Anyone who knows someone with severe asthma might recognize a nebulizing machine. If not, the device is likely a complete mystery.
A nebulizer is a device that delivers a mist of medicine that’s easily inhaled into the lungs. Nebulizers have been used for respiratory illnesses such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and even cystic fibrosis for decades. They have proved an efficient way to administer medication to the body without irritating the lungs and throat.
“Nebulizing is a process where an aqueous medication (liquid, usually water-based) is aerosolized by bubbling air or oxygen through it, so that a patient can breathe it in,” explains Dr. Jordan Tishler, a Harvard-trained physician and cannabis therapeutics specialist who is also president of the Association of Cannabis Specialists and CEO at inhaleMD, a patient-focused clinical practice in Massachusetts.
Some pluses, some minuses
Nebulizing is the only pulmonary delivery method that doesnâ€™t require heating or combustion of the cannabis product
Rather than heating cannabis as one would by vaporizing or smoking, nebulizing sends compressed air through a specially formulated cannabis solution and turns it into micro particles, which are one to five microns in size, that can be inhaled into the lungs. These cannabis solutions vary, but some research shows they can contain sodium electrolytes to help with the nebulizing process, small amounts of ethanol to dilute the oil and emulsifiers like sodium lauryl sulphate (which is often found in toothpaste), as well as water.
Nebulizing is the only pulmonary delivery method that doesn’t require heating or combustion of the cannabis product. And unlike edibles, dosage can be controlled, too, which is especially beneficial for those using cannabis medically.
But the problem is that standard cannabis flower or oil cannot be put into a nebulizer. “Cannabis and its extracts are hydrophobic; they don’t like water,” says Dr. Tishler. “So nebulization will not work for cannabis, at least not for simple cannabis extracts.”
Innovations are being made and some companies have claimed to have created nebulizers specifically for cannabis use, as well as a standardized solution.
“There’s a whole industry now looking at water solubilization technology,” says Yaron Eshel, director of life sciences for iCAN: Israel-Cannabis. “So how do I get this oil and make it into very small molecules so that the body can absorb it? It’s called nanoencapsulation. It’s very standardized in the drug industry, very standardized in the food industry,” Eshel explains.
Within the cannabis industry, however, the process of nanoencapsulation is still in its infancy. There are some products popping up on the market. For example, Pearl2o is a water-soluble THC and CBD solution that is odourless and tasteless, which makers say can be used in cooking and drinks, or in the company’s nebulizer system.
CannaNeb also offers a nebulizer that it reports can use glycerin or medium-chain triglyceride oil-based CBD. Meanwhile, Ci Therapeutics, a partnership between iCAN: Israel-Cannabis and CannRX, has two prototype nebulizing devices: one for recreational use and one for medical use.
Hope is nebulizers become the gold standard
Some suggest nebulization is one of the most effective forms of pulmonary delivery that doesn’t involve heat
Eshel has worked with iCAN: Israel-Cannabis for three years, coming from a previous career in quality assurance and regulatory affairs in the medical field, dealing with devices like stents and hip replacements. Passionate about high-grade medical devices that can improve quality of life, he believes that nebulization is one of the most effective forms of pulmonary delivery that doesn’t involve heat.