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?
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Cannabis 101: Harsh smoke and the importance of curing
Posted on October 23, 2015 by SueVo in Learn // 0 Comments
By Sue Vorenberg
Cannabis Daily Record
(Drying and trimming buds prior to curing at CannaMan Farms)
Fall is a great time for cannabis enthusiasts – the big outdoor harvests start to come in, the array of strains at local shops expands almost exponentially and prices drop due to the large amount of flower entering the market.
If you’re not a fan of harsh smoke (Are there people out there who actually like harsh smoke?) than there’s an important question you should ask your budtender before parting with your money: Has this product been cured properly?
Curing isn’t rocket science, but it is time consuming. When a plant is harvested, growers typically trim off the larger leaf clusters and hang the buddy branches over wires to let them dry for four to 10 days.
Once the buds feel dry, they’re removed from the branches and trimmed more closely. Then they’re placed in some sort of storage container and dried for another few weeks until they’re sticky but not brittle.
Here’s a chart from the site growweedeasy.com on the curing process:
(Curing chart from growweedeasy.com)
Curing does several things to make your buds better. It improves the flavor and reduces the harshness of the smoke (partly because it breaks down chlorophyll as part of the process), and there are some indications that it also can increase potency and reduce some of the anxiety and paranoia issues you might feel with cannabis.
If buds aren’t cured enough, you get harsh smoke, weed that’s a bit harder to grind and physical effects like headaches or a hung over feeling that you don’t get with properly cured buds.
If your buds are cured too much, they become dry and brittle and lose some of their flavor.
Personally, I’ve found that improperly cured buds are most commonly found early on in the fall harvest and also in newly launching recreational markets (I noticed some recently among the buds I’ve tried in Portland, Oregon, which opened limited recreational sales on October 1, 2015 – and I also noticed that trend when Washington’s recreational market first launched in July 2014).
Poor curing methods are most common when product is pushed onto the market early because of increased demand (hence the issues with launching markets). For the most part, established indoor growers who cycle their plants seem to be more aware of curing issues – and curing is part of their timeline to bring products to market.
Experienced and high quality outdoor growers are also aware of curing and add it into their cycles. But newer outdoor growers – especially if they’re out to make a quick buck – sometimes skimp on the time that they let their products cure.
It’s a buyer beware issue that comes to light more prominently during the fall. So if you’re checking out a new grower – you might want to ask your budtender for details about their curing process.
By Sue Vorenberg Cannabis Daily Record Fall is a great time for cannabis enthusiasts – the big outdoor harvests start to come in, the array of strains at local