Casia Lanier   |   July 15, 2022

Heat-Not-Burn: The FDA-Backed Technology Coming to Cannabis

Consumers are getting smarter about healthier smoking options; companies are responding with new technologies for safer products.
Casia is a freelance writer based in NYC and Madrid. She is passionate about promoting emerging scientific and technological advancements in cannabis for a healthier future.

At the beginning of June, E1011 Labs announced its rebranded launch of its Heat-not-Burn’ elon’ and ‘stelo’ product offerings for dry hemp flower. The company, focused on convenience and sustainability, is making its mark in the dry-herb vaporizer market. With its simplified packaging, branding campaign, and affordable products, could this company make it easier and possibly safer to consume dry herbs?

Companies like this are popping up everywhere. And while not all have as sophisticated branding and marketing behind them as E1011 Labs, their influx into the e-vaporizer market is becoming noticeable. In 2019, the heat-not-burn market was valued at $7.3 billion, with a CAGR of 32.8% from 2020-2027.

WHAT IS ‘HEAT-NOT-BURN’?

This technology was first invented in the 1980s, when the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company (RJR) released its prototype, Premier, onto the US marketplace as a healthier alternative to traditional cigarettes for tobacco smokers. Unfortunately, it didn’t catch on among its target audience.

Heat-not-burn technology features heating tobacco or cannabis heated at low temperatures in a combustion-free environment, producing less smoke, fewer carcinogens like pyrolytic toxins, and a lower likelihood of the device becoming flammable. Ultimately, the goal was to make smoking tobacco a safer experience with lower health risks.

Nearly 30 years on, the technology is experiencing a renascence, this time in the cannabis space. In the face of increased lung diseases and associated health risks in young vapers, in addition to the respiratory health concerns raised during the COVID-19 pandemic, the market has been holding its breath for a healthier alternative to smoking. However, with the vaping crisis fresh in recent memory, consumers are becoming more skeptical and informed about emerging vaping products.

THE COMPETITION IS GETTING HOT

In 2021, Research and Markets released a report on the heat-not-burn market landscape. The study identified three models of the heat-not-burn type of electronic devices, including three models of ‘heat-not-burn type of electronic devices for vaporization of cannabis heat sticks’ and ‘two heated cannabis sticks.’ The report also noted the temperature variations required for substances nicotine and cannabinoid delivery with tobacco between 240-350 C, hemp flower (CBD) between 160-180C, and (marijuana flower) THC around 157C.

Each competitor in the space is putting their hat in, with effective marketing and branding strategies that lean on their product being a ‘healthier option.’ E1011 Labs, Omura, British American Tobacco, IQOS, and Heets, are among some of the big players making sizable R&D efforts. However, various copycat brands may use similar technology to these larger competitors. Therefore, amplifying differentiation through innovation, product design, product options, and the brand story will be crucial elements in making heat-not-burn products stand out among the competitors.

SAFETY CHECK

A 2020 Italian study comparing ‘heat-not-burn cigarettes’ to ‘traditional combustion cigarettes’ discovered that both were found to have adverse health effects on the smoker. And although this study was aimed at tobacco users, the technological difference can be inferred across all dry herb types, considering only slight temperature changes.

A small handful of studies have been done on the safety of heat-not-burn vaporizers for both tobacco and cannabis. And while most researchers agree that these devices are “slightly less harmful” than traditional cigarettes, they may cause the same health damage as traditional cigarettes and may cause a host of new health issues not previously seen in traditional smoking methods. Additionally, these devices are counter-effective to quitting smoking.

Until more data is available, the jury is still out on just how safe this inhalation method can be. However, there is a small ray of hope on a federal level in the US. In 2020, the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) authorized approval for Philip Morris to market ‘IQOS Tobacco Heating Stick’ as a heat-to-burn product that “reduces exposure to harmful chemicals,” so long as the company agrees to implement post-market surveillance of developing data.

As far as we know, heat-not-burn technology offers a slightly safer herb consumption experience. And for consumers looking for more highly effective delivery of cannabis, there is good news. A 2007 study revealed several benefits that heat-to-burn products have for users. Upon evaluation of VaporMed’s smokeless ‘Volcano’ product, 18 healthy subjects tested for high overall cannabinoid blood levels after inhalation and long, maintained highs and a 54% THC capture rate – a significantly higher rate than traditional marijuana cigarettes.

For now, this technology is preferable to any other smoking product type on the market; and demand is rising. The space will favor companies that can provide the innovation needed to guarantee higher safety standards in an attractive, affordable, and easy-to-use product.

 

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