Most people already know that smoking is far from the healthiest choice you can make.
Research suggests that cannabis smoke can cause reversible damage to airways in the lungs.
Yet, combustion is still one of the most common ways to consume cannabis.
Inhalation in general remains one of the fastest and most effective ways to find relief with the herb.
When inhaled, the active effects of cannabis can be felt within minutes.
For those in need of rapid-acting stress relief or pain management, it can be difficult to find a better method than inhaled cannabis.
This is why is behooves all of us to understand the nuances of smoking vs vaping cannabis.
Low-temperature vaporization is a safer alternative to smoking.
Vaporization allows consumers to reduce the negative health effects of smoking and gives you more control over your cannabis effects and experience.
The surprising difference between smoking vs vaping cannabis
There are several surprising differences between smoking and vaporizing cannabis.
While researchers have yet to find conclusive evidence that cannabis smoke contributes to respiratory diseases like lung cancer, smoking can be irritating on the delicate tissues of the lungs, throat, and mouth.
This irritation is caused mostly by high temperatures along with burning tar and embers which are inhaled directly into the body.
Vaporization may not eliminate some of the harshness or irritation caused by heat, however, it can certainly cut down on the burning embers and plant particles that you inhale.
Here are four key differences between smoking and vaporizing cannabis:
1. Lower temperatures
When you take a flame to plant material, you combust the material to create smoke.
Vaporization works differently.
Vaporizers are devices that heat cannabis flowers or oils at temperatures low enough to melt fatty cannabis resins and oils without burning plant material.
Once melted, these resins transform from their solid form to a type of steam. This steam is the vapor you exhale after using a vaporizer.
Heating at lower temperatures has several benefits. However, when purchasing a vaporizer, it is important to opt for a device that allows for temperature customization.
Vaporizers that heat above 445°F (229°C) will combust the cannabis material. At this temperature, a vaporizer is no different than a high-tech smoking device.
The most common cannabis vaporization temperature range is between 330 to 370°F (165-187°C).
At this range, consumers will likely get a moderate visible vapor that avoids burning plant embers and provides a fairly potent cannabis experience.
2. Greater cannabinoid efficiency
Do you like wasting cannabis?
This is another, oftentimes overlooked, factor in smoking versus vaping cannabis.
When you’re smoking, you immediately destroy 50 percent of the cannabinoids upon combustion.
You lose another 15-20 percent of these medical compounds due to smoke burn off.
That’s a very low efficiency rate.
Maybe the lowest for cannabis delivery methods.
3. Fewer potential carcinogens
Another major difference between smoke and vapor?
Potentially toxic compounds.
A 2001 study found that switching to a cannabis vaporizer eliminated the creation of toxic and potentially carcinogenic compounds found in cannabis smoke.
In the study, the vaporizer heated cannabis product to 365°F (185°C).
Even though the correlation between cannabis and cancer is contested, known and possible carcinogens are released during the process of smoking.
The carcinogens in question are benzene, naphthalene, and toluene.
Benzene is formed during natural processes that involve combustion, like smoking. In high concentrations, this compound can be damaging to the reproductive system.
Naphthalene is a potential carcinogen. In high concentrations, the compound can destroy oxygen-carrying red blood cells. In severe cases (such as exposure to excessive amounts of naphthalene) this can cause organ damage.
Toluene is a benzene derivative, though it is far less toxic than its parent compound. While it is unknown whether or not toluene is carcinogenic, exposure to too much of this compound is known to have negative effects on the central nervous system.
These effects include headache, nausea, fatigue, and sleepiness. Inhaled toluene can also cause irritation of the eyes and upper respiratory tract.
4. Different flavors
Did you know that different cannabis flavors are expressed when exposed to different temperatures?
Cannabis plants get their unique aroma from molecules called terpenes.
Terpenes are natural aroma chemicals found in plant resins, and they also impact how different cannabis varieties make you feel.
Different terpenes have different boiling points. This means that when heated to low temperatures, some flavors and aromas are more likely to express than when heated to high temperatures.
Adjusting the temperature on a vaporizer will allow you to fine-tune the cannabis experience.
Some terpenes, like beta-caryophyllene, which has a pepper aroma and is also found in black pepper, can be released at temperatures of 246°F (118°C).
Other terpenes, like lavender-scented linalool, can tolerate a higher heat.
Unlike smoking, vaporization can allow you to experience a more diverse range of flavors and fragrances from your cannabis flower or oil.
5. Customizable experience
Another major difference between smoking and vaporization is the ability to better customize the cannabis experience.
This involves adjusting your cannabis vaporization temperature.
Not only do different temperature settings expel different scents and tastes from your cannabis, but the amount of heat that you use can help determine how strongly you’ll feel the psychoactive effects of a cannabis product.
Here’s a general guide on how to select your ideal cannabis vaporization temperature:
- Mellow and mild: 290 to 330°F (143 to 166°C)
- Fun and manageable: 330 to 370°F (166 to 187°C)
- Strong and heavy hitting: 370 to 445°F (187 to 229°C)
When vaporizing, sticking to low temperatures will also help you avoid irritating mouth, throat, and lung tissues.
Of course, the only way you can adjust your cannabis vaporization temperature is if you have a vaping device that allows for temperature control.
Things to look for in a great vaporizer
Vaporization is the healthiest way to inhale cannabis. However, not all vaporizers are created equal.
It’s important to do your research before investing in a vapor device.
Some vaporizers can be made with metal alloys that are not recommended for high heat.
Others can contain too many plastic pieces near the heating elements.
These materials are more likely to off-gas and release potentially harmful compounds into your vapor.
If you’re shopping around for a good vaporizer, here are a few tips to consider:
- Avoid buying pre-filled cartridges that contain thinning agents like propylene glycol and polyethylene glycol.
- Pick a vaporizer that uses medical and/or airline-grade materials.
- Opt for stainless steel, titanium, or ceramic ovens and heating elements.
- Opt for glass or ceramic vapor paths.
- Opt for vaporizers that have adjustable temperature controls.
By Anna Wilcox