Is smoking cannabis just as bad as smoking cigarettes? The answer might surprise you.
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Blunts consist of marijuana wrapped in tobacco leaves, whereas joints consist of marijuana wrapped in cigarette paper. While smoking a blunt can be tasty and provide a unique mental experience, it is among the most harmful ways of consuming cannabis. In fact, because blunts are made using tobacco products, they share many of the same health risks as cigarettes. But, are blunts worse than cigarettes considering these potent smokables technically contain less tobacco? We’ve done a little research, and the overall findings are a little surprising.
Blunts and cigarettes have a few things in common. Both smokables contain tobacco, the hazards of which are now widely known around the world. Tobacco is not only addictive but carcinogenic. In fact, the smoke from tobacco contains over 4,000 different chemical compounds. At least 72 of these compounds are known to contribute to cancer. Whenever you smoke tobacco, you increase your risk of cancer and other diseases. This is true whether it is in the form of a blunt or in the form of a cigarette.
In terms of quantifying whether or not blunts are worse than cigarettes, if you are choosing to smoke one over the other, there are a few different factors to keep in mind:
Anyone who has ever puffed on a blunt knows that it is difficult to chain-smoke these beasts. While over 11 million Americans consume between 10 and 19 cigarettes each day, it takes a concerted effort to smoke more than three. In fact, a 2012 study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that three blunts per day was the average number smoked by avid consumers. The study also found that blunt consumers were less likely than tobacco consumers to light up during the workday.
Smoking a blunt might mean that you inhale more tar and hot ash into your lungs than you would with a cigarette. Cigarettes have filters, which may not do much for protecting you from cancer, but they do minorly prevent some of the tar and burning plant matter from entering your lungs. In contrast, blunts are quite crude. You light them and take large inhalations without any protection between your lungs and burning embers and waxes.
The smoke from cigarettes and cigars should be held in the mouth and then exhaled. That’s not how you smoke a blunt. With a blunt, consumers inhale deeply into the lungs, a full diaphragmatic inhale. Smoke from blunts is also held for longer before the exhale, likely around three or four seconds. During this time, there is a greater risk that your lung tissue is exposed to potentially harmful toxins and abrasive, hot plant materials.
If you’re filling your blunt with pure weed, you inevitably cut down the amount of tobacco you are consuming. Further, research suggests that cannabis is not equally carcinogenic. While cannabis smoke does contain many of the same toxins as tobacco smoke, the cannabinoids in the cannabis plant behave quite differently than the nicotine found in tobacco. To simplify a complicated topic, cannabis compounds have been found to have anti-cancer properties. Nicotine, however, may actually promote cancer growth.
Here’s one reason smoking just about anything is bad: carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide is a toxin produced during combustion that competes with oxygen in the blood. This is why you have carbon monoxide detectors in your house. If your home fills with too much carbon monoxide, it adheres to your red blood cells and deprives your body of oxygen, which eventually leads to death.
As you inhale smoke, you inhale more carbon monoxide. While the amount of carbon monoxide you’re inhaling is nowhere near a lethal dose, excess carbon monoxide means less oxygen circulating in your blood. Temporarily, at least. Over time, too little oxygen can be problematic for your heart. A 2009 study conducted by researchers at the New York Psychiatric Institute found that blunts increased the health risks of marijuana consumption.
How? Smoking cannabis in the form of a blunt produced more carbon monoxide. Too much of the toxin in your blood can reduce your tolerance for exercise. Over time, it may also increase your chances of developing a cardiovascular illness.
Yes, blunts do contain nicotine. In fact, a 2016 study found that the average amount of nicotine in a tobacco leaf that is used to wrap a blunt is equivalent to roughly 1.2 to 6.0 milligrams of nicotine. How much nicotine is in your blunt wrap depends on the potency of the cigar that it came from. A high-quality cigar? Likely more nicotine. By comparison, cigarettes contain between 10 and 15 milligrams of nicotine. So, a high-quality blunt will contain about half of the amount of nicotine that a single cigarette contains.
Based on the average nicotine concentration mentioned above, one blunt is equivalent to a little over one-eighth to one-half of a cigarette, assuming that a cigarette contains between 10 and 15 milligrams of nicotine and depending on the potency of your blunt wrap. This estimate, however, is debatable. In an unpublished study conducted by Dr. Brian Fairman, an epidemiologist with the National Institutes of Health, and colleagues reported that five blunts equate to one cigarette in terms of nicotine concentration.
Most people don’t only smoke blunts. Sometimes, they might smoke cannabis, a cigarette or a cigar. They might even throw a little tobacco-cannabis mixture into a rolling paper and smoke that, too. Since it is difficult to collect data on consumers who only smoke blunts and nothing else, it is difficult to determine the rates at which blunt smoking might cause cancer.
It is also difficult to determine whether or not some of the active compounds in cannabis, like psychoactive THC, may have protective effects against cancer development, as some people theorize. Regardless of the unknowns, blunts still contain tobacco. At this point in history, the research is clear. The more tobacco you smoke, the more likely you are to develop cancer later in life. This is true regardless if you’re smoking it in the form of a blunt or if you’re smoking it on its own.
Yet, every individual has their own unique risk of developing cancer. So, even if switching to blunts means that you consume less tobacco overall, there is no way to tell just how much tobacco might be too much for your body to handle. A study of cigarette smokers published in 2005 found that smoking just one to four cigarettes per day significantly increased the risk of dying heart disease and dying from all causes in general. Women who were light smokers exhibited an increased risk of dying from lung cancer.
Though the estimate is flawed, if you assume that one blunt is equivalent to one half of a cigarette, that means that smoking merely two blunts a day might still increase your risk of developing heart disease and cancer later down the line. There is a common perception among tobacco smokers that you have to consume large quantities of tobacco for a long period of time to develop cancer. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Whether or not you develop cancer will depend on your unique physiology. For some people, the threshold for processing toxins like nicotine and other carcinogens is lower than others. It is unlikely that you’ll figure out what your personal threshold is until you become ill.
Ultimately, the choice between blunts and cigarettes is somewhat of a wash. Blunts may be slightly preferable since they reduce the total amount of tobacco consumed and they are not consumed as often as cigarettes. However, there’s no doubt that blunt smoking is a bad habit. Inhaling large quantities of smoke, of any kind, stresses the delicate tissues that allow vital oxygen to absorb into the bloodstream.
That being said, science suggests that cannabis is safer than tobacco. Not only is the herb less addictive—a whopping 67.5 percent of tobacco smokers become dependent—but cannabis is also associated with less overall health risks than tobacco when it’s consumed in moderation. Light to moderate cannabis consumption has not been associated with lung cancer thus far, but smoking the herb can cause symptoms of chronic bronchitis and may potentially contribute to poor lung health over time.
The bottom line? If you’re going to inhale anything, the safest bet is pure cannabis in a vaporizer. In early research, vaporizers successfully reduced the overall carcinogens inhaled by consumers. A vaporizer is the only way to avoid combusting plant material, which is what causes harmful tars and toxins to be released in the first place. If a vaporizer doesn’t interest you, try a water pipe. Still not biting? Pipe with a screen. Pure cannabis joints and blunts come in last in terms of the safest ways to get lifted. However, if you want to try some tobacco-free blunt wraps, we’ve got you covered.