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Is Smoking Weed Different from Smoking Cigarettes?

Marijuana comes in a variety of forms, including oils, tinctures, edibles, flower, and more. As its popularity and accessibility continues to grow, it becomes more and more important for each individual user to know the possible benefits and dangers of each ingestion method. In the case of this post, we will specifically investigate the safety and efficacy of smoked marijuana.

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How Is Smoking Different from Vaping?

On the surface, smoking and vaping can seem almost identical. Both methods make use of heating elements to warm either oil or plant matter enough to make a smoke or vapor which can be inhaled. Despite this similarity, there are actually many important differences between vaping and smoking, including some which can impact your overall health.

One of these key differences lies first in terminology, combustion versus vaporization. Combustion, simply put, is burning something whereas vaporization is a phase transition from solid or liquid into vapor. Evaporation, for example, is a form of vaporization. Another difference is the temperature at which these processes occur, vaporization generally runs “cooler” than combustion. This allows some cannabinoids that may have otherwise been destroyed in the combustion reaction to be inhaled by the user, which may in turn cause a different sensation.

How Healthy is Smoking Marijuana?

All this complex chemistry, while interesting, doesn’t necessarily answer the “burning” question in our mind, is smoking marijuana healthy? To answer this, we will first start with what smoking does to the chemicals in the marijuana.

When you use a lighter to smoke, you are essentially using a very strong heating element to combust the plant matter. The temperature of the lighter can easily exceed six hundred degrees Fahrenheit, with some lighters getting much higher. This means that the chemicals in the marijuana are all being exposed to these extreme temperatures and may essentially be boiled away because of it.

One such class of chemicals are terpenes. The terpenes in marijuana influence anything from the flavor and smell to its overall effects. Recently, terpenes have received a large amount of exposure in the marijuana community due to the “entourage effect”. The entourage effect is when the different chemicals present in marijuana act and react together to produce synergistic effects in the body [1]. For example, a terpene called myrcene may be able to increase the rate of diffusion of certain cannabinoids through the blood-brain barrier, increasing their efficacy. However, the boiling point of myrcene sits around three hundred and thirty degrees Fahrenheit, nearly half the temperature produced by a standard lighter. This means that there is a high chance that a significant amount of myrcene may boil away before ever being inhaled if smoked. The same can be said for many of the cannabinoids in marijuana, including THC and CBD. In fact, one study found that the highest recovery of THC following combustion was only sixty percent of the original concentration [2].

The loss of certain cannabinoids may not be beneficial, but it is likely not harmful, and therefore not very worrying. Some other research, specifically that which studies the inherent dangers of smoke inhalation, does find more pressing results. This is one of the reasons some states, including Florida, have previously banned the smoking of medical marijuana, with Florida governor Ron DeSantis recently reversing the ban.

One of the first things to consider is what happens during the combustion of marijuana? To answer this, we will dig a bit deeper into the chemical side of things we previously looked into. Generally, in a combustion reaction, the reactants include some chemical, in this case any of the chemicals found in marijuana, and a fuel, in this case oxygen. When the flame is added, these chemicals combine to produce both heat and new products. It is possible that some of these new products may be dangerous, even carcinogenic depending on the method of combustion.

The risks associated with smoking, be it marijuana or tobacco, have also been well researched with the American Lung Association offering a comprehensive breakdown. Starting from the act of burning, smoke in nearly any form is harmful to the delicate tissue in the lungs. Whether it be due to high temperature or irritating particulates, even marijuana smoke can cause damage [3]. On top of this, many marijuana smokers tend to inhale and hold the smoke for an extended period, essentially exposing their lungs to the irritants for longer. These troubles even extend into secondhand smoke, leading to some researchers being concerned about nearby non-smokers.

On the other hand, other research has concluded that while there is a link between smoking tobacco and cancer, there is no such correlation with marijuana [4]. There are a few hypotheses as to why this may be the case, with the first being that marijuana itself fights cancer. Another states that though both marijuana and tobacco smoke contain many of the same chemical compounds, their reactivity in the body remains distinct. This is not to say, though, that there is absolutely no link between marijuana smoke and any form of cancer, as there have been some findings pointing towards the smoke converting some respiratory cells into pre-cancerous states [4].

The current state of research on the dangers of marijuana smoke is muddy, especially compared to the established body of work on tobacco. Though this is not for lack of trying, and the modern availability of marijuana samples will expedite the process. At the present, though, smoking marijuana has several dangers not immediately obvious, one such being burning off key compounds due to high temperature. The practice of holding the smoke in the lungs also increases the risk of lung damage and exposure to irritants. If you are sensitive to smoke of any kind or have a history of respiratory problems, smoking marijuana may not be the most effective form of treatment.

Is Smoking Weed Different from Smoking Cigarettes? Marijuana comes in a variety of forms, including oils, tinctures, edibles, flower, and more. As its popularity and accessibility continues to

Smoking pot vs. tobacco: What science says about lighting up

by Jennifer Peltz

As more states make it legal to smoke marijuana, some government officials, researchers and others worry what that might mean for one of the country’s biggest public health successes : curbing cigarette smoking.

Though there are notable differences in health research findings on tobacco and marijuana, the juxtaposition strikes some as jarring after generations of Americans have gotten the message that smoking endangers their health.

“We’re trying to stop people from smoking all kinds of things. Why do you want to legalize marijuana?” a New York City councilman, Republican Peter Koo, asked at a recent city hearing about the state’s potential legalization of so-called recreational pot use.

Marijuana advocates say there’s no comparison between joints and tobacco cigarettes. A sweeping federal assessment of marijuana research found the lung-health risks of smoking weed appear “relatively small” and “far lower than those of smoking tobacco,” the top cause of preventable death in the U.S.

Unlike for cigarettes, there’s evidence of certain health benefits from marijuana, such as easing chronic pain. And marijuana can be used without smoking it. Most states now have legal medical pot programs; 10 states and the District of Columbia have approved recreational use.

“They’re different products, and they need to be treated differently,” says Mason Tvert, a spokesman for the pro-legalization Marijuana Policy Project.

At the same time, studies have shown crossover between marijuana and tobacco use. And while smoking cannabis may be less dangerous than tobacco to lung health, pot doesn’t get an entirely clean slate.

Some health officials and anti-smoking activists also worry about inserting legal marijuana into the growing world of vaping, given uncertainties about the smoking alternative’s long-term effects.

Here’s a look at the issues, science and perspectives:

SMOKING POT VS. TOBACCO

While cigarette smoking is the top risk factor for lung cancer, some of scientific evidence suggests there’s no link between marijuana smoking and lung cancer. That’s according to a 2017 federal report that rounded up nearly two decades of studies on marijuana, research that’s been limited by the federal government’s classification of marijuana as a controlled substance like heroin.

While cigarette smoking is a major cause of heart disease, the report concluded it’s unclear whether marijuana use is associated with heart attacks or strokes.

But there’s strong evidence linking long-term cannabis smoking to worse coughs and more frequent bouts of chronic bronchitis, according to the report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.

The report also looked at other effects, finding a mix of possible risks, upsides and unknowns. For example, the report said marijuana can ease chemotherapy-related nausea and adults’ chronic pain but also found evidence the drug is linked to developing schizophrenia and getting in traffic crashes.

In recent weeks, studies have echoed concerns about high-potency pot and psychosis and documented a rise in marijuana-related emergency room visits after legalization in Colorado.

Tobacco and marijuana use can also go together. Blunts—marijuana in a cigar wrapper that includes tobacco leaves—have gained popularity. And studies have found more cigarette smokers have used pot, and the other way around, compared to nonsmokers.

“One substance reinforces the use of the other, and vice versa, which can escalate a path to addiction,” says Dr. Sterling McPherson, a University of Washington medical professor studying marijuana and tobacco use among teens.

The National Academies report found pot use likely increases the risk of dependence on other substances, including tobacco.

To some public health officials, it makes sense to legalize marijuana and put some guardrails around it.

“For tobacco, we know that it’s inherently dangerous and that there is no safe amount of tobacco to use,” says New York City Health Department drug policy analyst Rebecca Giglio. Whereas with marijuana, “we see this as an opportunity to address the harms of criminalization while also regulating cannabis.”

But health department opinions vary, even within the same state: New York’s Association of County Health Officials opposes legalizing recreational weed.

SO WHAT ABOUT VAPING?

Vaping—heating a solution into a vapor and inhaling it—has been pitched as a safer alternative to smoking.

Experts have said vaping pot is probably less harmful to the lungs than smoking it, though there’s little research on the health effects over time, and they worry about its potency when vaped.

The American Lung Association is concerned that vaping will ultimately prove damaging to lung health and is alarmed about a surge in underage e-cigarette use. And adding legal marijuana to the picture “only makes it a more complicated issue,” says Erika Sward, an assistant vice president.

Others, though, think policymakers should view vaping as a relatively safe way to use pot.

“I would say the risks are going to be less with that form of consumption,” says Rebecca Haffajee, a University of Michigan health policy professor who co-wrote a 2017 piece calling for recreational marijuana programs to allow only nonsmokable forms of the drug.

Meanwhile, some local governments have adjusted public smoking bans to cover both vaping and pot. The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors tweaked its prohibition just last month.

As a former cigarette smoker, New Yorker Gary Smith is dismayed that his home state might OK smoking pot.

He knows research hasn’t tied smoking marijuana to lung cancer, which killed three cigarette smokers in his family and struck him 20 years after he quit; he’s been treated. But he fears the respiratory risks of marijuana smoking aren’t fully known.

“It’s crazy that the government, in order to raise (revenue from) taxes, they’re permitting people to suck this stuff into your lungs,” says Smith, 78, an accountant from Island Park.

Hawaii physician and state Rep. Richard Creagan feels no less strongly about cigarettes. The ex-smoker and Democrat from Naalehu this year unsuccessfully proposed all but banning them by raising the legal age to 100.

Meanwhile, he’d like Hawaii to legalize recreational marijuana, an idea that fizzled in the state Legislature this year.

Creagan, 73, thinks pot benefits people’s well-being more than it risks their health, and he expects non-smoking alternatives will reduce the risks. Plus, he figures legal marijuana could replace cigarette tax revenue someday.

“That coupling,” he says, “was sort of in my head.”

© 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Smoking pot vs. tobacco: What science says about lighting up by Jennifer Peltz As more states make it legal to smoke marijuana, some government officials, researchers and others worry what