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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