Science

Smoking Vs. Vaping THC: What’s the Difference?

Handheld electronic vaporizers (or vapes) have risen rapidly in popularity over the last several years. This applies to both nicotine and THC vapes, and to all the various vape products – reusable and refillable vape pens, larger vape mods, portable dry herb vaporizers, and more. Obviously, whether you smoke or vape, whatever you inhale will be absorbed through your lungs, but there are some differences between the two methods.

Differences in Process

When you smoke cannabis, you use fire to burn the entire plant, and then you inhale the smoke. When you vape, your vape device’s heating element will heat the bud or oil enough that the THC and other active ingredients turn into a vapor, which you will then inhale. Combustion is not involved in the process, so neither is any smoke. 

Many users like vaping in part because it’s easier and more convenient than smoking. If you’re going to smoke, you need bud, a lighter, and either a pipe or a bong. Then, smoking itself is a multi-step process: grind the weed, load the bowl, light it, inhale. With a vape pen, all you need to do is inhale, and the heating element activates automatically. With others, you’ll need to press a button to activate it. Either way, though, it’s much simpler than smoking. 

Differences in Effect

Cannabis smoke isn’t as toxic as cigarette smoke, but any type of smoke still contains elements that cause lung irritation. Over 100 different toxic compounds are released when cannabis is burned. When you vaporize cannabis instead, those toxins stay inside the un-burned, un-vaporized parts of the plant. So, vaping is likely better than smoking from a health standpoint.

Health concerns aside, though, many users find vaping overall more pleasant than smoking. Vaped cannabis tends to taste and smell better than it does when it’s smoked. The smell of the vapor is also more muted that the smell of smoke, and it dissipates more quickly, so it’s easier to be discreet. Vaporizers use lower temperatures, so they’ll give you a softer, cooler hit.

Vaping offers many advantages over smoking, but there are some downsides as well. THC vape juice is usually made with a THC concentrate and some other ingredients, which means in many cases, your THC won’t be accompanied by any CBD, other cannabinoids, or terpenes. This gives the vape juice a flatter, less nuanced flavor than the entire plant would possess. It may also be the reason that a dose of vaped THC is more likely to cause a user anxiety than the same amount of THC would when smoked, since CBD is known to reduce the chances of that unpleasant side effect occurring. 

It’s also possible, though, that these effects are simply more pronounced because vaping is a more efficient and effective method of delivering THC than smoking is. THC vape juice is more concentrated than even pure cannabis bud is, sometimes containing up to 90% pure THC versus 30-something percent. Studies have shown that vaping also delivers THC to the blood more effectively, with less of the THC being burned and going to waste.

What is THC Vape Juice Made Out Of?

Vape juice (whether it contains nicotine, THC, or neither) is always a mixture of several ingredients: water, sometimes alcohol, a mix of food-grade flavorings, and either propylene glycol (PG) or vegetable glycerin (VG). THC vape juice has one additional ingredient – a THC concentrate. This concentrate will either be extracted using the CO2 method, or by making a cannabis tincture.

It’s worth nothing that while PG and VG are usually viewed as harmless (they’re food-grade ingredients, after all), Doctor Jordan Tishler of InhaleMD, a medical cannabis clinic, has stated that “…oil cartridge vaporization can be harmful. There are additives, whether polyethylene glycol, propylene glycol, or more recently cannabis terpenes, which convert to carcinogens at relatively low temperatures.” However, cannabis smoke is known to contain handfuls of carcinogens as well, so vaping is likely still the better bet, health-wise.

Can I Make My Own THC Vape Juice?

Short answer? Yes. Long answer? There are several methods you can use to create a vape-able THC tincture at home. However, they’re all a bit difficult, and can take weeks to steep and become usable… So, chances are, your best bet is still buying the pre-made stuff. In addition to not having to go through the whole tedious, potentially dangerous process of making your own, pre-loaded vape cartridges or pre-made THC vape juice can come with a few other benefits, such as:

  • Terpene infusions, which can enhance the smell and flavor of the juice, as well as alter or enhance the effects of THC. They also help lower the viscosity of the oil, which can be useful – if it’s too viscous, it won’t be vape-able.
  • Other cannabinoids. You can buy cartridges that have high levels of CBD, or CBD exclusively, not just THC.
  • Full-Spectrum oils, which contain all of the bioavailable compounds found within a particular cannabis strain, and not just the THC. This means you’ll get the effect of the entire cannabis plant, not just a single component.

For these reasons, if you have the opportunity, it may be better to buy the pre-made products. However, if you’re interested in making your own, read on:

How to Make DIY THC Vape Juice (Vape-able Tincture)

  1. Chop up your bud into small pieces – but don’t put it through a grinder, as you don’t want particles getting through a strainer later. Use more bud for a more potent tincture.
  2. Put the bud in an oven heated to 230 degrees, for 35 minutes. This will decarboxylate the bud, turning THCA into psychoactive THC.
  3. Put the decarboxylated bud into a quart-sized mason jar, and pour in 32 ounces of the highest-proof alcohol you can get (not rubbing alcohol or anything like that, though – it has to be safe for consumption). Everclear works well. 
  4. Screw the mason jar’s lid on and shake well.
  5. Put the mason jar in a paper bag and store it somewhere dark, like a cabinet or closet. Sunlight can ruin the tincture.
  6. Make sure wherever you put the mason jar is a room temperature/warm area – it won’t work well if it’s stored in too much heat.
  7. Let the tincture sit and steep for 30-60 days. The longer you leave it, the more THC will absorb into the liquid, creating a more potent result. 
  8. When you’re done steeping the tincture, strain it through a cheesecloth to remove the remaining plant matter.
  9. Finally, store the resultant tincture in an opaque bottle or container, somewhere out of the sunlight. This will keep it from losing potency.

There you have it! You can use this tincture in a vape, or you can use a dropper to put some under your tongue. However, take note that until you’ve tried your batch of tincture, you won’t know exactly how strong it is. Start with a low dose and go slow to make sure you don’t have an uncomfortable experience. 

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