Inhaling vaporized botanicals as medicine

The use of plants as medicine has been and continues to be employed by cultures throughout the world in the treatment of numerous physical and psychological conditions and symptoms. It is estimated that 80% of the world’s population use plants as medicine. The most common routes of administration of these botanical compounds are oral, topical or inhalational (smoke), and they come in a variety of forms: concoctions, decoctions, salves, lotions, ointments, pills, tablets, powders, extracts and pure plant sources.

When smoking herbal/botanical compounds (think: cigarettes, cigars, pipes, etc.), an individual inhales a long list of toxins and carcinogens that are produced during combustion. Filters and water pipes (i.e. bongs, hookahs, etc.) remove only a fraction of these dangerous molecules.

Along comes the vaporizer:

The vaporizer is a safer inhalational option. The two main components of any vaporizer are: 1) a heating element (with or without a temperature control feature), 2) a chamber to hold the botanical compound.

Instead of burning (combustion), vaporizers gently cook the plant material in the enclosed chamber. Depending on the vaporizer, it typically takes between 5-60 seconds of heating before vapor is produced. Each botanical agent has a defined temperature range at which the desired bioactive molecules are released from the raw plant as a gas vapor (see the temperature ranges below).

Since vapor is produced at lower temperatures than it takes to burn the plant material, essentially none of the toxic chemicals are produced.  Overall, vaporizing is a safer inhalational option than smoking, and without having to inhale the noxious chemicals in smoke there is minimal throat irritation or burning.

Controlling potency and concentration:

These can be controlled by the amount of vapor inhaled and by the temperature selected on the vaporizer. Lower temperatures produce less vapor (and a lower concentration of active compounds) than the higher temperatures. As the temperature is increased, more aromas and flavors are released.  If you set the vaporizer’s temperature too high, the vapor will become yellow-grey in color. This is an indication that you have reached combustion temperatures and smoke is starting to form. Adjust the vaporizer to a lower temperature setting to eliminate combustion and smoke.

If you are already smoking or considering using medicinal botanicals (i.e. marijuana, tobacco, peppermint, sage, etc.), consider purchasing a vaporizer with an adjustable temperature control. This will enable you to use various plant medicinals and achieve the best results.

 

(**although not the subject of this blog entry, if you are using smoked tobacco products and want to reduce your risk of developing cancer and lung disease…consider using an electronic cigarette instead. These are mini-vaporizers that look like cigarettes and they deliver nicotine vapor without the toxic chemicals produced during the combustion of tobacco. Nicotine is a very addictive chemical, so don’t start using electronic cigarettes if you are not already smoking.**)

What can you vaporize and where can you purchase one?:

Vaporizers commonly use dried (easier to vaporize) or fresh plant material, although some vaporizers can also use liquid extractions of plant materials.

You can purchase a vaporizer easily through internet stores, and the prices range from under $100 to over $1000 depending on the model. There are many manufacturers to chose from, and new/fancier models and features are constantly becoming available.

As with any botanical medicinal, there are a variety of important factors to pay close attention to before using them:

  • Botanicals are medicine. They are comprised of numerous molecules that have bioactive effects. (see references at the bottom of this blog entry)
  • Always discuss your use of these substances with your medical team. As with any medication, their use can lead to serious side effects and potentially dangerous drug-botanical interactions.
  • Only obtain plant products from reputable manufacturers/suppliers. Adulteration of plant compounds with other (often unspecified) ingredients is not uncommon. Additionally, batch-to-batch variability in product quality and potency is a concern when using botanicals from less reputable suppliers.

Here is an abbreviated list of some of the more commonly vaporized medicinal botanicals:

*these botanicals have been used for thousands of years in the treatment of these conditions (This is NOT an endorsement of these botanical compounds and indications. This is only for informational purposes.)*

  • Camomille: relaxes emotions and muscles, relieves pain, stiff joints, headaches, sore muscles, menstrual and digestive system cramping
  • Damiana: stress reduction
  • Eucalyptus: relieving sinus and lung congestion, cough and asthma
  • Green Tea: pain reliever, aids in digestion (pain, gas, bloating, nausea)
  • Lavender: relieves muscle pain, migraines and other headaches, indigestion, reducing stress
  • Lemon Balm: helps with insomnia, reducing stress, relieve spasms, cramps and reduce pain
  • Marijuana: relieves pain, nausea, improves appetite, aids in relaxation and insomnia
  • Passion Flower: sedative, insomnia
  • Peppermint: aids in digestion (pain, gas, bloating, nausea), pain reliever (especially headaches)
  • Raspberry Leaf: relieves nausea and upset stomach
  • Sage: reduces sweating, aids in digestion
  • Spearmint: aids in digestion, relaxation, respiratory problems (bronchitis, asthma, sinusitis)
  • Thyme: relieves muscle spasms, expectorant

Listen to Dr. Donald Abrams (University of California San Francisco/Osher Institute and San Francisco General Hospital, Medical Oncologist and Integrative Oncologist) talk about the research his group conducted which found that vaporization is a safer and more enjoyable delivery method for inhaling botanical medicinals than smoking without reducing the efficacy of the active ingredients.

Vaporization Temperatures:

Low temperature: up to 150°C (302°F)

Angelica: 100°C to 150°C (212°F to 302°F)
Black Horehound: 100°C to 125°C (212°F to 257°F)
Blue Lotus: 100°C to 125°C (212°F to 257°F)
Chamomile: 100°C to 125°C (212°F to 257°F)
Clove: 125°C to 150°C (257°F to 302°F)
Corn Silk: 100°C to 125°C (212°F to 257°F)
Dandelion: 125°C to 150°C (257°F to 302°F)
Goldenrod: 100°C to 150°C (212°F to 302°F)
Gotu Kola: 100°C to 150°C (212°F to 302°F)
Horsetail: 100°C to 150°C (212°F to 302°F)
Hyssop: 100°C to 150°C (212°F to 302°F)
Lavender: 100°C to 125°C (212°F to 257°F)
Meadowsweet: 100°C to 150°C (212°F to 302°F)
Motherwort: 100°C to 150°C (212°F to 302°F)
Passionflower: 100°C to 150°C (212°F to 302°F)
Peppermint: 100°C to 150°C (212°F to 302°F)
Purslane: 100°C to 150°C (212°F to 302°F)
Sage: 125°C to 150°C (257°F to 302°F)
St. John’s Wort: 100°C to 150°C (212°F to 302°F)
Syrian Rue (Peganum harmala): 100°C to 150°C (212°F to 302°F)
Thyme: 100°C to 150°C (212°F to 302°F)
Tobacco: 125°C to 150°C (257°F to 302°F)
Wormwood: 100°C to 150°C (212°F to 302°F)
Yarrow: 100°C to 150°C (212°F to 302°F)
Yerba Mate: 100°C to 150°C (212°F to 302°F)

 

Medium temperature: up to 175°C (347°F)

Anise: 150°C to 175°C (302°F to 347°F)
Caraway: 150°C to 175°C (302°F to 347°F)
Cat’s Claw: 150°C to 175°C (302°F to 347°F)
Coffee beans: 150°C to 175°C (302°F to 347°F)
Comfrey: 150°C to 175°C (302°F to 347°F)
Damiana: 150°C to 175°C (302°F to 347°F)
Ephedra: 125°C to 175°C (257°F to 347°F)
Fennel: 150°C to 175°C (302°F to 347°F)
Feverfew: 125°C to 175°C (257°F to 347°F)
Hawthorn: 125°C to 175°C (257°F to 347°F)
Ginkgo: 125°C to 175°C (257°F to 347°F)
Guarana: 125°C to 175°C (257°F to 347°F)
Lion’s Tail (Wild Dagga): 150°C to 175°C (302°F to 347°F)
Milk Thistle: 125°C to 175°C (257°F to 347°F)
Prickly Poppy: 150°C to 175°C (302°F to 347°F)
Red Poppy: 125°C to 175°C (257°F to 347°F)
Saw Palmetto: 125°C to 175°C (257°F to 347°F)
Sweet Flag: 150°C to 175°C (302°F to 347°F)

 

High temperature: up to 200°C (392°F)

Aloe Vera: 175°C to 200°C (347°F to 392°F)
Ayahuasca (Banisteriopsis caapi): 185°C to 200°C (365°F to 392°F)
Barberry: 175°C to 200°C (347°F to 392°F)
Burdock: 150°C to 200°C (302°F to 392°F)
Cannabis: 170°C to 200°C (302°F to 392°F)
Couch Grass: 175°C to 200°C (347°F to 392°F)
Evening Primrose: 150°C to 200°C (302°F to 392°F)
Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria): 175°C to 200°C (347°F to 392°F)
Fringe Tree: 175°C to 200°C (347°F to 392°F)
Garlic: 175°C to 200°C (347°F to 392°F)
Ginger: 175°C to 200°C (347°F to 392°F)
Ginseng: 175°C to 200°C (347°F to 392°F)
Goldenseal: 175°C to 200°C (347°F to 392°F)
Hops: 175°C to 200°C (347°F to 392°F)
Kava Kava: 175°C to 200°C (347°F to 392°F)
Kola Nut: 185°C to 200°C (365°F to 392°F)
Kratom: 175°C to 200°C (347°F to 392°F)
Licorice: 175°C to 200°C (347°F to 392°F)
Maca Root: 150°C to 200°C (302°F to 392°F)
Marshmallow: 150°C to 200°C (302°F to 392°F)
Morning Glory: 185°C to 200°C (365°F to 392°F)
Sida Cordifolia: 175°C to 200°C (347°F to 392°F)
Salvia Divinorum: 175°C to 230°C (347°F to 392°F)
Sinicuichi (Mayan Sun Opener): 175°C to 200°C (347°F to 392°F)
Turmeric: 175°C to 200°C (347°F to 392°F)
Valerian: 185°C to 200°C (365°F to 392°F)
Wild Yam: 175°C to 200°C (347°F to 392°F)
Yohimbe: 185°C to 200°C (365°F to 392°F)

Two of my favorite resources on plants as medicines are:

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About Brian D. Lawenda, M.D.

I am an integrative oncologist. I trained at Massachusetts General Hospital (Harvard Medical School) in radiation oncology and through Stanford-UCLA (Helms Medical Institute) in medical acupuncture. I am the founder of IntegrativeOncology-Essentials.