Why is it better to vape cannabis than smoke it?

Experts suggest that vaping cannabis could reduce health risks and maximise the plants therapeutic effect.

by Megan Townsend

Smoking and vaping are some of the most common ways to consume cannabis. However, research and experts suggest that vaping could be healthier, and it makes better use of the therapeutic elements of the plant. Let’s explore why. 

The issues with smoking cannabis

In terms of delivery mechanisms, people smoke cannabis in much the same way as they would smoke a cigarette, although smoke is often held in the lungs for longer. In Europe, cannabis flower is often mixed with tobacco, heated to a temperature high enough for combustion to occur, and the smoke is then inhaled. 

It is the mixing of cannabis with tobacco that is the main culprit of the issues associated with smoking cannabis. Although cannabis smoke contains a number of cannabinoids and terpenes (some of which may have a positive therapeutic effect), it also contains carcinogens and other toxic chemicals. As cannabis smoke is also held in the lungs for longer, users are also at increased risk for exposure to tar. 

Research suggests that smoking cannabis is associated with a number of health risks. Over the long term smoking can cause chronic bronchitis, weakened immune system, excessive mucus production, pulmonary inflammation and other health concerns.

Smoking cannabis is also not the best way to take full advantage of the therapeutic benefits of the plant. Although smoking delivers the same ‘high’ sensation, research shows that combustion destroys a large amount of the cannabinoid content of the strain. This means that valuable cannabinoids and terpenes are destroyed.

It’s important to note that cannabis smoke and regular tobacco smoke are not equally carcinogenic. Therefore, there is not a causal link between inhaling cannabis smoke and developing cancer.

Why might vaping cannabis be better?

Unlike smoking, vaping cannabis doesn’t require combustion or the subsequent inhalation of smoke containing carcinogens. Some cannabis users use dry herb vaporisers which heat the cannabis flower to a temperature where cannabinoids can be inhaled via vapour, others use vape pens with cartridges that contain oil or extracts. 

As this vapour doesn’t contain the same harmful toxins as smoke, vaping has been positioned as a safer consumption method. As such, it is the only legal way to consume medical cannabis flower in the UK. 

Vaping cannabis is known to be easier on the lungs than smoking, and is also associated with fewer health risks. Research suggests that those who vape cannabis experience fewer respiratory symptoms, compared to those who smoke. Therefore, it is a safer option for those with respiratory issues. As well as this, vaporised cannabis is also associated with decreased pulmonary symptoms compared to smoking.

Vaping cannabis also appears to be safer for the people around you. As vaping cannabis doesn’t produce the same harmful bi-products as cannabis smoke, the risks of second-hand smoking are greatly reduced.

Moving past reduction of health harms, vaping cannabis may also help to reduce some of the stigma that is often associated with cannabis use. Vaping cannabis produces less of a smell and is less noticeable than smoking a joint in public. This results in less complaints from neighbours, helping to reduce the stigma cannabis users face in daily life. 

From a practical perspective, vaping cannabis also offers users more control over both dose and content. Being able to manually set the temperature, and in some cases pre-set the amount of CBD or THC, affords users a high degree of precision that they wouldn’t otherwise get with smoking.

Ultimately, vaping appears a much safer way of using cannabis, whether it be  recreationally or medically. Whilst smoking, particularly when mixed with tobacco, presents a number of health harms both to the user and those around them, vaping minimises these risks, allowing individuals to make the most of the therapeutic benefits of cannabis.

This piece was written by Volteface Content and Media Officer Megan Townsend. She is particularly interested in the reform of drug legislation, subcultural drug use and harm reduction initiatives. She also has an MA in Criminology from Birmingham City University. Tweets @megant2799.

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