Smoking marijuana has been the go-to method for getting ‘high’ ever since weed came to American shores. It is the mode of consumption popularized in timeless stoner movies such as Cheech and Chong, Pineapple Express, and Harold and Kumar Get the Munchies. However, in recent years, vaporizers have threatened to take over the market. Those who champion ‘vaping’ say it is easier on the throat and lungs, and there is even a suggestion that vaporizers release fewer carcinogens than smoking.
Vaping was well on the way to becoming a multi-billion-dollar industry long before devices were created for inhaling dry herb and concentrate vapor.
E-cigarettes have been on the market since 2004, as users enjoyed inhaling nicotine vapor without being exposed to harmful tobacco and tar.
The number of vapers was already at seven million globally in 2011, but it has risen to beyond 40 million by the beginning of 2019. According to Euromonitor, this figure will hit 55 million by 2021. In 2014, the e-cigarette market was worth $4.2 billion. It exceeded $22 billion by the end of 2018. A study by Grand View Research suggested that the global vaping and e-cigarette market will reach $47 billion by 2025.
Vaping is deemed by many to be an effective means of quitting smoking. It has also gained popularity in the marijuana world because it seemingly produces fewer carcinogens than smoking weed. Cannabis companies have responded to the growing demand by developing ultra-potent concentrates that can have a THC content of up to 90%!
With this in mind, you may believe that vaping is likely to get you significantly higher than smoking; but let’s see if this is the case in practice. First, however, let’s check out the health profile of both consumption methods.
Vaping Versus Smoking Weed – Which Is Healthier?
It seems pretty conclusive that overall, vaping marijuana is safer than smoking it; and it has little to do with the herb itself. The ‘dangers’ of smoking weed are primarily based on the process of combustion, which occurs when you light up a joint, blunt, or a bowl.
The best-known carcinogens produced by smoked marijuana are:
- Naphthalene: High concentrations of this chemical destroy red blood cells which are crucial for carrying oxygen. Excess exposure could result in organ damage.
- Benzene: This well-known carcinogen is formed during combustion. Your reproductive system is badly damaged when you are exposed to high concentrations.
- Toluene: This benzene derivative is less toxic but is believed to have negative effects on the central nervous system.
A study by Hashibe et al., published in the journal Alcohol in April 2005, found that marijuana smoke contains similar carcinogens as cigarette smoke.
On the plus side, there isn’t a link between marijuana smoking and increased cancer risk, at least according to a January 2017 report released by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. The report looked at almost 11,000 marijuana studies and said: “the committee found evidence that suggests smoking cannabis does not increase the risk for cancers often associated with tobacco use.”
As the biggest risk of carcinogens comes from combustion rather than marijuana, vaporizing your herb, or using concentrates, could reduce the risk of developing a harmful lung condition.
Researchers have found that those who vaporize weed report decreased respiratory symptoms when compared to those who smoke marijuana.
Vaporizers heat your marijuana to temperatures that release cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids, but do NOT combust the herb. As a result, you get the benefits of the cannabis plant without the toxins associated with smoking it. It is important to note that your flower begins to combust at around 440 degrees Fahrenheit but releases psychoactive compounds at 320 degrees. With a vaporizer, you can keep the temperature in the ideal range.
What’s interesting is that vaping bud appears to be safer than consuming hash oil in this manner. This is primarily due to the low quality of some hash oils on the market, which may contain pesticides, lighter fluid, and other dangerous items.
A study by Shabab et al. published in the Annals of Internal Medicine in March 2017, analyzed five groups of people.
- Tobacco cigarette users only.
- Former tobacco cigarette smokers who had been using e-cigs for at least six months.
- Former tobacco cigarette smokers using Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) only.
- Long-term users of e-cigs and tobacco cigarettes.
- Long-term users of tobacco cigarettes and NRT.
The University College of London (UCL) scientists discovered that those who swapped tobacco cigarettes for e-cigarettes or NCT for a minimum of six months had far lower levels of toxic and carcinogenic substances in their bodies than those who continued to use tobacco cigarettes.
It isn’t all good news for the vaping industry. It is seen as a ‘cool’ method of marijuana consumption by teenagers, who inevitably overdo it and get in trouble. According to CNN, 14 teenagers in the United States were hospitalized due to breathing problems after vaping in July and early August 2019 alone. 11 of the cases occurred in Wisconsin, and the other three happened in Illinois.
In August 2019, tragedy struck in Illinois when an adult patient died from a serious lung disease after vaping. It is believed to be the first-ever death in America linked to e-cigarettes. The CDC reported that almost 200 people in 22 states had contracted severe respiratory diseases after vaping.
The American Vaping Association defended the industry by claiming the illnesses attributed to marijuana vaporization were due to tainted black-market THC products. Remember, these illicit products could contain all manner of harmful ingredients.
I’m Okay with the Health Risks – I Just Want to Know Which One Gets Me Higher!
Until recently, it was difficult to provide a definitive answer to this question. Certainly, you receive a ‘different’ high from each product, which doesn’t necessarily mean a ‘better’ high.
Those who have tried both will tell you that vaping offers a “cleaner” high, which provides you with a greater degree of energy. The lack of smoke means you are less likely to suffer from dry mouth, and there is less of a pungent odor.
However, a study by Johns Hopkins Medicine, published in JAMA Network Open in November 2018, said that vaping marijuana produces stronger effects than smoking it if you are an infrequent user. The study involved a cross-trial of 17 healthy adults who smoked and vaporized weed, in doses of 10mg and 25mg of THC.
While inhalation of 10mg of THC resulted in “modest impairment of cognitive functioning,” the 25mg doses were “associated with pronounced drug effects, increased incidence of adverse effects, and significant impairment of cognitive and psychomotor ability.” Most importantly, vaped THC “produced greater pharmacodynamic effects and higher concentrations of THC in blood compared with equal doses of smoked cannabis.”
None of the volunteers had smoked weed in the previous 30 days. Incidentally, one of them experienced hallucinations after using the 25mg dose. Overall, regardless of the amount of THC consumed, those who vaped weed reported more potent effects, including a significant impairment in their overall cognitive abilities and reaction time. In other words, vaping gets you FAR more stoned than smoking!
Although your vaping high won’t last as long as when you smoke a joint, you can still get spectacularly baked. Once you begin to feel the effects wear off, vape another bowl and enjoy the high all over again! Vaping consumes less dry herb than smoking, so it is arguably more cost-effective. If you’re keen for an ‘out of body experience’ type high, invest in concentrates, but be careful – some forms of shatter and wax contain up to 90% THC!
Typically, smoking a joint provides you with a faster high that lasts a bit longer. The ensuing rush is intense, especially if you use a bong, but you’re more likely to feel lazy than if you vape. While the duration of the high is greater, your peak high is less intense than when you use a vaporizer. On the plus side, you get there quicker and feel stoned for a bit longer.
For those in the know, the result of the Johns Hopkins study came as no surprise. After all, the bioavailability of marijuana increases when it is vaporized as opposed to when it is smoked. When you smoke a joint, you lose half the cannabinoids almost immediately and smoke burnoff wipes off another 20%.
As for vaporization, up to 95% of the weed’s cannabinoids make it past the first hurdle. Overall, vaping weed equates to a bioavailability rate of up to 56% according to some estimates. As a higher percentage of THC makes it to the bloodstream when vaping, you are bound to get ‘higher’ from vaporization than you would from smoking the same amount of weed.
When you break things down even further, it becomes clear that vaporizing weed has an array of advantages, aside from the obvious health benefits. When you smoke marijuana, the dry herb combusts as the temperature reaches incredible levels. You are of course unable to control or gauge the temperature, and all you know is that smoking marijuana destroys practically all of the herb’s terpenes.
Terpenes are the molecules responsible for the unique taste and scent of cannabis. They are found in plant resins, and there are dozens, if not hundreds, of them in marijuana strains. They also have varied boiling points which provide vaping with a distinct advantage.
The majority of terpenes have boiling points between 246 and 482 degrees Fahrenheit.
For instance, beta-caryophyllene has a boiling point of 246 degrees, for pinene, it is 312.8 degrees, while quercetin is one of the most durable with a BP of 482 degrees.
As fun as it is to smoke, you have no control over the temperature your weed is exposed to. In contrast, advanced vaporizers enable you to control the temperature of their heating chambers to a single degree. Even older models offer several temperature ranges. As a result, you can use your vaporizer to heat your weed or concentrate for a customizable experience.
- Low Temperature (290 – 330 Degrees): This is the best range if you’re after a relaxing high. You will taste most of the terpenes, and while the ‘high’ won’t be exhilarating, the flavor will be sensational.
- Medium Temperature (331 – 370 Degrees): For most users, this is the ‘sweet spot’ when chasing a high. You still benefit from a reasonable number of terpenes and cannabinoids, but the enjoyment of the high is probably at its zenith.
- High Temperature (371 –445 Degrees): This is the range for users looking to get completed stoned. You will experience the most intense high which should also last longer.
Once you heat your weed above 445 degrees, you are entering combustion territory which will provide an intense, albeit rough, experience. If this is what you’re after, it is best to rid yourself of the vaporizer and start smoking joints.
Does Vaping Get You Higher Than Smoking? Final Thoughts
While smoking the herb provides you with a longer-lasting high, vaporization offers a greater degree of potency which ultimately ensures you get wiped out if you use too much! As a higher percentage of vaporized weed hits the target, a quarter of an ounce will last you a lot longer. If you are a regular user, it is worth investing $100+ for a decent-quality vaporizer.
The fact is, vaporization is likely to become the marijuana consumption method of choice in the very near future if it hasn’t already taken over.
In California, for example, cannabis concentrates outsold flower in 2018 – the first time this has ever happened in any state. Aside from delivering stronger effects, vaporizing weed has additional benefits such as better portability.
Also, vape pens enable you to enjoy weed clandestinely. Not only can you easily conceal such a device, but there isn’t the same telltale smell of herb as when you smoke a joint. While smoking weed in the traditional way will probably never go out of style, vaporization gets you higher and exposes you to fewer risks such as carcinogens. While vaping is not completely safe either, the available information gives it a strong lead over smoking.