Key takeaways.

  • What makes smoking harmful?

    Toxic substances called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons are produced during combustion that can cause cells to transform and become cancerous.

  • What are the top benefits of vaping?

    Vaping produces a more robust, pronounced flavour, it’s more discreet than traditional smoking, and you have the ability to control the temperature and therefore your experience.

  • What are the risks of vaping?

    We still don’t know a lot about the technologies used in vapes and the e-liquids themselves, and the risks revolve mainly around what we don’t know yet. Plus, the substances used in e-liquids, though they are considered safe, might not be considered safe for inhalation.

The modern alternative to smoking cannabis is vaping. For some users, it’s a healthier inhalation option. For others, vaping delivers a better flavour experience. But how much healthier is it — and does the fact that it’s healthier also mean that it’s risk free? 

Given how new vaping is in the overall scheme of things, there’s not an awful lot of research to guide us in our decision making. There is, however, a consensus that vaping is much less harmful to health than smoking. 

There are other benefits to vaping cannabis such as the variety and versatility of cannabis e-liquids. For example, cannabis vapes often have very precise cannabinoid content and cannabinoid ratios. For some users this is seen as better control over their cannabis experience.

In this article, we’re going to check out firstly, what makes smoking harmful, then we’ll look at all the pros and cons of vaping cannabis. Inhale responsibly!

Why is smoking harmful?

A collage art of a woman sitting on a cannabis bud, fanning her face in the sunlight.
@wetoast

Before we talk about some of the reasons you might want to switch from smoking cannabis to vaping, let’s have a look at exactly what makes smoking harmful. It’s really important to remember that smoking cannabis and smoking tobacco are two completely different things. But in any case, the lungs were made for inhaling air and using its oxygen — they were never intended to inhale burning plant material.

Smoking is harmful because smoke, whether from cannabis or tobacco, irritates the lining of the bronchial airways. The smoke also causes a transformation of the normal cells that line the bronchial passages, turning them into cells that secrete a large amount of mucous.

When you burn cannabis (and virtually anything), toxic chemicals called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are produced. These can be converted via enzymatic pathways into cancer-producing cells, and so they are pro-carcinogens.

Smoking is harmful, not really because of what is being smoked, but because fundamentally the act of inhaling burning fumes is harmful. Burned substances are not supposed to be consumed in the general sense because they are known to contain toxic PAHs — this is even what makes barbecued meats a less healthy option than grilled or baked meats

Why is vaping healthier than smoking?

Vaping removes the combustion aspect of smoking without the inhalation aspect. And so what the user receives is vapour rather than smoke. As we just talked about, PAHs are typically produced during the combustion of any carbon-based organic matter like wood or coal, for example. So the reason that vaping is healthier than smoking is because no matter is combusted before inhalation, therefore there are no PAHs in vaped cannabis

According to the Royal College of Physicians, vaping is unlikely to cause greater than 5% of the damage caused by smoking. Although their analysis specifically relates to vaping nicotine rather than cannabis, it wouldn’t be farfetched to assume a similar comparison with cannabis.

(Other) Benefits of vaping.

So we’ve established why vapourizing cannabis is considerably healthier than smoking cannabis. Without PAHs, there’s way less mutagens and carcinogens getting into your lungs which equals better lung health. But there are more benefits to vaping than the simple fact that it’s healthier than smoking.

In fact, for a lot of vapers, it’s also more enjoyable than smoking.

Better flavour.

Vaping cannabis is altogether more flavourful with less contamination of the cannabis taste. Even if you roll straight green joints, the taste and effect of the paper alters the taste of pure cannabis. The same can be said for a pipe, where most of the aromatic terpenes are burned by direct flame. 

Better control.

Vaping gives you better control over your cannabis experience in a number of ways. Firstly, you can control the temperature at which you vape. You can then completely optimise the different vaping temperatures for different cannabinoids to maximise their taste and effects. 

Secondly, you have greater flexibility in terms of cannabis products. Cannabis vapes and e-liquids are typically sold with precise cannabinoid concentrations such as 1000mg CBD or 500mg THC. Sometimes, they are mixed to a precise ratio, allowing you to fully tailor your cannabis experience.

Better discretion.

By virtue of the smell only (let alone the amount of smoke), vaping is much more discreet than smoking. This is especially true if you vape at lower temperatures. Many people prefer to vape because you can do it on the fly without everybody in your street noticing!

What are the risks of vaping?

A collage art of a woman wearing cannabis clothes and a cannabis hat and pointing her finger towards the sky.
@_third_eye_art

It’s somewhat hard to have a conversation about the risks of vaping because there are few studies, and those that exist are inconsistent. It’s a difficult topic to study because of the variation in different materials and technologies used in vapes, the variation in composition of the liquids, and the difficulty in comparing the number of puffs of a vape to the number of cigarettes smoked. For this reason, it’s been hard to compare the risks of vaping to the risks of smoking.

The fact that we don’t know much could be considered a risk, too. For example, many of the flavourings used for vape liquids are made of substances that are “generally considered to be safe”. But these additives and colours are considered safe for oral consumption, and very little is known about how these additives affect our health when inhaled.

As we mentioned earlier in this article, lungs were made for breathing in air and nothing else. But we also said that vaping isn’t likely to exceed 5% of the damage of smoking — so that gives us an idea of where on the Richter scale of harmful vaping is.

Making the switch from smoking to vaping.

The switch from smoking to vaping is a positive one albeit a personal one. Some people simply never switch to vaping because they use cannabis recreationally and don’t use it often enough to feel the need to switch. Often, medicinal cannabis users prefer to vape to minimise the potential harm caused by smoking.

It can also happen that sometimes you don’t find your favourite strain in a vape and so you decide to buy it in its flower form! The versatility of cannabis is also one of the reasons cannabis is so accessible to so many different kinds of people. And that’s also why cannabis is so much loved!

Do you prefer vaping or smoking? Have you made the switch from smoking to vaping before? We’d love to hear your experience in the comments.

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