Overheard On Campus: What is a vaporizer? Is using one safer than smoking tobacco or marijuana?

Contributed by Lisa Salazar, M.P.H, A.C.E.-C.P.T., & Daniel Gittins, M.A.
Introduction by Tyler Achilles, B.A.

I haven’t heard anyone refer to a vaporizer in a long time. Maybe it’s because I’m becoming more removed from college culture as I get older, but I’m sure vaporizers are still around, especially since many states have loosened their stance on marijuana. In fact, vaporizers are probably becoming more popular because of that fact. There are risks involved with using a vaporizer, though. Check out what Lisa Salazar, director of the wellness center at Idaho State University, and Daniel Gittins, coordinator of alcohol and drug programs at Duquesne University, have to say about vaporizers below. For information on similar topics, check out the Overheard On Campus category or log in to MyStudentBody.

Male using a vaporizer

Photo credit: Gizmodo

Lisa Salazar, director of the wellness center at Idaho State University, says …

Vaporizers experienced resurgence in popularity after Johnny Depp was seen using one in the movie Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Vaporizers are instruments often used with herbal drugs like marijuana, salvia, etc., although they may also be used for other drugs including meth or crack cocaine. Vaporizers may be made from crude materials, such as light bulbs or expensive purchased models, but all have the same general function. Unlike rolling a joint, or using a pipe where herbal drugs are burned directly, a vaporizer is used to create convection heat that warms the entire substance to a temperature that releases chemicals, such as the tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) from the plant matter forming a steam or mist. A tube or pipe is used to inhale the steam vapor and initiate the “high.”

Advocates for marijuana use claim that using a vaporizer is safer than smoking, as the vaporizer doesn’t release burned materials (carbons, tar, benzene, toluene, naftalene, etc.) into the lungs; therefore, it is less of a health hazard than smoking the herb directly. Instead, the volatile or essential oils of the plants are released with the vapor that is to be inhaled, and these are said to be more pleasing and calming to the imbiber.

From a health standpoint, however, it’s important to remember what THC actually does to the brain. Scientists know that THC has an impact on the parts of the brain that impact memory, thinking, perception, pleasure, and coordinated movement. There has been a direct correlation with marijuana and mental health issues, as well including violence, psychotic reactions, and even onsets of schizophrenia.

In addition, marijuana has been shown to impact more areas of the body than just the lungs and brain.  In fact, marijuana users have a nearly five times higher risk of heart attack in the first hour after smoking the drug and often experience elevated heart rates for up to three hours after smoking. Because the chemicals released when using a vapor are said to be less diluted, these risks could also be amplified. Regardless of what the word is on the street, vaporizers do not offer any less risk than traditional drug use methods.

Daniel Gittins, Coordinator of Alcohol and Drug Programs at Duquesne University, says …

According to Got Vape?, a blog dedicated to vaporizers, a vaporizer is a product used to smoke a blend of tobacco like substances. It says that a “vaporizer works by using heat to bring the temperature of your blend to the point where it boils the active ingredient out of the blend without burning the plant material. The vapors that result are much cleaner and tastier than smoke, and more highly concentrated as well.”

There has been an increase in the visibility of these type products recently, perhaps in response to the growing number of states that are allowing the use of marijuana for medical purposes. Additionally, the increase in vaporizer use could result from an increase in the amount of synthetic “smokeable” products marketed as well as the ongoing quest to find safer ways to smoke tobacco products. Vaporizers are marketed as a safer way to smoke tobacco and/or plant products (though there hasn’t been enough research conducted to support this claim). Proponents of this claim say that “vapors are free of tars and other unhealthy bi-products produced when blend is burned instead of being vaporized.”

There are many kinds of vaporizers. Many college students have been using them under the thought that they are smokeless and odorless (not true), and, therefore reduce the risks of getting caught smoking illegal substances, or legal ones in areas where smoking is not allowed. There are risks involved.

Bottom line: Although there are claims that using a vaporizer is safer and, in some ways, better than smoking tobacco or marijuana, there is no evidence to support this claim. There are real risks associated with using these substances.

For more tobacco-related posts, check out the Tobacco category in Health Topics or log in to MyStudentBody and navigate to the Tobacco section. You can take a self-assessment of your tobacco use and find educational materials to help you quit.

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2 thoughts on “Overheard On Campus: What is a vaporizer? Is using one safer than smoking tobacco or marijuana?

  1. So, I use to smoke a pack of Red’s 100’s a day. My dad said I’m going to get cancer. As a person educated in human anatomy, chemistry, and biology… As well as common sense… I agreed with him.

    I got this vaporizer and haven’t craved a cigarette since.

    We all know smoking cigarettes does not only give you a dose of nicotine but in addition, the butane you used to light the cigarette, the tar within the tobacco, the carbon monoxide that is a byproduct of oxidation (burning), and the numerous chemicals within the product as a whole.

    The oils associated with the vaporizers contain the same chemicals that matter… Mainly nicotine and THC.

    However, because you’re not smoking tar and the rest of that nasty stuff, your chances of getting emphysema, lung cancer, mouth cancers, and other associated illnesses due to conventional smoking are much less.

    But then again, people who never smoked sometimes end up with lung cancer… So who knows what damage these vaporizers can do…

    All I’m saying is I thought I’d never quite… But I quit the second I got this thing. On top of that… I don’t get sluggish or lethargic as I would with regular cigarettes.

    I haven’t seen any research stating that vaporizers won’t give you negative repercussions… But I haven’t seen any research saying they will either. Common sense concludes I’ll probably be better off with this and without smoking conventional methods.

    On top of that, I was smoking my vaporizer in class and the professor couldn’t tell me to stop… So… I’m happy. 🙂

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