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Are cannabis edibles safer than smoking? Here's what some experts say

Inhaling cannabis smoke or ingesting edible cannabis products can have different effects on the body in terms of safety and intensity.
Are cannabis edibles safer than smoking? Here's what some experts say
Posted at 8:01 PM, Feb 02, 2024

As cannabis faces an ever-changing legal landscape on the state and federal level in the United States, products made from the plant — considered to be important for medicinal use by a significant number of people over the years — are becoming more widely available in multiple forms, and legally. 

The DEA has been mulling over the decision to change how cannabis is scheduled with the agency too. 

But, these rules seem to largely center around public safety, and with more acceptance over its use, some may be wondering which form of cannabis is considered the safest.

Is the edible form of cannabis — and the many products that fit into this category — safer, overall, than smoking it?

The Canadian Center on Substance Use and Addiction says eating or ingesting edible products that contain THC appears to be less harmful to the user's lungs than smoking. The CDC says oils and concentrates that are used in vaping or dabbing have highly concentrated forms of THC and could contain additives. 

The CDC highlighted a 2019 national outbreak of lung injury that was determined to be associated with vaping. An analysis showed that THC-containing products meant for vaping also had additives including vitamin E acetate. 

Ryan Vandrey, a psychiatrist who studies cannabis at Johns Hopkins Medicine told the New York Times, "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."

SEE MORE: Marijuana use could make you a nicer person, research finds

CCSA says to read labels of products carefully, and that would include making sure products are clearly labeled and come from a reputable vendor you can trust. The agency warns that highly concentrated product use can lead to tolerance, and these products likely should not be used more than once per week.

CCSA also cautions to avoid mixing cannabis products with alcohol and other substances to avoid adverse effects. 

Olivia Alexander, the CEO of Kush Queen, says cannabis has become popular with women, some of whom use it to relieve symptoms of a number of medical conditions that cause discomfort. The rise in cannabis use might be attributed to access, but also due to its being seen as safer than other substances, like alcohol in some states. 

A study found that alcohol-related mortality rates have been rising faster in women. A 2016 analysis of World Health Organization data found that the U.S. has one of the smallest gender gaps in alcohol consumption among countries for which data was available.

Alexander promotes the use of cannabis in a variety of forms, including using it in recipes like brownies, and in products like sugar scrubs. 

CCSA says that when it comes to ingesting cannabis edibles, compounds first travel to your stomach and then to your liver before entering your bloodstream. With smoking, or vaping, the THC is delivered to your lungs where it enters your bloodstream and then your brain. 

Pharmacologist Daniel Barrus told the New York Times there are other factors to consider related to dosage when edibles are involved. His nonprofit, RTI International, looks at the cannabis industry and how users consume products. 

RTI says the biggest difference between ingestion and inhalation of cannabis extracts is the delayed onset of the effects with ingestion. Barrus says it can take anywhere from 30 minutes to several hours to feel the effects, and that can mess with dosage for the inexperienced consumer. 

Some users might not feel effects and then take more, which can lead to symptoms like paranoia. A study published in the ACP Journal found that users of edibles were more likely to end up in emergency rooms. 

The study — which looked at admissions at a large hospital in Colorado — found though, that overall, more users who smoked ended up in emergency rooms. Researchers said that was likely because more people smoked cannabis than ingested it. 

The CDC says that smoked cannabis, no matter how it is smoked, can harm the tissues of the lungs and cause scarring and damage to the small blood vessels. 

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