BlogNot what the doctor ordered: A Q&A on why medical cannabis shouldn't be smoked

Not what the doctor ordered: A Q&A on why medical cannabis shouldn't be smoked

6 min read

Lucy MacKinnon

why medical cannabis shouldn't be smoked

In the UK, one of the most prominent misconceptions that shrouds understanding and acceptance of medical cannabis is the idea that medical cannabis is smoked. However, contrary to widespread belief, this is not the case, and in the UK, medical cannabis will never be prescribed with this intention in mind. 


Given that today marks No Smoking Day, we felt it would be appropriate to explore this subject, and clarify why smoking medical cannabis contradicts its therapeutic value, and is also against the law. We spoke to one of our expert consultants, Dr David Tang, a medical cannabis specialist and emergency medicine consultant, to find out more. 

But first, let’s clarify the basics. 

What is No Smoking Day?

No Smoking Day is an awareness campaign that has been taking place for 40 years, usually held on the second Wednesday in March. No Smoking Day promotes the benefits of quitting smoking, and raises awareness of the health implications it can cause. 

Smoking can have serious consequences on a persons' health. Cancer, lung disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), heart disease, diabetes, and strokes can all be caused by smoking, and the risk of developing other serious health conditions or issues with the immune system is much higher for smokers. 

Is smoking cannabis illegal in the UK?

Yes. Smoking cannabis is always illegal in the UK, regardless of whether it has been prescribed by a specialist doctor, or bought through a street dealer.  

This is because when substances, such as tobacco or cannabis, are ignited, combustion begins. A number of dangerous, carcinogenic chemicals are released during this process, and these can have substantial implications on a person’s health. 

Because the act of smoking can be detrimental and dangerous to health, if medical cannabis is smoked, its status as a legitimate, legal and prescribed medicine is invalidated. 

Can cannabis flower be prescribed in the UK?

In the UK, specialist doctors, registered with the General Medical Council, can prescribe medical cannabis flowers, or cannabis oil, to patients who may benefit from these treatments when other conventional routes have proven to be inappropriate or unsuccessful. 

However, medical cannabis flowers are not prescribed to be smoked. They are prescribed with the instruction of, and intention of, being vaporised. 

To make sure our patients have everything they need, at Releaf we provide a Welcome Box through our Plus subscription service which provides patients with a OMURA dry herb vaporiser, so they have a suitable, and legal, way to administer their medication.

Now, let’s find out what our expert, Dr David Tang, had to say on the subject.

Q: Dr Tang, what is the difference between smoking and vaping cannabis?

A: “There are a number of differences between smoking and vaping, but one of the most important is the risk of causing long-term damage to your lungs. The risk is far higher when you smoke compared to when you vape - simply because of the temperature of the smoke that you inhale. 

Temperatures can reach between 400 to 900 degrees when you smoke, but cannabis releases its cannabinoid contents when it reaches between 160 and 220 degrees, and they start to deteriorate at higher temperatures.

When you vape, as opposed to smoke, that temperature comes right down, and so the risk of developing long-term health concerns like emphysema come right down as well. 

By heating cannabis to its optimal temperature, and not beyond this, you're only getting the benefit of the medicine. Whereas when you smoke, you're also inhaling cancer-causing, non-essential fumes and particles.” 

Q: Can you explain what happens when medical cannabis is vaped?

A: “When medical cannabis is vaped, a current of heated air passes over the cannabis and turns the medicinal compounds it contains, like CBD, THC, and other cannabinoids and terpenes, into a vapour that is then inhaled. 

This way cannabinoid compounds reach the brain within one heart-lung circulation, making it fast-acting, which can be useful for treating sharp pains, or providing rapid relief for symptoms that have been exacerbated, but its effects typically wear off over the next few hours. 

For long-lasting background pains, cannabis oils may be more beneficial because their effects can last for four to six hours, but, these effects aren’t felt straight away, and so vaping cannabis flower can be used as a springboard, to initiate symptom relief.” 

Q: Why can medical cannabis flowers be prescribed to be vaped, but not to be smoked?

A: “There are a lot of side effects with other medicines, and medical cannabis is one of the one few treatments that has few, or minimal side effects associated with it.

Smoking makes this counter-productive, because it adds in a whole host of risks and side effects that aren’t necessary, or pleasant to experience, and ultimately, the UK government will not support or tolerate a delivery method that contributes to cancer. 

Because the UK only recently legalised medical cannabis, there are patients who were self-medicating with cannabis before receiving a legal prescription, and often they were consuming cannabis by smoking it. 

They had a routine or a ritual they were used to, but, once they get into the new routine or ritual, they find vaping medical cannabis is just as effective in treating their symptoms - and not as harmful for their health.” 

 Q: What would happen to a medical cannabis patient if they were found to be smoking their medicine?

A:  “As a doctor, it is not my job to enforce the law, but it is my job to give people information and options that empower them to make their own decisions regarding their health. 

From an integrity standpoint, I would not want to continue prescribing cannabis to a patient who was insistent on smoking it. Simply because if they truly wanted to use cannabis for a medicinal purpose, they wouldn’t be damaging their health whilst doing so. 

If they were caught by the police, they’d be treated in the same way as any other citizen. Even though they may have a legal prescription for cannabis, no one is legally allowed to smoke it, and so they would be committing a crime. We wouldn’t be able to assist in these cases.”   

Closing considerations

As we observe No Smoking Day, it is important to reiterate that the difference between smoking and vaping medical cannabis is not just a matter of legal compliance, but a fundamental aspect of patient care, health, and safety. 

By addressing the common myths and misconceptions that hinder the widespread acceptance of medical cannabis, such as this one, we hope to remove the stigma that surrounds this legal, and legitimate form of medicine, to improve patient outcomes, and their quality of life. 

It is important to seek medical advice before starting any new treatments. The patient advisors at Releaf are available to provide expert advice and support. Alternatively, click here to book a consultation with one of our specialist doctors.

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With five years of journalism and healthcare content creation under her belt, Lucy strives to improve medical cannabis awareness and access in the UK by producing high quality, credible content.

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