CultureWhat is the Health Difference Between Vaping and Smoking?

What is the Health Difference Between Vaping and Smoking?


Some would say that the biggest difference between vaping and smoking is their effect on your health. Unfortunately, the issue is not that simple. Although each of the factors discussed in this comparison can affect your health directly, there’s a lot more overlap between vaping and smoking than you might expect. 

Here are some of the most important things to think about to help you decide whether vaping or smoking is the right choice for you.

Main considerations for vaping

Numerous medical experts and health organizations have discussed the risks associated with vaping pretty extensively. Many people who use cannabis in some way, whether it be rich with cannabidiol (CBD) or tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), are aware of the controversy surrounding “e-cigarettes,” normally called “vaping pens,” “vapes,” or “vaporizers.” The title “e-cigarette” is typically associated with products that contain nicotine. 

Vapes are cartridges containing cannabis concentrates, or “e-liquids,” typically with high levels of the primary cannabinoids, CBD and THC. These come in various forms, including rechargeable models and disposable alternatives. In both cases, the pen is designed to heat up upon being triggered by the user inhaling (for disposable pens) or pressing a button. 

A few primary health concerns might arise here that wouldn’t necessarily cross your mind if you were consuming the hemp flower itself. Here are some of the most important to get familiar with.

High concentrations of cannabinoids

First, as mentioned earlier, vapes typically have high cannabinoid concentrations. Some believe that higher concentrations of mind-altering substances improve the e-cigarette or another vaping product in the consumers’ eyes. The faster the user can attain the desired effects, whether that be calmness from CBD or euphoria from THC, the better the product since it delivers so swiftly. 

Each inhalation of an e-cigarette gives you about 5 mg of concentrate. This ultimately comes out to about 1.6 mg of the primary cannabinoid being delivered in just a few hits. 

This is a double-edged sword. While experienced vape users may appreciate this convenience, people who are new to cannabis might have a hard time dosing themselves properly. The high concentrations make it a bit too easy to go overboard with vaporizers, even if you are using CBD. 

Chemical preservatives and flavoring 

Another major concern that causes aversion to vaping is the presence of harmful chemicals in e-cigarettes and “cannavapes,” such as vitamin E acetate. In some cases, manufacturers don’t even put authentic cannabinoids in the cartridge. Instead, some recipes call for synthetic cannabinoids. 

What’s worse is that some producers spray synthetic cannabinoids on potently scented herbs to use in vaping products. The last thing you want is to think you’re inhaling natural cannabinoids, only to find it’s quite the opposite and maybe even a different plant entirely. 

Further, researchers from the University of North Carolina discovered that some concentrates used in e-cigarettes contain ingredients that are toxic to cells: propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin. Note that this study specifically focused on products containing nicotine. 

Still, the string of sicknesses and deaths associated with cannabis vaping products was a clear sign that similar concerns exist for these pens, even if there’s not a trace of nicotine.  

Be careful who you buy from

When the suspicious illnesses arose in parallel with the increasing popularity of cannabis vaping products in recent years, so did another less tasteful trend. People looking for an opportunity to make a quick buck and those who wanted cannabis concentrates but couldn’t afford the high prices in the legal market led to the demand for bootleg vaporizers. 

These are riskier than you might think, as there’s no telling what might be in the cartridge. Now, this isn’t to say that you should be trembling in fear at the possibility of what could be in your vape pen. Instead, it’s just to encourage you to practice discretion in where you shop. 

This is because vaping oils have been recorded to contain things like flavor enhancers, and even vitamin E acetate, in addition to chemicals mentioned earlier. 

In short, it’s much easier to sus out a bad cannabis flower, whether it’s hemp or marijuana, than it is to know if your vape pen could potentially make you sick. 

Are vaporizers worth it? 

The decision of whether it’s worth it to use a vape over smoking the actual flower is a personal one. Still, people would generally agree that a few factors are uniquely advantageous to vaping products. Without some of these perks, the average person might decide that hemp is the weaker alternative. 

First, consider that vapes using cannabis concentrates and dry herb flowers are designed to achieve the optimal cannabinoid concentration levels in the blood. This is sure to help you unwind more quickly. 

A study by members of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration showed that vaping consistently delivered higher concentrations of THC in the blood than smoking within the same period. 

Not only did vaping result in psychotropic effects more quickly, but the remainder of the effect tapered off at roughly the same rate as the cannabis consumed via smoking. Since the onset happens earlier, this could be interpreted to show that vapes slightly maximize the amount of time you can experience the e-cigarette’s desired effects. 

Things look like they’re leaning in favor of vaping so far. However, other facets of the study showed that users’ heartbeats per minute were higher with vaping than smoking. This was accompanied by the following symptoms:

  • Increased levels of paranoia
  • Dry mouth
  • Red or irritated eyes

It’s important to note that the people who enrolled in this study identified as “infrequent users.” This again brings up the point that a person’s experience with vaporizers depends on how much experience they have with cannabis, to begin with. Further, the trials only focused on high-THC cannabis. 

The results might be drastically different with CBD. For one, this cannabinoid interacts with the body differently than THC. Since it won’t produce the psychotropic effects people expect from marijuana, it may be more challenging to tell if the outcome is more or less intense. The effects might also vary between individuals, as some people are more aware of one’s effects vs. the other. 

Is It Safe to Vape CBD Flower?

So, now that you know the most pressing health and safety concerns related to vaporizers, it’s important to note that there might be a way to minimize these hazards without necessarily switching entirely to smoking. This doesn’t mean that you are making vaping any less harmful or that it is good for you. 

Instead, the idea of reducing the risks related to vaping is exclusively related to using a dry herb vaporizer instead of a standard oil vaping pen. Further, it is not medically accurate to say that vaping CBD flower is “safe” in any way. This is because most forms of smoking are not ideal for your lungs, even though the most extensively studied substances include nicotine and tobacco. 

Sure, you’re dodging the bullet of possible unknown chemicals in your cartridge and even pesticides and residual solvents from the manufacturing process. However, you still have to consider the fact that you’ll still be breathing in smoke from the flower’s combustion. 

Still, researchers are making progress on the potential applications for dry herb vaporizers in the broadening legalization of cannabis. For instance, a 2016 study found that “electrically-driven” vaporizers were more efficient in decarboxylating, or activating, flower with THC and CBD (97.3% efficient vs. 94.6% efficient, respectively) than gas-powered models. 

The scientists concluded that dry herb types could “offer a promising application mode for the safe and efficient administration of medical cannabis.” This is quite a significant statement to make and opens up great hope in the potential for alternative cannabis consumption methods to be accepted as legitimate treatment options by medical professionals. 

What to know about smoking hemp flower

Now, onto the hemp flower. Some people may feel a bit biased in favor of the flower because it’s the “real deal” or more natural than the concentrated oil. To some, this may only be a matter of convenience. 

To others, it can be a more environmental, spiritual, or ceremonial factor since people use cannabis flowers for a broad range of reasons. Personal motivations might influence whether someone considers vaping or smoking the flower to be their go-to option. 

Interestingly though, a small majority (53%) of people reported that they felt that vaping was safer than smoking, especially traditional methods like using a pipe or a bowl. 

Perhaps because of the higher concentration of cannabinoids, 34.4% of survey respondents also stated that vaporizers provided the best symptom relief. In fact, some people are so trusting of e-cigarette’s health advantages that they use them to quit smoking. Here’s why this decision could be right or wrong. 

Control over flower combustion temperature

In a loss to those who are partial to the flower, these assumptions are kind of right. The reason why so many medical health experts are begrudgingly accepting (not condoning) public use of dry herb vaporizers is because they help reduce the adverse health effects associated with smoking. For example, these vape pens heat the flower to the optimal temperature, minimizing your exposure to hazardous carcinogens and tar.

This isn’t something you can control whatsoever when smoking flower. When you’re smoking from a pipe, bong, joint, or anything else, you essentially must take what you can get in terms of a lighter flame (or a flame on a hemp wick) and leave it at that. 

On the other hand, e-cigarette designs can include custom temperature settings that can be changed at the drop of a dime. This isn’t just a matter of convenience and personalization, but a feature that could potentially impact your health and safety in the long run. 

Dose consistency

Now and then, even an experienced cannabis user might smoke too much on accident. Perhaps you held the lighter in an odd way or inhaled too deeply, leading to you taking a bigger hit than you meant to. This doesn’t pose as much of a problem for those who are using hemp flower. 

Perhaps you might feel a bit dizzy from sucking in a bunch of smoke, but too much CBD will just make you sleepy and lazy. In some cases, it might also make you sick. 

It’s important to note here that you shouldn’t be too worried about any potentially severe effects of accidentally smoking “too much” CBD-dominant flower. This is because the estimated toxic dose of CBD is a staggering 20,000 mg or the equivalent of 13-200 bottles of CBD tinctures ranging from 100-1,500 mg each. Further, you would have to consume it all at once for it to deal any real damage. 

Even then, “toxic” for CBD doesn’t mean the same thing as it does for other substances. The World Health Organization reported “evidence of immune suppression” with excessive concentrations but also noted that immune strength might improve at low concentrations. The discipline needs more research on this subject, to be sure. 

WHO also stated that excessively high doses of CBD could interact negatively with prescription drugs. This is not clear yet either. 

With all that said, vaping provides you with more extensive control over your dosing. It dispenses the same puff of concentrate or dry herb vapor each time, so you’re never doing any guesswork when you smoke. This is a pretty strong advantage of vaping. 

Is vaping safer than smoking?

As you may have noticed, it’s pretty challenging to declare one winner in the vaporizer vs. flower debate. Each is distinguished by its own benefits and drawbacks. Although it is important to compare the advantages that each option offers over the other, you must also be responsible and acknowledge that both smoking and vaping come with negative health effects, despite many people’s belief that vaping is the better alternative to smoking. 

For instance, one of the most well-known concerns about vape pens is the potential for chemical contaminants. By the end of 2019, doctors recorded an outbreak of lung disorders related to the use of e-cigarettes. Approximately 2,560 cases of e-cigarette or vaping product use-associated lung injury (EVALI) and 55 deaths. 

Around this time, many people were first introduced to the fear of “popcorn lung,” a condition that arose in relation to the outbreak of lung problems. Medical experts attribute this condition to the presence of a chemical called “diacetyl” in the cartridge fluid. In the past, this lung problem entered the public eye after a popcorn factory’s workers fell ill due to extended exposure to diacetyl, which gave the snack its buttery flavor. 

When it enters the lungs, it scars the lungs’ tiny air sacs, causing the airways to swell and narrow. This can cause coughing, wheezing, and other breathing problems. Unfortunately, the condition is not reversible. 

Understandably, it’s difficult for people to look past things like this. Although some signs may point to vaping as the safer, more efficient alternative, you may hear about popcorn lung and change your mind entirely. 

On the other hand, you might be discouraged about smoking flower as your go-to alternative when you learn that cannabis smoke can also expose you to chronic bronchitis and other lung disorders. 

Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide whether vaping or smoking is right for you. Remember that weighing the possibilities and risks doesn’t mean you should obsess over them. There are plenty of people who have used vaporizers and smoked cannabis flower for years without ever having experienced any of the adverse health effects discussed here. 

Still, it’s useful to know the possibilities on both sides if you want a solid decision on which method you’ll gravitate to from now on. 


Now that you know the main differences between vaping and smoking concerning your health, you have a more robust foundation of information on which to base your preference. There’s no single right answer to this question. It’s all a matter of your individual health and your awareness of your body’s limits. 

Practice discretion and choose wisely the next time you decide to consume hemp flower. That way, you can maintain your health and safety and enjoy more years experiencing all that cannabis has to offer. 

Jazmin Murphy
Jazmin Murphy is a trained science writer & reporter who has covered a breadth of topics. She is also a strong supporter and advocate of cannabis for recreational, wellness, and medical purposes.


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