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?
How to Reset Your Cannabis Tolerance
Feel like cannabis isn’t working for you the way it used to? You might be dealing with a high tolerance.
Tolerance refers to your body’s process of getting used to cannabis, which can result in weaker effects.
In other words, you need to ingest more to get the same effects you once did. This can be particularly problematic if you’re using cannabis for medical reasons.
Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to reset your tolerance.
Cannabis tolerance develops when you use it regularly.
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the psychoactive compound in cannabis. It works by affecting the cannabinoid type 1 (CB1) receptors in the brain.
If you ingest THC often, your CB1 receptors are reduced over time. This means the same amount of THC won’t affect the CB1 receptors in the same way, resulting in reduced effects.
There’s no strict timeline for how tolerance develops. It depends on a range of factors, including:
- how often you use cannabis
- how strong the cannabis is
- your personal biology
One of the most common ways to lower your cannabis tolerance is to take a break from using cannabis. These are often called “T breaks.”
Research shows that, while THC can deplete your CB1 receptors, they can recover over time and return to their previous levels.
The length of your T break is up to you. There’s no solid data on exactly how long it takes for CB1 receptors to recover, so you’ll have to experiment a bit.
Some people find that a few days does the trick. Most online forums advise that 2 weeks is the ideal time frame.
If you’re using cannabis for medical reasons, taking a T break might not be feasible. There are a few other strategies you can try.
Use cannabis products with a higher CBD-to-THC ratio
Cannabidiol (CBD) is another chemical found in cannabis. It doesn’t seem to lead to depletion of CB1 receptors, meaning it doesn’t cause you to develop tolerance the way THC does.
CBD won’t give you a “high,” but it does seem to have several potential health benefits, such as reducing pain and inflammation.
At many dispensaries, you can find products ranging from a 1-to-1 ratio to as high as 16-to-1.
Tightly control your doses
The less cannabis you use, the less likely you are to develop a tolerance. Use the minimum you need to feel comfortable, and try not to overindulge.
Use cannabis less often
If possible, use cannabis less frequently. This can help to both reset your tolerance and prevent it from coming back again in the future.
Many people who have developed a high tolerance do go through cannabis withdrawal when taking a T break or using less cannabis than usual.
Cannabis withdrawal isn’t necessarily as intense as withdrawal from alcohol or other substances, but it can still be quite uncomfortable.
You might experience:
- mood swings
- cognitive impairment
- diminished appetite
- stomach problems, including nausea
- intense, vivid dreams
To help with these symptoms, make sure to get plenty of hydration and rest. You can also try using over-the-counter medications to deal with headaches and nausea.
Exercise and fresh air can help you feel alert and reduce any slumps in your mood.
The withdrawal symptoms might make it tempting to continue using cannabis. To keep yourself accountable, tell your loved ones that you’re taking a break.
While the symptoms are uncomfortable, the good news is that cannabis withdrawal symptoms usually only last for 72 hours.
Once you’ve reset your tolerance, keep the following in mind to keep your tolerance in check moving forward:
- Use lower-THC products. Since it’s THC that leads to the depletion of your CB1 receptors, it’s wise to opt for products that are a bit lower in THC.
- Don’t use cannabis too often. The more you use it, the higher your tolerance will be, so try to only use it occasionally or as needed.
- Use a lower dosage. Try consuming less cannabis at a time, and try to wait a bit longer before re-dosing.
- Use CBD instead. You may want to consider giving CBD-only products a try if you’re looking to reap the potential health benefits of cannabis. However, THC does have some benefits that CBD doesn’t seem to have, so this switch isn’t viable for everyone.
Keep in mind that tolerance might be unavoidable for some folks. If you find that you’re prone to developing a high tolerance, consider coming up with a plan to take regular T breaks as needed.
It’s pretty normal to develop a tolerance to cannabis if you use it often. In most cases, taking a T break for a week or two will reset your tolerance.
If that’s not an option, consider switching to products that are lower in THC or reducing your cannabis consumption.
Keep in mind that cannabis tolerance can sometimes be a sign of cannabis use disorder. If you’re concerned about your cannabis use, you have options:
- Have an open and honest conversation with your healthcare provider.
- Call SAMHSA’s national helpline at 800-662-HELP (4357), or use their online treatment locater.
- Find a support group through the Support Group Project.
Sian Ferguson is a freelance writer and editor based in Cape Town, South Africa. Her writing covers issues relating to social justice, cannabis, and health. You can reach out to her on Twitter.
If you've been consuming weed for a while, you've probably developed a high tolerance along the way. Here's how to reset it and keep it from happening again.