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The safety and long-term health effects of using e-cigarettes or other vaping products still aren’t well known. In September 2019, federal and state health authorities began investigating an outbreak of a severe lung disease associated with e-cigarettes and other vaping products. We’re closely monitoring the situation and will update our content as soon as more information is available.

Over the past decade, marijuana laws have continued to change across the United States.

What was once vilified as a potentially dangerous “gateway drug” is now being recognized by many states (33 plus Washington, D.C., to be exact) as having medicinal properties that can help manage a range of health conditions, from anxiety and cancer to chronic pain and more.

Marijuana is now also recreationally legal in 11 of those 33 states. (Note that marijuana is still classified as illegal by the U.S. federal government.)

In states where marijuana is legal, it’s being sold mostly in three different ways:

  • to be smoked
  • to be eaten
  • to be vaped

If you live in a state where marijuana is legal, you might be wondering how best to consume it, especially in light of recent federal investigations into the safety of vaping.

Here’s what we know.

For decades, health experts warned the public about the dangers of inhaling tobacco smoke from cigarettes, cigars, and pipes.

For marijuana, some research suggests some compounds in it, known as cannabinoids, may have a few benefits.

One of the more well-known cannabinoids is called CBD. For this reason, some people believe smoking marijuana is less dangerous than smoking tobacco.

Cannabinoids, such as CBD, are different from THC, the chemical in marijuana that gets a person “high.”

What about smoking?

Inhaling smoke of any kind — whether it’s cannabinoid-containing weed or tobacco or another substance — is bad for lung health, according to the American Lung Association.

Most marijuana users hold smoke in their lungs longer than tobacco smokers, putting them at greater risk for exposure to tar — which is harmful to the lungs.

Some negative health effects associated with chronic weed smoking include:

  • air pockets between the lungs and lungs and chest wall
  • chronic bronchitis
  • cough
  • excessive mucus production
  • possible increased risk of infection in immunocompromised people, such as those with HIV
  • possible increased risk of lower respiratory tract infections
  • weakened immune system
  • wheezing

What about vaping?

Vaping marijuana involves inhaling heated oil through a vaporizing device, often referred to as an e-cigarette. Some people believe vaping is safer than smoking because it doesn’t involve inhaling smoke.

But the reality is, when it comes to vaping marijuana, there’s much less known about the negative health effects.

The most recent research suggests vaping weed could be quite harmful to lung health. The greatest concern at the moment is the severe effects of inhaling vitamin E acetate. This additive chemical has been found in many vaping products that contain THC.

As of Nov. 20, 2019, nearly 2,300 cases of lung injury caused by inhalation of vitamin E acetate, or “popcorn lung,” have been reported in 49 states and have led to 47 deaths during that time, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Some of the people affected by vaping illnesses include children.

The CDC recommends people avoid using e-cigarettes and vaping products, particularly those containing THC, because they’re likely to contain vitamin E acetate.

Early research shows vaping — even once — can harm your lungs. Because vaping is new and hasn’t been well studied, there could be harmful effects of vaping that aren’t yet known.

Some states with legal marijuana are proactively warning marijuana users that vaping has been known to cause severe lung injuries and death.

To stay up to date on the latest vaping-related illness news, check the CDC website for regular updates.

Smoking uses dried plant parts or concentrates

There are several ways to smoke marijuana:

  • One way is to roll dried parts of the flower into a joint using cigarette paper.
  • Some people mix their marijuana with tobacco, so it’s a bit less potent (this is called a spliff).
  • Some people use bongs or pipes to smoke.
  • Sometimes people smoke more potent forms of marijuana than the flower, called concentrates. These include hash and kief.

Vaping uses concentrated extracts

When people vape, they consume concentrated marijuana in oil form. It seems to be a much more potent delivery system than smoking. In other words, you’ll get more high from vaping than from smoking.

Vaping can be more intense

Researchers have determined that the effects of vaping marijuana are much stronger than smoking.

In one study, researchers found that first-time and infrequent marijuana users were more likely to experience adverse reactions from the enhanced delivery of THC caused by vaping when compared to smoking.

Both take effect fast

Both smoking and vaping have an almost immediate effect on the body. Their effects peak within 10 to 15 minutes.

Most experts recommend starting vaping or smoking very slowly, taking in a small amount at first and waiting 20 to 30 minutes before having more.

A note about marijuana strains

There are many strains of marijuana, each having slightly different effects on the body. Sativa strains are thought to be more stimulating. Others, called indica, are more relaxing. It’s worth noting marijuana strains can affect people quite differently. Just because a certain strain has purported properties doesn’t mean you’ll get those exact effects.

Because the harmful effects of smoking are well known and the health effects of vaping are unknown (and possibly very serious), it’s understandable that you might want to seek an alternative way to use marijuana.

If you’re looking to consume marijuana in the least risky way, ingesting it might be the way to go.

Edibles

Edible marijuana products, or edibles, can be any food or beverage. They include, but aren’t limited to:

  • brownies
  • candies
  • gummies
  • cookies
  • teas
  • coffee creamer

Effects take more time

Keep in mind that ingesting marijuana doesn’t have an immediate effect. Having too much can lead to adverse physical and mental reactions, such as:

  • paranoia
  • panic attack
  • elevated heart rate

But when eaten in moderation, edibles seem to have no apparent harmful health effects.

Marijuana needs to be heated

Eating “raw” marijuana won’t have the same effects on the body as consuming marijuana-based products prepared correctly. Marijuana has to be heated in order for its chemical compounds to be activated. Cooking it can do that.

Start small and keep waiting

It can take up to 2 hours for the effects of ingested marijuana to hit and around 3 hours for them to peak. Effects are often long lasting — anywhere from 6 to 8 hours.

For this reason, it’s important to start slowly. Consume a very small amount if you’re ingesting marijuana for the first time. For example, a common dose for edibles is 10 milligrams of THC. If you’re just starting out, opt for 2 to 5 milligrams of THC.

Focus on CBD instead

If you seek the purported beneficial health effects of marijuana without the high, you may want to seek out CBD oil and products that contain it.

Note, however, that CBD products aren’t regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. If you do buy them, it’s important to do so from a reputable distributor.

Do’s and don’ts for edibles

Do

  • When consuming edibles, eat some other food along with it.
  • Don’t drive or operate machinery while under the influence of edibles. They may affect your judgement time and behavior.
  • Keep edibles away from children, pets, and anyone else who shouldn’t eat them.

Don’t

  • Don’t drink alcohol or use other drugs when taking edibles. It can intensify the effects.
  • Don’t have more if you’re “not feeling it.” Just wait.

While more research on the effects of consuming marijuana is needed, it appears we can conclude that smoking any substance — including marijuana — is generally not good for you.

New research suggests vaping may also be detrimental to health and can cause serious problems, including death. So, it seems the least harmful way of consuming marijuana may be to eat it.

However, researchers note that long-term marijuana use and THC exposure may increase the risk of psychosis and mental health disorders.

If you want to get the benefits of marijuana with the least amount of risks, it seems CBD products might be the way to go — though you won’t get high from using them.

Is CBD Legal? Hemp-derived CBD products (with less than 0.3 percent THC) are legal on the federal level, but are still illegal under some state laws. Marijuana-derived CBD products are illegal on the federal level, but are legal under some state laws. Check your state’s laws and those of anywhere you travel. Keep in mind that nonprescription CBD products are not FDA-approved, and may be inaccurately labeled.