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Vaping, Smoking, or Eating Marijuana

The safety and long-term health effects of using e-cigarettes or other vaping products still aren’t well known. In September 2019, federal and state health authorities began investigating an outbreak of a severe lung disease associated with e-cigarettes and other vaping products . We’re closely monitoring the situation and will update our content as soon as more information is available.

Over the past decade, marijuana laws have continued to change across the United States.

What was once vilified as a potentially dangerous “gateway drug” is now being recognized by many states (33 plus Washington, D.C., to be exact) as having medicinal properties that can help manage a range of health conditions, from anxiety and cancer to chronic pain and more.

Marijuana is now also recreationally legal in 11 of those 33 states. (Note that marijuana is still classified as illegal by the U.S. federal government.)

In states where marijuana is legal, it’s being sold mostly in three different ways:

  • to be smoked
  • to be eaten
  • to be vaped

If you live in a state where marijuana is legal, you might be wondering how best to consume it, especially in light of recent federal investigations into the safety of vaping .

Here’s what we know.

For decades, health experts warned the public about the dangers of inhaling tobacco smoke from cigarettes, cigars, and pipes.

For marijuana, some research suggests some compounds in it, known as cannabinoids, may have a few benefits.

One of the more well-known cannabinoids is called CBD. For this reason, some people believe smoking marijuana is less dangerous than smoking tobacco.

Cannabinoids, such as CBD, are different from tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the chemical in marijuana that gets a person “high.”

What about smoking?

Inhaling smoke of any kind — whether it’s cannabinoid-containing weed or tobacco or another substance — is bad for lung health, according to the American Lung Association.

Most marijuana users hold smoke in their lungs longer than tobacco smokers, putting them at greater risk for exposure to tar — which is harmful to the lungs.

Some negative health effects associated with chronic weed smoking include:

  • air pockets between the lungs and lungs and chest wall
  • chronic bronchitis
  • cough
  • excessive mucus production
  • possible increased risk of infection in immunocompromised people, such as those with HIV
  • possible increased risk of lower respiratory tract infections
  • weakened immune system
  • wheezing

What about vaping?

Vaping marijuana involves inhaling heated oil through a vaporizing device, often referred to as an e-cigarette. Vaping marijuana can also refer to using a vaporizer, such as a Volcano , to produce vapor from dried plant material.

Some people believe vaping is safer than smoking because it doesn’t involve inhaling smoke. But the reality is, when it comes to vaping marijuana, there’s much less known about the negative health effects.

The most recent research suggests vaping THC oil could be quite harmful to lung health. The greatest concern at the moment is the severe effects of inhaling vitamin E acetate. This additive chemical has been found in many vaping products that contain THC.

As of Dec. 27, 2019, nearly 2,561 cases of lung injury (EVALI) caused by inhalation of vitamin E acetate, or “popcorn lung,” have been reported in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and two U.S. territories (Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands) and have led to 55 deaths during that time, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) .

Some of the people affected by vaping illnesses include children.

The CDC recommends people avoid using e-cigarettes and vaping products, particularly those containing THC oil, because they’re likely to contain vitamin E acetate.

Early research shows vaping liquids and oils — even once — can harm your lungs. Because vaping is new and hasn’t been well studied, there could be harmful effects of vaping that aren’t yet known.

Some states with legal marijuana are proactively warning marijuana users that vaping liquids has been known to cause severe lung injuries and death.

To stay up to date on the latest vaping-related illness news, check the CDC website for regular updates.

Smoking uses dried plant parts or concentrates

There are several ways to smoke marijuana:

  • One way is to roll dried parts of the flower into a joint using cigarette paper.
  • Some people mix their marijuana with tobacco, so it’s a bit less potent (this is called a spliff).
  • Some people use bongs or pipes to smoke.
  • Sometimes people smoke more potent forms of marijuana than the flower, called concentrates. These include hash and kief.

Vaping uses concentrated extracts or ground dry herb

When people vape, they consume concentrated marijuana. It seems to be a much more potent delivery system than smoking. In other words, you’ll get more high from vaping than from smoking.

Vaping can be more intense

Researchers have determined that the effects of vaping marijuana are much stronger than smoking.

In one study , researchers found that first-time and infrequent marijuana users were more likely to experience adverse reactions from the enhanced delivery of THC caused by vaping when compared to smoking.

Both take effect fast

Both smoking and vaping have an almost immediate effect on the body. Their effects peak within 10 to 15 minutes.

Most experts recommend starting vaping or smoking very slowly, taking in a small amount at first and waiting 20 to 30 minutes before having more.

A note about marijuana strains

There are many strains of marijuana, each having slightly different effects on the body. Sativa strains are thought to be more stimulating. Others, called indica, are more relaxing. It’s worth noting marijuana strains can affect people quite differently. Just because a certain strain has purported properties doesn’t mean you’ll get those exact effects.

If you’re trying to untangle the sticky subject of marijuana today, let’s look at what’s known about vaping versus smoking weed.

Cannabis Edibles Aren’t as Safe as People Think

Share on Pinterest Overconsumption of cannabis can happen more easily when it’s used in edible form and it can have adverse effects on a person’s health, especially in youths and older adults. Getty Images

  • Both young and older adults are at greater risk of overconsumption and accidental ingestion of cannabis edibles.
  • Unlike inhaled cannabis, ingested cannabis must be digested first before being absorbed.
  • This delay can lead inexperienced users to inadvertently overconsume because they might not feel the intended effects immediately.

Despite their appearance, cannabis edibles — sweet treats like gummies and chocolate bars infused with tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the primary psychoactive component of marijuana — can be risky for some users.

They may look just like candy, but these potent products definitely aren’t for kids. And that’s part of the problem.

In a new article appearing in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, researchers outlined the most prominent risks associated with cannabis edibles for different users and found that young people are among the most at-risk when it comes to overconsumption and accidental ingestion.

The other most at risk: older adults.

And for those two groups, there are some serious potential adverse health problems that can sometimes result in a trip to the emergency room or just a really, really bad day.

In places where marijuana is legal recreationally and there’s data available, cannabis edibles still remain just a small part of the overall industry. However, in some cases, as in Colorado, they’ve put a disproportionate number of people in the hospital.

There are specific reasons for that, some of which are owed to the difference in how the body processes cannabis based on how it’s consumed.

It’s well established that cannabis edibles take significantly longer than inhaled marijuana to enter the bloodstream.

Smoking results in a near instantaneous onset, whereas consuming cannabis commonly takes between 30 to 60 minutes. But that can vary depending on many different factors including the user’s metabolism and the contents of the edible itself.

“Overconsumption is a significant concern because of the delayed time to onset of its intended effects. Unlike inhaled cannabis, ingested cannabis must be digested first before being absorbed, and once it has been ingested, it’s on board, which means people might not feel effects immediately and hence inadvertently overconsume,” said Dr. Lawrence Loh, MPH, an author of the research and faculty member at the University of Toronto.

Other significant factors in determining how quickly an edible could kick in include: sex, weight, diet, and tolerance to cannabis.

The effects of marijuana edibles also last a lot longer than smoking, with peak THC blood levels occurring around 3 hours after consumption.

The latency of the high from edibles can frequently result in an all-too-common scenario for some users: eating the edible, not feeling the effects immediately, and then consuming more.

By the time the effects are felt, the user could be in over their head.

There’s the potential for cannabis-induced psychosis, which results in paranoia, confusion, and hallucinations.

Particularly in older adults, cannabis can also result in cardiac events.

Last year, the Canadian Journal of Cardiology published a case report on a 70-year-old man who had a heart attack after ingesting a cannabis lollipop.

Cannabis is known to affect the cardiovascular system and can cause an increase in heart rate and blood pressure.

Previous research has shown a higher risk of heart attack following the use of cannabis.

But overconsumption also presents specific risks for different age groups, as outlined in the new Canadian report.

For youths, the risks outlined include panic attacks, psychosis, and hyperemesis syndrome — a serious condition that results in uncontrollable vomiting.

There are also potential long-term effects from cannabis consumption beginning at a young age, including “impaired brain development and poor mental health.”

Older adults, the other at-risk group outlined in the report, may experience increased cognitive impairment, risk of falls, heart arrhythmia, and various drug interactions.

According to Loh, these two groups are at higher risk because, “[They] have different metabolic rates and pharmacokinetics than other groups and hence respond differently… For seniors, many may have other conditions that might place them at risk of overconsumption and other indirectly related health issues.”

Rais Vohra, the Medical Director for California Poison Control System Fresno Madera District, told Healthline that his experience in dealing with emergencies associated with cannabis edibles are consistent with findings in the report.

He emphasized how important it is to keep these products out of the hands of children in order to avoid accidental exposure.

“What we really try to repeat over and over again is that kids and cannabis don’t mix. We really should be treating these edibles like we do alcoholic beverages and prescription medications and really trying to keep them out of the hands of toddlers and children who can accidentally ingest them,” he said.

And prevention is the best measure because when it comes to treating cannabis overconsumption, there are few options besides just riding it out.

“There’s really no antidote to marijuana toxicity. So, whenever somebody is having these effects of marijuana intoxication you really have to just give them supportive care and let time do its thing,” said Vohra.

“As their body metabolizes the cannabis they will become normal again. It may take a day or two and in the meantime they may require intensive supportive care,” he added.

Vohra said that when it comes to marijuana overconsumption he commonly recommends “home observation,” meaning a trip to the ER probably isn’t necessary.

However, for some extreme cases — particularly in young children and infants — a visit to the hospital is a good idea.

Good regulation of cannabis edibles is the first step in making sure no one ever ends up in the ER because of them.

In Canada, these regulations demand that edibles are stored in plain, child-resistant packaging and require a standardized health warning sign on them.

“Common sense and best business practices dictate that in a legally regulated adult-use market, cannabis-infused edible products ought to be readily distinguishable from non-infused products by their packaging. Moreover, such products ought to be properly and accurately labeled for potency and cannabinoid content and served in childproof packaging,” said Paul Armentano, the Deputy Director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).

Armentano was not affiliated with the report.

The report also calls for more widespread community-based education around edible cannabis and encourages physicians to more openly discuss marijuana usage with their patients.

“I think that any step that we add to ensure safety, they all synergize. At the community level people just need education and reminders in many different forms that these products can be hazardous,” said Vohra.

Overconsumption of cannabis can happen more easily when it's used in edible form and it can have adverse affects on a person's health, especially youths and older adults.