Since 2009, Health Canada has blocked importation, advertising and sales of nicotine vapor systems, including e-cigarettes (here). Yet the agency has published a supportive comment about vapor delivery systems for tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the active ingredient in marijuana.
The following appears on a Health Canada webpage for health professionals (here):
“The advantages of vaporization apparently include the formation of a smaller quantity of toxic by-products such as carbon monoxide, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and tar, as well as a more efficient extraction of THC from the cannabis material. The subjective effects and plasma concentrations of THC are comparable to those of smoked cannabis with absorption being somewhat faster with the vaporizer. The vaporizer is well-tolerated, with no reported adverse effects, and is generally preferred over smoking by most subjects...”
Among the comment’s scientific references, the most frequently cited is a study of vaporized marijuana published in 2007 by scientists at the University of California at San Francisco (abstract here). It concluded:
“Whereas smoking marijuana increased [carbon monoxide, CO] levels as expected for inhalation of a combustion product, there was little if any increase in CO after inhalation of THC from the vaporizer. This indicates little or no exposure to gaseouscombustion toxins. Combustion products are harmful to health and reflect a major concern about the use of marijuana cigarettes for medical therapy as expressed by the Institute of Medicine… Vaporization of marijuana does not result in exposure to combustion gases, and therefore is expected to be much safer than smoking marijuana cigarettes. The vaporizer was well tolerated and preferred by most subjects compared to marijuana cigarettes.”
Even more interesting, the senior author of this study was Dr. Neal Benowitz, who currently serves on the FDA Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee. It is perplexing that Dr. Benowitz has taken a rational and scientific position with respect to a “much safer” (his words) delivery system for marijuana, but his position on tobacco is entirely prohibitionist (as I have documented here and here).
The conclusion by Dr. Benowitz and Health Canada that marijuana vaporization is vastly safer than combustion is perfectly applicable to e-cigarettes versus conventional cigarettes. If vaporization is safer than combustion, why do they deny smokers a product that could save hundreds of thousands of lives in the U.S. and Canada?
Given the agency’s charter, that it is “responsible for helping Canadians maintain and improve their health, while respecting individual choices and circumstance,” Health Canada is failing in its mission as it caters to the unfounded bias of tobacco prohibition forces.