Exploring the use of cannabis vaporizers

Pittcon’s Cannabis and Psychedelics track is dedicated to the development of analytical techniques for characterizing cannabis-based and psychedelic drugs. From the detection of illegal trafficking operations to the analysis of consumer CBD products, such methods are essential to promote safety, quality control, and regulation of these substances.

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Cannabis in America

Cannabis and its legal status have long been controversial issues in the United States, and they undeniably still are. Nonetheless, the situation has changed dramatically over the last few decades: what was once synonymous with counterculture is now readily available to consumers, pre-packaged, and tailored to the needs of a diverse and rapidly evolving market. From Illinois to San Francisco, cannabis and cannabis-derived products are ready to buy in myriad forms, including concentrates, lotions, and CBD-infused lattes.

Like it or not, cannabis is here to stay. Overwhelmingly, the U.S. public supports legalization in some form or another: around 9 out of 10 Americans support the use of marijuana for medical or recreational use, while around 6 out of 10 support its recreational use.1

Interestingly, consumption and possession of cannabis are both still technically illegal under federal law in every state in America. However, at the time of writing, medical use of the drug has been made legal under state law in 37 states, while 21 states have legalized recreational use (and a further ten states have “decriminalized” it).

Usually, when federal and state laws are in disagreement, federal law prevails – yet these state legislations have nonetheless had a huge effect. Crimes relating to marijuana use and possession are generally only prosecuted at the state level – people are unlikely to get arrested by a U.S. Marshall or an FBI agent for personal use of cannabis – so by refusing to prosecute these offences, states effectively do make it legal to buy and consume the drug.2

The health and social outcomes of the widespread decriminalization of cannabis are hard to quantify, with analysts citing a relative scarcity of post-legalization data on outcomes such as rates of cannabis use.3 However, there is one area in which proponents of legalization have proven to be correct: tax revenue. States which legalize marijuana effectively bring a large proportion of what was an illegal black market into the full scrutiny of the government, enabling it to be controlled, regulated, and taxed. In Colorado, for example, the state government now collects around $20 million per month in tax revenue from recreational marijuana alone.4 The value of a taxable cannabis economy is a powerful incentive for those states which have yet to legalize the drug.

Characterizing the Components of Cannabis

Whether or not any changes in federal law regarding cannabis arise, cannabis-derived products are already a major presence in the market. The relatively sudden emergence of a market sector devoted to cannabis has introduced a new challenge for analytical chemists tasked with identifying and quantifying substances found in these products.

In 2019, the journal Nature stated that “no aspect of the cannabis journey better exemplifies its current status than the fortunes of cannabidiol”.5 Cannabidiol, popularly known as CBD, is a cannabinoid compound that naturally occurs in – and can be extracted from – cannabis. CBD occupies the same legal gray area as cannabis itself: it is approved for certain medical uses (in particular, the treatment of certain forms of epilepsy in children), yet the U.S. government still classifies it as a schedule 1 substance alongside the likes of LSD and heroin. Despite this, CBD is readily available, in a number of forms, to consumers in states which have legalized recreational use.

While certain medical applications of CBD have been demonstrated, the compound is popularly associated with a number of health claims.6,7 While some of these – such as the compound’s ability to effectively treat cancer of Alzheimer’s disease – lie well outside the realms of scientific consensus, CBD does show some promise in the treatment of anxiety, insomnia, addiction, and chronic pain.

Regardless of its intended application, the fact remains that CBD is hugely popular and widely available in the form of oils, extracts, capsules, vapes, lotions, and patches. Yet, surprisingly, there are currently no official standard methods for analyzing the constituents of CBD products. At Pittcon, Dr. Imma Ferrer will be leading a symposium entitled Analytical Methods for Cannabis Characterization, in which speakers will reveal the analytical methods behind ongoing work to uncover the chemical composition of cannabis and cannabis-based products such as CBD.

A Closer Look at Vaporizers

The use of cannabis vaporizers – commonly known as vapes – has grown more popular over recent years. These handheld devices use electronically-controlled heating elements to deliver precise doses of the vaporized volatile components of cannabis with far lower levels of unwanted chemicals than conventional smoking. Many different types of cannabis vapes exist, which work with dried cannabis, concentrates, or liquid preparations of cannabis.

Despite the apparent health benefits compared to conventional smoking, vapes pose some downsides too. These devices are known to deliver a range of unwanted impurities and harmful compounds to the user, including micro-particulates, carcinogens, heavy metals, and flavorants which can cause lung damage.

The rigorous analysis of cannabis vapes is vital in order to minimize the damage they cause to users. Dr. Eberhardt Kuhn, market manager for Food, Cannabis, and Hemp at Shimadzu Scientific Instruments, will be at Pittcon, leading a symposium entitled Vaping – A Closer Look Behind the Smoke Screen. In this session, experts from both sides of the law will explore the methods used for the testing of cannabis – applied to both legal products, such as vapes, and to the forensic analysis of illegal cannabis.

Exploring the World of Cannabis and Psychedelics Analysis at Pittcon

Alongside a range of talks from some of the world’s foremost experts in cannabis analysis, Pittcon’s main expo will play host to some of the most advanced and influential manufacturers of scientific equipment. Pittcon will be host to companies such as CEM Corporation and Fritsch, which will be showcasing their latest systems for the preparation and analysis of cannabis.

To learn more about the cutting-edge techniques and equipment used for the analysis of cannabis and psychedelics, join us at Pittcon from March 18th at the Pennsylvania Convention Centre in Philadelphia.

References and Further Reading

  1. Green, T. V. Americans overwhelmingly say marijuana should be legal for medical or recreational use. Pew Research Center https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2022/11/22/americans-overwhelmingly-say-marijuana-should-be-legal-for-medical-or-recreational-use/.
  2. Medical Marijuana and Federal Law. www.criminaldefenselawyer.com https://www.criminaldefenselawyer.com/resources/criminal-defense/federal-crime/medical-marijuana-federal-laws.htm.
  3. The Effect of State Marijuana Legalizations: 2021 Update | Cato Institute. https://www.cato.org/policy-analysis/effect-state-marijuana-legalizations-2021-update (2021).
  4.  Marijuana Tax Reports | Department of Revenue. https://cdor.colorado.gov/data-and-reports/marijuana-data/marijuana-tax-reports.
  5. Cannabis. https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-02523-6.
  6. CBD products are everywhere. But do they work? - Harvard Health. https://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:kTqfeZcMhY4J:https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/cbd-products-are-everywhere-but-do-they-work&cd=13&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=uk.
  7. Eisenstein, M. The reality behind cannabidiol’s medical hype. Nature 572, S2–S4 (2019).

About Pittcon

Pittcon® is a registered trademark of The Pittsburgh Conference on Analytical Chemistry and Applied Spectroscopy, a Pennsylvania non-profit organization. Co-sponsored by the Spectroscopy Society of Pittsburgh and the Society for Analytical Chemists of Pittsburgh, Pittcon is the premier annual conference and exposition on laboratory science.

Proceeds from Pittcon fund science education and outreach at all levels, kindergarten through adult. Pittcon donates more than a million dollars a year to provide financial and administrative support for various science outreach activities including science equipment grants, research grants, scholarships and internships for students, awards to teachers and professors, and grants to public science centers, libraries and museums.

Visit pittcon.org for more information.


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Last updated: Feb 1, 2024 at 7:37 AM

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