While many people enjoy vaping cannabis preparations, few take the time to consider all of the events that take place. This synopsis will shed some light on the overlooked details of this process that so many people enjoy, demystifying the experience by providing a foundation of understanding.
Inside a vape cartridge, a mixture of cannabis oils, terpenes, and occasionally other additives is contained with a wicking system that absorbs the mixture. This mixture laden wick is in contact with a unit that uses electrical resistance to produce heat. This heat brings the liquid within the wick to nearly its vaporization temperature. When the user puffs on the month piece, the low pressure created causes the mixture to form very tiny particles that suspend in the air, creating a smoke like vapor that is then inhaled by the user.
During inhalation, compounds within this vapor interact with every surface they come in contact with. Sensory receptors in the mouth and nose detect many of these compounds, leading to the experience of flavor and aroma. Cannabinoids in the vapor interact with receptors on the areas the vapor contacts as well, which reduce inflammation and pain (CB1, CB2, PPAR gamma). Sometimes, a person vaping may experience a “harsh” or “spicy” sensation. This is generally because cannabinoids interact with the same receptors that chile pepper (TRPV1) and horseradish (TRPA) do. Sometimes terpenes or other additives also cause this effect in the same way. As the cannabis vapor travels down the wind pipe into the lungs, it continues exerting its effects. Most people experience this as a mild warm/tingling sensation, sometimes slightly irritating. However, very soon after the initial mild irritation (due to “spiciness”), the anti-inflammatory properties of cannabis kick in and relax the airway. This can help someone’s lungs “open up”.
In the deepest parts of the lungs (alveoli), particles in the cannabis vapor condense on the tissue surface in much the same way that dew condenses on grass on a cool night. These particles are then absorbed into the pulmonary circuit of the blood stream. The pulmonary circuit of the blood stream is special, it goes straight to the brain rather than spreading out all over the body. By doing so, it avoids enzymes in other parts of the body that will break down cannabinoids. For these reasons, inhaling cannabinoids requires a much smaller dose for the same effect on the brain than eating them and the feeling is nearly instantaneous (typically within a few seconds).
Inside the brain, cannabinoids (as well as terpenes) have a variety of pharmacological effects. In a nutshell, they provide feelings of relaxation and enjoyment while enhancing sensory perception. Depending on the cannabinoid profile, a person may also experience euphoria, increase or decrease in appetite, even sedation or stimulation. This variability in user
experience comes down to the unique pharmacological targets of each cannabinoid, and the way they interact with each other.
Cannabidiol (CBD) affects the cannabis experience in 3 main ways. First, CBD binds to the sides of CB1 and CB2 receptors in a way that does actually activate or deactivate them, but slightly changes their shape in a process called negative allosteric modulation. By changing the receptor’s shape, CBD makes it more difficult for the receptors to be activated by other cannabinoids. CBD also prevents other cannabinoids from accessing some of the enzymes that destroy them. Both of these functions together result in a longer, less intenses effect from other cannabinoids. CBD also mimics the neurotransmitter serotonin, and in doing so elevates mood and can even improve a person’s mental clarity.
Cannabinoids like Tetrehydrocannabinol (THC) and its degradation product Cannabinol (CBN) primarily exert their effect by binding to and activating cannabinoid receptors (CB receptors, CB1, CB2). However, they only activate some of the “machinery” attached to these receptors in a process called partial agonism. In doing so, these molecules actually block some of the effects of full agonists like the endocannabinoid 2-Arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG). The “high” a person feels from THC, is a combination of activating and blocking different aspects of cannabinoid receptor function. CBN functions in virtually the same way as THC, but is many times less potent at CB receptors. Results of CB receptor partial activation include enhanced sensory perception, altered state of consciousness (inebriation), sedation, euphoria, increased appetite, and elevated heart rate.
Cannabigerol (CBG) functions in much the same way as THC or CBG by binding to and partially activating CB receptors. However, the parts of the CB receptor “machinery” that are activated or blocked are different from those of THC or CBN, and CBG actually counteracts some of the psychoactive effects they produce. CBG also activates the negative control on adrenaline release (a2-adrenergic receptor), and thereby reduces heart rate and anxiety while providing a mild sedative effect. Finally, like CBD, CBG interacts with serotonin receptors. Unlike CBD, it only deactivates the inhibitory serotonin receptor (5HT1a), thereby reducing some perception of fatigue. The net experience that CBG provides is a pronounced reduction in anxiety and stress, while maintaining a clear head and mildly enhanced sensory perception. It can also be sedating in high doses.
The oil used in “product name” consists of approximately 56% CBD, 6% CBN and 5% CBG. The low dose of slightly psychoactive CBN is made less inebriating by the nearly equal content of CBG. Both of these at such levels produce a mild enhancement of the senses with a slight relaxing/mood elevating effect. Any inebriation produced by the low dose of CBN and CBG is counteracted by the high concentration of CBD, which prolongs and enhances the relaxing feelings. All in all, the blend provides a pleasant relaxation that sets the stage for all the flavor nuances of the fresh frozen native terpenes in the oil.
Edibles, tinctures, and lotions may be effective for delivering cannabis to the body, but inhalation is by far the best way to deliver it to the brain. Since vaping doesn’t actually burn anything, it seems like the ideal alternative to “smoking pot”. No carcinogens or combustion, just cannabis straight to the brain!