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?
Recreational Marijuana 101: How to Smoke a Pipe
One of the most recognizable smoking devices is a cannabis pipe. These pipes are categorized in two groups: carb and carb-less. Those with a “carb,” or small hole, allow for the clearing of smoke in the pipe.
Carb-less pipes are referred to as “chillums” or “one-hitters.” These are available in a variety of shapes, and are usually straight tubes that mimic the appearance of cigarettes or discrete designs.
Pipes with a carb are often called “bowls” or “spoons.” They’re generally spoon-shaped in form. Pipes with carbs are designed for larger amounts of cannabis, and they can generally go around a circle of friends for multiple puffs.
Pipe Smoking for Beginners
When compared to joints or blunts, the primary benefits of consuming cannabis with a pipe are increased smoke and less ash. While joints, blunts, and other rolled options may be seen as more portable, their combustion method involves a significant amount of ash.
Additionally, a clean pipe will be less harsh than a joint or blunt.
How cannabis pipes work
Pipes provide their function using three aspects of the device:
- The mouthpiece: where you put your mouth
- The bowl: where you put your cannabis flower
- The carb hole: some pipes have a carb hole to allow the consumer to “clear” the pipe of residual smoke.
The cannabis is heated and smoke is inhaled through the mouthpiece.
How to choose a pipe
Choosing a pipe is based on personal taste. Standard chillums may be made out of clear glass or cigarette-shaped, while more intricate one hitters and bowls vary in color, shape, size, and details. If you want something that can be discreetly held in the palm of your hand, a one-hitter may be your best option. They’re carb-less, small, and typically stored in a wooden “dugout”.
If you’re looking for a piece that will last a long time, allow for larger smoke sessions, and has a carb hole, then a bowl is likely your best option. While you won’t be able to test the pipe before you buy, you can hold it as if you were using it to see how it feels in your hands and whether you can easily use the carb hole.
How to pack a pipe
When it comes to packing your pipe, ground cannabis is always your best option. It makes for a uniform burn and airflow, which means you’ll get the most consistent hits. Grind your cannabis in a grinder if you have one, or use your fingers to tear the flower into tiny bits. Fill the bowl of your pipe with a few pinches of ground herb.
If it is a larger bowl, you may need to grind up more cannabis, whereas smaller bowls and one-hitters require a small amount to fill the bowl.
How to smoke a pipe
Once loaded, ignite the bowl of cannabis using a lighter or hemp wick, while inhaling from the mouthpiece. If there is a carb, be sure to cover the carb hole using your thumb or finger while inhaling the first half of your puff. Then release your finger and allow air to flow through the carb hole while you inhale the second half of your hit.
For cannabis beginners, be sure to start with small amounts in each bowl, and wait several minutes between inhalations. Cannabis varies in potency, so “go slow and low” until you’ve developed familiarity with cannabis products.
How to clean a pipe
The more often you clean your pipe, the easier it will be to maintain. While cleaning after every use may be excessive, a 2019 study by Moose Labs shows that even a 10-minute smoking session with four friends will more than double the amount of bacteria on the mouthpiece of the pipe.
Soaking in isopropyl alcohol and acetone are great options for cleaning your pipes. If there’s a bit of resin that is stuck inside, add a few pinches of salt (epsom salt is the best) and shake to agitate the residue and help remove any leftover remnants and bacteria
A three-minute isopropyl alcohol soak is the most effective way to reduce bacteria and other residuals.
How to store a pipe
If your pipe is made of a material that could shatter, such as glass, clay or crystals, you’ll want to store it in something protective, such as a padded case or bag to keep it safe from impact shocks and bumps. Pipes made of wood, metals like aluminium, silicon and other similar materials should be placed in their storage pouches once appropriately cooled and cleaned.
For added discretion, consider a smell-proof container that stays airtight to avoid the smells of fresh or freshly-burned cannabis escaping.
Try For Yourself
Now that you’re familiar enough with cannabis pipes to be able to choose one for yourself, give it a try on your own. Feel free to refer back to this guide when shopping for and using your new pipe for the first time. Once you get the hang of it, you should be able to enjoy your pipe and legal cannabis without much guidance.
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This pipe smoking guide for beginners walks you through everything from selecting a pipe to storing it after use.