The best ways to medicate—and still have plenty of breathing room
By Anna Lambias
Sure, it’s medicine—but how does the smoke impact the health of your lungs?
Back in 1998, Dr. Donald Tashkin, a pulmonary specialist at UCLA’s Geffen School of Medicine, was looking to prove that heavy smoking of cannabis led to increased risk of lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Not only did his study, funded by the National Cancer Institute and the largest case-control study ever conducted, prove him wrong on both accounts, Tashkin concluded that THC might actually impair the growth of cancerous tumors.
Then, in 2007, preliminary lab and mouse studies at Harvard backed up this conclusion, finding that THC cut the growth of common lung cancer tumors in half and significantly reduced the ability of the cancer to spread.
Fact is, however, it’s not like the government is exactly keen on funding research that involves allowing squads of Americans to inhale marijuana, thus solid evidence about the efficiency and health effects of various methods of inhaling cannabis is somewhat hard to come by.
“Right now, your best bet is probably going to be talking to the guys in the smoke shops who will give you their personal point of view,” says Dr. Sean Breen, owner of Medical Cannabis of Southern California, with clinics in Irvine and Long Beach.
So, here you have it—a rundown of the health pros and cons of four favorite methods of inhalation. But be warned: it’s part expert opinion and part personal experience.
Burning any plant material, including cannabis, produces toxins like carbon monoxide and tar which, of course, are extremely unhealthy and can irritate your respiratory system.
But, explains Breen, vaporizers work by heating cannabis to a temperature below the point of combustion (around 356 to 392 degrees), where the medically active components evaporate without any toxic smoke. This vapor is then inhaled, delivering a light, clean, effective dose of cannabinoids.
“A vaporizer is the safest way to inhale cannabis, which is why it’s what I use,” says Kandice Hawes, founder and director of OC NORML.
Probably its biggest downside is that it’s easy to overdo it at first, because the way in which various machines work is inconsistent and the vapor feels so much smoother than smoke.
The Internet abounds with folks who claim that water pipes filter out a lot of the bad-for-you chemicals, but there isn’t any recent, solid science to back them up.
Regardless, because the smoke is cooled and condensed in the water, it’s easier to take bigger hits. As a result, water pipes do tend to be the strongest way to medicate—and you get there fast, says Matthew Cupp, managing director of Inland Empire Caregivers, a collective with outposts in Riverside and Montclair. This makes them ideal for patients with severe pain and/or illness, such as cerebral palsy, adds Hawes.
But chances are your grandma won’t be turning to a Graffix to get her meds, as the apparatuses can be awkward and confusing and the mental stimulation can be extremely intense, leading to a greater chance of impairment, says Jordan Salkin, who co-owns Palm Desert and Costa Mesa-based Go Green Medical Evaluations with his father, Dr. Marshall Salkin.
Plus, the big, dense hits are more likely to irritate your lungs and make you cough.
Pipe cons: smoke; not as effective or cool-to-the-throat as a water pipe; less convenient than a joint.
But if your goal is truly to medicate, Mark Fitt, a webmaster and founding member of OC NORML, is a big fan. He recommends putting a very small pinch, equal to one hit, of quality cannabis in a pipe and then smoking it so that you can determine the potency. Continue the process until you ascertain the dose needed to manage your pain. “By carefully controlling the process with single-hit pinches, no smoke is lost to the air,” says Fitt, “and it ends up being possible to medicate 40 or 50 times on an eighth.”
Experts and experimenters alike seem to agree that joints are inefficient and the least healthy method of inhaling cannabis. “Not only are you inhaling smoke from the plant, you’re taking in smoke from the paper which can contain various chemicals,” says Salkin. He notes that in his evaluation centers they’ve found that joint smokers are more likely to experience trauma and mucus buildup in the lungs, as well as a perpetual cough.
“But the upside is that they make it easier to regulate how much you are taking in and avoid getting inebriated, which is why they tend to appeal to older patients,” Salkin says.
CO Bill to Allow Schools the Choice to Let Student Patients Medicate
Colorado has been struggling with the issue of medical cannabis in schools ever since cannabis was first legalized in the state for medical use. Schools fear a loss of federal funding if they allow cannabis treatment for sick students, since the plant is still federally illegal, while parents, advocates and patients fight for patient access so that students can get relief. This month, cannabis patients won a major victory, as medicating with cannabis will now be allowed in Colorado public schools under a newly passed bill.
According to The Denver Post, House Bill 1373 requires treatment rights for patients, but allows schools to be able to choose where the patients can medicate, and what forms of cannabis they can use. Representative Jonathan Singer, the Democrat from Longmont who supported the bill, claims that schools who do not put such a policy into action are leaving it up to parents and students to choose how and where medication can take place.
The recent bill passed 10-3 in the House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee, showing an overwhelming support for children being able to medicate on school property.
“It forces a conversation,” Singer told The Denver Post regarding the bill, “that we were hoping would be a voluntary conversation.”
This bill works to help patients gain access, since the currently existing bill, allowing medication only if schools create a program, has not been successful. So far, no schools have implemented such a program, so until now, no medical cannabis users have been able to imbibe on school property.
“It’s kind of exciting that they are finally going to let it in after fighting this for five years trying to get children their meds in schools,” explained Shan Moore, the father of Chaz Moore, who fought and struggled while in school to be able to use medical cannabis.
“I do think it’s great—it’s just a little late for my kid,” he added. “Chaz stopped going to school before graduating. He would get sick, not be able to take his meds in school, and got tired of playing that game, and when he went to try and get his GED the same thing happened, since those classes take place in schools as well. So maybe now he’ll be able to get his GED and make something happen. He tried the online schools, but he doesn’t learn well online—he really needs to be there in person.”
Moore hopes that maybe with this new bill in place, his son will be able to medicate in schools, and therefore take the GED and continue his education. Like Chaz Moore, many Colorado children desire an education, but struggle to work and focus because they can’t get the medicine they need. Hopefully with this new bill in place, students who need medicine will be able to receive relief so they can focus on learning.
Colorado passes Ordinance to Implement a Cannabis Odor Regulation
At first glance, odor regulations seem like something out of a cartoon or children’s book, but here in Denver they are very real.
According to The Denver Post, Denver City council is concerned about the offensive to some, pleasant to others, aroma that is omitted from dispensaries and other cannabis operations, and recently passed an ordinance to crack down tighter on odors.
While the city has been debating back and forth about how they should treat the expiring moratorium on cannabis businesses, they quickly decided in favor of the odor ordinance. If this passes this month, then this new rule will be officially approved and enforceable by the local Health Department. This new regulation would mean that businesses can file odor complaints, not just private citizens. Then, if a dispensary receives five complaints, they would have 30 days to clean up their act and fix the odor issue before they receive an inspection.
Cannabis businesses and advocates are not happy about this new complication, and are speaking out against the arbitrary nature of regulating odors.
“The only thing that can be done is air filtration to ensure that odors are mitigated through carbon scrubbers,” explained Mark Slaugh, Executive Director of the Cannabis Business Alliance, in an exclusive interview with CULTURE. “The ‘problem’ is not the odor per se, since obnoxious odors aren’t outright prohibited or regulated for other businesses with strong scents. The problem is the prejudice giving rise to complaints in the first place and over-reactionary ordinances that unfairly target cannabis businesses and don’t apply equally to other Denver businesses with obnoxious odors.”
Slaugh further argues that the cannabis industry is bringing needed change to the city, and should not be slighted for something as minor as strong odors.
“The cannabis industry is primarily responsible for producing economic benefits for once poor and decaying neighborhoods which the industry improved,” he added. “These areas were once stagnant, filled with commercially abandoned warehouses that eventually became cannabis cultivation and manufacturing facilities. The city of Denver has required the industry to improve the landscape around those buildings and they have truly begun transforming these neighborhoods.”
“Now, the industry is being targeted under this odor ordinance and under the moratorium as the ‘problem’ of these areas when, in fact, they are the pioneers of neighborhood renovation and a major factor in the rise of tourism and people moving to Denver post-legalization,” he continued. “It would seem that the City council wants to kick out and limit the very pioneers who created a settlement in the first place, all in the name of continued development and gentrification of the neighborhoods cannabis businesses have increased their value in and call home.”
Even some of the City council members are skeptical that this new ordinance will be a good way to fix the problem.
“When you begin to saturate and when you begin to concentrate (businesses), there’s no odor ordinance that can identify where this is coming from,” Albus Brooks, a local Councilman, told The Denver Post. “And I’ve never seen a council so sure of a bill that hasn’t even come through committee yet.”
While there is no doubt that some measures should be taken to ensure dispensaries and grows contain there odors, many seem opposed to this new, somewhat draconian, odor ordinance proposal. A final decision will be reached this month.
Government Begins Rethinking Scheduling of Cannabis
There is currently a petition to the FDA in progress that calls the federal government to remove cannabis from the Controlled Substance Act’s Schedule I list, which holds the plant in the same category as hard drugs such as methamphetamine or heroin. Although medical cannabis, and now even recreational cannabis, is legal in Oregon, it still is not recognized as legal by the federal government. The Feds also don’t recognize it as officially serving a medical purpose.
The Controlled Substances Act has very strict criteria for how to classify the drugs on its Schedule I list, and there are many people who think that after many recent studies, cannabis simply doesn’t meet that criteria. To be placed on the list in the first place, a drug not only has to have a high potential for abuse, but it also has to have no medical uses, and be considered unsafe. The fiction of these statements in reference to cannabis is now widely known. A few very recent studies have proved the effectiveness of treating seizures in children with cannabis oil. The people are basically calling the government out and saying, let’s rethink the way we think about cannabis. To get cannabis removed from the Schedule I list, there has to be a petition placed with the Drug Enforcement Administration. There have been many attempts to get cannabis removed from this list in the past. Since 1972, petitions to the DEA have been denied. This time, however, the DEA has requested the Food and Drug Administration to perform a study to see if the classification of cannabis really should be different.
Supporters of the reclassification of cannabis claim that once the plant is no longer controlled by the federal government, federal spending that was once used to enforce cannabis laws and process offenders through the criminal justice system can be reallocated to more important things like education. They also argue that the U.S. government could make tons of revenue on the taxation and regulation of the cannabis industry. We already know this to be true in Oregon, where the state government collected nearly 3.5 million dollars of revenue after only its first month of recreational sales.
The reclassification of cannabis, and its removal from the Controlled Substance Act’s Schedule I list, could mean big changes for Oregonians. It would first of all make a huge difference in the way we think about cannabis locally, and nationally. The stigmas that surround cannabis that are already starting to melt away will soon be gone completely. Secondly, medical growers and dispensary owners will start to face less opposition when trying to operate and run their businesses. Not constantly looking over their shoulder for the Feds. Our state government would finally be in agreement with the federal government, and Oregonians will no longer be breaking federal law when they smoke or sell cannabis. This would create big changes in the eyes of the Oregon State police and court system, and the way they deal with cannabis users.
The DEA has remained pretty silent about their upcoming decision, and their study with the FDA. It has been projected that they will be making a decision by mid-year. Hopefully the U.S. Government can finally recognize what Oregon and many other states already have about the medical benefits of cannabis.
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