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?
What are different ways to smoke or use weed?
Many people like to smoke weed in joints. It’s a good way to share our favorite herb, but there have never been as many other ways to enjoy using cannabis. Bongs, pipes, vaporizers, and dabbing are popular. You can also get high with a bong made from everyday kitchen items. There are lots of ways to get high with or without rolling papers.
Joints, splits, reefers, and blunts
Whatever you like to call your joint, it is still the normal way for many people to enjoy their recreational or medical cannabis. You can buy them ready rolled in many legal areas. Or you can quickly roll your own, or fill a pre-bought cone with your own weed. Some people use THC rich weed, and these days plenty of people also use CBD rich cannabis. One of the downsides to a joint is that it produces lots of smoke and lets everyone around you know what you are smoking. In many countries that can be a problem. But there are more discreet, combustion-free ways to enjoy cannabis…
Vaporizers. Combustion-free vapor release for full terpene and cannabinoid enjoyment
Vaporizers have become one of the main alternatives to joints. A vaporizer will gently toast the cannabis. The vapor released from cannabis contains terpenes and cannabinoids fresh from the buds without any smoke to spoil the taste. The full flavors are there to be enjoyed in a vaporizer, it’s a delicious way to enjoy cannabis. It’s also an economical way to enjoy cannabis.
Vaporizing is inherently more efficient than combustion. Most vaporizer users report that the same amount of cannabis would last 2-3 times longer if vaporised rather than smoked. Many people feel there are valuable health benefits if you switch from smoking to vaping. Vaping is also a discreet way to enjoy cannabis, there is no smoke and a limited aroma. Vaporizers come in a range of sizes for all budgets. You can check out the Dutch Passion collection of tested and approved vaporizers
A water bong can come in many different forms. The connoisseurs often prefer hand blown glass bongs. Usually, the buds are burnt in a bowl and the smoke bubbled through cooling water. Bongs come in many different styles and sizes. You can have a single-person bong or one with smoking attachments for many people. Bongs are often difficult to carry around and are often kept for use at home, or in a coffee shop/social club. In emergencies, bongs can be made from water bottles and plastic milk containers.
Cannabis pipes have always been a convenient way to enjoy a quick smoke. Pipes come in many different shapes, made from glass, ceramic, metal and other materials. Many pipes can be screwed together quickly for use, or camouflaged as domestic items such as key-rings, bracelets, and jewellery. You can smoke cannabis buds or hash in a pipe. Many pipe connoisseurs love the taste of quality hash in a pipe. Hookah pipes originated in the Indian subcontinent and have been used for enjoying tobacco as well as cannabis and hashish. They can be very ornamental and often use water to cool the smoke. Hookah pipes can be designed for individual use with one mouthpiece, or with several for communal use.
Dabbing with shatter, oil, BHO and other cannabis concentrates
Dabbing is becoming more popular. A small piece of cannabis concentrate is dabbed onto a hot titanium (or ceramic/glass) surface. The cannabinoids, THC, terpenes, and oils in the concentrate are quickly converted into an oily vapor which is inhaled. The result is a fast, powerful high. Usually dabbing is done with a cannabis extract such as shatter. This is often produced from a butane/CO2 or solvent extract. But many people also enjoy dabbing waxy concentrates which have a semi-solid and semi-liquid consistency. Cannabis concentrates and extracts are generally high in THC. A little goes a long way and the high arrives quickly. Some people also dab using concentrates that are CBD rich.
Fruit pipes and corn husks
If you visit California you will soon find someone rolling cannabis joints with the husks from corn. They are thin, paper-like, natural and can be used as an organic rolling paper. Apples have also become a trendy way to make a fruit bong. A pen can be used to drill a side hole, this is used to suck the smoke out. The pen, or a knife, can also be used to hollow out a small central area near the core. This can be lined with aluminum foil, which should be pricked to create holes. Weed is placed in the aluminum foil and lit with a match/lighter. So long as the sucking hole is connected to the central area the apple pipe should work as a quick, temporary pipe. Pineapples, melons and many other materials can also be converted into a bong.
Cannabis tinctures and edibles
These days lots of people use cannabis drops. These use cannabis extractions, such as cannabis oil which is diluted in a carrier liquid such as hemp oil or olive oil. A few oral drops of cannabis oil allows the body to absorb the cannabinoids. In places such as the USA and Canada, cannabis edibles are more popular than ever. Cannabis edibles are perfectly safe to consume, the hard part is knowing a safe dose that works for you. Start with small doses of around 10-20mg to find the right dose and work your way up. Note that cannabis edibles often take 2 hours before they have an effect, so be careful to take small doses on different days to understand the optimum dose. Novice cannabis users are probably better off beginning with a vaporizer than edibles. That’s because there is a smaller chance of over-indulging.
Cannabis balms and transdermal patches
Many medical cannabis users make, or buy, creams which can be applied topically to the skin. In legal jurisdictions, these can be bought in dispensaries. USA legal states have found a huge market for these products which can be applied externally. There are numerous medical uses, but some medical users prefer the effectiveness and direct relief which can come from applying a transdermal patch or cream directly where it is most needed. Those suffering arthritis, soreness/inflammation, cramps or skin conditions are often the most likely to use creams and transdermal patches.
Read on to find out the best ways to use weed. Joints, vaporizers, pipes, bongs, hot knives and edibles are all ways to enjoy weed