The following article was originally published on VancouverSun.com
Cannabis is forging wide associations with proactive health, branching away from casual recreation. As medical cannabis consumption continues its steady groundswell of social acceptance, users and researchers alike are recognizing a variety of compounds within the cannabis plant carrying latent value beyond the psychoactive Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
When one smokes marijuana, THC’s psychoactive properties are activated through decarboxylation, a chemical reaction occurring when the compound is heated. This process underlies our traditional delivery mechanism for THC from cannabis: smoking. Beyond THC, however, numerous essential oils and chemical compounds can bypass decarboxylation entirely, showing promise in a new range of non-smoking applications.
Juicing cannabis raw, for instance, does not carboxylate THC, enabling consumption of a host of other chemical compounds with a nominal psychoactive response. This practice is gaining popularity among individuals more interested in holistic wellness than getting a buzz.
For patients who prefer alternatives to smoking cannabis to imbibe its active compounds, Health Canada acknowledges the right to prepare the flowered buds sold by Licensed Producers (LPs) of the Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (MMPR) administration “at their discretion, within reason.”
This messaging is in stark contrast to the contentious restrictions preventing LPs from selling concentrates, extractions, or any products derived from the cannabis plant. Juicing raw cannabis, imbibing derivative oils, cooking with cannabis, vaporization, and topical application to the skin are all practices enabling potentially therapeutic compounds to enter the body without necessitating smoke inhalation.
Vaporization, for instance, is the process of heating flowered buds or derivative oils to a temperature high enough to vapourise (and decarboxylate) essential oils, but not to combust plant matter into suspended, particulate carbon. Essentially, the sought-after compounds in cannabis are extracted into vapour for inhalation, without the inhalation of smoke.
Cannabis derivatives can be extracted through various methods, increasing the ratio of essential oils to plant matter. Through rendering, filtering, or solvent extraction, compounds are concentrated in oil or paste. This paste can then be added to food or applied topically to the skin.
Not all of these processes emphasize concentrating psychoactive compounds. Cannabidiol (CBD) has gained much notoriety recently through anecdotal evidence of seizure suppression in epilepsy patients, particularly children who have not responded sufficiently to conventional treatment options.
CBD, and its non-decarboxylated acid form, CBDa, are suggested by some to elicit other potentially therapeutic responses. These may include countering inflammation, sleep aid, nausea relief, metabolic regulation, and anxiety reduction. These claims are supported by patient feedback rather than clinical trial or double-blind study at this time.
Nonetheless, patients are exploring the application of CBD, CBDa, and other compounds found in the cannabis plant in their treatment plans, and they are using mechanisms other than smoke inhalation to ingest them. Depending on the chemical composition of the strain or input, CBD vaporization is feasible without consuming THC.
Stopping at ‘getting high’ is a limited interpretation of our potential interaction with the cannabis plant. Research on terpenes, essential oils, and compounds found only in the cannabis plant is ramping up. With a host of other potentially therapeutic compounds unlocked and isolated by technologies like vaporization and solvent-extraction, rolling a joint of medical cannabis could soon look as dated as sending a telegram.