Vaporization Part II

This is the second article in a multi-part series about vaporizing cannabis. The first article focused on the way vaporizers work, the health benefits of vaporizing, and the viability of vaporizers in delivering medical cannabis. This article will look beyond just the health differences between vapor inhalation and smoke inhalation, and will focus more on the substantial qualitative health differences in the experience between vaporizing and smoking. As it happens, not only are fewer toxins released during vaporizing, there is also a different profile of terpenoids, cannabinoids, and flavonoids that are released as well. Although most of these molecules are not independently psychoactive, they are capable of moderating how THC is metabolized, as well as providing distinctively different sensations and qualities to the medication .This is what may account for the diverse views of medical cannabis patients on the subject of vaporizing, since the respiratory health benefits are well established. Before getting into the specifics of what chemicals are affected and what changes are brought about, we’ll start with a quick review of how chemicals are released into the air during a vaporization or smoking session. In a vaporization reaction, chemicals are essentially changing from one state to another, similar to the way water vaporizes when placed on a stove. Although the temperature increase may cause chemical changes to the atoms before they are vaporized (such as the de-carboxylation required for the body to metabolize THC) the molecules are essentially changing phase. There is no flame because the chemical bonds…

To Vape or Not To Vape

Although cannabis itself is not harmful to health, method of administration can be detrimental to lung function. Pulmonary (lung and breathing) troubles are well-documented side effects, with daily smokers having decreased lung capacity, coughing, and sinus problems exacerbated by frequent smoke inhalation. This would be true of any combusting plant matter inhaled directly due to carbon monoxide, but cannabis plant material can also contain tars and produce other noxious substances when burned. Increasingly doctors are recommending vaporizer use to daily or frequent cannabis users to decrease harmful side-effects of smoking while maintaining potency and ease of dosing. This will be the first article in a series of articles about vaporizing, and will focus on the benefits and disadvantages of vaporizing. What is a vaporizer? A vaporizer is a device that heats cannabis to temperatures that release cannabinoids into air (vaporization). This vapor is then inhaled, without any smoke or combusted plant matter. The first vaporizers were very crude, home-built devices that used heating elements like soldering irons to directly heat the cannabis matter. However, over time, as companies began to emerge to serve demand from users wanting a better vaporizing experience, more complex designs emerged. Although many designs still use direct heat conduction, the more expensive but more consistent vapor design relies on using convection heating. In this method, air is heated first and then driven through the cannabis matter, assuring a more even temperature distribution as well as preventing the matter from getting too hot and partially combusting on…

Breast Cancer and Cannabis Treatment

One of the earliest and most widely adopted avenues for the medical community accepting cannabis treatment has come in the area of symptom treatment for cancer patients. Chemotherapy and radiation both force patients through a harrowing process with many of its own side effects. Although chemotherapy has made advances to make treatment more bearable in recent years, cannabis has proven itself surprisingly effective in treating symptoms. Between helping to stimulate appetite, relieving chronic pain and dizziness, and helping anxiety, tens of thousand of patients have benefitted from symptom relief via cannabis use as a natural medicine. However, many studies have shown independently that beyond symptoms, cannabis may actually be capable of treating some forms of cancer. In this article, we’ll dig into the evidence pertaining to breast cancer, a very common and aggressive form. Breast cancer, as with all forms of cancer, occurs when cells are duplicating too aggressively. Although there are around 20 variations, most result in tumors forming in the breast tissue which can then spread to other areas of the body and begin to shut down normal operation. Likelihood for developing cancer depends on both genetic variables and lifestyle, but specific risk factors include age, obesity, and high levels of certain hormones. Abnormally high amounts of hormones not only increase the likelihood of developing cancer, but they also increase the rate that the cancer progresses at. As such, breast cancer patients and survivors are often encouraged not to take additional hormones when considering birth control or menopause…

Cannabis and Opioid-Addiction. Part I

The cultural perception of cannabis as a recreational narcotic is one reason many patients are not open to the option of cannabis treatment. As more states begin to offer medicinal cannabis, this cultural perception has largely reversed and enabled genuine research around the benefits of cannabis use.  However, many doctors are still asking cannabis consumers who have found medical benefits, to abstain from cannabis.  Underpinning this type of recommendation is the way marijuana use is classified in addiction rehabilitation centers; many make mandatory rules for those seeking treatment in their facilities to cease all cannabis consumption. These physicians base the decision on the reasoning that even if research has confirmed that cannabis use is safe and effective for controlling some health conditions, cannabis might still interfere with recovery from other addictions or otherwise play a harmful role. As it turns out, new research is showing that the reverse is possible. Many addicts are using cannabis to attenuate the effects of withdrawal and help recovery. However, for the focus of this article, we’ll first focus on a Rhode Island study that asked the question, “Does concurrent marijuana use present additional treatment needs or affect outcomes?” In this study, doctors at an opioid addiction rehabilitation clinic collected frequent drug tests during their rehabilitation program to track both cannabis use and the success of 107 patients in abstaining from opioid use.  They were then able to compare the groups of cannabis users and non-users to analyze whether one group had greater success in…

The Future of Treating PTSD with Cannabis

Culturally, the U.S. has informally associated cannabis use and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) for decades. In fact, a shell-shocked war veteran relieving anxiety through cannabis use is somewhat of a cultural touchstone. This stereotype poses an interesting question: why? What is it about cannabis that lends itself as a natural medicine for PTSD? As has been the case with other areas of cannabis research, the cart has arrived before the horse: we are faced with a mountain of empirical evidence in the form of tens of thousands of individuals relying on cannabis for symptom relief, and yet only finally beginning to crack the science behind it. PTSD is characterized by 3 major groups of symptoms: persistent re-experience of the traumatic event persistent increased psychological arousal (being overly “awake” or sensitive to stimuli) persistent avoidance of stimuli associated with the traumatic incident. To describe in layman’s terms, what has happened is that the memory and anxiety systems of the brain have been knocked out of normal functioning via a particularly traumatic event in the patient’s life. The memory of that event has been consolidated very deeply into the brain, and as an adaptive mechanism, the brain now accesses that memory over and over again, forcing the individual to relive the trauma on a frequent basis and preventing the memory from being dampened or extinguished healthily. While remembering trauma can keep us from injuring ourselves the same way twice, this is a case where the brain has become over-vigilant and is doing…

Treating Stress & Anxiety Disorders with Cannabis

If you’re a patient suffering from stress or anxiety, there’s good news: researchers are making interesting new in-roads into the biological mechanisms capable of alleviating these conditions.  A recent report published in the medical journal Biology of Mood & Anxiety Disorders sheds light on the effects cannabis use might have on alleviating stress and anxiety by focusing on endogenous cannabinoids (eCBs) found in cannabis and their respective brain receptors. A growing body of evidence has shown that this system plays crucial roles in managing stress, anxiety, and stress-related psychiatric illness. So far, one of the most useful approaches to understanding the eCB system has been to utilize genetically modified mice. In this approach, researchers delete genes that produce cannabinoid receptors, rendering the mice unable to absorb/use cannabinoids. Scientists have found that these mice exhibit a trend of high anxiety, impaired stress coping, and stress-induced psychopathology (gauged by accepted benchmark tests for rodents). While these effects seem to depend on what part of the brain and what specific neurons the receptors are attached to, the overwhelming trend is that mice lacking receptors also perform poorly, which implies that the eCB system is an essential part of stress and anxiety management. Another useful approach has been investigating chemical inhibitors that slow the rate of the enzymes (FAAH and MAGL) that naturally dispose/recycle eCBs. This approach is similar to many commercially available anti-depressants: the pill itself does not contain serotonin (the lack of which has been related to mood disorder), but rather a…

Cannabis Synergy: Beyond THC

Cannabis is a plant as ubiquitous as it is therapeutic. For centuries Cannabis has held an integral role in many societies as a medicine and as a relaxant. A century ago, Cannabis extracts were used in the United States as a normalizer for disruptions in appetite and for cases of nausea, amongst their plethora of other alleviative properties. Since the early twentieth century, reports of Cannabis use turned to an anecdotal form due to the social controversy over the psychoactivity of Cannabis and the scheduling of Cannabis on the controlled substance list. Since then, illicit use continued, with anecdotes of profound therapeutic potential. The diversity of therapeutic effects attributed to Cannabis is staggering. Reports encompass relief from gastrointestinal disruption and illness, decrease in ocular pressure, analgesia, and normalizing depression to list just a few. This wide range of purported medical benefit is unlikely to be attributed to merely one psychoactive compound, the notorious delta-9 THC. THC may be accredited to a large variety of therapeutic benefit, but the variance in psychoactivity seen between strains invites the theory that these variances are caused by different relative ratios of THC to the other cannabinoids, and perhaps even more importantly, the terpenoids. Contrary to the omnipresent terpenoids, phytocannabinoids are produced exclusively in Cannabis. Their involvement with the endocannabinoid receptor system in humans has been an intriguing mystery, with theories such as the surreptitious mimic and others that are beyond the scope of this review (for more information, refer to the National Insitute of…

CBD & Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is an affliction that affects approximately one million Americans, with incidence rates much higher in developing countries. IBD is characterized by illnesses such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Excessive inflammatory response in the gastrointestinal tract results in intestinal damage and disturbances in motility and secretion. Serious pain follows, as well as a range of other pervasive symptoms. Currently no cures are known, and treatment is measured by reduction of symptoms and suppression of flare-ups. Alleviation of IBD is currently accomplished with a number of medications that induce and retain remission. Steroidal treatment is another pathway that is currently used. These drugs possess limited efficacy however, and many contain unwanted side effects. Cannabis and IBD
Cannabis Indica (nomenclature 2004 IU), the marijuana plant, has a long and storied history in medical application. Extracts of Cannabis were used in the USA a century ago for the treatment of abdominal pain and diarrhea. Anectodal accounts have been very prevalent regarding the effective use of Cannabis for IBD. Self-medication under state medical cannabis laws is used by a generous subset of IBD patients for its analgesic activity in the abdomen, as well as the increase in appetite and reduction of diarrhea. However, the greatest limitation to exploring the full efficacy of cannabis on inflammation and other IBD symptoms lies with the activation of CB1 and CB2 (cannabinoid) receptors by delta-9 THC and the resulting psychoactive effect. CBD, however, does not activate CB1 or CB2, and therefore is devoid of psychoactive…

Cannabinoid-Opioid Interaction in Chronic Pain, A Review

Everyone knows that cannabis delivers various medical benefits, perhaps the most important one being pain relief.  Other drugs relieve pain, and doctors normally prescribe opiates or opioids to relieve severe pain.  However, opioid side effects include sedation, nausea and vomiting, and addiction. Nevertheless, the medical and cannabis communities have good cause to learn more about the combined use of cannabis and opioids.  Research has shown that cannabis enhances the pain relief of opioids while reducing nausea (Narang, 2008).  Patients may benefit from the cannabis-opioid combination by being able to reduce their use of the opioids and the side effects they cause.  Many patients already augment their opioid pain relief regimen with cannabis, so the interaction deserves close examination. For some patients, psychoactivity poses the most serious side effect of cannabis.  Beyond that, patients can safely obtain pain relief from cannabis precisely because it has few other side effects.  The inherent safety of THC is due to the scarcity of cannabinoid receptors in the parts of the brain that control metabolism and breathing. In 2010, Dr. Donald Abrams conducted a study using 24 patients at the San Francisco General Hospital.  The patients normally consumed morphine or oxycodone for significant pain due to various conditions (cancer, multiple sclerosis, migraine, etc.).  The study examined the subjective effects on the patients following the addition of inhaled cannabis vapor to their opioid regimen.  The patients inhaled vaporized cannabis three times a day for five days.  The patients also continued their prescriptions of sustained release tablets…

CBD Alleviates Symptoms Of Schizophrenia

The rebirth of cannabinoid-based science strongly suggests that cannabinoids have numerous other applications besides reducing pain. In the paper summarized here, the scientists find that CBD (cannabidiol) provides effective relief from symptoms of schizophrenia. In some strains of marijuana, CBD content is comparable or displaces THC. Historic research found CBD to be the predominant cannabinoid in the Indica strains. Unfortunately, growers bred Indica strains to produce the psychoactive THC instead. Research found that CBD provided a variety of desirable effects for patients, and growers have refocused on developing strains where CBD predominates. Research on CBD’s effects on schizophrenia comes from Professor FM Leweke of the Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, Central Institute of Mental Health, University of Heidelberg. Leweke found that CBD is as effective at improving psychotic symptoms as the standard antipsychotic amisulpride. Cannabidiol also generated significantly fewer side effects of motor disturbances (so-called extrapyramidal symptoms), weight gain and sexual dysfunction. Leweke’s findings suggest a link between the antipsychotic effects of cannabidiol and CBD’s ability to inhibit anandamide degradation. CBD may enhance anandamide signaling by inhibiting the enzyme that degrades anandamide (fatty acid amide hydrolase-FAAH). The study used dosages of 200 to 600 mg per day. A high yield CBD strain may contain 5% or 50 mg/ gram. Thus, a patient would have to consume 12 grams of CBD-yielding Indica to get the same effect as 600 mg per day. A patient could undertake such a regimen, but it would be costly and probably unpleasant. On the other hand, CBD…

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