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Medical marijuana patients, advocates, and recreational users alike hail cannabis as a miracle plant, but even the staunchest dyed-in-the-hemp activist will cop to knowing that joints, pipes, and other common methods of consumption ain't exactly healthy.
There's no link between marijuana smoking and cancer, according to Dale Gieringer of California NORML, but some of the health risks associated with cigarette smoking certainly apply to puffing like a chimney on pot. "Chronic pot smokers have been shown to suffer an elevated risk of bronchitis and respiratory infections," he says. "Respiratory disease due to smoking may therefore rightly be regarded as the primary physiological hazard of marijuana."
But it is possible to medicate pounds of marijuana and never feel so much as an itch in the lungs. Smokers with a cough should seriously consider switching to what seasoned cannabis users have been onto for years: the vaporizer.
Vaporizing is a process that heats cannabis to an ideal temperature of 180 degrees Celsius. That's much less than the lung-tissue-damaging crucible seen in a joint (which can hit 230 degrees or above) or even a water pipe, which is still hot enough to combust plant material.
The 180 degrees "is just hot enough to evaporate, or vaporize, the resin glands [the gooey crystals on a cannabis bud that contain the active cannibinoids], but not hot to burn them along with the rest of the plant material," says Martin Olive, proprietor of Haight Street landmark dispensary the Vapor Room, which, as the name implies, has vaporizers running nine hours a day, seven days a week, in its popular smoking lounge.
In other words, vaporizers allow a patient to consume the THC and other medically active cannabinoids with little or none of the carcinogenic tars and noxious gases found in "normal" smoke, according to Gieringer. So just how healthy is it to consume the cannabinoids THC and CBD while not inhaling superheated carbon? The scientific jury is still out — and will be until a federally licensed laboratory is able to conduct tests — but several medical studies have shown CBD effective in fighting cancer as well as a host of other illnesses. "When you vaporize, 94.8 percent of the substances you inhale are cannabinoids [the medicine]!" Olive adds. A smoke that fights lung cancer? That wasn't mentioned in D.A.R.E. class.
Not only is vaporizing healthier than smoking, it's also fiscally sound. In a vaporizer, less cannabis is needed to achieve the same therapeutic or pleasantly mind-altering effects enjoyed via a cookie or hit from the hash pipe. Healthier and cheaper — so what are you waiting for? Possibly our list of some of the favorite vaporizers available today, for clean cannabis consuming at home or on the go.
Hundreds of styles of vaporizers are available, and many an enterprising pothead has constructed his or her own from scrap. For the rest of us non-MacGyvers, here are a few favorites.
Storz-Bickel Volcano Vaporizer
$539 for a classic-style full kit, $669 for one with digital display. Find it: www.storz-bickel.com/vaporizer/volcano-vaporization-system.html, via delivery from the Green Cross (www.thegreencross.org), or at finer smoke shops citywide.
The best vaporizer money can buy, the Storz-Bickel Volcano is the industry standard. The vaporizers at the Vapor Room are all Volcano models. Not that they ever break down— not that we've heard of, anyhow — but they also come with a three-year warranty as well as interchangeable parts that are easily replaceable, should a nozzle or other moving part be overused.
Iolite Portable Vaporizer
It's impossible to hook up a Volcano at the movie theater or on a bus, and it's downright rude — as well as a surefire way to attract unwanted attention — to fire up a joint while in public. But if nicotine fiends can have their cake and smoke it too with an e-cigarette, cannabis users can discreetly medicate with the iolite, which fits in a shirt pocket and emits an exhaled vapor that smells like ... well, nothing, really. "This is what I use when out and about," Olive says.
THE MIDDLE CLASS
The Easy Vape
Box-style vaporizers are nothing new, but while most are wood, the Easy Vape is a nearly-indestructible polycarbonate. That means more safety, not that the built-in ceramic heater has ever burnt a house down. Bonus points for a digital display and replaceable fuses, so that if you should vape too much, a repair is a few dollars and not an entirely new unit.
THE IT LOOKS LIKE A PIPE BUT IT'S NOT
The Vapor Genie
If you want a healthier smoke without sacrificing the style of puff puff and passing a pipe (or if you want something simple, bereft of electronics and gadgetry), consider this. The attractive wood exterior conceals a ceramic filter, through which the flame from a normal lighter is screened before hitting the combustible material. That filter keeps the heat down, meaning the same method as a Volcano is achieved for a tenth of the price. No batteries required!
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