What Are the Differences Between Smoking and Vaping Cannabis?
The widespread legalization of marijuana worldwide has opened up a world of choice to new and veteran cannabis enthusiasts. Many can now safely experience this powerful natural herb and conveniently explore its possibilities for themselves.
This public acceptance and endorsement of marijuana’s recreational and medicinal benefits has sparked curiosity and encouraged lively discussion. While Cheech and Chong and hits from the bong will always have a place at the table, cannabis culture has raced far ahead into the future.
Newcomers are faced with an exploding marketplace full of new technology and choice. We suddenly have access to every imaginable way to inhale, ingest, and apply cannabis. A little decision-making anxiety is understandable. Although there is an ever-growing body of scientific research attesting to the safe and therapeutic benefits of marijuana, the general public may still be confused about how to receive these benefits best.
The ways we inhale have been re-imagined and refined into an elevated experience. This leads many tobacco smokers to cannabis, which offers a way to transition from a harmful product to a helpful one. In the interest of protecting lung health while exploring cannabis use, a common question comes up: Is there a difference between smoking and vaping cannabis?
What makes smoking and vaping cannabis so special?
To appreciate the differences between smoking and vaping marijuana, it helps to know a bit about what makes the plant therapeutically beneficial in the first place.
Cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids
The marijuana flower, the part of the plant that you smoke or vape, is covered in powerful compounds. The most well-known of these compounds are cannabinoids, such as THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol). These deliver medicinal benefits and psychoactive effects. Terpenes and flavonoids are the volatile compounds responsible for the marijuana plant’s diverse range of smells and flavours. These are found in many plants but have become most closely associated with cannabis due to its rising popularity. Terpenes and flavonoids can also provide medicinal benefits.
Phenotype and The Entourage Effect
These three compound groups and others are excreted as a sticky resin produced by the cannabis flower or bud’s glandular trichomes. Presenting as milky or clear, these trichome crystals contribute to the cannabis strain’s phenotype. This is the full portfolio of characteristics unique to each cannabis strain, resulting in a chemical synergy known as the ‘entourage effect.’ The optimal way to experience the entourage effect is to preserve the flower’s chemical integrity with your chosen consumption method.
Smoking and Vaping for Quick Onset and Control
Inhaling cannabis vapour or smoke is the quickest way to experience these benefits. The onset is almost instant as THC, CBD and other compounds enter your bloodstream directly through the lungs. This method is the simplest and most effective way to gauge recreational or medical dosage outcomes. You can get an immediate sense of how you are affected before deciding to inhale more or enjoy where you’re at.
If you are a first-time cannabis user, smoking or vaping is an ideal way to get comfortable with the herb’s high. You have all the control. Another bonus is that novice users have a high tolerance and won’t need to smoke or vape much cannabis to achieve a desirable effect. This makes cannabis a cost-effective way to take the edge off after a long day.
Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Smoking marijuana uses an open flame to directly combust the herb to produce smoke you can inhale into your lungs. Depending on the type of lighter or flame you use, the delicate flower is burned roughly between 1100° Celsius (2012° Fahrenheit) and 1300-1500 Celsius (2400-2700° Fahrenheit).
Joints, bongs, bubblers, pipes, and one-hitters, are all popular ways of smoking cannabis. These methods have been around for a long time and all require combustion. Bubblers and bongs are designed to pass the smoke through water to soften the impact of the smoke on the lungs. Joints and pipes deliver unfiltered smoke.
Smoking cannabis can be quite harsh on the lungs and can cause coughing, irritation, and a sore throat. Studies pointing to any adverse effects of marijuana smoking identify combustion as the culprit and not the herb itself.
Smoked cannabis also loses the delicate balance of terpenes and flavonoids that mostly perish in uncontrolled heat. While the cannabinoids THC and CBD are delivered, the subtle nuances of flavour, smell, and experience are dulled. You can easily appreciate this when you compare a cannabis bud’s smell to a roach (the end of a smoked joint).
If you’re intent on safely experiencing the full entourage effect of each unique cannabis strain, vaping is the uncontested way to do it. Clichéd as it sounds, vaping cannabis truly is the way to have your cake and eat it, too.
Vaping, short for vaporizing, does not use flame or combustion but rather heat in the form of convection or conduction, depending on the device. Using finely controlled temperatures ranging from about 163° Celsius (325° Fahrenheit) up to 221° Celsius (430° Fahrenheit), air inhaled through the vaporizer gently heats the herb without coming close to burning it. The liquid-state compounds held in the glandular trichomes turn into a gas or vapour that is inhaled. The resulting vapour delivers a satisfying but extremely gentle smoke, full of the smells and flavours provided by the terpene and flavonoid profile.
Moreover, this enjoyable smoking-like experience is a safe way to receive the medicinal benefits of cannabis. A randomized control trial of 18 healthy adults compared smoking and vaping cannabis and concluded: “Vaporization of cannabis is a safe and effective mode of delivery of THC. Further trials of clinical effectiveness of cannabis could utilize vaporization as a smokeless delivery system.”1
In a 2018 study, it was found that “vaporized cannabis produced greater pharmacodynamic effects and higher concentrations of THC in blood compared with equal doses of smoked cannabis.”6 Meaning, the biochemical and physiologic effects of marijuana is more precisely delivered through vaping than smoking cannabis.
The same study also concluded that “vaporization is associated with less toxicant exposure (eg, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) relative to traditional smoking methods.”6 This is good news for cannabis smokers looking to reduce the ill effects of carbon in the lungs and oral cavity.
Vaping cannabis maximizes its value by extracting greater effects from a smaller quantity, saving money in the long-run. A lesser-known but invaluable cost-saving benefit of vaping is the byproduct: Already Vaped Buds (AVBs). These already decarboxylated buds are ready to be turned into edibles. Storing your AVBs in an airtight jar in the freezer will preserve them for when you’re ready to give cooking with cannabis a try.
So, smoking or vaping?
Smoking cannabis requires nothing more than the herb, rolling papers, and fire. In a pinch, you can’t beat that convenience. That being said, this delicate, medicinal gift from nature deserves better and so do you! Vaping cannabis isn’t just a safe and effective alternative to smoking: it’s an experience. Once you’ve experienced your favourite cannabis strain as a potent, flavourful vapour, you might have a hard time going back to setting it on fire.
- Abrams, D. I., Vizoso, H. P. and Shade, S. B. (2007) “Vaporization as a smokeless cannabis delivery system: a pilot study,” PMC US National Library of Medicine, [online] Available from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17429350/#affiliation-1 (Accessed 16 January 2021).
- Abdel-Shafy, H. I. and Mansour, M. S. M. (2016) “A review on polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons: Source, environmental impact, the effect on human health and remediation,” Science Direct, Egyptian Journal of Petroleum, [online] Available from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1110062114200237 (Accessed 19 January 2021).
- Cain, P. (2019) “Why you should probably stop smoking weed and buy a vape device,” Global News, [online] Available from https://globalnews.ca/news/5275930/smoking-marijuana-unhealthy/ (Accessed 19 January 2021).
- Johnson, J. (2020) “What to know about terpenes,” Medical News Today, [online] Available from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/what-are-terpenes (Accessed 19 January 2021).
- Joshee, N., Dhekney, S. A. and Parajuli, P. (2019) “Therapeutic and Medicinal Uses of Terpenes,” PMC US National Library of Medicine, [online] Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7120914/ (Accessed 19 January 2021).
- Spindle, Ph.D., T. R., Cone, Ph.D., E. J. and Schlienz, Ph.D., N. J. (2018) “Acute Effects of Smoked and Vaporized Cannabis in Healthy Adults Who Infrequently Use Cannabis: A Crossover Trial,” PMC US National Library of Medicine, [online] Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6324384/ (Accessed 16 January 2021).