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?
The best ways to get high without weed
It may seem hard to believe that you can get high without any sort of drug at all, but the science is there, and it supports every example on our list
Lesly Juarez / Unsplash
As cannabis continues to be legalized all over the world, the ways in which people use it increase constantly. Pain relief, stress relief, euphoria, and a cerebral high are all reasons why people use cannabis. But there are times when we simply can’t use it. Maybe you have to pass a drug test, or you need to be around kids without smelling like weed. Maybe it’s simply not legal where you’re going! Thankfully, there are routes to getting high that you can take without smoking or consuming cannabis.
Below you’ll find a variety of ways to get high when smoking weed just isn’t an option. Everything listed there is easily available, and won’t require you to break your bank account.
What does “getting high” mean in this context?
It may seem hard to believe that you can get high without any sort of drug at all, but the science is there, and it supports every example on our list. Here’s some background: Our bodies contain things called cannabinoid receptors. These receptors receive cannabinoids like THC and CBD. For those unfamiliar, THC and CBD are both compounds responsible for us getting high. THC is the psychoactive compound that creates the cerebral high you get when smoking weed. Euphoria, colours speaking to you, and epiphanies? All THC. CBD, on the other hand, creates the body’s high: pain relief, stress relief, even inflammation relief.
When our cannabinoid receptors receive these compounds, our brains release a rush of dopamine and serotonin, the “feel-good” chemicals. Ever got an A on an assignment and felt so happy you wanted to celebrate? That’s dopamine.
This is where things starts to make sense. Weed is responsible for increasing dopamine levels in your brain, hence the high. We just need to find other things that will spike the dopamine. Fortunately, we can! The options below all spike dopamine levels to the point that you feel high.
Option No. 1: Love
Despite the heart obsession, love has almost nothing to do with our hearts and everything to do with our brains. When you fall in love with someone, your brain starts to release massive amounts of dopamine. Several studies have shown that being high on love is not all that different from being high on weed. All those times you’ve seen people doing stupid things in the name of love? They were basically high!
There are several different stages of love. Each one is a different type of high. The following categories were defined by Helen Fisher, a prominent American anthropologist studying the biological effects of love.
Stage 1: Lust and sexuality
This first category refers to the extreme lust we feel for those we’ve just begun to love. When you fall in love, your hormones go absolutely nuts. In men, it’s testosterone, and in women it’s estrogen. These crazy hormone levels explain why couples can’t keep their hands off each other in the early days or weeks of their relationships.
Stage 2: Attraction
At this point in your relationship, you’ll be experiencing high levels of norepinephrine. If you’ve ever felt anxious at the beginning of a relationship you’ve probably experienced an overload of norepinephrine.
Stage 3: Attachment
This stage is where you’ll most likely be until the end of your relationship. At this point, your libido is likely to drop significantly, and you’ll begin to feel the urge to cuddle and fully commit to one another. These feelings are a result of oxytocin, which has been deemed by many as the “cuddle chemical”.
As you can tell, love gets you high in a variety of ways, each of them the same as or similar to the high you get from smoking weed. Who needs weed when they have love? And if you don’t have love just yet, try the following two ideas!
Option No. 2: Exercise
Exercise has always been known to be great for your physical and mental health, but what many don’t realize is that it can also get you high. Exercise tends to release large amounts of dopamine into the brain, which, as in our first option, makes you high!
When you’re exercising, you’re improving your heart, lungs, and other vital organs. You’re also increasing muscle mass and capability, as well as decreasing your risk of illness. With all these benefits, adding “getting high” to the list may seem too good to be true.
What you have to keep in mind, however, is that exercising won’t intoxicate you in the same way love will. It’s a high, but of a different type. You’ll feel motivated, tough, and invincible. For example, think of marathon runners. Ever wonder how they run dozens of kilometres without giving up? It’s because they’re high on the chemicals their brains are releasing.
For this reason, people have been known to get addicted to exercise. In some cases, the high that runners and other athletes experience becomes dangerous to them. You’re far more susceptible to injury when you feel like you can do anything! As long as you don’t overdo it, you’ll be fine.
Option No. 3: Sex
It should in no way come as a surprise that sex makes you feel high. It’s one of the reasons humans love it so much! When you’re having sex, your system is releasing a truckload of hormones and neurotransmitters, creating dopamine spikes so high that smoking weed wouldn’t change anything.
The above options are all alternative routes to take when you want to get high without weed. No. 2 is by far the easiest, but if you happen to be in a relationship, your partner may be able to give you a high much stronger than anything else you can find.
Marijuana is definitely a wonderful way to get high, but sometimes it simply doesn’t fit into our schedules. Here are the best ways to get high without weed