Healthier Alternatives to Smoking Medical Marijuana
Angela Morrow, RN, BSN, CHPN, is a certified hospice and palliative care nurse.
Anita Chandrasekaran, MD, MPH, is board-certified in internal medicine and currently works as a clinical fellow at Yale University.
The medicinal use of marijuana is legal in a growing number of U.S. states, and other states might eventually join this list. Some patients, however, might be unable to smoke medical marijuana because of their illness, disease, symptoms, treatments and/or other factors. This article explores the alternatives to smoking marijuana that might prove healthier or more viable for patients who’ve received a prescription for medical marijuana.
Marijuana Use for Medicinal Purposes
Requiring a doctor’s “recommendation” or referral and secured from legal vendors, medical marijuana can help relieve numerous symptoms, such as pain, glaucoma, migraine headaches, nausea, and weight loss.
While there are various pros and cons of using medical marijuana, it’s important to understand that the use of marijuana is not without potential side effects. For example, conventional or “street” marijuana might contain harmful fungus and/or pesticides, which can prove especially dangerous for patients with a compromised immune system.
Moreover, the fact that marijuana is usually smoked—either in cigarette form or through the use of tobacco or water pipes—introduces additional concerns. Patients who have never smoked before, or those receiving other treatments that can interfere with their ability to smoke, might find smoking marijuana difficult or simply impossible.
I found that to be a case with a patient with lung cancer and COPD. He suffered from chronic bone pain, nausea, and severe weight loss. He asked his doctor about medical marijuana and received the necessary prescription. When I came to see him, he held a joint but didn’t know how to use it. It was immediately clear that because of his inexperience and because he was using oxygen and was already suffering from a forceful cough, smoking a marijuana cigarette would not be the best method for him.
It’s important to again stress that medical marijuana is a physician-referred treatment and should only be used according to a doctor’s instructions. If you or someone you care for receives a prescription for medical marijuana use but cannot smoke marijuana, non-smoking options might include:
Edible Marijuana: Medical cannabis can be heated and made into oils, butters, and tinctures. Many “cannabis clubs” sell pre-made cookies, brownies, lollipops, and teas. Savvy patients—those willing to take the time to empower themselves through research and knowledge—can also find recipes to make their own marijuana tincture, oil, or butter.
Eating or drinking marijuana’s main or active ingredient tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is certainly preferable for many patients rather than smoking it, but these alternative methods can also create problems. When consumed via food or drink, THC does not absorb into the bloodstream as quickly as when it is smoked. This can make it more difficult to control the effectiveness of the drug or how much is consumed. In addition, patients who suffer from decreased appetite or nausea might not tolerate eating or drinking marijuana.
Vaporizers: Another option is to inhale marijuana using a vaporizer. This method involves heating the marijuana to a high enough temperature to vaporize the THC but not burn the plant. Patients can then breathe in the vapor from a bag without inhaling the harsh and potentially toxic smoke.
Vaping as it is commonly known, can cause serious lung injury. In 2019, a series of outbreaks across the country of what is called product use associated lung injury (EVALI), have resulted in over 2,291 hospitalizations and caused a reported 48 deaths (as of December 3, 2019). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are conducting studies to analyze the components of the TCH from the vaping products. They recommend that people do not use THC vaporizers and to watch carefully for any symptoms if they continue to vape.
Finding the Solution That Works for You
Ultimately, it is possible to find healthier or more suitable alternatives to smoking marijuana, as my aforementioned patient did. He experimented with edible marijuana and found that he enjoyed the marijuana brownies he was able to get at a cannabis club, but as his appetite waned, he found it difficult to stomach the rich chocolate taste. He didn’t want to invest in a vaporizer because his life expectancy was short. However, through the people he met at the cannabis club, he was able to strike a deal with another medical marijuana patient and split the cost of a vaporizer—with the agreement that the other patient would inherit the device after his death. It was an unusual arrangement, to be sure, but it allowed him to continue using medical marijuana for several more weeks.
The alternatives to smoking marijuana that might prove healthier or more viable for patients who've received a prescription for medical marijuana.
The Best Ways To Smoke Weed Without Rolling Papers
Many people like to smoke joints. Many others don’t. Thankfully, there are numerous ways that you can get high without rolling papers. Not only can you use traditional methods like pipes or bongs, but you can also get creative and make your own smoking devices out of household items.
Joints have long been an iconic part of marijuana culture. Many people love them for their simplicity, their convenience, and their flavour. However, situations may arise where smoking papers are not available. Moreover, some people don’t like to smoke joints because of the prospect of smoking paper. Others simply prefer to consume marijuana via other methods that may be more enjoyable or convenient for them. Whatever the reason, there is a wide range of alternative methods you can use to get high. Here is a list of some of the most well-known alternatives to rolling papers.
Vaporizers have become one of the most common ways to consume marijuana products. Dry herbs, oils, waxes, distillates, and other concentrates like shatter or budder can all be converted into vapour and inhaled.
Vaporizers are not only flexible in their usage, but are also a significantly healthier alternative to smoking. This is because marijuana vapour contains far fewer toxins and carcinogens than marijuana smoke. Vaporizers were first invented as a healthier method of consuming tobacco, but have evolved into one of the safest, most convenient, and most enjoyable ways to consume marijuana.
Vaporizers function best at temperatures ranging from 140–205°C (285–400°F). Temperatures outside of this range risk leaving behind cannabinoids or burning them into smoke. Be sure to grind your weed before vaping to make sure it gets completely and evenly vaporised.
Vaporizers come in many varieties. Whether you are looking to vape at home or on-the-go, there are a wide range of options and price points to choose from. Some types of vaporizers, like vape pens, for example, have become very popular, and consequently very expensive.
Lastly, not all vaporizers are built to last. Disposable vape pens or cartridges are now sold in dispensaries all across North America. These vaporizers utilise simple, small, and cheap batteries instead of complex heating units. They are typically sold as a package with some type of concentrate like oil or THC distillate. Once the attached concentrate is all vaped up, the pen is then expected to be tossed out.
Pipes come in all shapes and sizes. They can also be made from any number of materials including glass, metal, wood, and clay. Different materials produce slightly different-tasting smoke, so many people have preferences when it comes to pipes. Pipes are very convenient because they are typically very easy to carry and use.
In order for materials to burn evenly in a pipe, they must be finely ground up beforehand. If the pipe has a carb hole on the side, make sure to cover it while lighting your herb and release it when inhaling.
If you have the right materials, pipes can even be made at home if necessary. Read on to find out how you can make pipes out of items like apples, corn husks, and water bottles.
Many people prefer smoking weed out of bongs because they can get you very high, very quickly. Not only do bongs get you way higher than joints, but they are much more convenient since they save you the time of having to roll a joint. The only real negative with bongs is that they require water in order to function properly. This can be a problem if water is not readily available, or if water spills out of the bong.
Bongs can be made out of all kinds of materials including glass, metal, plastic, ceramic, and even certain kinds of wood like bamboo. They can also come in many different designs including carburetor bongs, percolator bongs, multi-chambered bongs, straight-tube bongs, beaker-shaped bongs, and gravity bongs.
Gravity bongs are named for the technique they use to produce smoke. They are sometimes also known as water bongs, although they are essentially the same thing. Gravity bongs can be made out of a wide range of accessible materials like watermelons, pumpkins, milk jugs, and paint buckets. Essentially, to make a water bong, you will need a container that can hold water, and a plastic bottle that can hold smoke.
To make and use a gravity bong, follow these steps:
- Cut the plastic bottle in half.
- Cover the mouth hole with aluminium foil. Mould it into the shape of a bowl.
- Poke holes in the foil for airflow.
- Fill the container up with water.
- Place the bottle in the container with the mouthpiece above the waterline.
- Place weed on the foil and light it.
- Pull the bottle upwards while lighting to fill it with smoke.
- Push the bottle downwards into the water as you inhale so as to force the smoke upwards into your lungs.
Bubblers are like a mix between a pipe and a bong. In a sense, they are the best of both worlds. Small enough to be conveniently handled like a pipe, but built to get you as high as a bong. Bubblers are typically made of glass and have a round chamber either on the bottom or on the side. The chamber is filled with water, and the weed goes in the bowl. If you are looking to try something different, or if you are looking for a more portable version of your bong, check out a bubbler.
ALTERNATIVE ROLLING OPTIONS
If you find yourself without rolling papers, don’t forget that other paper-based materials can work as substitutes. Items such as cigarette papers, gum wrappers, and even the Yellow Pages can be used as a substitute for regular rolling papers. The paper used in phone books is very thin and very similar to regular rolling papers. The thinness of the paper will also help to easily bind it shut with saliva, just like you would with regular papers. Although cigarette papers are typically thicker, gum wrappers are similarly very thin and brittle.
When it comes to using alternative papers, just be sure to handle them carefully to avoid tears. Additionally, be careful when inserting filters as it is possible to accidentally tear the paper with them.
The term hookah is derived from the Urdu word “huqqa”, meaning “pipe”. These types of smoking devices originated on the Indian subcontinent and quickly spread across the Ottoman empire. As they became a wildly popular method of smoking tobacco, these kinds of tools spread into Europe and Asia. Smoking marijuana out of a hookah pipe may seem somewhat complicated, but it is not.
To do so, you will need a hookah pipe, coals, aluminium foil, tongs, water, and, if desired, shisha to mix with. If you decide to mix your weed with shisha or tobacco, place it on the bottom, with the cannabis on top. This will provide some moisture for the weed so that it does not dry out during the smoking process.
The hookah method is also very effective with hashish. Just remember to handle the coals with care and to not tug on the mouthpiece so the pipe does not fall over.
Dab rigs allow you to consume extremely potent cannabis extracts like shatter, honeycomb, and budder. In essence, dab rigs use a flash vaporisation method to process concentrates. In order to achieve this, you have to use a blowtorch instead of a lighter. The advantage to using dab rigs is, of course, how high they can get you. Because the extracts that dab rigs process are extremely potent, they arguably get you higher than any other method on this page.
Many people believe that dabbing is a healthier method of consuming marijuana than smoking, as it usually does not involve combustion. This makes the resulting vapour more “pure” than regular cannabis smoke.
Apple pipes are a fun and convenient way to smoke cannabis. Apples are one of the most popular and accessible fruits in the world, and can be very easily converted into smoking devices. All you need to make an apple pipe is an apple, a pen, and maybe some aluminium foil.
Before you begin, make sure to choose a fresh apple that will not fall apart. You will be poking holes into it, so it must hold up. Additionally, pen substitutes like pen caps, pencils, or strong straws can be used, but are not recommended.
To make and use an apple pipe, follow these steps:
- Jam the pen into the apple to create a tunnel from the top (stem) to the middle/bottom of the apple.
- Use the pen to create another tunnel into the side of the apple. This tunnel should connect to the middle one, providing unrestricted airflow.
- Line the natural mould of the apple where the stem came out with aluminium foil to act as a bowl.
- Poke holes in the aluminium foil to allow for airflow.
- Place your weed on top of the aluminium foil, light, and pull through the side hole.
- Some people prefer to carve a third tunnel on the other side of the apple to function as a carb. This is possible, but not at all necessary.
Corn husks have become very popular among health-conscious smokers. In Jamaica and California, corn husks are regularly used as alternatives to rolling papers or other devices. Since husks are all-natural, this is considered to be one of the healthiest methods of smoking cannabis.
After being dried, corn husks are simple to roll up. Additionally, they are fibrous, meaning they can be tightly secured to hold marijuana inside and will smoke slowly like papers. If you’re looking for a fun, healthy, and creative way to smoke marijuana, give dried corn husks a try.
The hot knife method is one of the oldest known ways of smoking cannabis or hashish. All you need are one or two knives and a heating element. If using a stove, turn it on medium heat and place the steel knives over the burner. This will allow them to heat up and make the weed stick to them. When the knives are hot enough, place a piece of bud on one, and squeeze it with the other. Inhale the marijuana as it begins to smoke.
When handling hot knives, be careful not to burn yourself on their handles. When they touch marijuana, it will immediately begin to produce smoke, so be ready to inhale.
Some minor modifications can be made to the method if preferred. Some people prefer to cut a plastic bottle in half and use that as a suction tool. A cardboard paper towel roll can also be used. Additionally, some people choose to omit the knives altogether and place their marijuana directly onto the heating element using a sheet of foil. This method works just as well, but provides equally less control over the direction of the smoke (not to mention the risk of burning your face), making the use of a cardboard roll or cut-up plastic bottle a must.
Plastic lungs are not just easy to make, but will also get you extremely high. Lungs mimic the same airflow functionality as bongs. In order to make a plastic lung, you will need a plastic container like a 2l bottle, scissors, aluminium foil, tape, and a plastic bag. 2l bottles tend to work very well, however, you can also use a 4l container if you wish.
To make and use a lung, follow these steps:
- Cut the plastic container in half.
- Use the tape to attach the plastic bag to the bottom of the container, sealing it.
- Place aluminium foil on the mouthpiece of the container. Mould into a bowl shape.
- Poke holes in the foil.
- Place marijuana on top of the foil.
- Pull on the bag as you light the weed, creating suction.
- When the bag is full, lift off the foil and inhale.
When making a lung, the capacity of the container will depend on the size of the bag used. As such, the larger the bag, the more smoke that the lung will hold, and the higher you will get.
Smoking marijuana from a soda can is just about as juvenile as it gets. A “do-it-yourself” favourite among new smokers, soda cans can easily be converted into smoking devices. Simply bend the can in half, poke some holes into the new crease, and poke a carb hole in the side. Put your weed inside the crease, light it, and inhale through the mouthpiece.
While soda cans work as smoking devices, many people worry about possible negative health effects. The aluminium that the can is made of may not be as safe to smoke from as aluminium foil. Additionally, the ink on the can may release chemicals when heated. As such, even though the method works, it should be used sparingly.
Conversely, some people actually prefer smoking out of a soda can. Proponents claim that your high can be enhanced by the residual sugar and caffeine molecules in the can. Unsurprisingly, there is no research to confirm these claims.
Similarly to cans and 2l containers, plastic water bottles can be retrofitted into smoking tools. Just poke a hole in the side of the bottle, place some aluminium foil on the mouth piece (in the shape of a bowl), poke some holes in the foil, and voila! You have yourself a water bottle pipe. Some prefer to make the hole in the bottom of the bottle, but really anywhere works. Water bottle pipes can be frustrating to use as they require being held at a somewhat weird angle during use. As such, be careful not to accidentally knock your weed out of the bowl when lighting up.
Rose blunts are not commonly talked about when it comes to alternative smoking methods. Yet, many people claim that they are just as effective as any method of consuming cannabis. In order to prepare a rose blunt, you will need just 3 rose petals and a working oven.
To prepare the blunt, preheat the oven to broil and set aside 3 rose petals. When the oven is hot enough, place them on a pan inside the oven for about 10 seconds. Take the pan out, lick the rose petals, and stick them together to make a blunt wrap. Place them back in the oven for another 10 seconds. Remember to not let them get too dry or crispy as that could cause problems when rolling. Simply pull them out of the oven, let them cool down for a moment, and roll yourself a rose blunt.
There are lots of ways to get high without rolling papers. Check out this list of alternative methods ranging from glass bongs to DIY apple pipes.