It is common for individuals to wonder the differences between vaping vs smoking weed. The findings of this study suggest that vaping is a more efficient method for consuming cannabis compared to smoking.
New research from scientists at the John Hopkins Behavioral Pharmacology Research Unit in Baltimore suggests that when it comes to vaping marijuana vs smoking, vaping causes mure more intense effects than smoking the same amount.
To study the differences between vaping versus smoking, researchers tested the effects of smoked and vaporized marijuana on 17 participants who have a history of smoking cannabis, but not in the 30 days before the study’s launch.
In single visits once a week over a six-week period, participants either smoked or vaped marijuana containing 0, 10, or 25 milligrams of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the intoxicating cannabinoid that elicits a high. The 0-milligram dose served as the control in the study.
In each session, the research team observed and assessed the effects of cannabis smoke versus vaporized marijuana. They took blood samples and measured vital signs like heart rate and blood pressure. They also had each participant complete a self-reported questionnaire related to how they were feeling and three computerized tasks to measure attention span, memory, motor movement, and physical reaction time.
While smoking or vaping the 0 mg control substance had no physical or psychological effects, the effects of vaping proved much more potent at both 10 mg and 25 mg doses.
Results showed that vaping marijuana “produced significantly greater subjective drug effects, cognitive and psychomotor impairment, and higher blood THC concentrations than the same doses of smoked cannabis.”
“Our participants had substantially higher impairment on the tasks when vaping versus smoking the same dose, which in the real world translates to more functional impairment when driving or performing everyday tasks,” said Tory Spindle, Ph.D., postdoctoral fellow and study author.
Spindle told NBC News that he suspects that vaping offers stronger effects primarily because none of the marijuana is lost to combustion like it is when smoking. The combustion, or burning of marijuana, involved with smoking weed causes destruction of the some of the plant’s compounds.
Previous vaping vs smoking weed studies had suggested that both inhalation techniques elicited similar effects. The researchers in this latest study suggest that may be because former studies allowed participants to adjust their THC dose rather than consume a fixed amount.
Vaping Vs. Smoking
Vaping and smoking are both inhalation methods commonly used for consuming cannabis, but there are some differences between vaping versus smoking weed.
Smoking involves burning marijuana flower, such as in a joint (for more info, check out our guide on how to roll a joint) or while using a pipe or gravity bong, to release the plant’s compounds in an inhalable cannabis smoke. A popular style of hand pipe is the Prometheus by Pyptek.
Vaping marijuana utilizes a personal device called a vaporizer to heat cannabis at a lower temperature, releasing active compounds in clouds of vapor. Vaporizers come in tabletop, portable, and pen-sized units.
Is vaping better than smoking weed? Vaping marijuana and smoking marijuana are each efficient consumption methods that offer quick effects. In both inhalation techniques, the active compounds found in the dried marijuana plant are absorbed nearly instantaneously through the alveoli in the lungs. From there, they are delivered to the bloodstream, where they interact with the body’s native systems.
However, like tobacco smoke, cannabis smoke can irritate the throat and lungs and cause a heavy cough during use. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, smoking marijuana is associated with inflammation of the airways, an increase in airway resistance, and lung hyperinflation.
Vaping is thought to be safer, because it doesn’t produce the same toxins and other harmful byproducts like smoking marijuana does. Because vaporizers heat marijuana up to lower temperatures, they avoid combustion and the toxins, carcinogens, carbon monoxide, tar, ammonia, particulate matter, and respiratory irritants associated with weed smoking.
Marijuana is now legal in some capacity in 32 U.S. states. With legal marijuana expanding and more adults now using cannabis for recreational or medical purposes, the researchers hope their findings will help new or periodic users be aware of how consumption method can influence the intensity of effects.
“In light of increased legalization of cannabis, we designed our study to be more representative of the general population’s exposure to cannabis, namely someone who has never smoked it and wants to try it for medical or recreational purposes, or someone who does not use it regularly enough to understand or predict its effects,” said Ryan Vandrey, Ph.D., one of the study’s authors and associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the John Hopkins University School of Medicine.
Their findings indicate that when considering vaping vs smoking weed, medical marijuana patients and recreational consumers seeking the effects of THC may prefer vaping marijuana because it’s more efficient. Some medical marijuana uses, such as chronic pain, may require more intense effects than others.
The findings of the vaping vs smoking weed study also imply, however, that infrequent or new cannabis consumers should utilize the “start low and go slow” tactic when vaping weed. While it is not possible to die from a THC overdose, consuming too much can cause temporary uncomfortable side effects, such as rapid heart rate, paranoia, and a general feeling of discomfort. There are methods for more quickly coming down from such effects, but it’s best to avoid consuming too much.
“What our study suggests is that some people who use cannabis infrequently need to be careful about how much cannabis they use with a vaporizer, and they should not drive, even within several hours after use. It could be dangerous for themselves and others, and on top of that, they may experience negative effects such as anxiety, nausea, vomiting and even hallucinations,” Vandrey added.
The full text of the new study, “Acute Effects of Smoked and Vaporized Cannabis in Healthy Adults Who Infrequently Use Cannabis: A Crossover Trial,” is available to access for free in the November 30 issue of JAMA Network Open. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration funded the study.
Learn More About Cannabis
You can learn more about the use of medical marijuana, including information related to vaping versus smoking cannabis, through our Cannabis 101 page. Learn more about the types of vaporizers available here.