"Health wise or otherwise, which is better? I am looking for a solution for pain management after surgery, and don't want to be a pothead."
I cannot answer your first questions as "pothead" is difficult to define but if edibles and topicals are working for you, then I would say that you are not missing anything by not vaping or smoking. The #1 question for me is "Does what you are doing help you?" If it does, then continue that treatment, if it doesn't, then look for alternatives. I like vaping a lot because it gives you the rapid relief of smoking but with very little negatives associated with smoking. Many times, edibles take a long time to activate and if you are in need of immediate relief, it would be good to vape first then eat the edible.
Even though cannabis has been shown to be a bronchodilator (help with small airways that are closed such as what happens with asthma), I would avoid any delivery method that is smoked or vaped after your surgery. SInce I do not know why you had surgery I cannot comment on what you remaining lung function is. Either other those methods would most likely irritate your lungs.
If you are looking for something that would help with your pain I would suggest a tincture in perhaps a 1:1 ration. A patch might also be appropriate in the area of the incision if there is one as well. At night you might do best with an edible that would last longer then the other methods. Titrate all of the medication to effect since everyone reacts differently to cannabis.
Perry Solomon, MD
Vaporizing is still pretty new so there is still a lot of research that needs to be done. Especially liquid pen vaporizing needs to be studied much more since the ingredients used in the liquid and the material used for the heating coil can have a big impact on health and have not been studied for inhalation. That said, there is pretty clear evidence that vaping herbal material is much less harmful for you than smoking.
There are two primary aspects to lung damage from smoking. The first is that the burning particulate from the combustion of the plant material clogs and damages the lungs. As we know from house fires the biggest risk of injury or death comes from smoke inhalation and not from the fire directly. So the large particulate from the burning wood and plant matter are very damaging to your lungs.
Vaporizing avoids this issue completely because it never gets hot enough to combust the plant matter. When you vaporize you heat the material until the active ingredients boil off, but the herbal material stays there and doesn't go into your lungs.
The second aspect of lung damage from smoking is from hot dry air. The lungs and air pathways are sensitive and moist and can be scorched by a sudden inhale of hot dry air. When drawing on a cigarette or joint the temperature of the air is around 1300 degrees at the tip. With a good vaporizer you will be staying in the 400 degree range for the heating and with the Firefly we have designed it with a cooling path so your lungs receive air that is only a bit hotter than body temp.
So there is great evidence that vaporizing plant material avoids the two main aspects of lung damage from smoking.
This issue can get a lot more complicated when
There is a great study by Dr. Mitch Earleywine who conducted a trial on this very question. The study found less respiratory symptoms in users that vaporize versus smoke. You can read the study here: https://harmreductionjournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1477-7517-4-11
The conclusion is that "the safety of cannabis can increase with the use of a vaporizer."
"These results suggest that the respiratory effects of cannabis can decrease with the use of a vaporizer. The data reveal that respiratory symptoms like cough, phlegm, and tightness in the chest increase with cigarette use and cannabis use, but are less severe among users of a vaporizer."
Vaping is cooler and smoother (as well as better tasting) for your throat and respiratory system. Any smoke is bad to inhale (from a grill, firepit, wildfire, ect). The smoke is inflammatory and causes you to cough and have trouble breathing. Also, if your throat or lungs (respiratory system) is already irritated) smoke will irritate it further. The smoke irritates your respiratory system because of its temperature (verses cool vapor), and chemicals, bronchial irritants, and carcinogens. Many of these of these carcinogens are left behind in the ash of vapor (duff, abv, ect). Any smoke can also irritate your eyes. Vapor from essential oils, water, and other solutions are often used for soothing purposes of the respiratory system and is meant to sit in a room (where it doesn't irritate the eyes or respiratory system. Thus being around and inhaling vapor is healthier then being around or inhaling smoke because of the lessening of carcinogens, and the soothing vs irritating sensation in your throat and respiratory system, as well as a cooler temperature. It also smells more pure and less harsh, since the cannabis is being cooked, instead of scorched.
It depends more on what type of cannabis you are ingesting, more so then on the delivery method you're using. Cannabis sativa-dominant strains are generally considered to be uplifting and energizing, while indica-dominant strains are considered sedative and relaxing. With the amount of hybridization that has occurred within the Cannabis plant over the last few decades, it can be difficult to determine which strain is which. If you are using manufactured products (which it appears you are) you may instead want to pay more attention to the ratios, i.e. CBD:THC.
Here is a great in-depth answer on the topic from Sava's Andrea Brooks: https://www.hellomd.com/answers/57ce228bdd1d330007adf3df/how-do-i-know-how-to-dose-cannabis-correctly