man smoking

The Difference Between Smoking and Vaping Weed

“Vaping” is one of the biggest buzzwords of the 21st century so far. The vaping craze has spread to people who would never consider lighting up a cigarette. And allowed many people to get relief from all kinds of health conditions via medical marijuana.

But questions still resound when it comes to using a vape vs smoking weed:

Is vaping automatically the better choice? Does using a vape mean you bypass all of the negative health effects of smoking? What is the difference between smoking and vaping weed in terms of effects?

In this article, we’ll try to take a balanced perspective while we get some answers:

What is vaping?

Vaping is the name given to the process of using a device called a vaporizer to heat cannabis plant material instead of setting fire to it (combustion) as happens during smoking.

The vaporizer or “vape” device heats the cannabis to a specific temperate, lower than that which combustion requires. This results in the plant being turned into a vapor rather than smoke. This vapor is then inhaled by the user through the vaporizer’s mouthpiece.

Vaping continues to grow in popularity. Between 2017 and 2018, the market for vapes and associated products was estimated to have grown by nearly 50%. And there are small signs of it slowing down.

Most traditional and anecdotal evidence argues that smoking delivers a more potent “hit” than vaping does. But a recent study has shown that when it comes to a joint vs vape potency battle, vaping may actually deliver more powerful results from the same quantity of cannabis. Though, at time of writing, this study was only carried out on a small scale.


a person exhaling smoke on black background

Smoking weed vs vaping: which is healthier?

Most cannabis users swear by their preferred experience, be it smoking or vaping. But few will be prepared to argue that smoking is better for your health.

The process of combusting cannabis or tobacco will inevitably result in tar and other unpleasant substances being inhaled at the same time as the desired nicotine or cannabinoids.

Smoking straight cannabis is pretty bad for you, though arguably not as bad as smoking tobacco. Then again, relatively few cannabis smokers will smoke constant “blunts” (cannabis without tobacco), as the terminology goes.

However, the fact that, until very recently, cannabis remained illegal in many jurisdictions both inside and outside the US has limited scientific experimentation on differences between smoking vs vaping weed. But studies on the difference between smoking and vaping nicotine have shown that vaping is 95%+ safer than smoking.

That said, it is important to note that not all vaporizers are created equal. Many cheaper models may feature rubber, glue or plastic components near to the heating elements. This can be a serious danger when they are in use and highlights the necessity of always considering the quality of what you are putting into your body – as well as the means you are using to get it there.

The benefits of vaping over smoking

The overwhelming reason why most people will argue in favor of vaping or smoking is the above health benefits. Smoking is bad for you. There’s no denying it.

Of course, there are some dangers involved in vaping – the poor quality vaporizers mentioned above, for example – but they pale in comparison with the dangers of inhaling cannabis or any plant matter post-combustion.

There are also a number of other advantages that vaping advocates will put forward:

1) Discretion

Vaping – especially when you set your vaporizer to a lower temperature – is much less obvious in terms of odor than smoking is.

If you’re trying to be less overt with your smoking practices, a vape could be your new best friend.

2) Flavor

Smoking tends to ride roughshod over the flavors and qualities of different strains of cannabis. However, if you vape, you will be able to explore the unique individual flavor profiles and terpenes of each strain. This is a great advantage as far as cannabis connoisseurs are concerned.

Even if you pack an entire blunt with marijuana – making this a straight-up vaporizer vs blunt battle – you still won’t be able to experience the full flavor of the cannabis anywhere near as clearly as you can when vaping.

3) Temperature control

If you’re comparing vaporizer vs a joint, you can imagine your “cannabis cigarette” as having one setting. Off or on at maximum. On the other hand, your vape can be set to any temperature you like.

After a bit of experimentation, most vapers are able to alter the effects the cannabis they are using produces by changing the temperature their vape is set to.

4) Safer and easier

While it’s easy enough to forget if you smoke a lot, having a tiny bit of fire near to you all the time isn’t the safest way to live your life. On the flip side, there’s no danger of fire risk or injury with a vape.

You also don’t need to know how to roll a joint or put the practice in, required to get to an acceptable standard. There are many models of vape – especially vape pens and the like – that are essentially plug and play.

The downsides of vaping

However, it would be wrong to say that vaping is the absolute perfect marijuana delivery system. It simply happens to be the one that the majority of people are in favor of. The naysayers though, will argue that using a vape:

  • May require some practice – vaporizers of the kind that require grinders do take a little practice to make work properly. Grinding cannabis to the necessary fineness, changing the settings on your vape… it can take a little time to perfect. Of course, vape pens and other much more straightforward options now exist, overcoming this potential hurdle.
  • Need to be charged up – although it’s not a major downside, it is worth noting that vaporizers do need to be charged with electricity before you can use them. Most vaporizers will last for a while without requiring recharge and all you need to do is remember to charge after a session. But it is still a slight limitation.
  • Calls for cleaning – many types of vaporizer, though not usually vape pens, require regular maintenance and cleaning in order to deliver good results.
  • Can be expensive – the larger types of vaporizer can get expensive. But many vape pens and smaller models are available in very affordable price ranges.


a person breaking a cigarette in two

Smoking pros (compared with vaping)

Despite the huge health problems it can cause, smoking is still preferred by some people as a means of taking cannabis. There are several reasons for this:

  1. Cheap – smoking requires no investment in a vape. All you need are some papers, the marijuana and possibly some tobacco.
  2. No maintenance – you burn everything you “make” when smoking, so there is no need for any maintenance.
  3. It has a certain tradition and practice – the “ritual” of rolling and smoking is something that many people find relaxing, even meditative. Although it has also been commented this very practice can serve to exacerbate the addictive nature of smoking itself.

Vaping vs smoking: efficiency

smoke coming out of a woman's mouthVaping tends to be more efficient than smoking weed. This means that the same amount of cannabis will go further if you vape it as opposed to smoking it.

Because a vaporizer heats the cannabis much more slowly, maximum potency is extracted by the process. Whereas when smoking, some plant material will burn away without being used and much more will generally be wasted.

Cannabis that has already been vaped can also be used again, though with less potent effects. Referred to as ABV, this can be used to make edibles such as cookies as well as vaped again in a pinch.


Vaporizer high vs smoke high

The effects of a vaporizer vs smoking weed are easy to tell apart. Vaping feels cleaner – as you might expect from something that doesn’t make you inhale tar – but, anecdotally, is usually said to provide less intense initial effects than vaping.

That said, important new research seems to show that this may not be as true as has always been assumed.

Does vaping weed get you higher?

Fuel has recently been poured on the fire of the vape vs joint debate. Researchers at John Hopkins University conducted an experiment that showed, for infrequent cannabis users, vaping actually produces stronger effects.

This is because vaping actually conveys larger amounts of THC – the main cannabinoid in cannabis responsible for the psychoactive effects – to the bloodstream than smoking does.

That’s important news for those who might have previously viewed vaping as a “lighter” alternative in terms of potency of effect as well as sensation.

What did this experiment involve?

When looking at experiments like this, it is always important to take note of things like sample size and what the researchers actually did.

In this case, there were 17 volunteers who had not used cannabis for a minimum of 30 days and an average of a whole year. During the experiment, these volunteers smoked or vaped cannabis and reported the results while the researchers measured their vital signs and adverse reactions and had them perform memory, reaction time and attention span tests.

Despite the quantity of THC in the vapes being smaller than the average amount in a joint, the result showed that the vape users were more impaired after their sessions than the smokers were. The quantity of THC in the bloodstreams of the vapers was also significantly more (7.5 as opposed to 3.8 nanograms per milliliter after they inhaled 10 milligrams of THC).

Is this experiment conclusive?

No. With such a small sample size, short timeframe (the experiment lasted only six weeks) and the knowledge that there are many different types of vaporizer out there, we can’t say that this is definitive proof that vaping cannabis is more powerful than smoking it.

Neither can the anecdotal evidence and reporting of thousands of users when it comes to the “feeling” that smoking creates a more powerful initial effect be totally discounted.

The experiment also specifically tested people who had little or no tolerance to THC. We can’t simply extrapolate the results to every user and say that this means vaping is more powerful.

Nevertheless, the results of the study are interesting and further experiments definitely called for. If only to make sure that vaping isn’t treated as a “lighter” option that is somehow suitable for use before work or operating vehicles, for example.


disposable THC vape pen

The difference between smoking and vaping weed

Is vaping weed better than smoking it? This can vary tremendously depending on your personal preferences and circumstances, though it would be a mistake to fail to emphasize the seriousness of the detrimental health effects of smoking.

Cost-wise, the decision seems to be vaping’s larger initial investment but long-term greater efficiency (meaning you will need to buy less cannabis) up against the zero initial investment but long-term need to buy more cannabis of smoking.

Flavor-wise, the vape is the hands-down winner – as it is in many other areas. But this is potentially balanced in some people’s eyes by both that initial investment and other factors.

Overall then, we shouldn’t say that one way of consuming cannabis is better than the other. Though if you regularly use marijuana and you haven’t yet tried using a vaporizer, it is almost certainly worth your time to give it a try.

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