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A Strange Blend: Why Are Europeans Mixing Cannabis and Tobacco?

This article was originally published on Leafly.

Cannabis doesn’t carry the sort of health hazards tobacco does, a majority of studies say. But that doesn’t change the European habit of mixing the two. It’s something North American cannabis consumers don’t often do: even cigarette smokers in Vancouver or L.A. tend smoke their flower pure, strictly separating nicotine and cannabinoids. So where does this difference come from?

To answer the question, let’s go back in time to the cannabis renaissance of the 1960s and ‘70s. Consumers in Europe at the time almost exclusively smoked hashish, often crumbling it into cigarettes, as hardly anyone was aware of the dangers of nicotine and smoking tobacco. The vast majority of cannabis consumers in the U.S., on the other hand, overwhelming had access only to dried flower, which could easily be used to roll pure joints.

These differences influenced the size of what was being rolled in North America and Europe. In the U.S. and Canada, pure “mini-joints” became the standard, while on the continent a king-size joint is preferred. A European-sized joint that contains only cannabis might contain 1.5 grams to 2 grams of flower — far too much for most. An American joint, on the other hand, contains about as much herb — about 0.2 grams to 0.5 grams — as a European mixed joint (often called a spliff in the U.S.), but without the nicotine. Scientists have even pinpointed the average amount of cannabis in an American joint at 0.32 grams. In Germany, the Netherlands, or Denmark, that amount of cannabis is typically mixed with another gram or so of tobacco, depending on personal preference.

Smoke Raw

Not only does consuming a cannabis–tobacco blend affect your health more than pure flower, it also complicates efforts to gauge the health effects of cannabis itself. The legalization debate often revolves around the dangers of “smoking,” because almost every European study on cannabis is not about smoking it pure but about cannabis mixed with tobacco. Even in medical programs, little attention is paid to whether patients smoke pure. That means that Europeans who use cannabis alone has to justify the consequences of a substance that has little to do with cannabis.

Even without tobacco, smoking is the unhealthiest form of any medical application. Yet other, healthier forms of consumption, such as vaporization or edibles, seem to catch on much more slowly in Europe. That’s in part because tobacco has long been engrained in European culture; as cannabis grew in popularity among Europeans, that affected how people chose to consume. In other cultures, where cannabis has been part of everyday life for millennia, people consume orally or at least smoke cannabis pure.

Mixing tobacco into a joint increases the addictive risks immensely. Many casual users have only begun to smoke cigarettes because they use tobacco for their joints. “Without cannabis I have no problems, but I then smoke more cigarettes” — you’ll never hear such a statement from a pure-cannabis consumer. Doctors in Germany or the Netherlands treating cannabis patients are often unaware of this phenomenon and fail to advise patients to quit tobacco— or at least to separate the consumption of both drugs so the positive effects of cannabis remain intact. The unfortunate reality is that in most instances in Europe, the pairing of cannabis and tobacco simply isn’t discussed.

Last but not least, pure cannabis acts quite differently than a cannabis–tobacco blend. Patients report that the combination of nicotine and cannabis can lead to pain relief and relaxation, but very often they note fatigue as a negative side effect.

Lung-Killer Nicotine

All these facts should be worrying enough for European cannabis fans to reflect on their consumption habits. To make things worse, there’s the political aspect. Prohibitionists use the dangers of the legal drug nicotine to protest against legalization of cannabis: “How can we have ever stricter laws to control tobacco and at the same time legalize cannabis?”

Professor Donald Tashkin has been a leading American pulmonologists for decades. In the past he was a vocal supporter of cannabis prohibition. Tashkin was convinced that smoking cannabis flowers created a high risk of developing lung cancer or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). At one point, he was convinced that cannabis and lung cancer had a causal relationship worse than tobacco.

But more recent evaluations of long-term studies, however, made him change his mind in 2009: “Early on, when our research appeared as if there would be a negative impact on lung health, I was opposed to legalization because I thought it would lead to increased use, and that would lead to increased health effects,” he has said. “But at this point, I’d be in favor of legalization. I wouldn’t encourage anybody to smoke any substances, because of the potential for harm. But I don’t think it should be stigmatized as an illegal substance. Tobacco smoking causes far more harm. And in terms of an intoxicant, alcohol causes far more harm.”

If the legislators take their task to protect public health seriously, European studies that evaluate the risk potential of pure cannabis consumed in various forms (smoking, vaporizing, edibles) have to be undertaken. These studies should take the international state of research into account, focusing on safer ways of consuming.

Michael Knodt is Leafly’s Germany correspondent.

A Strange Blend: Why Are Europeans Mixing Cannabis and Tobacco? This article was originally published on Leafly. Cannabis doesn’t carry the sort of health hazards tobacco does, a majority

Joints, Spliffs, Blunts, And Bongs – What’s Tobacco Got To Do With Weed?

Tuesday 22 October

Howdy partners! Another report from Professor Harvest here, freshly rolled with new information from the global cannabis scene. Today, I want to shed some light on a tradition that divides smokers all over our green little planet: tobacco. I know, I know, smoking tobacco is bad for your health. So why is it that potheads in so many countries are hell-bent on mixing the stuff with marijuana? According to estimates, some 90% of European smokers prefer adding tobacco to their smokes, while their US counterparts generally prefer pure weed. What’s that all about? Surely, weed will burn by itself if you hold a lighter to it? There must be some other benefits to be gained from mixing the two, then. Let’s try to figure out why buds and bacca are such a common couple, shall we?

What’s In A Name?

A quick note on terminology may be handy here. Although the lines are blurry, many smokers distinguish smoking pure weed and weed mixed with tobacco by using different words for the two. Typically, at least in English-speaking countries, a joint is what you call an all-weed smoke, while mixing it with tobacco turns that joint into a spliff. Then there’s blunts. These are cigars (consisting of crudely cut tobacco rolled in tobacco leaves), which get cut open, cleaned of most of their tobacco content, filled up with a truckload of weed and then sealed back up. Even if you manage to clean out every last shred of tobacco, which you won’t if you’ve already had a previous blunt, the wrap is still made of tobacco leaves, so technically, a blunt is more like a spliff than a joint. On top of that, there is a custom known as the ‘tobacco chaser’, which means that the blunt is followed by a cigarette while it is passed around. That’s double tobacco, then. Finally, people may choose to use a weed-and-bacca mix when smoking pipes or bongs. No specific names as far as I know, but it’s yet another way to smoke tobacco and cannabis at the same time. Time to try and find out why.

Cutting The Costs

So okay, we’ll start out with the obvious reason for adding tobacco to the mix: money. Unless you’re growing cannabis at home so successfully that you’re drowning in ganja, tobacco is cheaper per gram than weed. That means you’ll be rolling more joints from that baggy you have in your room. Of course, ounce for ounce, the effect stays the same: if you fill half your joint with tobacco, sure, you’re saving half the weed, but you’ll only be inhaling half the weed as well. Then again, if you’re no regular smoker, or if you smoke a very potent high-THC strain, you’ll probably get sufficiently smashed on that half-tobacco, half-weed spliff, so there you go.

A Matter Of Taste

Of course, choosing any particular strain depends on personal preferences, but similarly, adding tobacco may simply be a matter of taste. Some people claim that tobacco actually amplifies the flavour of the ganja that it accompanies. This is pretty much impossible to check scientifically, as goes for pretty much all matters of taste, so I’ll just leave that up to you. Many spliff-over-joint smokers point out, though, that weed-only joints keep going out, which lots of people find annoying. Still, that’s also just a personal preference. What I do know from personal experience, however, is that our Dutch cannabis tradition has almost exclusively consisted of mixed spliffs. Sitting down in an Amsterdam coffeeshop and rolling an all-weed joint will probably get you some raised eyebrows, but that may be admiration rather than contempt: after all, we’ve got some pretty damn powerful weed in our country, and the spectators may just be waiting for you to keel over and pass out on the floor halfway through your joint. In fact, our national tobacco spliff tendency might simply be due to our legendary thriftiness – see the above paragraph for an economic account of this habit.

Does Tobacco Boost Your High?

The third explanation for adding tobacco to the mix is a disputed one. Many people from all walks of stoner life claim that adding tobacco boosts the high you’ll get from cannabis by itself. Somehow, the say, the brain is primed by the tobacco contents, leading to higher highs and rock-solid stoned dazes. Now here’s something scientists can get to grips with, and unsurprisingly, they did just that. In a recent study conducted at UCL, regular smokers were divided into a group that received bacca-infused spliffs, while a control group smoked weed-and-placebo joints. They were then interviewed to assess their experience of the resulting high. Researchers found no evidence that adding a pinch of tobacco added anything to the high. It seems that the scientific community has helped debunk yet another stoner myth.

So What About That Nicotine, Then?

Interestingly, the experiment didn’t stop there. After assessing their subjective high, both groups of participants were asked to recall a text they had read before smoking up. You can probably guess that the overall results were pretty underwhelming, as anyone of us who has tried to make sense of a book while stoned will acknowledge. Still, the respondents who had smoked tobacco along with marijuana performed better overall on recalling what they had read. The evidence suggested that nicotine may be responsible for this effect, increasing the accuracy of subjects’ memory. Do keep in mind, though, that memory is negatively affected by THC in itself, so the nicotine effect probably won’t compare to staying sober if you have exams to pass!

The News Ain’t All Good

Right. Summing up, we can safely conclude that tobacco doesn’t actually add to the high experienced when smoking cannabis. It may help keep your memory going, but if that’s your goal, you’re better off not smoking at all. There is a serious downside to tobacco-laden spliffs, however, and I feel it is my duty as a responsible professor to point this out. Nicotine is heavily addictive, as you’re probably aware. That creates a real risk for cannabis lovers, especially for those who don’t smoke regular cigarettes. There is a general consensus that cannabinoids such as THC or CBD do not have physically addictive properties by themselves. Adding tobacco – and therefore, nicotine – to your weed could lead to a physical dependency on smoking. Nicotine could get you addicted to smoking spliffs; not because of the weed, but because of the tobacco. The above study also found that adding tobacco increases heart rate and blood pressure right after smoking up. Not necessarily harmful, but definitely an effect worth considering if you mind your health.

Rolling Up The Facts

Right, so there you have it. Even if everyone around you smokes spliffs instead of weed-only joints, you now know that it doesn’t affect how high you’ll get. You may opt for adding tobacco because of personal taste, out of respect for tradition, or for economic reasons, or you could decide to just stick to the green. Whichever you choose, at least you can make an informed choice now, and that’s what we’re all about here at the Coffeeshop Info Centre. Regardless of your personal preference, remember to smoke responsibly and never to let yourself be pressured into something you don’t like, no matter what your friends say. Professor Harvest arms you with solid facts, so go ahead and choose for yourself. Whatever you decide, happy smoking, y’all!

According to estimates, some 90% of European smokers prefer adding tobacco to their smokes, while their US counterparts generally prefer pure weed.