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Is vaping safe? The differences between vaping vs. smoking cannabis

April 27, 2017
Vaporizing or “vaping” of cannabis has gained in popularity over the last several years, just as e-cigarettes have. But what exactly is vaporizing, and is it safe? We’ll help separate fact from fiction.

What is vaping?

Is Vaping Better than Smoking Weed? Image 1: No combustion occurs while vaping

Essentially, vaping is the heating of cannabis without burning. The heat releases the active ingredients into a vapor that is then released into the air in a fine mist created by a vaporizer device. Since combustion does not occur, smoke is not created.

Vaporizer products vary in size and functionality; this article will focus on desktop and portable flower vaporizers.

Related

Which Type of Vaporizer Best Suits You?

Is vaping safe?

According to two recent survey studies, people who vape cannabis perceive it to have health benefits and find it to be safer and less harmful to their health than smoking, Furthermore, cannabis vaporizers are specifically designed for inhalation without harmful smoke toxins.

But what do researchers say? Does vaporizing reduce ingestion of potentially harmful toxins like tar, ammonia, and carcinogens found in cannabis smoke? While there is very little research on cannabis vaporizing, studies over the years have shown that vaporizing does produce fewer carcinogenic compounds than smoking marijuana because it is heated but not combusted. Although cannabis smoke is less toxic than cigarette smoke, inhalation of any combustion product is less than desirable. Any type of smoke still contains gases and particulates that can create lung irritation and respiratory problems. In fact, over 100 toxins and compounds are released when cannabis is burned.

Related

What Are the Negative Effects of Cannabis Smoking and Secondhand Smoke?

Smokers are more prone to respiratory infections and bronchitis, but it’s the smoke that gets you, not the cannabinoids. One of the first studies to compare smoking to vaporizing showed fewer respiratory affects with vaping, based on self-reporting of respiratory symptoms.

The benefits of cannabis vaporization

Is Vaping Better than Smoking Weed? Image 2: Vaping weed does not hurt your lungs as much as smoke

Many medical patients have problematic respiratory systems and their lungs may be highly irritated by smoke, so they often find relief in vapor inhalation.

Some say vaporizers produce a more clear-headed high because smoke is not inhaled, but there are few studies that research whether vaping and smoking indeed create different types of highs. In an early study of 18 subjects, each subject either smoked or vaped one of three different strengths of THC (1.7, 3.4 of 6.8 percent), followed by measurements of delta-9-THC in blood and carbon monoxide in expired air. While blood levels were not significantly different, expired carbon monoxide was greatly reduced when vaporization was used.

In a recent 2014 study of about 100 subjects who both smoked and vaporized, consumers reported several advantages of vaporizing over smoking, including the lack of smoke smell and better taste. They also reported that the same amount of cannabis product produced more effect with vaping. After the study, nearly all participants planned to continue vaporizer use.

Novice consumers also tend to prefer vaporizing because the vapor can be inhaled in short puffs rather than deep breaths. Additionally, people appreciate the added benefit that it is more discreet to use a vaporizer.

Are there disadvantages to vaping?

The disadvantages reported have to do with the setup of the vaporizer, preparation of the cannabis (it must be ground into a fine consistency), waiting for the vaporizer to heat up, and the cleaning required after each use. In addition to a slightly more cumbersome process, many desktop and portable vaporizers are too expensive for casual consumers (although in the long run, vaporizers can save you money on cannabis).

Vape temperature matters

Is Vaping Better than Smoking Weed? Image 3: Vaping temperature matters

A 2009 study was one of the first to look at variable temperatures and vaporizing. Like earlier studies, this 2009 study not only showed fewer harmful byproducts in vaping versus smoking, but also showed that temperature matters.

In this study, cannabis was vaporized at three different temperatures (338°F, 392°F, and 446°F), with the cannabinoid-to-byproduct ratio measured using high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC). The ratio at 392°F and 446°F was significantly higher than in smoke, showing less harmful toxins when vaporizing.

Related

How to Customize Your Cannabis High With Temperature

Most vaporizers heat cannabis to a temperature just below combustion, in the range of 180 to 200°C (356 to 392°F). We now know that the amount of compound released does increase as its boiling point is approached. We also know specific temperatures at which various compounds are released: 220°F for THCA, all the way up to 428°F, right under the combustion temperature of 451°F, for the non-psychoactive compound cannabichromene (CBC).

Therefore, the elusive question regarding preferred vaporizer temperature can finally be answered. If for medicinal use, the temperature is dependent on the compound you need. Temperature for recreational use largely remains a personal preference.

Research on cannabis vaporization ahead

Ten years ago, cannabis research had not occurred extensively because cannabis was illegal in most countries. As cannabis legalization and acceptance continues to spread across the United States and the world, more scientific studies are being conducted. An increase in information about vaporization and better availability of products is creating more appeal to cannabis users for both recreational and medicinal use.

Scientists are begging to study cannabis users to explore both the prevalence and perceptions of vaping, like in this survey of nearly 3,000 recreational cannabis users aged 18-90. Another study examines cannabis intake preferences in advanced cancer patients using cannabis to alleviate symptoms. There are more quantitative studies happening too, like this 2015 study that measured blood levels and confirmed earlier studies that vaporizing is an effective delivery route for THC.

Because more cannabis users are perceiving vaporizers as being less harmful while offering additional benefits, it’s more crucial than ever to encourage continued experimental research about vaporizing as a cannabis delivery method.

Jacqueline Havelka's Bio Image

Jacqueline Havelka

Jacqueline Havelka is a contributing writer for Leafly. She's a rocket scientist turned writer, having worked in the space program for many years managing experiments on the Space Station and Shuttle. Jacqueline currently owns her own firm, Inform Scientific, specializing in technical and medical writing and research program management. When she’s not writing, she is likely watching college football.

View Jacqueline Havelka's articles

  • Evan Heiser

    the Volcano!!

    • 24 Hour Man

      He’s using the V. bag in the pic!

  • Joe

    I was trying to find the information over vaping and disease. However is not related to marijuana baking. So seem to be a clear that marijuana gaping is healthier that smoking. Q. Is healthier more important that cost effective? Now smoking marijuana has not been proven to be bad for you health. However, I wander how much we do not know, because the DEA is interfering with any chance to find answer by conducting meaningful research. Congress also is part of the problem and all other branch’s of the government that do nothing to help like the Senate. Research is need it, to find the best use of marijuana smoke, vaping, dabing or what ever is coming down the pipe.

  • Tony Vasquez

    What about vape pens? I’ve been hearing here and there that they’re bad for you. Any thoughts or info?

    • JustWondering

      Most vape pens contain a mixture of cannabis extract (hash oil) and propylene glycol, which is used to dissolve the extract. There is not much information on the safety of inhaling vapor containing propylene glycol.

      • Highway 69

        Exactly.
        I’ve never tried a vape pen, because I wondered about the propylene glycol’s efficacy in producing a safer delivery of thc and terpines. I also wonder about the temperatures needed to operate these pens.

      • Sandra Deady Piesco

        I don’t know about vaping propylene glycol (remember seeing lots of references to it being in asthma inhalers on regular (not weed) vaping forums), but never found any info myself), BUT, if any of you drink the water enhancer MiO, it’s one of the first few ingredients in just about every flavor. My favorite is Black Cherry – here’s the ingredients: http://www.kraftrecipes.com/products/mio-1-62-fo-energy-beverage-liq-466.aspx

    • Wesley Valentin

      I have been looking into vaping a lot lately and there’s three different ways you can go about it. There is dry herb, dab, and oil vaping and from what i have found oils are the best way to go with it. I am currently using a basic set up i have a c-vape battery that i bought for $18, and a chroma cartridge that was $70 for a refillable one. Compared to regular smokking i have noticed it has been easier to breathe when i run, which is important for me since i am very active, but the THC content of oils are also way higher and with the stuff i currently have it tested at 89% thc so a couple hits will have me just right. Hope this helps!

    • 24 Hour Man

      People stay AWAY from the Rubi / Juul’s of the world; that oil inside is highly suspect. Vaporize cannabis flower finely ground with many fine choices available online and ebay. I find the oil pens very irritating and produce a “mechanical” feeling high

  • Angela Medina

    Seems like an odd choice for a cannabis writer but what do I know…. http://www.blindspotreport.com/author/jacquelinehavelka/

  • Highway 69

    Seriously? No answer, Leafly?

    • 1969nam

      I have to agree……more questions, than answers on this topic.

  • Renee Joan

    Great information! Thank you for the article. 🙂

  • Robert Wayne

    It saves on Cannabis, but i have not read of how much a vap holds, or how much does it need.

    • Mike Hogan Sr

      OK my migvapor dre holds as much as a joint or a little more I imagine there’s bigger but for just me it’s plenty and only cost me 112.00 some places sale for 140 but this little rig is awesome first one I’ve used or seen auto heats to 460 f or what ever temp you whish it has a ceramic chamber digital read out screen check it out on YouTube you can see first hand.

  • Lana

    This article was fantastically well-written! Great job!

  • john cocktoasten

    I smoke maryjoe the old fashioned way. I put a pinch of well cured bud in the niche of a douglas fir tree at chest height and then I lean over it and set the bud on fire and inhale as much of the secondhand smoke as possible just as the flame releases the first puff.
    Sure its dirty and innefficient but it’s also as natural as can be. Nothing between me and the burned cannibis.
    I feel lucky I dont need to smoke pot everywhere I go or every day. It is part of my life but not my life.

    • ddferrari

      Oh, it is your life, guaranteed. Casual smokers don’t feel the need to describe how they smoke in detail. And put on a shirt, for god’s sake.

      • Nursing_Ideas

        lol!

    • Jordan Harris

      Literally the gayest method of smoking weed Ive ever heard…. 👍congrats

      • Mark

        Why it gotta be gay, we don’t do this lame ass method. 🙅

      • The “gayest” what is it? 1977? Is everything you find unusual, “gay”? Why not join this century, we’ve been waiting 19 years for you.

    • stimsthekitty

      why don’t you just put it between your cheek and gum

      • john cocktoasten

        between my asscheeks? No, that would be weird.

    • Reinaldo Lainez

      A humble reply to Mr J. the old consumption and its methods are fine, the new ones are fine as well. you see it is because the old consumers that new systems have been developed as people dedicate their time and love to discover it. current science is barely exploring the benefits and the mass consumption of its users. I do believe we do not have the “Most Optimal Way” or the Purest of the strands yet which is where we humans normally want to be at.

    • I’m hoping that you’re joking or else you’re incredily precious.

  • campodelmarco

    Interesting article. Thanks for sharing. It’s really well written. 🙂 I personally enjoy vaping marihuana more than smoking it. I just recently bought a vaporizer from vapour2 which can do both “dry herbs” and also eliquids and that is great in my opinion. I don’t have to have two devices. I’m former cigarette smoker so I enjoy a good eliquid but I also enjoy Mary Jane from time to time.

  • Dash Destroys

    I have switched over from smoking cannabis to vaping cannabis/dabbing/vaping thc oils. What I found was that the best effects were from the thc oil not sure if they are propylene glycol or vegetable glycerin based but it’s like 80 to 98% THC and a few rips will get you psychedically fried. Ill take it over inhaling kerosene and other hydrocarbons from lighting bongs and bubblers with Bics….fuck that honestly vape pens are much more efficient but at a higher cost for cartridges. I havn’t looked into building my own mod yet but having a refillable rig would def save some $$$

  • Shane Walsh

    Smoking is superior provided you can handle the smoke

    • 24 Hour Man

      Sorry man I followed your path but the harshness and the stink just went the way of 1995; vaping flower is the ultimate now

  • 24 Hour Man

    People stay AWAY from the Rubi / Juul’s of the world; that oil inside is highly suspect. Vaporize cannabis flower finely ground with many fine choices available online and ebay. I find the oil pens very irritating and produce a “mechanical” feeling high

  • Debbie

    Concentrate on a Ritz with some peanut butter vape alitte while you wait for the dab to take effect . Good to go for at least 4 to 6 hours. I can’t smoke at all due to poor lung function from cigarettes. So yes vape is safer I’m one of the experiments. We are the study we can’t wait for the government their to slow. I studied the effects on my lungs for 8 years now I’m still without having one episode of bronchitis.
    I’d be interested to hear other views.

  • I get bronchitis from smoking weed. Is vaping better

  • Everyone is different. I personally like the smell of cannabis but I do keep my vaporizer around based on the sets and settings.

  • Jennifer Maloney Kemmer

    I am new to all of this but I have experienced this to a lesser degree.

  • poiqwepoi

    You may have allergies to weed.

  • David

    I read one comment that described placing product in a crack in a tree and lighting it, then inhaling the fumes from the burning wedge. OK, what ever clears your bong but doesn’t that provide a chance of uncontrolled fire. Ha, ha, is this why California has such a problem with wild fires. Are they smoking the trees?

  • hatewillneverwin

    What an irresponsible article. As a medical doctor, we see multiple hospitalizations every week with vaping related lung injuries. We’ve had a few deaths as well. DO NOT VAPE