A multi-billion dollar technology developed by the tobacco industry may also disrupt the cannabis market. It’s known as heat-not-burn, a delivery system that vaporizes flower without burning or smoke.
To understand how we got here, you have rewind a few years. As public awareness about the health risks of cigarette smoking increased, so did the amount of money big tobacco put into researching alternative delivery systems. Cigarettes burn tobacco, which creates smoke containing well as over 200 chemicals. Many of these chemicals formed during the combustion process are carcinogenic.
How heat-not-burn works
When one lights up a cigarette, it reaches a temperature exceeding 600 degrees, which causes combustion and produces smoke. Heat-not-burn devices max out below 350 degrees—the precise amount of heat needed to make a vapor directly from the plant without combustion. Because these devices don’t burn the product, there are no chemicals or carcinogens caused by smoke. You might think the whole point of vapes is for those who want to avoid smoking. Still, oils used in vaping involve processing the plant, so you do not get all of the natural compounds in the unprocessed, whole plant (especially crucial when we apply this technology to cannabis).
In addition, consumers are rightly concerned about the health issues related to some vape oil solvents. Heat-not-burn requires no solvents, produces no smoke, and offers another big benefit: The taste is improved, allowing for the natural flavor nuances of the plant instead of a strong, burnt taste and smell.
When Japanese companies introduced heat-not-burn technology nine years ago, it took over 20 percent of the market within the first few years. Next, it arrived in the European and Canadian markets, and finally now in the United States, which saw the introduction of the first heat-not-burn products in 2019. In July 2020, the FDA granted Philip Morris the right to claim that their heat-not-burn product, Marlboro Heatsticks, “reduced exposure” to harmful chemicals. If this technology can make tobacco even relatively healthier and more attractive to consumers, imagine what it can do for cannabis? (Hint: A lot.)
It preserves the benefits of the plant.
The cannabis plant has a wide range of healthy compounds, which we know as cannabinoids and terpenes. Unfortunately, when you burn cannabis, many of these beneficial ingredients literally go up in smoke. When you burn the plant compounds, fewer healthy plant benefits are absorbed.
The heat-not-burn delivery system preserves the full-spectrum cannabinoids and terpenes, allowing users to reap the plant’s complete mind-and-body benefits. This results in a more natural, appealing taste and a more natural, balanced high, thanks to the “entourage effect” of all the cannabis compounds working synergistically together. In other words, this technology allows consumers to enjoy cannabis in the healthiest, purest, and cleanest possible way, which is why many believe it will disrupt the industry as a whole.
Heat-not-burn devices are hygienic and low-profile, allowing consumers to enjoy cannabis safely and discreetly. The most advanced systems will utilize pre-filled sticks packed with cannabis or CBD flower, eliminating the need to pack or clean out the tool.
In a post-COVID world, where people are increasingly concerned with germs, they will appreciate a hygienic cannabis delivery system. Solo users can easily gauge an exact amount of product without having to roll (or share) a joint, nor irritate their lungs with smoke at a time when lung health is top-of-mind.
As cannabis companies begin to roll out marketing campaigns around heat-not-burn devices, the public will take notice. This is the first major technology advancement since vaping, and it shows all signs of succeeding in every area that oil vape devices fell short.
Editor’s note: The author is CEO of Omura, a leading heat-not-burn technology company.