though there are no data linking the smoking of cannabis with cancer or other specific toxin-generated diseases, the American Medical Association only supports the vaporization or eating of cannabis.

Are there other differences between smoking and vaping cannabis? Yes. We have all heard the word “stoner” to describe someone who smokes cannabis. A stoner gets hungry or has “the munchies,” temporarily has no short-term memory and can act giddy, dopey and silly.  For many people (including me) vaping cannabis bud does not cause any of these effects, or does so to a lesser degree.

So ingestion of cannabis can be by smoking or vaping flowers, but both of these processes can also be applied to cannabis concentrates.

Wow, Dr. Marcie, what is a concentrate?

There are various types of extraction procedures that can pull the phytocannabinoids and terpenes out of the plant so they are in a much more concentrated form. The scientists of the 1930s who studied cannabis when it was still legal discovered that the plant could not be bred to produce a dry weight concentration of THC (the part that makes cannabis a healing plant, remember?) greater than 30 percent. The hippies tried to push the amount higher and so have many current-day plant breeders, to no avail. The only way to make cannabis plant more potent would be by genetically engineering it to make more of the active molecules. With today’s technology, this is no doubt being done in some corporation somewhere.

Smoking is called dabbing when using a concentrated form of cannabis. The concentrated product is called a dab and it can look like a sticky substance ranging from a thick honey to thin glass. Some dabs can be as high as 90 percent THC. To burn a dab to completion requires special equipment available in dispensaries. Most patients do not dab, as the purpose of burning concentrated cannabis to ash is to get as high as possible.

Some dabs can be vaporized in yet another special heating device, but one of the most popular ways for patients to use a concentrate is to vaporize cannabis oil. The best of these oils are from full plant extracts so all the dancers and the entourage of the plant are preserved. But in any concentrating process there is loss of some of these molecules. Concentrates do not have the same proportion of THC, CBD or terpenes as the flowers of the plant. Forward-thinking companies, however, provide a terpene profile. I will write more about this innovation and related topics in a future column.

Cannabis oil can range from about 60 to 85 percent THC and varying amounts of CBD and terpenes, depending on the strain of cannabis used to make the concentrate. Reusable vaping batteries that are designed for cannabis, not the ones used for tobacco, are readily available in dispensaries. Cannabis oil is sold in cartridges that attach to the vaping battery.

I have described the basic differences of smoking versus vaping cannabis flowers and concentrates. Why would anyone prefer one method over the other? Vaping does not release any toxins or smoke, it creates a vapor that is much less damaging to the lungs, and does not smell as much as cannabis smoke. Vaping delivers patients higher THC, CBD and terpene doses. For many patients smoking enough flowers to provide relief from what ails them causes smoker’s cough. Vaping is the preferred method of inhaling cannabis for medicinal purposes. Smoking releases all the cannabinoids, has better flavor and puts many people to sleep quickly. I usually only smoke if I cannot sleep.

In the next column I will cover edibles like gummies and cookies, tinctures, which are concentrated sprays, and salves to rub on the body.

Until next time: save the holy weed from the greed.

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Marcella McClure

About Marcella McClure

After a successful career as scientist, Dr. Marcella McClure moved to Salinas to enjoy the weather and the people. She enjoys gardening, hiking on beach dunes and rock crawling.