Using e-cigarettes to smoke weed: Swiss scientists propose medical alternative

© Blair Gable
Swiss scientists have come up with a novel way to consume medical marijuana with fewer of the harmful effects. All you need is a vaping apparatus and some butane hash oil.

The invention is a deceptively simple alternative to more established weed products like pills, skin patches, suppositories, sprays and syrups. After all, there’s the flavor to consider. However, the e-cigarette, as it’s called, will also take away the more harmful effects of smoking a joint.

“Therapeutic cannavaping” actually came out of an idea first floated by recreational marijuana smokers on online forums. It uses butane gas to trap cannabinoids and bind them together. And you get none of the bad effects from using tobacco – a frequent ingredient to make joints burn more smoothly.

A vape pen is used as the tool for smoking. So, in essence, it’s a streamlining of two pre-existing ideas into something more user-friendly for people who rely on the medical benefits of smoking weed.

"We were inspired by what is done illegally, underground, on the web fora," Vincent Varlet, a co-author of the study and biochemist and toxicologist at the University Centre of Legal Medicine in Lausanne, told AFP. "Normally, they use this form of cannabinoids to get high. Based on what is done illegally, we found that it could be interesting," he added.

When the butane and hash oil are combined into the composite BHO (butane hash oil), the concentration of THCa is about 70-80 percent. High temperature treatment turns this into THC (tetrahydrocannabinol – the active ingredient in cannabis).

Turning this into a commercially-available e-cigarette appears a no-brainer. The producer can regulate THC concentration and sell different strengths of the stuff.

Consumption is done via the vape machines. "Cannavaping appears to be a gentle, efficient, user-friendly and safe alternative method for cannabis smoking for medical cannabis delivery," and all of that thanks to “the creativity of cannabis users,” the authors say in the study, published in Nature. 

Although the jury is still out on the actual long-term effects of vaping, it does appear to be more health-friendly, the obvious advantage being the absence of tobacco.

Asked how the high from the e-joint would compare to the real deal, the team said about 80 puffs will be needed with a 10 percent BHO liquid (the stronger version of the three they plan to roll out). So, if you’re locked in a room with one of these things, but do not suffer from cancer, it will be about 75 more puffs before you can feel similar effects.

“The take-home message of our article is that vaping is less harmful than smoking, so you can be sure that cannavaping is less harmful than cannabis smoking for medical purposes," Varlet sums up. "Today, we have set the cat among the pigeons. This is just the first step, and we need to see how the scientific community is going to welcome this kind of possibility,” he added.

Not all of their peers think the Swiss idea would take off as smoothly elsewhere as it promises to do in Switzerland. For instance, academics in the UK believe there’s still a way to go until the idea is green-lighted there, owing to addiction dangers in youths