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 Long Does a Cannabis High Last?
A cannabis high can last anywhere from 2 to 10 hours, depending on a range of factors.
- how much you consume
- how much tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) it contains
- your body weight and body fat percentage
- your metabolism
- whether or not you’ve eaten
- your tolerance
Cannabis contains more than 113 chemical compounds called cannabinoids. Delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is one of those cannabinoids, and it’s the ingredient responsible for making you feel high.
Here’s a closer look at the timeline of a delta-9 THC high and tips for cutting things short.
How quickly you feel the effects mostly depends on your method of use:
- Smoking or vaping. You can begin to feel the effects of cannabis within 2 to 10 minutes. It kicks in quickly because it enters your bloodstream via your lungs within minutes of inhaling it.
- Eating. Your digestive system metabolizes pot when you eat it, which can take a while. Edibles usually kick in within 30 to 60 minutes, but can sometimes take as long as 2 hours.
- Dabbing. With this method, a highly concentrated form of marijuana is smoked through a special pipe. Dabs have a higher THC content than other forms of cannabis, so the high kicks in almost instantly.
How long the effects last can vary greatly depending on the dose and potency. The more you use and the higher the THC content, the longer the effects will stick around.
How you consume cannabis also affects when the effects peak and how long they last.
Here’s a breakdown, according to Drugs and Me, a site by the Mental Health Education Foundation:
- Smoking or vaping. The effects peak around 10 minutes after consumption and typically last 1 to 3 hours, though they can linger for up to 8 hours.
- Eating. The effects of edibles usually peak around 2 hours after consumption and can last up to 24 hours.
- Dabbing. Similar to smoking, the effects of dabbing usually last 1 to 3 hours. If using a high THC concentrate, you could feel the effects for an entire day.
Cannabis hits everyone differently, so while your high may only last for a couple of hours, you could potentially feel the comedown or aftereffects for several hours or through the next day. It’s best to go low and slow if you’re new to cannabis.
If you need to cut things short, there are a few things you can try.
Keep in mind that these tips are designed to reduce the effects, not eliminate them altogether. That means you’ll likely still experience lingering effects, including a reduced reaction time, so you’ll still want to avoid driving.
Here are a few pointers based on anecdotal evidence and some research:
- Take a nap. Sleeping can help you relax if your high has you feeling anxious or paranoid. It also gives your body time to process and eliminate the cannabis. You’ll likely wake up feeling refreshed and more alert after a few winks.
- Try some black pepper. There’s some evidence that caryophyllene, a compound in peppercorn, increases the sedative effects of THC, which could calm you. Just take a container of black pepper and have a sniff without inhaling it. Chewing on a couple of whole peppercorns also works.
- Eat some pine nuts. Some research shows that pinene, a compound in pine nuts, has a calming effect and improves clarity. Skip this method if you have a tree nut allergy, though.
- Try some CBD. Yep, it may sound counterintuitive, but CBD may counteract the effects of THC. Like THC, cannabidiol (CBD) is a cannabinoid. The difference is the receptors in your brain that they interact with. THC causes the high you get from cannabis, but CBD has a calming effect that may help dull your high.
- Have some lemon peel. Lemons, especially the peel, contain compounds that have a calming effect. In theory, ingesting some lemon peel could counteract some of the psychoactive effects of THC and help you come down. Try steeping some in hot water for a few minutes, then remove them and take some sips.
If you’re looking for a longer-lasting high, consider sticking with edibles. They take longer to kick in, but the effects will hang around longer, which can be a big help if you’re using cannabis for medical purposes.
You could also re-dose or try a higher THC strain for a longer high, but know that you’ll also have to deal with more intense effects. For a seasoned consumer, this is probably not a big deal, but a newbie may find the effects of a bigger dose to be a bit much.
There are some anecdotal methods for extending your high on the Internet, like eating mango, but there’s no evidence to back any of these.
Some websites recommend drinking alcohol with cannabis to extend your high, but it isn’t the best idea.
Drinking before using cannabis — even just one drink — can heighten the effects of THC. This combo can cause some folks to “green out” and experience some pretty unpleasant symptoms, including:
- increased impairment
This combo doesn’t work great in the other direction, either. Using cannabis before drinking can minimize the effects of alcohol, meaning you’ll feel less drunk than you are. This makes it easy to get overly intoxicated.
Plus, using cannabis and alcohol together may increase your risk of dependence on one or both substances.
Find out how long it takes for weed’s effects to kick in and how long they last. We’ve also got tips for cutting things short or extending them.