At this point, we already know the negative effects of smoking tobacco: lung cancer, emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and premature ageing, just to name a few. But there has never been an extensive study done to establish the same effects when using marijuana instead of tobacco. The lack of research data, however, does not necessarily mean that smoking cannabis is safer in all sense.
Of course, all the negative effects of smoking do not come from the mere act of smoking itself, but the dangerous free radicals, ash, carbon monoxide and other byproducts produced when cellulose plant materials are burned (combusted) instead of vaporized. So what are these toxic compounds that are as ever present in both smoked marijuana and tobacco? Here are some of the most notable ones:
Compounds Detected in Marijuana Smoke
There have been numerous tests that showed the presence of harmful chemicals when the drug is smoked (burned) in the process — a method opposed to vaporizing. While some of them lead to minimal health risks, others notoriously cause serious conditions, even death. Here are some of the most notable ones and their effects to our health.
Did you know that carbon dioxide present in smoke is about 200 times higher than what is normally present in the atmosphere? Yes, this gas, although one of the essentials needed by plants to thrive, is toxic when inhaled at higher concentrations.
In one study, a group of researchers exposed mice to high or reduced levels of carbon dioxide. The results showed that pulmonary injuries associated with inhaling tobacco smoke significantly increase as C02 levels increases. The same direct relationship holds true when levels of C02 were reduced, meaning, the injuries greatly reduced when lower levels of the toxic gas were introduced.
So, what causes these internal pulmonary injuries? Studies show that above-normal levels of carbon dioxide in our body result in inflammatory responses in our respiratory and pulmonary system. This finding leads experts to conclude that carbon dioxide is the largest culprit that accounts for the chronic inflammatory responses, which in turn could lead to common smoking-related conditions such as asthma, emphysema and bronchitis.
At this point, you might ask how much carbon dioxide could we be exposed to when smoking marijuana as compared with smoking tobacco. The answer is quite alarming: The way individuals smoke pot — a more intensive way involving prolonged deeper inhalation and higher burning temperature — could lead to inhaling higher concentrations of carbon dioxide in one draw. This means the risk of smoking weed could far outweigh the health benefits of cannabinoids.
Yet, there is another variant of this toxic fume that’s even deadlier even in lower concentrations:
This poisonous gas is thought to make us drowsy when we’re stuck in heavy traffic. Even more dangerous is falling asleep inside your car while parked in an enclosed space like the garage. And there have been many reports of individuals found dead inside their vehicle, apparently from carbon monoxide (CO) inhalation.
So here’s the bad news: it’s abundant in the smoke you inhale from your tobacco or pot. But what’s alarming is the higher rate of this toxic fume when smoking marijuana. As we’ve mentioned earlier, the way we inhale a joint — long, prolonged draws — means that we inhale more of the smoke in one go. And studies have shown that the amount of CO in smoke from pot is about five times greater than that from a cigarette.
Brief mild to moderate exposure to carbon monoxide results in headache, nausea, dizziness and even vomiting. But exposure to high levels could render you unconscious, and in some cases, death. Also, prolonged exposure to CO has been associated with increased risk of pulmonary, respiratory and other conditions.
On the other hand, vaporizing cannabis materials or derivatives, whether they’re oils or in dry, ground form, does not produce this harmful gas because of the absence of combustion. Yes, the active cannabinoids (including THC) would vaporize even at temperatures a little lower than the combustion point. But carbon monoxide is present only when burning the plant material starts.
Well, ammonia is good and all as part of fertilizers to help make plants grow, but they aren’t for human consumption.
Granted, ammonia is present in nature as well. In fact, plant and animals, including humans, produce ammonia inside their systems, but not high enough to cause irritation or toxicity. But in larger quantities, the corrosive nature of ammonia becomes evident when the eyes, skin or respiratory tract comes in contact with this chemical. Coughing right after smoking weed or cigar is just some of the obvious effects.
If there’s any relieving news about ammonia’s effects, it’s the lack of evidence that links it to cancer. But its effects as an irritant are the same on adults and children. Specific symptoms include cough, chest pain, difficulty breathing, wheezing, rapid or weak pulse, altered psychological state and fever.
Although no fatal levels of ammonia are found when smoking marijuana, one study found that the smoke from marijuana contains 20 times the level found in cigarette smoke. That could explain why coughing is more evident when smoking marijuana, but vaporizing results in significantly lesser coughing and wheezing.
Hydrogen Cyanide (HCN)
Did you know that this poisonous gas was used by the Germans during Word War II as a weapon of mass destruction? Yes, this highly toxic gas is so potent that it went down in history as the gas used as a genocidal agent almost a century ago.
In small quantities, cyanide is released from nature such as apple seeds, a certain number of plants and some foods. And in a manufacturing industry, cyanide is an essential part to make paper, plastics, textiles and it’s even used to develop traditional photographs. But the bad news is hydrogen cyanide, a colorless gas, is also one of the toxic byproducts found in cigarette smoke. Of course, no one would ever willingly breathe this poisonous gas into their lungs, but smokers breathe it all the time every day.
Hydrogen cyanide is lethal because it prevents the cells of your body from using oxygen efficiently. This causes the cells to die. And the parts that are most specifically affected are the heart and blood vessels. Although it is negligently harmless in small quantities, higher amounts can lead to rapid breathing, restlessness, dizziness, headache, vomiting, convulsions, loss of consciousness and erratic blood pressure. Then at higher doses, it becomes deadly.
Granted, the amount of hydrogen cyanide present in cigarettes or marijuana smoke might not be enough to kill an individual, but prolonged exposure to this poisonous gas could lead to lung, heart and brain damage. Combine this with the other effects of carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide and you’ll see now why smoking is indeed detrimental to your health.
So, would you still smoke your weed or vaporize it?
You may notice tar only in cigarettes because most have filters to keep that dark substance from flowing with the smoke into your system. This sticky matter, commonly known as tar, is also present when burning marijuana. If you roll a joint without even using a filter, chances are you’ll get much od the tar from the combusted plant material.
Experts have identified harmful chemicals in tar such as benzene, acrylamide and acrylonitrile. It has long been known that benzene is a potent carcinogen, and this chemical, together with the others found in tar, has been the major culprit that increases your risk of lung cancer.
Acetaldehyde is a well-known carcinogen that’s present in both tobacco and marijuana smoke. It is the most significantly abundant carcinogenic substance and can induce mutations, in turn resulting in malignant cells in parts of the body exposed to this substance.
There have been extensive studies associating acetaldehyde with malignant tumors in animal and human cells. In smokers and drinkers, malignant growths in gastrointestinal and respiratory tracts have been reported and were observed to have been linked strongly to this carcinogen.
It is interesting to note that this harmful substance is also present when smoking joint. So the safer alternative of vaporizing is always the better choice.
Vaporizing Vs. Smoking
We’ve only rounded up five significantly toxic materials found in marijuana and cigarette smoke. Yet, the danger they pose is already enough for you to reconsider smoking marijuana in favor of vaporizing it instead. Because vaporizers make use of heating elements (instead of flame) to release the potent cannabinoids and other compounds from your botanicals, none of these toxic chemicals are produced. What’s even better is that the molecular structures of these beneficial compounds from your herbs do not change because of the absence of the introduction of oxygen when combustion happens.
If you’re new to vaping, get yourself started by reading our guide to buying vaporizers. We understand how you would not want to get ripped off by buying lemons instead of good-quality vapes.
Tell Us Your Thoughts
Although there has been a lack of research on the long-term effects of smoking marijuana, the same kind of toxic and carcinogenic chemicals have been found in smoked joints too.
Tell us your thoughts! Will long-term studies be necessary before you start to realize the possible dangers of smoking marijuana? Or, would you join us and be advocates of healthy lifestyles by using vaporizers?
Share with us your thoughts with your comments below.