Story by Steven Hager
In the 10,000-year human history of cannabis use, smoking is a relatively new phenomenon. In India, consumption began with a bhang—cannabis flowers soaked in hot milk and spices. In the biblical Middle East, cannabis resin marinated in olive oil was applied directly to the skin—the anointing oil of Jesus. In Colonial times, cannabis was a primary ingredient in over-the-counter medicines consumed orally, some of which also contained large doses of alcohol. But smoking cannabis in the US did not become a widespread practice until migrant workers from Mexico stuffed some mota into Native American peace pipes in New Orleans, where jazz, rock’n’roll, and the counterculture were all born.
By the late ’60s, cannabis users still favored the same delivery system as their predecessors in the early days of jazz—rolled cigarettes. In the last decade, a dramatic shift has been made to glass smoking devices. But in the future, most people will probably vaporize.
The first promoter of cannabis vaporization was a mysterious government employee known only as "Dr. Lunglife." Early in 1989, he sent a manuscript to High Times explaining how to build an inexpensive vaporization machine using a handful of Radio Shack parts. The article, "Vaporizing THC Oil: An Alternative to Smoking Marijuana," was printed in the May 1989 issue.
"Why vaporize THC oil?" asked Dr. Lunglife. "Chemical analysis has shown that a cigarette made of raw marijuana contains at least as much tar as an equal-sized cigarette made of tobacco. Although medical studies have not shown a connection to date, this fact does suggest [that] lung diseases such as cancer, emphysema, and bronchitis are possible consequences of heavy marijuana smoking." With vaporization, Dr. Lunglife explained, the essential THC oil is heated just enough to melt the active ingredients and transform them into smokeless vapor. If there’s no fire, smoke, or combustion, he concluded, there are no cancer-causing gases or tar.
Dr. Lunglife advocated a two-step process: First, he made concentrated black oil from raw cannabis flowers, thus eliminating the plant material in stage one. He then brushed the oil onto the filament of a small light bulb, which would be momentarily heated to complete the vaporization process. Seven months later, in the December 1989 issue, Dr. Lunglife published instructions ("Dr. Lunglife Invents a Better Vaporizer") on how to build an improved version that included a dome cover and had the capability to vaporize raw plant material.
Dr. Lunglife forged a trail that few initially followed. That is, not until the appearance of Eagle Bill at the 7th Cannabis Cup in Amsterdam. An employee of the Sensi Seed Bank, Eagle Bill stood at the Sensi booth vaporizing everyone for free, establishing himself as the most popular individual at the event. Eagle Bill utilized a heat gun with temperature control and a large glass receptacle to contain the vapors. Using mostly bottom buds and trim leaves, he demonstrated how shake could yield a pure, clean high as powerful as any produced by a joint of kind bud. Over the years, thanks to Eagle Bill, thousands of smokers experienced their first vaporization at the Cannabis Cup.
About 10 years ago, commercial vaporization machines began appearing in headshops in North America. Early models consisted of glass domes that covered a nonadjustable heating element. In the last two years, enormous improvements in vaporization technology have been achieved. It’s becoming increasingly clear that the future of medical use is going to be vaporization, not smoking.
Read the Rest in Issue #2 of High Times' Grow America
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