By Thanush Poulsen
(February 12, 2019)--In recent years, vaping has been rapidly gaining popularity. The trend is prominent and controversial, being embraced by some and denounced by others. Nowadays it’s not a mere novelty anymore – it’s a part of a lifestyle, a hobby and a tool to reduce harmful health impacts of smoking. Although it’s still debatable whether vaping has any adverse effects on the body at all, society is surely departing from fearful ignorance and moving towards research and acceptance.
Vaping is mostly used for recreation; still, it’s not the exclusive application of the technology. Vapes, electronic cigarettes, and other vaporizing devices show great potential in resolving a number of issues in the medical field. While for some of them it’s only a matter of convenience, major problems like cost, availability, and safety can also be tackled through vaping.
Vaping and Smoking Cessation
Vaporizers were originally invented with a sole objective in mind: to reduce the damage of smoking without necessarily pushing people into withdrawal. In the United States, vapes aren’t yet officially endorsed as an aid to quit smoking, but the situation isn’t the same all over the world. The UK, for instance, made a bold decision to promote electronic cigarettes as a safer alternative to smoking. After the Royal College of Physicians provided a report suggesting a strong correlation between vaping and health improvements in ex-smokers, a goal was set to make vaping accessible to those who needed it.
Vaping’s health benefits are possible because of a fundamental distinction in the ways smoke and vapor are produced. In conventional cigarettes, tobacco is burnt to extract nicotine and provide a way for a smoker to ingest it. Temperatures used for combustion, however, tend to trigger the creation of new chemical compounds that weren’t originally present in the cigarette. This way, cigarette smoke consists not only of nicotine but carbon monoxide, tar, ammonia, benzene and over 4000 other chemicals, including carcinogenic substances. These chemicals are the main cause of smoking-related illnesses, including cancer and cardiovascular disease. Also, hot smoke and tiny bits of burnt paper bring damage to the lungs and mouth as well.
Vaping doesn’t require combustion. A typical vaporizer consists of a heating coil, a tank with e-liquid and a battery. The liquid is heated at significantly lower temperatures, which eliminates approximately 95% of harm done by cigarette smoke. Such vapor consists mainly of propylene glycol, food-grade flavoring, vegetable glycerin and optionally nicotine, and lacks the hazardous products of combustion. It also makes vaping more environmentally friendly and solves the problem of secondhand smoke.
As a medical tool, vaporizers can greatly reduce the chances of relapse as well. Statistically, most people relapse six to eleven times before they manage to put cigarettes away for good. It happens because abrupt quitting is extremely stressful for the body. Physical and psychological adjustment takes time, and vaporizers can help stay clean by administering controlled doses of nicotine and gradually reducing the concentration until the person stops feeling the cravings.
Medical Marijuana and Vaping
Unlike recreational marijuana, medical marijuana is used to manage certain chronic conditions and treat symptoms of various diseases. The two chemicals that make medical treatment possible are THC and CBD. THC increases appetite, counters inflammation and reduces nausea, while also being the main ingredient in cannabis that makes people feel high. CBD doesn’t have any psychoactive properties and can be used to reduce pain, control seizures and possibly treat mental illnesses. Currently, medical marijuana is administered in pills. A typical cannabis vaporizer could optimize the process by delivering the drug into the bloodstream and bypassing the digestive system.
In addition, the use of cannabis for recreational purposes shouldn’t be disregarded as well. Smoking a joint is legal in some places and prohibited in others, but the harm from the smoke isn’t reduced by regulations. Just like it is with conventional cigarettes, the negative effects of marijuana are faint in comparison with the impacts of products of combustion, contained in the smoke. A marijuana vaporizer can be a life-saving device for those who smoke it regularly.
Vaporizers as an Alternative to Needles
The possibility to give patients injections is crucial in medicine. Needles enable us to introduce medications into the bloodstream bypassing the digestive system, which allows them to act more quickly. It saves lives during emergencies, reduces the damage to the liver and other internal organs and increases the efficiency of drugs while lowering their dosages.
The use of needles, however, is not always possible. One of the challenges is severe trypanophobia in some patients. Trypanophobia, or the fear of needles, causes unreasonable dread of any medical procedures involving needles in those who suffer from it. While seemingly minor, it deters many people from seeking medical help when they need it. Vaporizers can help tackle this problem when taking a pill is not an option. When vapor is inhaled, it reaches the lungs and enters the bloodstream like normal oxygen from the air does. This way, vaporizers present a delivery system that is no less effective than injections without involving needles.
Another issue with needles is their availability. In many parts of the world, obtaining sterile needles is next to impossible. It contributes to the spread of such diseases and Hepatitis and HIV, encourages the sharing of needles, and creates hazardous waste. Vaporizers, on the other hand, can be used multiple times by several people as long as replaceable mouthpieces are available. In addition to making treatment safer and more sterile, it reduces its cost dramatically.
Vaping also doesn’t require the same level of proficiency as giving shots does. In the regions where medical professionals are rare or unavailable, preset dosages in vaporizers could help administer medicine or a vaccine efficiently without training. Moreover, this principle already aids those with chronic conditions like diabetes and removes the necessity to visit a hospital for every shot. In fact, insulin inhalers are already available, with numerous other inhalable medicines coming into existence every month.
Overall, vaping technology is still too young to accurately assess all its possible applications. Its potential in medicine, however, is very promising. From helping people quit smoking to acting as an efficient replacement of needles, vaporizers are expected to bring numerous benefits to the healthcare system.
About the author:
Thanush Poulsen is a blogger from Denmark who investigates the issues affecting public health.