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 Enjoy Cannabis
Getting the Most Out of Cannabis
There are a variety of delivery methods available to enjoy the effects of cannabis. While smoking tends to be the most popular option, it’s not for everybody. No matter which method you prefer, make sure to start off slowly to see how it affects you. It’s not unusual for new users to feel underwhelmed on their first experience. Before increasing your dosage, try the same method on a different day. For more information, check out our frequently asked cannabis questions page.
Cannabis Delivery Options
Up in Smoke
Smoking is the most common method, and there are many different ways to approach smoking cannabis. Since pre-rolled joints are pre-packaged and ready to go, it’s a good option if you want a no-fuss experience. Bowls require some assembly but are a good option for dosage control since you can take them one puff at a time. Bongs are for more experienced cannabis users as they filter some of the harsher elements of the smoke while cooling it down, allowing you to maximize your dosage.
Burning that Midnight Oil
Vaping is one of the more modern delivery methods for consuming cannabis. It requires minimal setup and is very discrete and portable. Purchase a vapor cartridge with a heated coil and battery, and you’re good to go.
A Dab Will Do It
When a dose of concentrate is heated on a hot surface and then inhaled through a glass “rig,” that’s a dab. This method is for those looking for a stronger high. If this sounds right for you ask your budtender how to get set up, and prepare for lift off.
Eat Your Greens
Edibles infused with cannabis can take up to two hours to fully kick in. Whether you prefer a soda, a baked good, a candy bar, or a cup of tea, you’re probably going to find something that aligns with your taste. We recommend starting with a single 5mg serving so you can gauge the effects. You can always take more later but remember to wait at least 1-2 hours.
Put a Salve On It
Looking for relief without the high? Topicals are a non-psychoactive option that come in balms, salves, and oils that you can apply directly to your skin instead of consuming orally. Topicals act as muscle relaxers and antiseptics, so they’re great for aches, pains, or relaxing massages.
Picking the Perfect Strain
When consuming cannabis, both the strain and delivery method should be taken into account. In terms of strain variety, there are three primary options: Sativa, Indica, and Hybrid. The varying percentages of THC, CBD, and other cannabinoids will determine the effects as well as factors like intensity and duration.
Sativa strains are a good option if you’re looking for something to energize your body and mind. It’sa go-to for daytime activity, and some swear by Sativa for its productivity-boosting effects. We recommend using Sativa when you’re going outdoors or trying to inspire your creative process.
Indica strains are a good option if you’re looking to relax. This strain is known for instating a sense of calm, and the “couch-lock” effect. We recommend Indica if you’re looking to unwind after a long day, or if you’re trying to find relief from pain or insomnia.
Hybrid strains combine these two effects to meet somewhere in the middle. An effective Hybrid will leave you feeling uplifted, mellow, creative, and calm. Hybrids tend to be either Sativa or Indica dominant, so consider which way you’d like your experience to lean when making your selection.
Talk with one of our amazing budtenders about the best strain for you! They are knowledgeable professionals who are eager to help.
There are a variety of delivery methods available to enjoy the effects of cannabis. While smoking tends to be the most popular option, there are many more.