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.
Vaping Versus Smoking Weed – Which is Healthier?
You don’t need to be a brain surgeon to realize that vaping is safer than smoking cigarettes. Although it has been discovered that e-cigs may contain toxins such as tobacco-specific N-nitrosamines (TSNAs), carbonyls, and heavy metals, recent research shows that vapers still have a much lower exposure to toxins than cigarette smokers.
The study, led by Lion Shabab and published in the Annals of Internal Medicine in March 2017, looked at 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.
In 2015, Public Health England published results of an independent expert review which stated that e-cigarettes are far less harmful to your health than tobacco. In other words, there seems little doubt that e-cigs trump smoking, but as marijuana doesn’t contain the same number of carcinogens as tobacco, is vaping weed better than smoking it?
The British Lung Foundation once erroneously claimed that cannabis joints were up to 20 times more likely to give you lung cancer than smoking a cigarette. A 2005 study by Robert Melamede, published in the Harm Reduction Journal, found that cannabis smoke is NOT as carcinogenic as tobacco smoke. Interestingly, Melamede found that the THC in weed “inhibits the enzyme necessary to activate some of the carcinogens found in smoke.”
Even so, the combustion process itself means that a certain level of toxins and carcinogens are released when you smoke a joint. Your blunts can reach a temperature of 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit and, contrary to popular opinion, holding in your smoke does NOT increase the effects. It does, however, enable even more tar and noxious chemicals to get absorbed.
The best-known carcinogens produced by smoked marijuana are:
- Toluene: This benzene derivative is less toxic but is believed to have negative effects on the central nervous system.
- Naphthalene: High concentrations of this chemical destroys 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.
I’m Okay with the Health Risks – I Just Want to Know Which One Gets Me Higher!
In terms of the question ‘does vaping get you higher than smoking,’ there is really no simple answer as both produce an unquestionably different high. As for the ‘better’ high, that depends on what you’re seeking. 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.
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 extremely 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 arguably no greater than when you use a vaporizer. On the plus side, you get there quicker and feel stoned for a bit longer.
If we look at things scientifically, you could make an argument for vaping providing the greater high. When you smoke weed, the combusted gases contain as little as 12% cannabinoids. When you use a vaporizer, on the other hand, the gas can contain up to 95% cannabinoids.
If we’re honest, traditional cannabis smoking wastes a lot of herb. Once you light up a blunt, wave goodbye to at least half of its cannabinoids right off the bat. Also, smoke burnoff results in the loss of up to 20% of medicinal compounds.
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
Ultimately, smoking marijuana provides you with a longer-lasting and slightly more intense high. However, the high enjoyed by vapers is nothing to be sneezed at. The peak high is extremely pleasant, and as vaping is more efficient, you have far more weed at your disposal if you want to get baked again and again.
Moreover, research is beginning to suggest that the benefits of vaping arguably outweigh any potential discrepancy in the psychoactive experience. The good old-fashioned method of lighting up a joint and passing it around a circle of friends will probably never go out of style. It is a fun way to consume marijuana, but if you insist on using it, please note that there are many pitfalls.
Combusting marijuana not only wastes many of the most important medicinal compounds, but it also exposes you to possible carcinogens. Although lighting up marijuana is not as dangerous as smoking tobacco cigarettes, there are still dangers. Vaping is not 100% pure either, but from a health standpoint, the available data leans decisively in its direction.