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 to conserve your weed
Copy article link to clipboard.
Link copied to clipboard.
- Get the right gear
- Store your cannabis properly
- Invest in quality
- Smoke less
There are many reasons you might want to get the most out of your cannabis flower: to save money, minimize dispensary visits, or simply to stretch out your supply during a dry spell. Whatever your reason for wanting to conserve your stash, there are steps you can take to stretch your weed dollar further. This guide will walk you through how to properly conserve your weed.
Get the right gear
Having the right gear for cannabis consumption can go a long way towards conserving your cannabis. Joints and blunts are the least efficient consumption methods for flower, as the burning tip burns off the cannabinoids even when you’re not inhaling. It also takes a lot of flower to properly pack a joint or blunt, which means much of your stash is going into a single experience. If you love your joints, remember, you don’t have to smoke it all at once.
Glass pieces, such as pipes and bongs, feature smaller bowls and prevent you from loading too much bud at once. If you smoke the whole thing and you still want more, you can just pack another bowl. Bongs are also a good way to maximize your flower, as the long chamber allows you to consume all the smoke from the burning cannabis and take fewer hits to get the same experience.
Glass pieces, such as pipes and bongs, feature smaller bowls and prevent you from loading too much bud at once. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps
To get the most mileage out of the flower you use in blunts, joints, or glass, use a proper three-tier grinder and save the kief, which are the resinous trichomes that fall off the flower during the grinding process. You can reuse this very potent dust to sprinkle on top of future bowls and add to their potency.
Vaporizers are also a great way to stretch out the viability of your dried cannabis. Vapes heat cannabis at lower temperatures and burn off less of the cannabinoids in the bud, which means you get more THC by consuming less cannabis.
Store your cannabis properly
The proper storage of cannabis helps ensure your cannabis stays fresh and potent for as long as possible. To extend the shelf life of cannabis, it should be kept in a cool, dark place at or slightly below room temperature. The ideal storage temperature for weed is below 70 degrees Fahrenheit, or 21 degrees Celsius. The darkness and cool temperature prevent moisture from changing the integrity of your flower and stop mold or mildew, which love light and warmth, from growing.
To extend the shelf life of cannabis, it should be kept in a cool, dark place at or slightly below room temperature. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps
Light and oxygen are the main culprits when it comes to degrading flower. According to a study that explored the stability of cannabis in various storage conditions, light is the single largest contributor to the loss and deterioration of cannabinoids. Carefully stored cannabis can stay reasonably stable for 1-2 years in dark, room-temperature conditions.
Ultraviolet light will also degrade your cannabis, so use dark and airtight glass jars to preserve your flower’s THC and prevent it from degrading into cannabinol (CBN), a cannabinoid that doesn’t have the same intoxicating properties as THC.
Invest in quality
There’s something to be said for investing in higher quality cannabis. Levels of potency, terpene profiles, curing and drying processes, and growing conditions all play into the experience of smoking a particular flower cultivar. If you can afford to spend a little more on high-quality flower from a reputable source, the potency may encourage you to consume less. Be aware, however, that research indicates those who routinely consume highly potent weed develop a tolerance over time, in which case the best method for conservation is to cut back on frequency.
As you increase the regularity of your consumption, the body builds up a tolerance to THC. Tolerance increases with many substances, such as caffeine, due to a biological process called downregulation in which cells decrease their sensitivity to particular molecules. More THC in the endocannabinoid system (ECS) overwhelms the CB1 receptors, and in turn, the cells reduce their sensitivity to THC. With this negative feedback loop, a consumer must smoke more and more cannabis to achieve the same experience they could when they first began consumption.
Your body will need more potent doses of cannabis the more frequently you consume, as your body “downregulates” the introduction of cannabinoids. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps
When you intentionally regulate the amount of cannabis you intake, your body’s tolerance adjusts and you soon will be able to achieve your desired experience with a lot less green. Little habit adjustments go a long way: lightly pack a smaller bowl; roll narrow joints, called pinners, instead of fat joints; or invest in a one-hitter or snap bong piece designed for the smallest hit possible.
Already have a high tolerance? Never fear — a study from the Yale School of Medicine found that “significant CB1R upregulation begins with two days of abstinence and continues over four weeks.” In other words, when a cannabis smoker takes a break, CB1 receptors begin to bounce back after two days and return to almost normal levels after four weeks.
How to conserve your weed Copy article link to clipboard. Link copied to clipboard. Contents Get the right gear Store your cannabis properly Invest in quality Smoke