In spite of the well-known health warnings associated with smoking, it remains the preferred mode of consumption for most cannabis users. Alongside the desirable taste and immediate effects that it produces, smoking weed is also the easiest way to titrate the dose and get the precise high or pain relief you are after.
Vaporising dried bud is the closest alternative to smoking and is considered a safer route of consumption. The vapours inhaled this way are able to deliver the desired cannabinoids and terpenes without the carbon-monoxide, tar and other toxins contained in regular cannabis smoke. However, vapes for dried herb are expensive and vaping is still quite niche in most parts of the world.
Edibles, tinctures and oils are the obvious way to avoid the risks to our respiratory systems that smoking or vaping might incur, but generally require more experience in terms of preparation and dosing. Unintentional over- or under-dosing is a common hazard!
To help reduce the risks and maximise the benefits that the cannabis plant can provide, we have put together our top tips for safer use.
Tips for smokers
- Reduce or cut out the use of tobacco as a mixing agent. Tobacco contains many cancer-causing toxins so it is safer to smoke cannabis on its own. Herbal smoking blends have similar tar and other toxin concentrations as tobacco and there is no evidence to suggest that their use is safer than tobacco, except that reducing nicotine content may reduce your cravings to smoke.
- Avoid holding smoke in your lungs for a prolonged time. There is considerable debate about whether or not inhaling for longer gets you more stoned or not, and not enough science to be entirely definitive either way. Two studies have shown that prolonged breath-holding increased THC absorption but failed to have any significant effect on the high experienced (1 & 2), although one of these studies (2) showed a greater trend towards more intense effects felt from a longer, rather than shorter breath-holding duration. Two other studies reported minimal effects of holding the smoke for prolonged time periods on subjective or cognitive effects thereby questioning this widespread belief (3 & 4). However a more recent study revealed the opposite and study participants did report increased subjective effects with the longer breath-hold (5). Although the scientific jury is not decided on this issue yet – is it worth the risk of larger tar and toxin deposits in your lungs for a questionable increase in your high?
- Avoid deep inhalations. Instead take more moderate sized hits more frequently. Similar to holding your breath there is a widespread belief that inhaling more deeply increases the high. Variations in the volume inhaled have been shown to increase THC levels in plasma and serum as well as increase subjective effects, so there is some truth to this (1). But, the same effects can be achieved by building up your THC levels with more moderate hits more often. Inhaling more deeply means more exposure to inhaled tar and other particulates at very high temperatures which may cause bronchial inflammation and harm.
- Use a plain cardboard roach and avoid printed or plastic covered materials. Don’t use a cigarette filter either as these filter out THC as well as tar which may lead you to consume more and inhale more deeply in an effort to get the THC hit you are after.
- Use cannabis with a higher cannabinoid content so that less is more. This has been a well propagated harm reduction method but could obviously cause problems among the less experienced or more vulnerable cannabis users. You don’t want to increase THC content suddenly or dramatically, but rather gradually work up to a higher dose that you feel comfortable with.
- Switch to vaping the flower if you can – current scientific research suggests that this is the safest way to inhale cannabinoids.
Tips for edibles
- Start light and go really slow. The effects from eating cannabis-infused foods take much longer to kick in so wait at least a couple of hours before re-dosing.
- Be prepared for a longer and potentially stronger hit – until you have figured out your optimum dosing regime.
- Keep the edibles out of reach of children.
Tips for everyone
- Make sure your cannabis is free of contaminants such as mould, microbes and pesticides. The only way to really ensure this is to have your bud tested or to have grown it in impeccably hygienic conditions organically. Many people advise baking the cannabis to effectively sterilise it, but there is not enough evidence to suggest that this would make it fit for consumption. You might kill the microbes but you may not kill the toxins the microbes leave behind.
- Don’t consume cannabis before driving or operating heavy machinery.
- Don’t consume cannabis whilst your brain is still developing. If you do, make sure you limit your use and avoid cannabis with high concentrations of THC. We know that increased risks to mental health from cannabis use are significant among younger cannabis users who consume high potency cannabis frequently.
- Azorlosa, J. L.; Greenwald, M. K.; Stitzer, M. L.: Marijuana smoking: Effects of varying puff volume and breathhold duration. J. Pharmacol. Exp. Ther. 272:560–569; 1995.
- Tashkin, D. P.; Gliederer, F.; Rose, J.; Chang, P.; Hui, K. K.; Yu, J. L.; Wu, A. T.: Effects of varying marijuana smoking profile on deposition of tar and absorption of CO and Delta-9-THC. Pharmacol. Biochem. Behav. 40:651–656; 1991.
- Zacny, J. P.; Chait, L. D.: Breathhold duration and response to marijuana smoke. Pharmacol. Biochem. Behav. 33:481–484; 1989.
- Zacny, J. P.; Chait, L. D.: Response to marijuana as a function of potency and breathhold duration. Psychopharmacology (Berlin) 103:223–226; 1991
- Block RI, Erwin WJ, Farinpour R, Braverman K. Sedative, stimulant, and other subjective effects of marijuana: relationships to smoking techniques. Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 1998 Feb;59(2):405-12.