SMOKE AND MIRRORS
All drugs pose risks. Whether medicinal or recreational, whether herbal or pharmaceutical, whether legal or illicit, all drugs pose risks. Marijuana’s primary risk is for respiratory illness. Marijuana is a natural drug, but smoke in any quantity and from any source irritates the respiratory tract.
COUGHS AND COLDS
Except for the cannabinoids in marijuana and the nicotine in tobacco, the two herbs are quite similar. As smoke, both contain tar and carbon monoxide. In fact, puff for puff, marijuana smoke contains more of both. As smoke, both can narrow your air passages and thereby reduce lung capacity. As smoke, both can cause chronic coughing and spitting up of phlegm. As smoke, both can cause cellular damage to the lungs, impairing your resistance to infections by fungi, bacteria and viruses. Tobacco smoke is a direct cause of emphysema. But research shows that marijuana smoke does not cause emphysema. Tobacco smoke can cause both acute and chronic bronchitis. Marijuana smoke is more likely to cause acute bronchitis rather than chronic, but both usually can be remedied simply by reducing or temporarily stopping smoking. Coughing while smoking…you’ve inhaled too much smoke. Coughing after smoking…you’ve been smoking too often. The heaviest marijuana smoker’s dose amounts to the volume of roughly two cigarettes of tobacco a day. Many marijuana smokers light up once or twice a week, the equivalent of barely two cigarettes a month. Most medicinal marijuana patients medicate just once or twice a day. The most intense usage may be found among glaucoma patients, some who administer the cigarette equivalent of two packs of day. For those, smoking marijuana poses severe respiratory risk.
To reduce respiratory irritation, simply reduce smoke inhalation. Sift out low-to-no potency twigs and seeds. When given the choice, choose bud over leaf. Leaf averages only 2 to 4 per cent THC, while ordinary bud averages 5 to 10 per cent. Recently improved methods of hybridization grow technology have produced strains with increased scores. We have achieved harvests that have tested THC percentages of over 25%. Leaf is best used for cooking…save the bud for smoking. The health equation is obvious. The more potent your smoke, the less you will need to use. Hashish usually fulfills the goal of a more potent puff, but as a concentration of the resin, hashish lacks the other constituents found in the fibrous portions of the bud that contribute to the total marijuana experience. Thus its medicinal effects are quite different from marijuana when consumed whole. Store your prized herbal medication in such a way as to assure it retains its potency. If purchased, the herb probably came packaged in a plastic zipper type food storage bag. That is only a first line of defense. Medical grade bags are usually both water and air proof, but hardly protect the delicate herb from being crushed, so place the bag inside a rigid and airtight container such as glass or Tupperware type plastic. Keep the bud whole to keep it fresh and thereby retain its potency. Next, store the rigid container in a cool, dark place. Refrigerators are fine, and freezers are better. Kept frozen, herbs lose little potency. Do not store in an any area (such as an unfinished attic or cellar) that in the coldest winter months is exposed to night and day temperature fluctuations sufficient to freeze and thaw, and refreeze and rethaw causing herbs to crumble, with a similar consequent loss of potency as from being crushed.
Given the choice, go organic, as pesticides and other chemicals washed off food are not washed off during normal cannabis processing and use. Trust your throat and your head. If just a little puff causes you to cough, or if a little too much gives you a headache, don’t blame the herb, blame the chemicals. Breathe deeply if you want, but do not hold that breath. Once the delicate membranes of the cilia of your lungs are coated by the air and smoke, no amount of holding your breath will provide any greater effect. Instead it only further irritates your lungs. Cannabinoids are fat soluble and so are quickly absorbed through the lungs. Tars, however, are absorbed more slowly. So take it easy, breathe easily and don’t hold your breath!
The Institute of Medicine’s (IOM) 1999 report on medicinal marijuana cautions that, “As a cannabinoid drug delivery system, marijuana cigarettes are not ideal.” Rolling papers both hold the marijuana and hold back its combustion. The thinner the joint (the cigarette), the more room the marijuana has to breathe. But two thin joints compared to one thick require two sheets of rolling paper rather than one. Even a single sheet needlessly adds to the toxic load, especially of tar. In a study funded jointly by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) and the California chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) showed that the marijuana in the roach end (the butt) filters out tars streaming from the marijuana in the ember end, and does so more effectively than does a water pipe. However, if you eventually smoke the roach all the tar that was filtered is consumed. The joint study also noted the benefits of a joint in its being air cooled on all sides, as rolling paper serves to aerate the smoke before it reaches your mouth. Hemp papers compared to traditional fiber rolling papers are much thicker and less porous. Joints made with hemp rolling paper also snuff out easily, thus requiring multiple ignitions. Stick with the more traditional fibers for rolling papers of cotton, rice and tree pulp. Filter tips can filter out much tar and most ash, but unfortunately, they also filter out some cannabinoids. You end up smoking more, thereby canceling out the benefit of the filter tip.
Smoke is hot and dry. Smoke dries out your mouth and throat, making you more susceptible to colds and flu. Desiccated air from indoor heating, which dries out your nasal passage, mouth and throat, contributes to the higher incidence of such diseases in winter. A pipe, especially its stem, cools down the smoke before it reaches your mouth…the longer, the cooler. The bowl and the stem trap tar, which condensates along their walls. The sticky tar in turn traps some ash…especially when you keep the mouthpiece elevated above the level of the bowl. Scrape off this tar regularly, not just when clogged.
Water pipes do cool the smoke, but do not moisten it. Long-stemmed pipes also cool it, and also do not moisten it. Although smoke bubbles gain no moisture from the water, the water does trap a goodly amount of bad substances…most particulate matter (ash), some water-soluble toxins such as hydrogen, cyanide and hydrocarbons, and some tar. Studies have shown that hot water traps tar better than cold. Fill your water pipe with hot water, not cold. The MAPS/NORML study found that water pipes filter out proportionately more psychoactive THC than tar, which is more THC than anyone had previously suspected. As a result, water pipe users end up smoking more – thus canceling out the potential benefit of using a water pipe.
So called vaporizers do not create true vapor, but instead produce smolder. Paper made from tree pulp burns at temperatures 451 deg. F. Cannabis burns at temperatures above 460 deg. F, but cannabis volatilizes at temperatures between 266 deg. F and 446 deg. F. Current model vaporizers come with hefty price tags, but both manufacturers’ claims and user testimonies seem to confirm that smolder delivers the cannabinoids much more efficiently than does smoke. In theory, you need to use fewer herbs for the same cannabinoid intake. The right models might potentially save your lungs. Their main selling point is this: puff for puff, smolder is considered less harmful than smoke. The cannabis smolder might contain as much as 90% cannabinoids. That means none of the tar or noxious gases such as benzene, toluene, and naphthalene and far less carbon monoxide. THC is the crucial cannabinoid upon which cannabis’ psychoactive effects most depend, but most models of vaporizers deliver an unusually low proportion of the available THC. Most models instead deliver unusually high proportions of the available cannabinol (CBN) and cannabidiol (CBD), upon which cannabis’ medicinal effects most depend.
LIGHTERS, MATCHES, CANDLES AND SCREENS
Lighters fueled by petroleum distillates are subminiature flamethrowers. Your first toke, when you suck in the fumes from the combustion of butane, is more harmful than the rest of the joint or bowl. Matches are potentially safer. In theory, you can wait for the enflamed sulfur tip to burn out before you hold the match to your med. Beware that first toke! Even if you patiently wait for that sulfur tip to burn out, because you are nearby you still potentially inhale it as secondhand smoke. While waiting for that match to burn down, hold it away from your face. A pipe can multiply the problem. Smoked leisurely, and especially during solo sessions, marijuana snuffs out frequently, requiring several light ups per bowl. That’s toxic buildup. So here’s a tip about sulfur tip matches: avoid them! Use just one to light a candle. Light a candle, stoke up a toothpick in its flame, and light with the burning tooth pick. Thin flat toothpicks burn better than thicker round ones. Screens should never be made from aluminum foil punctured with pinholes. After just one use, the foil disintegrates as though into thin air. Where did it go? Your lungs! Screens instead should be made from other more durable metals such as brass or nongalvanized steel. Circular screens sold in smoke shops come in various diameters and in meshes of various densities. But beware a thin layer of an added ingredient that coats the metal and consists of a plastic which is applied to afford a grip to the sharp blade that cuts the circles. For this reason, first toast your screen over your candle before inserting it into the bowl of your pipe.
Be very careful to:
- Keep open flames away from draperies and other flammable materials.
- Extinguish all smoking materials completely.
- Never smoking in bed unless there is no other option, and only then with Caregiver present.
- Keep smoking materials, including matches and lighters, away from children.