As the rising tide of cannabis acceptance, legalization, and usage continues to wash away the old prohibition-era mindset in the United States, a wealth of new cannabis products and even all new methods of consumption are emerging. While your classic method of “smoking weed” is far from out of style, vaping cannabis has now emerged as one of the most popular methods of consumption – and for good reasons!
Vaping, its various forms, and its exotic-looking accessories and tools have sparked considerable interest and debate among cannabis enthusiasts and health experts alike in recent years. Much of this discussion revolves around comparisons between vaporizing and the traditional “combustion” method of cannabis, which typically includes smoking from a pipe, blunt, bong, etc. Let’s dive into the differences between the two.
What Is the Difference Between Vaping and Smoking?
For centuries, one of the primary methods humans have used to consume cannabis has been combustion. Combustion is a process wherein the plant material is burned with a direct flame or another source of extreme heat. This combustion process activates and releases the beneficial compounds of the cannabis plant, which are consumed through the inhalation of the resulting smoke.
Vaping, on the other hand, still involves inhaling cannabis fumes, but it can be a rather different experience. Vaporizing is done by heating dried cannabis buds or cannabis extract only up to the point where the active compounds are released in the form of vapor. This occurs before the combustion point of the plant matter, which means the THC and other beneficial compounds like terpenes are still activated and vaporized, but the cannabis product never gets hot enough to burn or produce smoke.
Of course, you’re still inhaling activated cannabinoids and terpenes, which enter your bloodstream and interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system – a set of chemical receptors designed to receive cannabinoids thought to be responsible for mood, sleep, pain, and more. As a result, if you have no experience with either vaping or combusting cannabis, then maybe it all sounds pretty similar on paper. In the real world, however, the taste, aroma, mouthfeel, and after-effects can all be quite different. So, is Team Vape onto something here? And, if they are, why is vaping better than combustion or smoking?
Let’s expand a bit on our core definition of cannabis vaping so that you understand it can look and work in multiple different ways, depending on the particular products and tools you employ.
For starters, the same cured cannabis herb you might smoke in a pipe, bong, or joint can indeed also be vaporized in a variety of vaporizer devices, ranging from battery-powered units that can fit in your pocket all the way up to tabletop “volcano” style vapes that look something like a science fiction hookah. While vaping is currently skyrocketing in popularity, dry herb vaping devices have actually been around for decades.
A large portion of today’s cannabis vaping market, however, eschews the use of dried bud altogether in favor of convenient cartridges and pods pre-filled with potent cannabis extract, or “oil.” These types of vape cartridges can be attached to an easy-to-use battery unit, which means convenient and discreet dosing for those who prefer to inhale cannabis but like the benefits of oral consumption. As you may be aware, orally consumed products like edibles offer an entirely different experience than inhaled cannabis due to differences in the way your gastrointestinal system delivers cannabinoids to the receptors.
So, Which Is the Better Experience?
As far as which is “better,” that’s really up to every individual cannasseur’s personal tastes and preferences. For many individuals, it’s a simple matter of which products they like to use or which are most convenient for their lifestyle. Other shoppers, however, will have specific questions and concerns that will warrant further comparison of the two methods. Some of the biggest tend to be health-related, such as “Are there any medical benefits to vaping cannabis?” or “Is dry herb vaping healthier than smoking?”
Vaping Cannabis vs. Smoking Cannabis: Health Implications
The health implications of any type of cannabis use are a key concern for many cannabis enthusiasts (and curious potential customers). When it comes to traditional cannabis combustion, it’s pretty well known that the process, similar to smoking tobacco, can produce some harmful toxins and carcinogens, as well as unpleasant residues and lingering odors.
Vaping offers a cannabis consumption method that effectively sidesteps many of the harmful and obnoxious byproducts of traditional smoking. According to work published in the Canadian Journal of Public Health, vaporizing cannabis avoids producing the toxic pyrolytic compounds associated with combustion and also significantly reduces exposure to carbon monoxide (CO). These key differences reduce respiratory risks when compared with smoking.
Multiple papers cited in the study (some dating back as far as 2004 and others as recently as 2018) have also pointed out the practical and physiological ways in which vaping is more lung-friendly than smoking. A 2007 study (Earleywine & Barnwell) even attempted to quantify this difference. It concluded that vaporizer users experienced a whopping 40% fewer respiratory issues, such as coughs and chest discomfort when compared to smokers.
Efficiency and Control: Embracing the Perks of the Vape Lifestyle
When stacking up the pros and cons, it’s important to remember that people love vaping for reasons that go beyond respiratory health. That brings us to another key edge vaping has over combustion: its convenience, efficiency, and consistency.
High-end vaping devices allow the user to precisely regulate the temperature – your plastic lighter just isn’t going to do that. Dialing in that perfect temperature isn’t just crucial when switching back and forth from whole flower to extracts. It can also make a huge difference from strain to strain or session to session.
Temperature adjustments are crucial for targeting specific cannabinoids and terpenes. By adjusting the temperature on your vape, you can customize your experience, accentuating flavor profiles at lower temperatures or achieving the most potent effects by cranking your vape’s heat setting to the edge of combustion. This flexibility is a game changer for discerning cannabis users who want a personalized and flavorful experience without all the smoke.
The convenience and efficiency that come with using a simple, battery-powered vape unit are also in stark contrast to the tools, prep work, and time investment required to roll and smoke a joint or even pack a proper pipe.
Vaping: The Discreet, Low Odor Cannabis Consumption Method
In terms of discretion, smoking cannabis by way of traditional combustion simply cannot compare to vaporizing, especially if your tool of choice is a convenient battery-powered vape pen.
Many of us enjoy the complex and distinctive aroma of cannabis, whether it’s a freshly opened package of bud or some ground-up flower already in the process of being enjoyed. It’s no secret, however, that it can also be extremely pungent, long-lasting, and offensive to those who don’t appreciate cannabis. The smell of good cannabis can make discretion quite difficult, or even impossible, for traditional smokers – sometimes before they’ve even lit up.
Vaping, however, produces only a subtle and fleeting scent, along with a cloud of vapor that dissipates and disappears many times faster than smoke. Still, you don’t need to forego that beloved cannabis taste. High-end live resin vape cartridges are designed to retain the original flavor profile of your favorite cannabis strains, so now you can enjoy that vintage dankness in a discreet, smokeless form.
All in all, vaping is a very attractive option for those who enjoy smoking but also wish to be able to enjoy inhaled cannabis without announcing it to the world.
Vaping for Medical Marijuana Users
While recreational cannabis users love the convenience and discretion of modern vape rigs, vaping can also be a great way for medicinal and therapeutic users of cannabis to get their dose. In fact, vaping cannabis has deep roots in the medical community.
Given the reduction in toxins and carcinogens we explored earlier in the blog, many medical marijuana patients have turned to vaping as a smoother, cleaner way to dose their favorite strain. As with other forms of cannabis consumption, the inhalation of cannabis vapor can help with pain relief, inflammation, stress, mood, sleep issues, muscle spasms, and more.
Cannabis, in general, can offer a range of different possible medicinal uses thanks to the different ratios of cannabis compounds present in each different strain or product. The “entourage effect” of stacking these different medicinally valuable compounds is believed by many to be the key to the impressive medicinal potential of cannabis. Here, you’ll experience a wealth of compounds, including cannabinoids like THC, CBD, CBG, CBN, and more, as well as terpenes, flavonoids, and others.
In terms of the health benefits of vaping specifically, one of the studies we referenced earlier found that switching from smoking to vaping can actually improve respiratory health in as little as 30 days.
Answering Common Questions People Have About Vaping Cannabis
We hope you’re learning a lot about vaping cannabis and feeling more empowered to decide whether it’s right for you. We know there’s a lot of information and terminology out there, and it can be a lot to absorb, so in this section, we’ll try to offer some straightforward “FAQ-style” answers to common questions about vaping and smoking cannabis.
Why Is Vaping Better than Combustion?
We’ve addressed many pros and cons above, but let’s summarize with a list of some key reasons vape aficionados are moving on from traditional smoking:
- Lower risk of respiratory symptoms due to fewer toxins and carcinogens generated.
- Ease and efficiency of use, especially with convenient pen battery units and interchangeable extract cartridges.
- Eliminates smoke clouds and persistent odors.
- Offers convenience and rapid dosing for medical marijuana patients and therapeutic users.
Are There Any Medical Benefits to Vaping Cannabis?
This can be a tricky question, and the answer, to some extent, depends on how you approach it. For example, one could certainly argue that it’s not a good idea, medically speaking, to inhale any substance not designed specifically to address a medical condition. On the other hand, you must consider the medical applications of cannabis in general, including fighting inflammation, pain, stress, insomnia, lack of appetite, and more. With these well-established and science-backed therapeutic uses in mind, it’s more or less impossible to say there are no potential medical benefits to cannabis vaping with a straight face.
The medical benefits of vaping are best highlighted, however, when you compare vaping to traditional combustion, i.e., smoking. Respiratory symptoms can be slashed rapidly and dramatically when a regular smoker switches to vaporizing.
What Is the Difference Between Vaping and Combustion?
You’ll have a hard time deciding which consumption method is best for you if you don’t understand the fundamental differences between them, so let’s reiterate the basics:
- Combustion, or “smoking weed” in the traditional sense, involves applying fire directly to dried cannabis flower and then inhaling the smoke that is created.
- Vaporizing is done by applying a lesser level of heat to your cannabis flower or to a prepared cannabis extract so that the cannabinoids (THC, CBD, etc.) and terpenes (the chemical compounds that make your dank, dank and your loud, loud) are activated and released in the form of vapor, but the material is never actually burned. This means that ash, soot, tar, true smoke, and the toxins those substances can carry are not a concern when inhaling cannabis through a vaporizer.
Is Dry Herb Vaping Healthier than Smoking?
Yes, the currently available science would seem to indicate that vaping can be significantly healthier than smoking, particularly in terms of respiratory health. This means that dry herb lovers can use a convenient dry herb vaporizer device to continue enjoying their favorite strains of whole flower while reducing many of the health risks commonly associated with smoking.
Are Vaporizers a Lower-Risk Alternative to Smoking Cannabis?
In a sense, yes. However, when talking about vaping as being “lower risk” than smoking, it’s important to remember that we’re talking about specific scientific studies conducted over the last couple of decades that indicate fewer respiratory symptoms in vape users versus smokers. This should not be misinterpreted to mean that there are no health risks or other types of risks associated with vaporizing cannabis. Cannabis should be used responsibly and with regard to your personal tolerance, no matter what method you’re using to consume it.
Vapes: A Versatile and Convenient Cannabis Consumption Method
At the risk of sounding blunt, it’s pretty obvious that smoking’s primary major benefit over vaping at this point is the ritual and tradition behind it. There’s something special about passing around your favorite glass pipe with friends or the process of rolling yourself a smoke after getting home from a long day on the job. Many users also enjoy the smoke itself, the more flavorful and aromatic experience of burning whole flower. Lastly, if you’re growing your own bud, simply drying and using it is obviously a lot more convenient (and safe) than trying to process a DIY extract and filling your own vape cartridges at home. Beyond those situations, however, vaping seems to have the advantage.
As the world of retail cannabis evolves rapidly, so too do the methods of consumption available. While each method has its own merits and charms, vaping cannabis stands out for its efficiency, discretion, and reduced respiratory health risks. Understanding these benefits can lead you to a healthier, more satisfying, and better-controlled experience.
- Earleywine, M., & Barnwell, S. S. (2007). Decreased respiratory symptoms in cannabis users who vaporize. Harm Reduction Journal, 4(11).
- Fischer, B., Russell, C., Sabioni, P., van den Brink, W., Le Foll, B., Hall, W., Rehm, J., & Room, R. (2021). Lower-risk cannabis use guidelines: A comprehensive update of evidence and recommendations. Canadian Journal of Public Health, 108(5-6), e500–e515.