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?
Safest place to smoke weed
Since cannabis has been deemed federally illegal for upwards of 80 years, the majority of information about how to smoke properly has historically been passed unofficially from enthusiast to enthusiast. This word-of-mouth mythology has led to tall tales about toking permeating throughout pot culture, including rumors like how smoking weed can trigger LSD flashbacks, or how adding tobacco to your joint will increase the high.
Now that the U.S. is slowly creeping out of prohibition, we’re finally seeing legit research about the ins and outs of all things herb. From FDA-funded research on the efficacy of using medical marijuana to treat PTSD, to peer-refereed articles in academic journals confirming that cannabis consumption can curb opioid addiction, these modern studies tend to focus on the medical applications of the plant, as well as debunking the talking points of legalization opponents.
Similarly, when it comes to smoking safety, researchers and drug reform advocates have honed in on big-picture issues, such as debunking rumors that cannabis damages brain structure or disproving that legalization leads to increased teenage use. Understandably, then, urban legends and dorm room arguments about best practices for commonplace consumption have fallen by the wayside.
Thankfully, you’ve got MERRY JANE to fill in the ganja gaps. We’ve put together a guide of 5 essential tips for safe smoking — applicable for first-time users and veterans alike. These suggestions won’t prevent you from doing dumb things while you’re high, but they’ll at least keep your body healthy and happily heightened.
Avoid Aluminium Grinders
Despite articles like this one that say they’re safe, using an aluminum grinder to crush up your weed can be seriously detrimental to your health. Aluminum is a soft metal, meaning the grinders chip easily with regular use, and shards can end up in your bowl with no real way of knowing they’re there. If the shards are in a consistently hot place (such as a cherried bowl), they can release toxic fumes and carcinogens known to cause cancer. Also worth noting is that in consistently-hot environments, aluminum can bind to chemicals in your herb to form other compounds, some of which can and will be toxic. Using an aluminum grinder once or twice won’t kill you, but if you want a staple in your stash, spend the extra money and opt for a steel grinder instead.
Pick Up a Glass Pipe
Just like you’re not supposed to keep a plastic bottle of water in a hot car for too long because it releases carcinogens, a hot plastic bong will do the same thing. There are three types of plastic you should make a point to avoid in particular: BPA, Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC), and Polystyrene. These are considered the absolute most toxic to humans — and unfortunately, they’re frequently what plastic pieces are made out of. Often, you’re not privy to the ingredients in your smoking utensils, so it’s better to err on the side of caution. Glass pipes are your best bet.
However, Don’t Just Pick Up Any Old One
This may be a difficult thing to do if the only place you can snag a pipe in your area is a corner store, but when you’re looking for a nice piece, it’s important to avoid Chinese-made glass. Typically, American glassblowers use Borosilicate glass, also known as “boro.” Boro is safe as far as smoking weed is concerned, and it’s fairly sturdy. However, Chinese manufacturers often use soft glass, which breaks (and chips internally) easily, but doesn’t have to be hand-blown.
Also, Chinese mass producers regularly don’t anneal their glass, which means that the parts of the glass that have been sealed together aren’t quite as sealed as they should be. On top of that, to replicate the patterns so beloved by smokers, Chinese manufacturers also sometimes paint the inside of their pipes, causing the smoker to inhale toxic fumes or paint when the bowl is lit.
American glass is the safer option, and there are plenty of places to get it for cheap both in stores and online. If the idea of copping a glass pipe utterly freaks you out — some look like meth pipes, after all — picking up a ceramic one from a place like stonedware or Tetra is also a good option. Avoid aluminum ones for the same reason as you would grinders.
Don’t Put Ice in Your Bong
This is a tip that flies under the radar for even the most experienced of smokers, but it makes sense if you think about it for more than a few seconds. Putting ice in your bong can cause some serious health problems, including pneumonia. First off, you’re inhaling frozen water vapor — the stuff that comes out of the freezer when you first open it — which can put a serious strain on your lungs. When this vapor is inhaled into your lungs, it’s still frozen, and human bodies aren’t built to inhale tiny ice crystals. Less intuitively, putting ice in your bong can also lower your core body temperature. Results of this include vasoconstriction and suppressed immune response, therefore making the body more susceptible to infections that may already be present. Although it makes for a smoother hit, if you’re smoking with any regularity, it’s best to keep ice out of the equation.
Know Your Rolling Papers
Did you know that there’s a market for fake rolling papers? Just like Kylie Jenner Lip Kits or iPhones, mass producers have gotten wind of a desire for trendy papes, such as ones that are colored or flavored. Hell, there’s even an underground market for rare blunt wrap flavors, so it should come as no surprise that there are bootleg manufacturers flooding the market with suspicious stock. Naturally, many of these products aren’t FDA-approved, and therefore don’t adhere to the standards of safety for human consumption. Often, these producers use chemicals to make your joint taste or look more appealing, but what are those chemicals doing to your innards? Nobody knows exactly what’s in them, but presumably it’s not good.
However, even if you’re using legit rolling papers, it’s best to do your research. Every smoker has an opinion as to which kind of paper is best and why, but again, science suggests it’s safest to avoid rolling papers that have been bleached and/or contain flavor. Pure hemp brands like RAW are a safe bet, as they don’t contain any toxic additives. There are plenty of other brands out there that won’t harsh your health, too. Just make sure to get the real thing; it’s pretty easy to tell apart a pack of RAW papers from a pack of RAWRs.These suggestions won’t prevent you from doing or saying dumb things after using marijuana, but they’ll keep your body healthy and happily heightened. ]]>