The Difference Between Smoking And Vaping Cannabis (Everything You Wanted To Know)


Disclaimer: While vaping technically turns cannabis oil into an aerosol, we will be referring to this as ‘vapor’ throughout the article for the purpose of using common industry terms.


Have you ever wondered what the difference is between smoking and vaping cannabis? Sure, you’re probably aware that these methods look and feel different from each other. But, the reason they’re so different, and the pros and cons of each, aren’t as obvious.

To lay it out as succinctly as possible, the main difference between smoking and vaping cannabis is combustion versus vaporization. Combustion is the act of burning something, which is a tried and true way of using cannabis. Vaporization of cannabis oil requires lower heat levels so that the plant produces a vapor instead of smoke; it’s essentially a phase transition that happens between liquid and vapor.

Here’s a quick overview of how each of these methods works:


How combustion works

Combustion, or the act of burning something, is how people have been smoking cannabis for decades. This method is used when smoking a joint, bong, bowl, or other methods that require a lighter or match to set your cannabis aflame.

Combustion takes place at 600 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, which can burn off a large percentage of cannabinoids (naturally occurring compounds found in cannabis, such as THC and CBD) and terpenes (compounds in cannabis that gives it taste and aroma.) In addition to burning off some of the best stuff cannabis has to offer, combustion can also yield some pretty undesirable carcinogens.


How vaporization works

Vaporization is a more modern method of inhaling cannabis by turning it into vapor as opposed to smoke. Vaping was originally conducted by using a table vape or desktop vape, a large vaporizer that is known for its production of thick vapor and heating capabilities. In recent years, tabletop vaporizers have taken a back seat to more convenient, compact, stylish, and high-tech vape pens we see so frequently today.

Cannabis vaporizers typically work by two methods, conduction or convection. Convection vaporizers work by heating cannabis flower or concentrates indirectly through a stream of hot air until vapor is created. Conduction vaporizers work by using direct heat on the flower or extract. A heated surface actually touches the cannabis in order to produce vapor. Most convection vapes are the desktop models.

A conduction vape is typically smaller and portable and works using rechargeable batteries. Many of the more high-tech conduction vapes allow for multiple settings so you can control the temperature or power output.


The main differences between smoking and vaping cannabis

While the methods of smoking and vaping cannabis are quite different on the surface, there are a few other differences to keep in mind. Here are a few of the main distinctions between the two:


The smell

While smoking cannabis has a distinct smell, vaping doesn’t produce the same potent scent. The subtle smell from a vape pen typically disappears in minutes, and typically won’t linger on your clothes or hair. This is largely because of the lack of combustion, which produces a strong, smoky scent.


The taste

Vaping cannabis won’t burn off the terpenes, so these tasty little compounds can be experienced through your taste buds. Producing vapor requires lower temperatures, and many vape pens allow you to change those temperatures to your liking. This is great news for terpenes because each one has a different boiling point, and can be expressed at different (and typically lower) temperatures.


The carcinogen content

Combustion is required to smoke cannabis, and along with that combustion comes potentially harmful toxins like tar and carbon monoxide. Studies show that vaping cannabis produces significantly less of these harmful materials than smoking. Keep in mind that it’s important to source your vape liquid from a reputable and licensed dispensary to ensure that you’re not consuming other harmful additives that have been found in black market vape oil.


The potency

Burning cannabis to smoke causes many of the crucial cannabis compounds to vanish into thin air. The low temperature of vaping keeps these compounds intact for a more potent inhale. This study by MAPS and California NORML found that vaping converted 46% of THC into vapor, while smoking via combustion, like with a joint, could convert just 25% of THC.


The lower temperatures

Vape pens produce vapor at much lower temperatures than smoking the traditional way. This is a key difference between the two methods. Quality vape pens allow for multiple temperature or power output options too.


The ability to customize the experience

Vaping gives you the power to customize your smoking experience and your high. With the ability to adjust airflow and temperatures, you can be in control.


Summary of pros and cons for each method

As with most things, there are pros and cons to both smoking and vaping cannabis. It’s important to take stock of all the negatives and positives before deciding which method might be right for you. Take into consideration your lifestyle, preferences, and finances when making a decision.

Pros of smoking cannabis
 Cons of smoking cannabis
  • Less expensive up-front costs for smoking supplies
  • An enjoyable ritual of preparing cannabis before smoking
  • A more simple learning curve
  • Low maintenance, especially if smoking joints
  • Irritation and inflammation of the respiratory system
  • Possibility of inhaling harmful carcinogens
  • Less potency
  • More expensive, as burning cannabis can waste much of the flower
  • Second-hand smoke that lingers and smells potent
  • It requires more supplies


Pros of vaping
 Cons of vaping
  • Less exposure to carcinogens
  • Saving money on cannabis because less is wasted
  • More taste
  • More potency
  • Portable and convenient
  • The ability to adjust temperature settings
  • Must be charged
  • Needs to be cleaned
  • Requires a bit of a learning curve
  • Can offer a stronger high than you may want
  • It is an upfront investment.


    Smoking cannabis and vaping offer different experiences that are worth testing out. They each offer pros and cons that should be weighed carefully when making your decision. No matter what method you choose, always make sure to purchase your cannabis and vape oil from a licensed dispensary so you know what you’re getting. This is the best way to choose a strain that works best for you and to make sure you stay safe while consuming.

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