Are Edibles Safer Than Smoking? The Answer Is Complicated
Dani Blum - The New York Times
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February 11, 2024

Cannabis brands are emphasizing the idea that edible products might offer a healthier alternative to smoking. Consumers are increasingly asking whether that’s the case. (Janelle Jones/NYT)

Cannabis-infused chocolate fountains are flowing at weddings. “Budtenders” are pouring cannabis cocktails. And as sales of edibles are trending up, cannabis brands are emphasizing the idea that the products might offer a healthier alternative to bongs or blunts.

“Edibles allow you to enjoy cannabis without the negative side effects of smoking,” reads the website of Kiva, which makes cannabis chocolate bars and fruit-flavored gummies.

Consumers are increasingly asking whether that’s the case, but the answer is complicated. There’s little research comparing the health effects of edibles and smoking head-to-head. What we do know so far largely comes from limited data, anecdotes and inferences from researchers and clinicians.

“There’s tons of nuance there,” said Ryan Vandrey, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins Medicine who studies cannabis. “You can’t black and white say edibles are safer than smoking, or smoking is worse than vaping — there are different risks for the different routes.”

Edibles Can Lead to More Intense Highs

Edibles can sometimes induce a more intense, intoxicating high than smoking, because of how the body metabolizes T.H.C., the main compound in cannabis, said James MacKillop, director of the Michael G. DeGroote Centre for Medicinal Cannabis Research at McMaster University.

Even for experienced users, edibles can have a potent effect. For some people, that high can be pleasant; for others, fear and anxiety can take hold.

Edibles may have less addictive potential, Dr. MacKillop said, because in general, the quicker a person feels a drug’s effects, the greater the chance the user will become dependent. A study last year found that roughly one-fifth of people who use cannabis develop cannabis use disorder.

The Respiratory Risk of Smoking

Smoking any substance has the potential to harm your lungs.

Cannabis smoke contains many of the same toxic chemicals and carcinogens as cigarette smoke, and the drug, when smoked, can damage lung tissues and blood vessels, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The method also matters: When people smoke a joint or blunt, they also inhale particulate matter from rolling papers or wrappers, as well as particulate matter from the cannabis itself, both of which may harm the lungs.

Vapes heat cannabis through a different method than joints, bongs and pipes, and so vapes can help consumers avoid harmful compounds like carbon monoxide and tar, Mr. Barrus said. But vapes still expose the lungs to irritants, and some evidence has found that vapes generate dangerous emissions. Cases of vaping-related illnesses and injuries caused by contaminants in vapes have concerned doctors for years.

Read the rest at The New York Times

Related: How Marijuana Affects Your Body (WebMD)

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