Marijuana is now also recreationally legal in 11 of those 33 states. (Note that marijuana is still classified as illegal by the U.S. federal government.)
In states where marijuana is legal, it’s being sold mostly in three different ways:
- to be smoked
- to be eaten
- to be vaped
If you live in a state where marijuana is legal, you might be wondering how best to consume it, especially in light of recent federal investigations into the safety of vapingTrusted Source.
Here’s what we know.
Smoking and vaping both carry risks
For decades, health experts warned the public about the dangers of inhaling tobacco smoke from cigarettes, cigars, and pipes.
For marijuana, some research suggests some compounds in it, known as cannabinoids, may have a few benefits.
One of the more well-known cannabinoids is called CBD. For this reason, some people believe smoking marijuana is less dangerous than smoking tobacco.
Cannabinoids, such as CBD, are different from tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the chemical in marijuana that gets a person “high.”
What about smoking?
Inhaling smoke of any kind — whether it’s cannabinoid-containing weed or tobacco or another substance — is bad for lung health, according to the American Lung Association.
Most marijuana users hold smoke in their lungs longer than tobacco smokers, putting them at greater risk for exposure to tar — which is harmful to the lungs.
Some negative health effects associated with chronic weed smoking include:
- air pockets between the lungs and lungs and chest wall
- chronic bronchitis
- excessive mucus production
- possible increased risk of infection in immunocompromised people, such as those with HIV
- possible increased risk of lower respiratory tract infections
- weakened immune system
What about vaping?
Vaping marijuana involves inhaling heated oil through a vaporizing device, often referred to as an e-cigarette. Vaping marijuana can also refer to using a vaporizer, such as a VolcanoTrusted Source, to produce vapor from dried plant material.
Some people believe vaping is safer than smoking because it doesn’t involve inhaling smoke. But the reality is, when it comes to vaping marijuana, there’s much less known about the negative health effects.
The most recent research suggests vaping THC oil could be quite harmful to lung health. The greatest concern at the moment is the severe effects of inhaling vitamin E acetate. This additive chemical has been found in many vaping products that contain THC.
What to know about vaping-related illnesses
As of Dec. 27, 2019, nearly 2,561 cases of lung injury (EVALI) caused by inhalation of vitamin E acetate, or “popcorn lung,” have been reported in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and two U.S. territories (Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands) and have led to 55 deaths during that time, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)Trusted Source.
Some of the people affected by vaping illnesses include children.
The CDCTrusted Source recommends people avoid using e-cigarettes and vaping products, particularly those containing THC oil, because they’re likely to contain vitamin E acetate.
Early research shows vaping liquids and oils — even once — can harm your lungs. Because vaping is new and hasn’t been well studied, there could be harmful effects of vaping that aren’t yet known.
Some states with legal marijuana are proactively warning marijuana users that vaping liquids has been known to cause severe lung injuries and death.
To stay up to date on the latest vaping-related illness news, check the CDC websiteTrusted Source for regular updates.
What’s the difference between smoking and vaping?
There are several ways to smoke marijuana:
- One way is to roll dried parts of the flower into a joint using cigarette paper.
- Some people mix their marijuana with tobacco, so it’s a bit less potent (this is called a spliff).
- Some people use bongs or pipes to smoke.
- Sometimes people smoke more potent forms of marijuana than the flower, called concentrates. These include hash and kief.
How to Vape Cannabis
Unlike traditional cigarettes that burn leaves to make smoke, vaporizers use batteries and small metal coils to heat a substance until it evaporates and is then inhaled. For this reason, they’re often referred to as vapes, vape pens, and vaporizers. But not all devices vaporize the same way. There are three formats of cannabis that you will most likely encounter when looking at vaporizers: herb, oil, and wax.
These vaporizers have a chamber where dried cannabis flower is added. As the device is heated, the active therapeutic compounds in the cannabis are delivered in a concentrated vapor.
The cannabis is heated to just the right temperature so that it does not burn, which minimizes any tar or carcinogens that you may inhale when using a pipe or other combusted form. Many herb vaporizers also have temperature settings that you can change to control the amount of flavor and vapor you are inhaling.
Instead of adding dry herb to the vaporizer, an oil concentrate that is extracted from the cannabis plant is added to the oil pen. During the oil extraction process, the cannabis oil is often cut with other carrier oils, such as hemp oil. As a result, vaporized oil is typically less potent than wax but more potent than vaporized herb.
Oil pens are a popular choice among first time users, as they are clean and easy to use. You can either choose a single-use oil pen that is disposed once the oil runs out, or you can purchase a reusable vaporizer with oil cartridge attachments that come in a variety of different flavors and cannabis strains. A single oil cartridge can last several weeks.
Wax is a semi-solid substance extracted from the cannabis plant that has high concentrations of active compounds. Because it is not cut with other carrier oils, it tends to be much more potent than herb or oil. Wax vaporizers have three main components: the mouthpiece, the battery, and the atomizer.
The wax itself is purchased separately and added to the atomizer, where it is heated with a coil and vaporized. Wax can be somewhat more expensive and must be reloaded into the atomizer often, but due to its potency, some people find that vaporizing wax is the most efficient way to achieve the desired therapeutic effects.
Benefits of Vaping
Medical cannabis can be consumed in a plethora of ways, depending on your preference. You can consume it in baked goods or drinks, with a water pipe or rolling papers, in pill form or as a nasal spray, and of course, with a vaporizer. Some of the perceived benefits of using a vaporizer include:
- Less smell: Cannabis has a strong and earthy smell that some people find bothersome. Vaporizers aren’t totally odorless, but they do minimize the smell because the cannabis isn’t burned.
- Easy to use: Vaporizers can be less messy and require fewer steps to use. In general, all you need to do is keep the vaporizer charged and loaded with oil, wax, or herb.
- Wastes less cannabis: Especially when compared to pipes and joints, vaporizers require less cannabis to achieve the desired effects. Doses are more potent, so you do not need to inhale as much.
- More affordable: The upfront cost of purchasing a vaporizer can be more expensive, but cannabis concentrates last much longer than herb that is combusted.
- No secondhand smoke: Vaporizing THC products does reduce the amount of carcinogens that others in the vicinity are exposed to. However, THC can still be detected in secondhand vapor.3
- Consistent doses: THC concentrations are often more consistent from one inhale of a vaporizer to the next, and the effects are almost instant. Conversely, it can take up to three hours after eating an edible to feel any effects at all.
- Cleaner hit: Vaporizers may offer a purer and more potent hit than combusted cannabis, and the vapor may contain less toxins. Granted, this is only the case if the THC product is not contaminated with anything harmful.
- Accessible in more places: Vaporizerscan often be used in parks and public spaces, outside of work, in the home, or other places where cigarette or cannabis smoke are not tolerated.