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Are vaporizers a lower-risk alternative to smoking cannabis?

Abstract

Cannabis use is associated with various adverse physical and mental health outcomes as well as increased risk of motor vehicle collision. Many organizations and the “Lower-Risk Cannabis Use Guidelines” have recommended to use cannabis vaporizers instead of smoking to reduce the associated health risk. This commentary draws attention to the present evidence regarding harm reduction potential of cannabis vaping. Cannabis vaporizer use can reduce the emission of carbon monoxide, chronic respiratory symptoms, and exposure to several toxins while producing similar subjective effects and blood THC concentration compared with smoking cannabis, holding potential for harm reduction among habitual cannabis smokers. However, new cannabis users, regardless of method of administration of cannabis, may experience intense subjective effects and cognitive impairment with increased susceptibility to dependence. Hence, policy makers should consider limiting access to cannabis among young people and adopting strategies to reduce impaired driving under influence of cannabis. Future research should focus on impact of switching from cannabis smoking to dried herb vaping using cannabis vaporizers among chronic cannabis smokers, and long-term outcomes of medical cannabis vaping, and further explore association of vaping-associated lung injury with THC-containing e-liquids.

Résumé

L’usage du cannabis est associé à une panoplie de résultats de santé physique et mentale indésirables et à un risque accru de collision entre véhicules automobiles. De nombreux organismes, ainsi que les « Recommandations canadiennes pour l’usage du cannabis à moindre risque », recommandent d’utiliser un vaporisateur au lieu de fumer le cannabis afin d’en réduire les risques pour la santé. Notre commentaire attire l’attention sur les preuves actuelles concernant le potentiel de réduction des méfaits du vapotage du cannabis. L’utilisation d’un vaporisateur de cannabis peut réduire l’émission de monoxyde de carbone, les symptômes respiratoires chroniques et l’exposition à plusieurs toxines tout en produisant des effets subjectifs et une concentration de THC dans le sang semblables à ceux du cannabis fumé, ce qui pourrait réduire les méfaits chez les fumeurs réguliers de cannabis. Par contre, les nouveaux consommateurs de cannabis, peu importe la méthode d’administration du cannabis choisie, peuvent éprouver des effets subjectifs intenses et une détérioration cognitive, ainsi qu’une susceptibilité accrue à la dépendance. Les responsables des politiques devraient donc songer à limiter l’accès des jeunes au cannabis et adopter des stratégies pour réduire la conduite avec facultés affaiblies par cette drogue. Des études futures devraient porter sur les conséquences, pour les fumeurs réguliers de cannabis, de vapoter l’herbe séchée à l’aide d’un vaporisateur au lieu de fumer le cannabis, et sur les effets à long terme du vapotage du cannabis médical, et explorer plus avant l’association entre les lésions pulmonaires associées au vapotage et les liquides à vapoter contenant du THC.

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All authors have contributed to the study. Michael Chaiton had the idea of the review and provided the guideline of literature review. Anasua Kundu and Patricia Di Ciano performed the literature search and drafted the manuscript. All authors commented on and edited previous versions of the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Michael Chaiton.

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Chaiton, M., Kundu, A., Rueda, S. et al. Are vaporizers a lower-risk alternative to smoking cannabis?. Can J Public Health (2021). https://doi.org/10.17269/s41997-021-00565-w

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Keywords

  • Cannabis; Smoking; Vaporizers; Vaping; Harm reduction

Mots-clés

  • Cannabis; tabagisme; vaporisateurs; vapotage; réduction des méfaits