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 is cannabis flower and how do you consume it?
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- How to smoke weed
- Cannabis flower dosing
- Frequently asked questions
Even as new technologies allow manufacturers to create numerous product types that deliver the benefits of cannabis, traditional flower smoking remains the most common and preferred method of consumption around the world.
Flower, also called “bud,” refers to the smokeable part of the cannabis plant that has gone through the cultivation, harvest, drying, and curing process. Cannabis flower continues to be a popular choice for its versatility, offering numerous methods of consumption, such as being smoked using a pipe or bong, or by rolling it into a joint or blunt.
Flower, also called “bud,” refers to the smokeable part of the cannabis plant that has gone through the cultivation, harvest, drying, and curing process. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps
Among the many benefits of smoking weed is its rapid onset. Flower’s high bioavailability means you’ll feel its effects almost instantaneously. Effects can last anywhere from one to three hours, varying from person to person.
How to smoke weed
While the majority of weed smokers around the world know how to roll their flower into a joint to smoke, there are numerous ways to enjoy cannabis flower. These methods are dependent on the person’s preference, environment and given situation.
There are numerous ways to enjoy cannabis flower. These methods are dependent on the person’s preference, environment and given situation. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps
How to smoke a joint
Joints are the most common method of smoking weed. There are many benefits to rolling a joint. The only tools you need to roll a joint are rolling papers and your flower (a grinder, while helpful, is optional). Rolling papers are inexpensive and easy to purchase (available in most convenience stores).
Joints are the most common method of smoking weed. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps
Most common rolling papers are made from wood pulp material, but there are a variety of different rolling papers specifically tailored for stoners, including longer-sized papers, hemp-based papers, and even packages that provide the joint roller with extra paper to make crutches with.
How to smoke a blunt
While less common, a blunt is the same basic idea as a joint. A blunt is an emptied-out cigar wrapper that’s been filled with flower and resealed. For similar reasons as a joint, the benefit of rolling a blunt is that all you need is the blunt wrap (or tobacco leaves) and your cannabis flower (a grinder is optional). Most convenience stores sell cigars, allowing blunt making to be possible virtually anywhere. The only potential downside to a blunt is that you’re also consuming the tobacco in the cigar wrap.
A blunt is an emptied-out cigar wrapper that’s been filled with flower and resealed. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps
Possibly the easiest, most straightforward way to smoke weed is through the use of a pipe. Small, compact, and easy to use, pipes are handheld devices that are used to smoke flower. They require no power or water; simply break apart your flower, fill the bowl and light up. Ideal for traveling or discreet use, pipes are practical and reliable tools for cannabis smokers.
Small, compact, and easy to use, pipes are handheld devices that are used to smoke flower. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps
Another common method of smoking flower is the use of a water pipe, or “bong.” Bongs are a filtration device structurally comprised of a chamber, which is partially filled with water, and a downstem that connects the water chamber and holds a bowl (which holds the cannabis). Bongs are ideal for calming the heat and harshness of inhaling smoke. The liquid in the water chamber helps filter particles from the smoke. The water level in the chamber should be set just above the open end of the downstem to properly filter the smoke. As the smoke makes its way through the bong, the length of the pipe also aids in the cooling action.
Bongs are ideal for calming the heat and harshness of inhaling smoke. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps
Bongs come in all shapes and sizes; some are more advanced (and thus, more expensive) than others. Some glass bongs are modified so that users can add ice into the chamber and cool the smoke before it’s inhaled. Glass percolator bongs provide an additional filtration system in the chamber, making it possible to filter the smoke multiple times, leaving the user with cleaner and cooler hit. Keep in mind that glass bongs and pipe tend to get caked with resin after longtime use, necessitating an occasional deep clean to restore the paraphernalia to its pristine state and get the most pleasant possible flower consumption experience.
While a glass bong is the most popular water pipe style, there are also lower quality acrylic bongs, ceramic bongs, and the gravity bong. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps
While a glass bong is the most popular water pipe style, there are also lower quality acrylic bongs, ceramic bongs, and even DIY options, such as the gravity bong. A classic homemade method of consumption, there are two different types of makeshift “gravity bongs” you can make to smoke flower.
The most common type of gravity bong comprises of an empty plastic bottle–think a two-liter soda bottle–with the bottom cut out and a bowl mounted into the cap, as well as a larger container or bucket filled with water. Partially submerging the bottle in the water, the bowl is lit and the bottle is slowly raised, creating pressure that causes smoke to fill the smaller container. When the chamber is filled or the bowl is ashed, the bowl is unscrewed and the smoke is inhaled through the opening at the top of the bottle.
The most common type of gravity bong comprises of an empty plastic bottle with the bottom cut out and a bowl mounted into the cap, as well as a larger container or bucket filled with water. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps
Another type of gravity bong, also commonly referred to as “waterfall bong,” uses just one container or plastic bottle. It must have a bowl mounted onto the cap and a small hole near the base of the container to drain the water out easily. To use this waterfall bong, fill it with water and plug the hole in the base to prevent water from escaping. After packing the bowl, hold the lighter flame to the flower and allow the water to slowly seep out from the hole at the base, causing cannabis smoke to fill the vacant space in the bottle. Unscrew the cap and take a hit to clear the encapsulated smoke out of the container.
Cannabis flower dosing
Unlike other methods of cannabis consumption, flower doesn’t have a standard dosing structure. Potency is measured by the total concentration of cannabinoids (chemical compounds that act on our endocannabinoid system to stimulate psychoactive and physical effects) and is expressed in percentage of mg/g. For example, a menu item of Hardcore OG might read as 18.84% THC, which indicates that there are 188.40 milligrams of Tetrahydrocannabinol (an intoxicating cannabinoid) per gram of flower.
For novice-level smokers, it’s highly advised that you start with a small amount of cannabis flower and gradually increase the dosage until you find that sweet spot. The reported adverse side effects of THC, which are dependent on several factors, such as the THC potency of the cannabis product and dosage amount, include paranoia and anxiety.
Frequently asked questions
What kind of paper can you use when you’re out of rolling paper?
In a pinch, several materials will serve as suitable rolling paper substitutes. Emptied cigarettes or cigarette papers are made for smoking and will burn slowly as other rolling papers do. Creative rollers also use receipts and phone book pages, both thinner than regular paper, though the ink reportedly produces a harsher burn. For a more health-conscious option, you can also roll a joint using corn husks tied with string or specially prepared rose petals baked together to form a longer wrap. Gum wrappers, hair curler papers, and even gum wrappers can also roll into a DIY joint.
Can you use tissue paper to roll a joint?
It’s not recommended to use tissue paper to roll a joint. While it’s technically possible, tissue paper is highly fragile and will likely fall apart with any attempt to roll. Further, many companies treat their tissue paper with various chemicals and lotions. As they’re not required by law to state what chemicals are in their tissue products (as tissues aren’t intended for human consumption), it’s anyone’s guess as to what you’d be smoking were you to roll up with tissue paper.
Can you use gum wrappers as joint wraps?
Yes, gum wrappers can be used as a joint wrap in a pinch. They require some preparation to be ready to spark up. Take an empty gum wrapper and heat up the thin paper side by holding a lighter a few inches away from the wrapper. Once heated, slowly peel the colored coating and aluminum away from the paper. Finally, place the desired amount of flower in your thin paper and roll up, using an adhesive such as THC oil or honey to seal the joint.
Can you smoke in a steamy room to smoke without the smell?
Yes, with some caveats, as the steam doesn’t prevent the smell of weed during smoking. When steam fills the room, its higher temperature and higher pressure minimize the diffusion of smoke in the room. As this happens, the compounds in the weed smoke absorb the water in the air, turning into heavier particles that are bigger, slower, and less likely to leave the steamy room. The pressure acts as a vacuum and keeps the stinky smoke inside, especially when the room’s door is sealed underneath by a towel. The smell sticks around for about half an hour longer until it finally dissipates after the steam and falling water break down the smoke.
Can you smoke when you get your wisdom tooth pulled out?
In theory, yes, though many dentists recommend not smoking anything (tobacco or cannabis) for at least a week after extractions. This is for several reasons — smoking decreases saliva production and causes the blood vessels in your gums to contract (decreasing blood flow to where your wounds are healing) and risks infection, dry socket, and incomplete recovery. Chemicals present in non-organic cannabis could also cause irritation, further risking injury or dry socket. Instead of smoking, online sources recommend making edibles with easy-to-chew foods or consuming using a tincture.
What is an easy and cheap homemade pipe screen?
A pipe screen is a small, metal screen placed inside a pipe as a filter, used to stop hot embers or cannabis residue from traveling up the pipe and into your mouth. While pipe screens are typically very inexpensive at head shops or tobacco shops, you may find yourself in need of a homemade option.
One common homemade pipe screen comes from using the small, nickel-sized screen found on sink faucets. Simply unscrew the metal cylinder from under the faucet head and pop out the screen, shaping it to fit inside your pipe. If you have broken earbuds lying around, the small screen that goes inside your ear also works. Carefully remove the casing around the in-ear part and shape the screen as needed in your pipe. If all else fails, a small, irregularly shaped pebble will be just as effective as long as there is room around the stone for cannabis smoke to flow into the mouthpiece.
How do you remove the smell from a hotbox?
Hotbox removal techniques require different solutions depending on the environment in which cannabis smoking occurs. When hotboxing a car, driving around with the windows open shortly after a smoking session can help push the smoke out of the vehicle. Place baking soda boxes strategically around the interior of the car and let them sit for as long as possible to soak up the ambient odors. Many online sources also recommend Ozium or other air fresheners to eat away at the weed smell.
When hotboxing a room, the above methods work but may require some additional odor-masking techniques to completely eliminate the weed smell. Burning incense or scented candles can keep the weed smell at bay. Washing any clothes and carpet that came in contact with weed smoke will greatly reduce how long the smell lingers.
Will smoking out of the window prevent the room from smelling?
In real-time, blowing smoke out of an open window or into an air conditioner vent will help circulate the cannabis smell out of a room. A room may or may not still smell while doing this, but it ensures most of the smoke moves outside of the enclosed space. Using a tool such as a sploof will further filter the cannabis smell as you blow out the window. Just make sure the wind is moving away from your window and not blowing the weed smoke back into your room.
Using a tool such as a sploof will further filter the cannabis smell as you blow out the window. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps
Will smoking in the shower prevent the smell of marijuana?
Smoking weed in the shower won’t prevent the smell of marijuana from reeking, but the steam of a shower will help capture the odor and keep the smoke and smell particles contained in the bathroom. However, it might be difficult to spark up a pipe or keep a lit joint going right next to running water.
How far does cannabis smoke travel?
How far cannabis smoke travels depends largely on the environment in which the smoking occurs and many variables play into its reach. If you’re smoking outside, how fast and in what direction the wind is blowing, humidity levels, other aromas in the air, and other factors all affect the distance cannabis smoke travels.
Your consumption method also affects the reach of cannabis smoke. A vape, for example, produces much less vapor and odor than a joint or blunt. Online sources report between being able to smell smoked cannabis anywhere from ten-to-50 yards from the source.
How long does it take for you to start feeling high?
How long it takes for a weed high to kick in depends on many different factors, such as biochemistry, weight, the amount consumed, the cannabinoid and terpene profile of the strain, and how the cannabis is consumed. Smoking and vaping typically take about five minutes to reach the peak of psychoactivity, according to Dr. Robert Mann of the University of Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, though some consumers report feeling effects within seconds of a first hit. Edibles, on the other hand, take anywhere from 30-60 minutes to start kicking in.
Will the smell of marijuana be reduced if I smoke out of a bong?
Yes, smoking out of a bong can slightly reduce the smell of marijuana, thanks to the water’s extra filtration of the cannabis smoke and the fact you’re not also burning tobacco leaf or smoking paper. Using a bong doesn’t entirely remove the smell, however, and consistent use can accumulate a smell that some users claim reeks worse than weed alone. To minimize bong odor during and after smoking, make sure to clean your piece regularly.
Does weed smell stick to clothing?
Weed smell sticks to clothes at varying levels, depending on what strain you’re smoking and how you’re consuming your weed. A blunt’s stronger smell is more likely to stick to clothing, while a bong session’s smell typically dissipates with a quick step outside. Regular clothes washing, body sprays and air fresheners are useful ways to remove the smell after a smoking session.
What’s the best way of smoking weed without papers, pipes or bongs?
Vaporizers are the easiest method of smoking weed without papers or pieces, and vaporizing flower is potentially one of the healthiest consumption methods. Consumers also have plenty of DIY options when it comes to smoking weed. DIY pipes, made with apples or other fruit; DIY bongs made out of water bottles or soda cans; and DIY joints using materials such as empty cigarettes, gum wrappers, corn husks, or even rose petals are all possible options when you can’t get your hands on papers or a pipe.
Apart from vapes, consumers also have plenty of DIY options when it comes to smoking weed. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps
Can you boil weed and drink the water to get high?
No, you need to decarboxylate cannabis materials to change THCA into THC, the cannabinoid with psychoactive effects. THC is fat-soluble, not water-soluble, so it doesn’t dissolve into the water when heated. However, you can boil cannabis leaves to create a weed-tasting tea with other nutritious properties the cannabis plant provides.
How do you know when your bowl is finished?
You can usually tell when your bowl is finished (cashed) when you taste ash rather than cannabis when you take a hit. You also should see white-to-black ash in the bowl, and not see any green flower material left over.
Can you smoke marijuana seeds to get high?
No, seeds contain very little to zero THC and will not make you high when smoked.
What happens when you swallow smoke?
Swallowing smoke has no major effect on the cannabis smoking experience. As the lungs introduce cannabinoids to your bloodstream much faster than the stomach, swallowing smoke typically wastes the psychoactivity inhaling would provide. However, swallowing cannabis smoke can irritate the lining of the stomach and cause minor stomach pain, heartburn, or even vomiting.
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