PSA: Why Smoking Cannabis May Not Kill You.
SMOKING KILLS. Or so we’ve been told by the countless anti-drug PSA’s of the 80’s, 90’s and today.
There is some truth to those ads. The CDC claims that cigarette smoking is responsible for more than 480,000 deaths per year in the United States.
There have been countless studies done on the harmful side effects of smoking cigarettes. We’ve all seen the nauseating pictures of black, gnarly, plaque filled smoker lungs. But what about smoking Cannabis? Little research has been done on the effects of smoking Cannabis. And what little research we do have indicates that smoking weed does not increase the likelihood of long term health problems. We know that there are a myriad of health benefits from Cannabis, but pulling smoke into your lungs can’t be good for you, right?
The short answer is yes. Combusting anything and pulling the smoky byproduct into your lungs is not good for you. However, combusting Cannabis is not necessarily bad for you. There are a myriad of medicinal compounds in Cannabis that comprise a matrix of whole plant medicine. The most famous of these compounds are the cannabinoids. The well-known cannabinoids, THC and CBD, are responsible for some of the psychoactive and medicinal properties of Cannabis. Terpenes are a lesser known subset of compounds in Cannabis that are responsible for the smell of the flower. Terpenes also correlate to certain physiological effects and produce the specific experiences felt from different strains. Terpenes, cannabinoids and many other compounds work together synergistically to produce the nuanced, medicinal experience one feels when lighting up.
This phenomena is called The Entourage Effect and it is the reason why people who smoke Cannabis do not necessarily develop health issues from smoking. For example, there is a terpene abundantly found in Cannabis called Pinene. Pinene (found also in pine needles) not only produces a fresh, piney aroma, but also has some amazing anti-inflammatory and lung protective properties. When inhaled, pinene acts as a bronchodilator and opens up the airwaves to allow more oxygen in the lung tissue and bloodstream.
There are still carcinogens produced from combustion, so there is always a chance that lung issues can be exacerbated by smoke, even Cannabis smoke. If you want to get the full plant matrix of compounds in Cannabis, but you’re not totally sold on smoking, try vaporizing. Vaporizing is arguably the healthiest way to consume Cannabis because you are inhaling the entire range of medicinal compounds without any of the carcinogenic combustion byproduct.
Plus, vaporizers usually have different heat settings that allow you to really get specific about what you’re inhaling. Different cannabinoids, like THC and CBD, decarboxylate at different boiling points. Terpenes are extremely volatile (that’s why you can smell them!) so they will evaporate at the lowest heat setting. If you want to have a terpene focused experience try the lowest heat setting. This will allow you to really taste the flavor of the flower. If you want a THC or CBD-focused experience turn your device to a higher heat setting. Don’t worry, even the highest heat setting shouldn’t harm your lungs.
A popular vaporizer on the market, Firefly, has a chamber that holds both flower and oil. This is customary for most vaporizers. However, Firefly’s chamber does not heat the product directly until you inhale. This preserves the terpenes, allowing you to get a better taste and a more medicinal, full bodied effect. Sure, it’s spendy as most great vaporizers are, but if you’re investing in consuming Cannabis in the healthiest way possible this is the way to do it.
There are a myriad of other ways to consume Cannabis, such as ingestion and topical application. However, the extraction process required to make edibles, topicals and concentrates destroys many of the secondary compounds found in the Cannabis matrix. Therefore, when you eat an edible you are not consuming whole plant medicine. This is arguably less healthy than vaporizing flower because you are not ingesting the diverse range of medicinal compounds Cannabis has to offer.
So the next time you light up, take a moment, breathe in that fresh flower and blow out a sigh of relief. Because more likely than not, your lungs won’t look like the black, gnarly pictures of PSAs past.