Is There a Safer Way to Smoke Cannabis? How the Methods Stack Up
If you’re looking for the healthiest way to smoke cannabis, keep in mind that there’s no totally safe way to do so — even with the purest, most pesticide-free bud. Cannabis smoke contains most of the same toxins and carcinogens that make tobacco smoke harmful to your health.
There are, however, methods that may be slightly less harmful than others. Here’s a look at how different methods compare, plus some smoke-free alternatives to consider.
The dangers of smoke inhalation are well known, so it’s not surprising that a lot of folks assume vaping is the healthier alternative to smoking. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.
There’s mounting evidence that vaping can have serious health effects. Much of the concern comes from inhaling vitamin E acetate, a chemical additive found in many vaping products containing tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC.
However, this risk seems to apply only to vaping concentrates, not flower. A 2006 study suggests that vaping actual cannabis, not concentrate, is less harmful to your respiratory system than smoking. Still, research on vaping cannabis is pretty limited.
Lung health aside, there’s also a matter of potency. People who vape cannabis report experiencing stronger effects — regardless of the amount of THC in the product — than they do when smoking. This means a higher chance of overdoing it, or greening out, when vaping.
Maybe a teeny, tiny bit, but nowhere near enough to make a difference.
Bongs offer a smoother toke because you don’t get the dry heat from smoking cannabis rolled in paper. Though it feels less harsh when you inhale, your lungs don’t know the difference.
Well, both still involve inhaling smoke, so there’s that. But if you had to choose the lesser of two evils, joints are probably the better option. This is because blunts are made with hollowed-out cigars, and cigars and their wrappers are highly toxic.
Even after removing all the tobacco from a cigar, cancer-causing toxins, such as nitrosamines, can remain. Plus, cigar wrappers are more porous than rolling papers, so the burning is less complete. This results in smoke with high concentrations of toxins.
Then there’s the matter of size. Blunts are a lot bigger than joints, and they hold way more pot. Smoking an entire blunt is like smoking roughly six joints.
Dabbing is supposed to give you a “cleaner” high, but what does that actually mean? Not much.
Budder — another name for dabs or marijuana concentrate — delivers a lot more THC than other weed products, often as much as 80 percent more.
Dabbing is still pretty new, so experts still don’t know the full impact.
There’s evidence that exposure to high THC may lead to long-term mental health effects, like psychosis. The risk of misuse and addiction is also higher when using high-THC products, especially for young people.
Plus, unless you have high-tech lab equipment and are trained in extraction, your dabs may be far from pure. Research shows that dabs can contain contaminants and residual solvents that can to neurotoxicity and cardiotoxicity.
Dabbing also has respiratory effects, even though you’re not technically “smoking.” There have been cases of people developing lung damage from dabbing.
The bad news? There’s no safe way to smoke cannabis. The good news? There are plenty of other ways to consume it.
Here are your main options:
- Edibles. Unlike smoking and vaping, ingesting cannabis won’t harm your lung health. The downside for some is that edibles take longer to kick in because they need to clear your digestive system before getting into your bloodstream. The upside is that the effects also hang around longer. You also have an endless variety to choose from, with everything from gummies to baked goods to cannabutter.
- Sublinguals. These are usually lumped together with edibles, but they’re not quite the same. Unlike edibles, you don’t actually swallow sublingual forms of cannabis, which include things like tinctures, films, and dissolvable tablets. Sublingual cannabis is placed under the tongue for absorption, and is absorbed through your mouth’s mucus membranes, so the effects are felt faster.
- Tinctures. Tinctures are made of alcohol-based cannabis extracts that come in bottles with droppers. You can add tinctures to drinks, but you can also get the effects faster by placing a few drops — depending on your desired dose — under your tongue.
- Topicals. Cannabis topicals are for people looking for the therapeutic benefits of cannabis without the cerebral effects. Creams, balms, and patches can be applied to the skin to relieve inflammation and pain. There’s also cannabis lubricant made for, well, sexy time.
- Suppositories. The idea of shoving cannabis up your butt (or vagina, depending on the product) may make you clench, but it’s definitely a thing. Most of the suppositories on the market are CBD-infused and used for therapeutic reasons, like pain or nausea relief, but some brands have upped their THC content for added effects.
If you’d still rather smoke your weed despite the risks, consider these harm-reduction tips to help make it a little safer:
- Don’t hold the inhale. Inhaling deeply and holding it in exposes your lungs to more tar per breath. Don’t be greedy; exhaling faster is better for you.
- Use rolling papers approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Rolling papers may seem like NBD, but some contain chemicals and flavorings that can be toxic.
- Stick to glass bongs and pipes. Plastic bongs can contain chemicals like BPA and phthalates, which have been linked to serious health effects, including cancer.
- Keep your stuff clean. Keep your bongs and pipes clean, and don’t roll your weed on dirty surfaces.
- Don’t share mouthpieces or pass joints. Sharing your stash is fine, but not your pipes, bongs, or joints. When you share these, you’re basically swapping spit with that person and putting yourself at risk for infections.
No matter how you dice it, there’s really no safe way to smoke cannabis, whether you prefer to roll one up or are partial to bongs. As cannabis becomes more popular, so do products that allow you to indulge without the smoke.
That said, if you’re partial to puffing and passing, a vaporizer that allows you to use flower, not concentrates, may be a less harmful option.
Adrienne Santos-Longhurst is a freelance writer and author who has written extensively on all things health and lifestyle for more than a decade. When she’s not holed-up in her writing shed researching an article or off interviewing health professionals, she can be found frolicking around her beach town with husband and dogs in tow or splashing about the lake trying to master the stand-up paddleboard.
You can smoke cannabis in a variety of ways, but is one safer or healthier than others?
Healthiest way to consume weed
Marijuana enthusiasts are some of the most creative people on the planet. It’s only right that some of that creative energy gets invested back into the field that inspired it—namely, cannabis consumption. Particularly in recent years, these practices have been developing rapidly to keep up with health trends that fitness-forward cannabis users are looking for.
While studies on the subject are still few and far between, marijuana’s medicinal and natural components are proven to have major health benefits. Consumers are now looking for practices that maximize these health benefits and minimize the potential dangers of cannabis use or side effects from smoking the herb.
Here are some proposed healthier ways to consume marijuana that may allow you to enjoy more responsibly and without the risks involved with other practices of cannabis consumption.
Marijuana tea is perfect for when you come home from work and simply want to sit down, watch TV and relax without encountering the negative effects of smoke inhalation. Extraction methods can be quite complicated, however, so we suggest you follow the easiest method available to make yourself a cup. If you’re looking for a quicker option, consider dissolving cannabutter into your tea or even coffee. You can make this butter/marijuana combo yourself by heating the herbal cannabis or resin along with butter on your stovetop, ensuring that no other chemicals are added to your concoction.
Of course, if you’re not looking to have a full high and just want a warm cup, you can also steep your herbs in hot water as you would normal tea leaves. This method ensures that no THC leaves the herb and you’re left with a drink that has little to no psychoactive effects.
An alternative to smoking or vaporizing, consuming cannabis-infused foods is an increasingly popular trend among marijuana enthusiasts. For chronic pain sufferers, edibles can also provide longer lasting relief, making them a good option for patients.
Sometimes, though, you’ll want a break from high-calorie, marijuana-infused cookies. For health-conscious snackers, try purchasing marijuana-infused granola mixes made with dried fruits and kosher salts. Sprinkle this on your morning yogurt, bake some homemade granola bars or mix it into a salad for a healthy boost. You can also look for edibles company’s that value healthy choices, like Julie’s Natural Edibles. With legalization on the rise, there are more options to select from as a consumer, meaning you’re not stuck with boring brownies.
If you’re feeling brave, you can try whipping up your own edibles. This gives you the opportunity to select the ingredients you feel most comfortable with. Start with a recipe you love and substitute the fat (usually butter) with cannabutter. This way, you’ll know exactly what’s in your next snack and can also cater to any dietary restrictions you may have.
Topicals are cannabis-infused balms or creams used primarily for localized pain relief and skin care. Unlike other methods of cannabis use, topicals don’t produce a high in their users. Instead, patients receive the therapeutic benefits of marijuana directly through their skin without worrying about damaging their lungs or consuming too high of a dose. The chemical compounds found in cannabis can affect CB1 and CB2 receptors located in hair follicles, sweat glands and nerve fiber bundles, giving topicals direct access without affecting the bloodstream or brain.
Some current treatment uses for topicals include burn treatment, skin elasticity improvement and even cancer treatment. Beyond more clinical uses, these THC-rich rubs are also being used to treat muscle soreness and inflammation in athletes, widening the spectrum of users of cannabis products.
A recently revived method of cannabis consumption involves the extraction of cannabis’ goodness using alcohol and whole cannabis plants (usually the flowers and trim leaves). The extracted liquid, called tincture, is ingested orally, usually with several drops of the liquid placed under the tongue. In this way, it’s rapidly absorbed into the arterial system and its effects are felt quickly. Tinctures can alternatively be mixed into teas or other beverages, but the absorption is slowed as it occurs in the GI tract.
If you’re not into the taste, you may be interested in trying a cannabis-infused honey tincture in your morning coffee or tea. Alternatively, you can dilute the potent liquid in water or juice. Because of how these tinctures are prepared, they often have limited psychoactive effects while delivering therapeutic results, making it a good way to start your day.
For the health-conscious cannabis consumer, the recent trend of juicing presents a completely new way to enjoy the benefits of marijuana without having to deal with some potentially undesirable side effects. By blending up raw, fresh cannabis leaves with vegetable or fruit juice, individuals can enjoy a healthy, tasty treat on-the-go without worrying about the smoke associated with vaporizing or smoking a joint. Plus, juicing your cannabis means avoiding the THC released when marijuana is heated, allowing you to enjoy the flavor of the flower without getting high.
Although the technology is still relatively new compared to traditional smoking methods, vaporizers appeal to the health-conscious consumer by allowing them to choose the temperature in which they essentially “cook” their marijuana. These temperatures allow you to enjoy specific components of the herb while avoiding toxins that are released if you burn it. 100% calorie and sugar-free, vaporizing cannabis is also said to eliminate up to 95 percent of smoke produced during combustion, protecting the lungs from the irritation that can lead to respiratory issues.
These devices can vaporize either concentrated cannabis wax, oil or dry herbs, but each has its own particular benefits. Waxes and oils are extremely potent, containing up to 60% more THC than marijuana buds, but there might still be residual fats, lipids and butane in wax if it is improperly purged. Instead, try oils, which are some of the most natural and safest concentrates available to use in your vaporizer.
These methods are great not only because they eliminate smoke, but they also allow you to have a variety of choices while controlling your dose. Added bonus? They can help nix any cigarette-related habits that smoking cannabis might be related to. Explore these methods to find the one—or two or three—that works best for you.
Looking for smoking alternatives? Try these options instead.