Most research on water filtration has previously been focused on tobacco smoke, but research with marijuana smoke has revealed that, except for respective psychoactive components (nicotine and cannabinoids), both smokes share many common traits and physical properties. Many of the results obtained from studies of tobacco smoke are also applicable to marijuana smoke.
In the late 1970’s, a study was done by scientists based at the University of Athens Medical School (Greece) who conducted a series of chemical and pharmacological studies on marijuana and tobacco smoke. (References 1-4) The scientists tested the smoke that had been filtered through a water pipe as well as the water itself, containing both soluble and insoluble compounds. Chemical analysis revealed many different compounds in the smoke and in the water.
Water Filtered Smoke Richer in THC
The water did trap some THC, as well as other psychoactive compounds, however, most of the THC present in the marijuana passed through the water pipe unchanged. Pharmacological tests (in mice) revealed that some of the water-trapped marijuana compounds were responsible for producing catatonia and for suppressing spontaneous motor activity. In contrast, the water-filtered smoke itself did not affect spontaneous motor activity and did not induce catatonia, and was richer in THC. These results indicate that water filtration removes some behaviorally active compounds in preference to others; this may be important when comparing the therapeutic effects of whole marijuana smoke to water-filtered smoke.
Reduction in Particulate Matter and Quantity of Toxic Substances
Research has shown that water filtration reduces both the amount of particulate matter and the number and quantity of toxic substances in the smoke that passes through it. In a 1963 study by Hoffman (Reference 5) the water pipe was found to retain 90% of the phenol and 50% of the particulate matter and benzo-a-pyrene of the original tobacco smoke.
Significant Reduction in Carcinogenic Potential and Gland Destruction
In another study, (Reference 6) tobacco smoke components that were passed through a water pipe showed only a minor hyperplasic reaction and no sebaceous gland destruction when they were painted onto mouse skin. (The application of substances to mouse skin to assess carcinogenic potential is a classic toxicological test; the induction of abnormal cell proliferation [hyperplasia] is a red flag.) In contrast, tobacco smoke condensate that was not water-filtered induced strong hyperplasia and complete sebaceous gland destruction when applied to mouse skin in the same concentration. Salem and Sami, (Reference 7) also using the mouse skin test, showed that there was a significant reduction of carcinogenic potential in water-filtered smoke compared to the water remaining in the pipe i.e., the water-trapped material was more carcinogenic than the smoke that passed through it. Indeed, when analyzed by thin layer chromatography, two carcinogenic agents were identified in the water itself, while only one was identified in the water filtered smoke. Therefore, water filtration removes at least two known carcinogens that would normally be found in the smoke.
Less Impact on Immune System
Recently, Dr. Gary Huber at the University of Texas and colleagues from Harvard’s School of Public Health conducted a cellular toxicity study of marijuana and tobacco smoke. (Reference 8) This research group showed that passing marijuana or tobacco smoke through water, or even exposing the smoke to a wetsurface of about 48 square inches, effectively removed substances (acrolein and acetaldehyde) which are toxic to alveolar macrophages. Alveolar macrophages are one of the major defense cells of the lung and are an important component of the immune system. When the macrophages were exposed to smoke that was not water filtered, there was a marked impairment of their capacity to kill bacteria. When the smoke was water-filtered, however, there was no reduction in the bactericidal ability of the macrophages, suggesting that marijuana smoke that has been passed through sufficient water will have less impact on the immune system than marijuana smoke that has not been water-filtered. This intriguing finding would be of particular importance when treating patients with the AIDS wasting syndrome.
In summary, it appears that water filtration can be effective in removing components from marijuana smoke that are known toxicants, while allowing the THC to pass through relatively intact. The effectiveness of toxicant removal is related to the smoke’s water contact area. Specially designed water pipes, incorporating particulate filters and gas dispersion frits would likely be most effective in this regard; the gas dispersion frit serves to break up the smoke into very fine bubbles, thereby increasing its water contact area. While individuals vary greatly in their smoking technique, state of health, dosing regimen, and so on, it seems that many patients could benefit from the use of water pipes to deliver THC. This would allow patients to titrate their dose easily while reducing the health hazard associated with smoke.
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Article originally by Nicholas V. Cozzi, Ph.D.
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