If you ask any smoker or stoner if there’s a difference between vaping and smoking, you’ll get a different answer each time. And since it’s somewhat of a scientific gray area at this point, there’s not a lot of data points to look at to determine if one is “better” than the other. What we do know is that the intentional inhaling of smoke is not healthy.
That said, a small study published last week in JAMA Network Open gives some additional insight into this area.
According to Emma Betuel in Inverse:
This small study, overseen by Johns Hopkins School of Medicine’s Ryan Vandrey, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, is really all about the delivery of THC— the psychoactive compound in weed. The various ways THC gets into the body produces effects on radically different timescales (as anyone who’s experienced edibles can attest).
In a case study I ran on myself, edibles can take over an hour to hit you, compared to smoking which is much, much quicker. The same case study found that the study’s subject isn’t much of a smoker in the first place though, and is patient enough for the desired effects to kick in.
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Vaping, the authors demonstrate with results from 17 participants, turned out to be a more efficient way of delivering THC to the blood, but it also changed the study participants’ experience of the THC dose. The significant differences they found weren’t exactly positive: The vapers noted more intense feelings of paranoia and had drier mouths and eyes than the smokers did.
It’s important to note that this study is rather small, so the implications from it should be taken with a grain of salt (but that’s how science works: starting with small-scale experiments and ramping it up as questions are answered and more questions are generated).
As Betuel points out, the new research flies in the face of other previously accepted research:
This evidence that vapers experience the effects of THC differently contradicts previous work that showed no significant differences between the two methods. The authors of the new study argue that this is due to their meticulous experimental design: They kept their THC dosage constant by painstakingly calculating the THC percentage in each batch of federally-sponsored weed. Each participant got either zero (a control), ten, or 25 milligrams of THC and then reported their experiences of each dose in each condition over six different trials (everyone got a chance to vape and a chance to smoke).
The researchers also noticed that since vaping avoids actual combustion, which burns some THC in the process, releasing some harmful byproducts.
“Vaporization has been suggested as a safer intrapulmonary delivery system than smoking, since by heating rather than combusting plant matter it avoids the formation of pyrolytic toxic compounds, including carbon monoxide and carcinogens,” Solowij writes.
What the researchers found was that while vaping is a preferred method to get THC into the bloodstream, the health implications of vaping aren’t very well known, and the undesired side effects may make the whole thing not worth it.
As more and more states do the right thing by legalizing recreational marijuana, we can (and need!) more formal research to be done in this area.