Over the years, much has changed about America’s marijuana culture. No longer does a dime bag cost a dime. Potency has risen. Seeds and stems are gone. And most shockingly, the White House has apparently legalized the drug.

As President Barack Obama and the “Choom Gang” effectively remand the issue to the states, Alaska and Oregon voters are poised this election day to follow Colorado and Washington in allowing the recreational use of a drug declared by Congress in 1970 as among the most dangerous. The Food and Drug Administration has long refused to reclassify the drug, in accordance with international treaties, stymying scientific research of marijuana and its cannabinoids. But as popular support for legalization reaches nearly 60 percent across the country, more Americans will soon be smoking legal weed, for better or worse.

So what is the safest way to smoke pot?

Although sales of marijuana-laced food and beverages continues to grow, the vast majority of consumers smoke the drug, inhaling a hot mixture of thousands of chemicals, including 50 known carcinogens, along with marijuana’s psychoactive ingredient delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). To date, research on marijuana has yielded no firm conclusions about the individual health risks of smoking marijuana. According to this lack of consensus, smoked marijuana may cause or cure cancer, or may do nothing at all. But by burning marijuana, smokers not only lose much of the potency but risk their pulmonary health; the super-hot mixture also deposits tar and destroys cilia responsible for sweeping away the intercellular trash.

Many smokers further risk their health by holding their breath after inhaling from a pipe or bong, heeding an old wive’s tale concerning the absorption rate of THC. Yet, in fact, 85 percent of the drug’s THC is absorbed by the lungs during the first few seconds of inhaling the toxic cloud, with temperatures reaching as high as 2,000 F. And although sales of hookahs and smaller water pipes continue to grow, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the filtration method fails to remove any of the dangerous chemicals from the mixture, with lower levels of metals found in traditional shisha smoke due to the tobacco blend itself rather than the delivery system.

Everything considered, the healthiest way to smoke marijuana is to not smoke at all. Despite much potential for marijuana as a medicine and safe recreational drug, smoking any herbal blend presents a dangerous long-term health risk to the user, including a possibly increased susceptibility to some cancers. Instead, the magic bullet lies with the vaporizer, a handheld device gaining popularity in the United States and around the world.

Rather than burning marijuana to produce smoke, a vaporizer heats the herb to an optimal temperature of approximately 338 F., just above the threshold at which inhalable vapors are produced, smelling lightly of smoke and, curiously, like popcorn. As for the science, Donald I. Abrams, a professor of clinical medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, reported in 2007 in the Journal of the American Academy of Neurology “there was virtually no exposure to harmful combustion products” using the vaporizing device.

“[The] study demonstrates an alternative method that gives patients the same effects and allows controlled dosing but without inhalation of the toxic products in smoke,” Abrams told reporters. Likewise, a pair of studies from researchers in the Netherlands found in recent years vaporizers to be a safe and effective means of delivering dose-controlled cannabinoids.

As scientists and policymakers continue to debate the merits and demerits of greater marijuana use, one thing thing remains clear among the squinty eyed: Vaporizers offer a smarter way to get stupid.


Hazekamp A, Ruhaak R, Zuurman L, Gerven van J, Verpoorte R, Evaluation of a Vaporizing Device (Volcano) for the Pulmonary Administration of Tetrahydrocannabinol. Journal of Pharmacological Science. 2006.

Zuurman L, Roy C, Shocemaker RC, Hazekamp A, Hartight den J, Beder JC, Verpoorte R, et al. Effect of Intrapulmonary Tetrahydrocannabinol Administration in Humans. Journal of Psychopharmacology. 2008.