A new type of smoking called "cannavaping" — using e-cigarettes for vaping cannabis — may help people use marijuana for medical reasons, according to a small, early study.

Smoking conventional marijuana cigarettes may lead a person to inhale high amounts of the toxic contaminants that are released when marijuana is burned, the researchers said. In contrast, cannavaping might provide a way to avoid inhaling high levels of these contaminants, the researchers said. Among these contaminants are carcinogenic compounds called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, the researchers said.

Vaping involves heating a liquid to its boiling point and then inhaling the vapors; conventional smoking involves burning a substance, such as marijuana, and then inhaling the smoke. [11 Odd Facts About Marijuana]

"Vaporization should lead to a lower toxic burden than combustion [burning]," lead study author Vincent Varlet, an analytical chemist at the University Centre of Legal Medicine in Lausanne, Switzerland, told Live Science. "Vaporization constitutes a safer approach of cannabis administration than cannabis smoking."

There are also devices available that can vaporize marijuana and are designed to sit on a tabletop, but e-cigarettes may be more user-friendly, the researchers said. Both e-cigarettes and tabletop vaporizing devices are likely to be less harmful than marijuana joints, the investigators said.

In the study, researchers looked at the plausibility and efficiency of cannabis vaping as an alternative to smoking the substance for medical reasons. The scientists extracted active compounds in marijuana called cannabinoids and made an oil that they concentrated in an e-liquid, which is a type of liquid used in e-cigarettes.

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However, they found that the concentration of the oil they made in the study was not sufficient. About 100 puffs on an e-cigarette would have been needed to induce the same therapeutic effects as those provided by intravenous administration of THC, one of marijuana's most powerful compounds, the researchers said. More research on the preparation and optimization of such liquid is needed, they said.

However, cannavaping might still one day provide a safer alternative to smoking cannabis, because it does not require heating the cannabis to the high temperatures reached when it is burned, the researchers found. That process leads to the inhalation of high levels of contaminants, the scientists found.

"Cannavaping appears to be a gentle, efficient, user-friendly and safe alternative method for cannabis smoking for medical cannabis delivery," they wrote in the study, published today (May 25) in the journal Scientific Reports. [4 Myths About E-Cigarettes]

Cannavaping may also offer an alternative to ingesting marijuana by eating products such as brownies or candies. When marijuana is consumed in this way, it is metabolized before it enters a person's bloodstream and its therapeutic ingredients may therefore become less active, Varlet said. This diluting effect does not occur with cannavaping, which allows the inhaled therapeutic compounds to enter the bloodstream directly, he said.

The researchers noted that they tested only one type of e-cigarette in the new study, and other brands that are available may produce different levels of certain impurities.

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