Does smoking marijuana vs vaping THC oil make a difference? Experts weigh in
Two scientists reveal why you may be better off trying something totally different to get your high.
Just as vapes have disrupted cigarette smoking, so have they fundamentally changed marijuana use.
Whether you prefer to smoke weed or vape THC oil to get your high, what is undeniable is that each method produces different effects вЂ”В and not all of them good. But in the battle of smoking vs vaping, experts suggest there may be a third, potentially better way to consume marijuana.
In the United States, marijuana is the second-most commonly used psychotropic drug. Over 122 million people in the US have tried weed at some point in their lives. About half of all 30 to 50-year-olds use it regularly, according to 2017 statistics. The same is true for teens, too. Smoking pot is legal for recreational use in 11 states, and several others are looking to make it legal in the next year.
Cannabis has to be heated for the cannabinoids in the plant to have a psychoactive effect вЂ”В a process called decarboxylation. But other than that, how it is consumed is up to the user: You can smoke it, you can vape it, dab it, eat it, or even pop it in a pill.
The majority of users either smoke weed or vape THC oil. Smoking involves burning the dried plant, while vaping THC oil involves vaporizing an extract from the plant and inhaling the vapor. Both these methods offer good absorption and fast вЂ”В but not long-lasting вЂ” effects.
Until recently, smoking was the preferred method of consumption overall, but vaping THC oil is on the rise, especially among teens, according to the National Institute for Drug Abuse for Teens. The number of 12th graders vaping THC nearly doubled between 2018 and 2019, according to the data.
Each method has its champions, but is one better than the other for both your brain and your body?
Inverse spoke to two scientists about the different effects of smoking weed versus vaping THC oil on your health, and asked: Which method gets you more high?
Smoking marijuana’s toll on health
When smoking a joint, the joint releases carcinogenic chemicals вЂ”В compounds that cause cancer вЂ” as it burns. The human lung is not equipped to breathe in the byproducts of combustion. As a result, smoking marijuana can lead to respiratory inflammation (symptoms include wheezing, shortness of breath, altered pulmonary function tests, cough, phlegm production, and more).
This irritation is similar to the effects of smoking cigarettes, but the science is inconclusive as to whether smoking marijuana is linked to the myriad long-term health problems that smoking cigarettes is. A 2015 review found little evidence that smoking weed is linked to increase risk of lung cancer вЂ”В one of the top long-term consequences of cigarette use. But it did not take heavy consumption into account вЂ”В meaning the question remains open.
There is some evidence that smoking marijuana every day over a long period of time could put men at higher risk of testicular cancer, however. A December 2019 study found that a daily habit over ten years was linked to a 36 percent increase in the odds of developing testicular germ cell tumors, which are involved in 95 percent of all testicular cancer cases.
Vaping THC oil and health
Vaping THC oil offers an alternative to combustion, avoiding the side-effects tied to burning. But a 2015 paper suggests that the potential differences between smoking and vaping weed may not be as great as those between vaping and smoking tobacco.
But while we do not fully understand the risks of vaping THC oil, that does not mean that vaping THC oil is not risky at all. In the past two years, the US has witnessed an outbreak in lung problems linked to vaping products. And as of February 2020, there were a total of 2,758 recorded cases of what is now known as EVALI, and a total of 64 deaths as a result of vaping-related illness.
вЂњI don’t don’t mean to sound paranoid. but we don’t have the data.”
In December 2019, US officials concluded that a chemical additive called vitamin E acetate, often used in THC oil for vapes, is likely responsible for these illness.
That, say the experts, is no surprise.
вЂњWith e-liquids there is more opportunity to adulterate the product,вЂќ Tory Spindle, a post-doctoral research fellow at Johns Hopkins Medicine tells Inverse.
вЂњThat was why a lot of this acute illness was happening. Whenever you introduce more constituents, you are inhaling more things, and that is generally not going to be a good thing.вЂќ
The lack of government regulation and oversight into what goes into e-liquids and THC-oil concentrates means it is hard to draw conclusions on their long-term effects on health. The fact that the market for vaping moves much quicker than the research on it вЂњis not ideal,вЂќ Spindle says.
вЂњWe don’t have long term data. It is probably better than lighting something on fire and inhaling the smoke,вЂќ Mitch Earleywine, professor at the University of Albany, tells Inverse.
But there is a catch:
вЂњNobody has two year follow-up data on any of that,” he says.
“It is distinctly possible that come 2022, we are going to find out, oh shit, this glycerin was not a good idea,” he says. “I don’t mean to sound paranoid. but we don’t have the data.вЂќ
Does smoking or vaping give a stronger high?
On this question, vaping THC oil is the likely winner, the experts say.
вЂњThe oils, so those butane hash oils and the dabbing, because they are such a high concentration of THC, of course it’s bound to get more into your blood faster,вЂќ Earleywine says.
вЂњBut we’re talking about, you know, 15 seconds versus 30 seconds.вЂќ
There is also a clear distinction between purchasing a 90 percent concentration THC oil instead of a 23 percent concentration THC plant. Depending on which you consume regularly, it may affect how consumers build their tolerance.
вЂњYou are going to get a whole lot of THC into your bloodstream really quickly,” with vapes, he says. “The impact will be really dramatic, but it looks like you probably would develop tolerance more rapidly too.вЂќ
A synthetic high could also change the psychological side effects of marijuana.
вЂњThe natural flower is much less likely to create [paranoia] because it has those other cannabinoids,” Earleywine says.
Vape oils, meanwhile, are “literally synthetic versions or extracts that no longer have other cannabinoids in there that might be keeping some of the more aversive parts dampened,” he says.
Is it better to smoke or vape THC? The answer is neither
The experts agree on one thing: Smoking or vaping THC oil are neither as good as vaporizing the plant.
Vaporizing weed is different to vaping with a pen вЂ”В you instead burn the cannabis plant in a vaporizer, releasing the chemicals from the plant into air, and then inhale it. By doing so, you bypass the burning effect of joints, and you bypass the other, potentially harmful chemicals that are often packed into vape cartridges.
Earleywine tested the health implications of vaporizing weed in a 2015 study, and found that smokers with respiratory irritation had better lung function after switching to a vaporizer.
вЂњWe had folks improve their lung volume and how quickly they can force air out of their lungs in just a month вЂ”В that I was really gung-ho about.вЂќ he says.
Vaporizing, Earleywine thinks, is “probably the healthiest way to get quick consumption of cannabinoids.”
“I wish folks would use the vaporizer rather than the vape pens.вЂќ
The same goes for the high вЂ”В vaporizing the bud may have a stronger psychotropic effect, Spindle says.
In 2018, Spindle conducted a small study comparing the subjective drug effects of smoking or vaporizing weed, finding that THC’s effects were stronger when vaporizing.
Vaporizing had a stronger impact than smoking on participants’ cognitive functions. They also reported feeling higher and had more difficulty performing routine tasks. This was especially true for people new to marijuana, which may also increase their levels of anxiety or paranoia.
So what is better? Vaping, smoking, or vaporizing the bud?
вЂњDepends on what your end goal is,вЂќ Spindle says. But what little evidence there is points to vaporizing the bud as a worthwhile alternative, Earleywine says.
As the social and legal landscape around marijuana shifts, the future of marijuana consumption is hard to make out. Edibles may also be a good potential substitute to combustion and e-liquids, but their delayed effects and difficulties in dosage is making them still quite hard to harness.
вЂњMy hope would be that the portable vaporizers, the machines that actually do use the whole plant and heat it up but don’t light it on fireвЂ¦ I feel like that is the way we should go,вЂќ Earleywine says.
вЂњIf socially it could become more acceptable and kind of hip to have a vaporizer we would be much better off from a public health perspective,” he says.
Two scientists reveal why you may be better off trying something totally different to get your high.
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
- 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
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.