A new method to smoke medical marijuana is on the horizon

There’s a new method on the horizon for patients to smoke medical marijuana. And it could address a lot of concerns doctors have today about the dosage, purity, and safety of the medical marijuana currently being used in states where it’s legal.

Medical marijuana is used for a number of things in medicine. It may help with pain control, halt nausea and vomiting, improve mood, and reduce depression, among other things.

But there are numerous problems with using medical marijuana in a patient setting.

For example, it’s difficult to determine the concentration of the drug you’re using (how much THC is in it?) There are several different strains of medical marijuana available, and many have different potencies. This can make it hard to determine what dose is delivered to the lung tissue, that is then absorbed into your bloodstream.

Another concern: When you smoke marijuana you’re inhaling other burned gasses from the weed, as well as any pesticides, defoliants and other chemicals. And the exhaled smoke can cause second-hand smoke effects on those around you.

Similar questions also pertain to other ways of ingesting medical marijuana/THC. If they’re made into a tea, baked into pastry, or made into ice cream, the amount per serving is unknown. The dose is unknown. And cooking, for example, adds another layer of uncertainty as to what the final dosage will actually be. And even after cooking, pesticides and herbicides can still be present.

So basically, we don’t know how much you get with each dose, how much gets into you, what strain you smoked, or how much THC was present. Prescription drugs are rarely given this way. The amount of the drug, it’s purity, dosing schedule, route of dose, and many other parameters are known to an exact amount.  With medical marijuana, that’s not necessarily the case.

How to remedy this problem?

Several companies are hard at work on this. They’re working on machines that will allow the patient to inhale a specified amount of the drug from a one-time dispenser tab. The exact amount of THC present is listed on the box the tabs come in. The strain that the THC was taken from is also listed. Suggested frequency of dosing, depending on the level of pain are given, but the doctor will advise on this.

Medical marijuana via Shutterstock.

Medical marijuana via Shutterstock.

The machine heats the THC solution and lets it evaporate into a tube. The patient holds the other end of the tube in his mouth. Once all the THC has vaporized, the instrument signals the patient and he begins to smoke until the machine tells him the THC is gone. The patient gets no burning plant fibers (and the CO2, CO, CH4 and other byproducts of smoking the plant).

Also eliminated are pathogens, like bacteria, fungi and viruses that may be present on the raw marijuana, and get transferred to the user’s hands, face, eyes, mouth, and to other people. The patient smokes directly through a plastic tube that helps to minimize THC from escaping into the room. Though some does escape.

A similar delivery system to the one I'm describing, courtesy of Vaporize Medical Marijuana.

A similar delivery system to the one I’m describing, courtesy of Vaporize Medical Marijuana.

Is it expensive? Yes, yes it is — and insurance won’t pay for it. That could be a problem except for the fact that the company will be giving these away, free, to patients who live in states where marijuana is legal, and who have a note from their doctors. They can afford to do this, because the only way to use the machine is to buy their type of packaged THC liquid. The company hinted about the price per dose for each dose of THC liquid. Probably less than $10 and maybe closer to $5.

This product is still under development, and I can’t show you what it looks like, because the photos are proprietary. I did include a photo, above, of a similar system. The actual delivery system appears to be about the size of a laptop, if a laptop were turned into a cube. It’s high-tech looking with digital arrays and a station where the THC solution gets added. There’s another tube from the machine to the patient. It looks small enough to be portable, but, for right now, it isn’t. But they’re working on a portable version.

This may be available to buy in the near future.  And it could solve a lot of the concerns, and uncertainty, that doctors worry about today.


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Mark Thoma, MD, is a physician who did his residency in internal medicine. Mark has a long history of social activism, and was an early technogeek, and science junkie, after evolving through his nerd phase. Favorite quote: “The most exciting phrase to hear in science... is not 'Eureka!' (I found it!) but 'That's funny.'” - Isaac Asimov

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  • Mike_in_the_Tundra

    I suppose so, but it’s tradition.

  • ComradeRutherford

    Joints are incredibly wasteful.

  • ComradeRutherford

    I only smoke the finest All Natural, Vermont Indoor Weed! No pesticides, no spraying, just Pure Vermont Goodness!

  • ComradeRutherford

    The vaporizer isn’t new at all. It’s only the ‘metered tabs’ that are new.

  • Tor

    I call it High Anxiety.

  • Mike_in_the_Tundra

    Wow. You must be related to my late husband.

  • Tor

    Pot and I do not agree. It makes me very anxious. My response would be “Dial 911, I THINK I may die here!”

    I think medical MJ is great, even if not for me.

  • SkippyFlipjack

    That’s true about ODing but I don’t think anyone is concerned about that. The concern is more that someone be able to alleviate symptoms of their arthritis without any risk of a paranoid high that will get in the way of their dinner out that night. That kind of predictability, I find, is harder to come by with MJ than with other forms of pain relief. I have yet to see the kind of consistency from dispensaries that will enable that.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    Actually, yes, I have, while dealing with pain management. In fact, I’ve had more than a few prescriptions over the years say things like “Take one, and if there’s been no response after X time, take another. But do not take more than Y number in Z hours.”

    But honestly, as far as anybody has been able to tell so far, it is not even possible to overdose on grass. There, the result is, “Oh jeez, I’m high. Gonna go lie down.” Whereas if you OD on traditional opiate painkillers, it’s “Dial 911. I may die here.”

  • SkippyFlipjack

    I think there’s a concern over dosage because it’s still a little hard to take weed seriously as medicine. (Not that I mind; I like having a medical card but there’s just something disingenuous about the whole system.) Your “common sense” method is pretty accurate, but have you seen doctors prescribe any other medication this way? “Take two pills then see if you’re kind of feeling it after half an hour, then maybe take another, but definitely don’t take too many.”

  • SkippyFlipjack

    Is there any consensus on the health effects of e-cig style medical marijuana methods that use propylene glycol or other chemicals? Products like the O.pen vape are incredibly handy and make consistent dosage much easier, but I’m not sure whether they have long-term use issues.

  • Fireblazes

    $1000 bong, give me a break. Greedy bastards.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    I think that’s exactly what’s happening: The dam is breaking, so the pharmaceutical companies want to get out in front with their ridiculously overpriced THC delivery systems.

    I remember quite a few years back when it was acknowledged that MJ was a very effective treatment for glaucoma. What happened? BigPharma came up with eye drops that, from what I’ve read, aren’t nearly as effective as regular grass — and never changed their own position of lobbying for continued prohibition.

    I see the same thing happening here. They come up with their insanely overpriced computerized machines and prescription-only ‘tabs’ — and continue to lobby against letting people grow their own or to buy from dispensaries.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    Sorry to say it, but I smell not the tea-like aroma of quality weed, but the stenchly greed of BigPharma who want to make it take hundreds of dollars to buy the equipment and hundreds more each month for these carefully patented ‘tabs’ as prescriptions.

    As Leathersmith pointed out, vaporization devices already exist, many of which can be built for a few bucks using kit instructions from the Internet or purchased outright for a little more. There are also edibles, which I understand are very popular among people with compromised respiratory systems, such that even vaporized weed is a problem.

    While I agree it makes sense to give people guidelines for use especially if they’ve never tried MJ before for treating symptoms, for the most part common sense suffices. “Try a little. Wait 15 minutes. If it’s not enough, try a little more. If you take too much, you may experience odd sensations such as vertigo or sleepiness, but don’t worry. Just relax, wait a few hours, and next time don’t use as much.”

    One of the angles often neglected is that aside from impairment and possible mood effects, using too much MJ doesn’t kill. Unlike nearly all of the drugs MJ can replace, where overdose can and does result in death. People stoned on grass can do stupid things, but there are as yet no documented cases of anybody dying or being permanently injured by OD’ing on weed.

    The point I’m saying is that while I do bow to your expertise as a physician, Mark, I’m not seeing why there’s a concern over dosage. If or when the legalized market stabilizes and the use of weed fully exits the black market, medical MJ users will come to know which varieties and forms work best for them — and I personally favor solutions that cost the least. Turning delivery into the computerized equivalent of an F-22 stealth fighter — with all of the attendant costs (and profit) — is not the way to go.

    Sadly, we still need to overcome the still official position of our country’s federal government and specifically the FDA’s, which is that there is no legitimate medical use for marijuana and it is as dangerous as heroin (schedule 1). Obviously both of these positions are wrong, yet those with the power to change it — specifically the current Administration and his FDA appointees — insist falsely their hands are tied.

  • http://heimaey.us/ heimaey

    I think the flood gates are open on this one, but I get it. Thanks!

  • The_Fixer

    They’re under development and coming to a head shop near you soon. I’ve read of at least two entrepreneurs who are planning on marketing such devices.

    The biggest hurdle toward getting such devices to market is the murky legal situation that pot is in right now. Investors don’t want to toss money out the window if the Federal government decides, on a whim, to go back to other way.

  • http://madisonleathersmith.com leathersmith

    I have a vaporizor, it only cost $60 online.

    also, about this sentence:”When you smoke marijuana you’re inhaling other burned gasses from the weed, as well as any pesticides, defoliants and other chemicals”……indoor grows do not have this issue at all. Also, when was the last time you heard the Forestry Service spraying defoliant around the forests? They do spray for insects, in my area its the Gypsy Moth. This spray may be present on pot grown in National Forests, but not defoliants. And to top the sentence off with “and other chemicals”, well thats also unlikely if your pot is grown indoors.

    I would say that nearly all medical marijuana sold as such will have come from indoor grows.

  • Elijah Shalis

    I keep hearing that people with bipolar or schitzo-affective disorders should not use it? What is your opinion?

  • Immortal Illumined

    the greatest plant in the universe is almost free, LET FREEDOM RING! 13

    1000s of my friends and family have grown 30-99 plants for decades, thanks for keeping prices high and NORCAL wealthy….#1 crop in cali = $15 Billion Untaxed

    “any doctor against marijuana is a doctor of death” – cali secret 420

    from 0 states to half the country, from low 20% approval to almost 70%, cali runs this planet by 2 decades, time to tie marijuana to the 2014, 2016 elections, out with the old, in with the new

    20 years behind us southern states, sad and scary….nobody denies freedoms like the south, nobody…the top ten incarcerators on the planet are southern states…even if marijuana reforms did pass the republiCANTS in charge would deny you all your freedoms, centuries of practice…no matter though, we never planned on getting your backwards brethren from day one, half the country already but not one southern state, lol…not 1….the new generations are taking over in the south and they are nothing like their freedom denying parents, let’s ride…

    Deaths by Alcohol and Tobacco: Millions
    Deaths by Prescription Drugs: Quadrupled in last decade
    Deaths by Guns: Millions
    Deaths by the food we are fed: Millions
    Deaths by Marijuana: 0, ever…they are killing my American family while denying freedom

    love and freedom forever

    AMERICA’S WAR ON DRUGS IS A WAR ON AMERICANS! 33

  • Suemarie

    Can I ask a question? How/where do the pharma companies do this research? I have a friend who does medical marijuana research and the hoops he has to jump through are incredible – both to get the research funded/approved and to obtain the government-grown pot. I guess the pharma companies can pick and choose which country in which to do the research. Do they just grow their own weed in a country with looser laws?

  • Mike_in_the_Tundra

    I have to agree. Just give me an old time joint.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    I was thinking that’s whawt this was going to be, before I read it.

  • Buford2k11

    Ahh, another money making enterprise…I wonder how we ever survived smoking weed before…we breath more carcinogens walking down the street. I know this is about Medical MJ, but weed is weed…

  • http://heimaey.us/ heimaey

    My dream is to have like an e-cig for pot and with each puff you know the dosage. I love edibles but sometimes it can be too much and it’s a very different experience. With smoking I can gauge how high I want to be, and I like having that control.

  • claygooding

    Vaporization has been around for over a decade and has already been researched by CMCR for efficacy of treating MS.
    A lot of the dosage problems have been solved in the dispensaries by standardization of THC extraction methds so that they can add the amount of THC they want for a tincture or a cookie recipe,,it allows them to replicate their products so the patient always receives the same strength dosage.
    Another fact is that many have discovered that eating/juicing green undried cannabis leaves,juicing is most common,provides medical benefits without the “high” because until the THC is activated by heat it doesn’t get the patient high.
    The sad part is we,the people are having to re-discover how to use cannabis,,the government won’t allow anyone but pharmaceutical companies research organic marijuana and copy chemical compounds found naturally in the cannabis plant and call it medicine while cannabis remains Schedule 1.
    And the pharmaceutical companies refuse to spend the millions getting organic marijuana approved as a medicine because people will grow their own,,,and we the people will make sure they know how to grow it and produce medicines from it themselves.

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