Harm Reduction

Is vaporizing better than smoking? Understand the differences

When we talk about vaping or smoking weed, the difference is not just in the tools, but in the high itself! Let’s dive deeper into this debate?

Vaping is getting more and more popular, as more people look for a way to get high that’s more in line with Harm Reduction strategies. But we still face some barriers when it comes to vaporization versus combustion: the first is the lack of quality information for people who are interested in learning, and the second is the lack of safety in some devices.

And the truth is that, with the increase in the use of vaporizers, we also have some very interesting research that compares their use to the standard joint. With this, we were able to make a more complete comparison and understand that the differences go far beyond the equipment of choice!

Do you want to understand what changes in your life when you change the joint for a quality vaporizer in a deeper and more practical way? Here, we will make the definitive comparison between vaporization and carburation, bringing some important studies to illustrate what each process brings — either good and bad.

Let’s get started!

Peak Pro oil vaporizer from Puffco

Combustion and vaporization: essentially different

Essentially, vaporization and combustion are two completely different things:

  • Combustion is when you actively burn the cannabis or concentrate, which gives off smoke;
  • Vaporization is when you use water particles to heat your cannabis or concentrate without burning it. In this case, then, the heat releases the active ingredients into a vapor and, as combustion does not take place, smoke is not created.

So the first difference we need to remember is that while the product of your joint or spliff is smoke, the product of the vaporizer is steam — just water particles with cannabinoids. That alone counts for a lot!

But does vaping reduce the intake of toxins like tar, ammonia and carcinogens found in smoke? While there is still little research on vaping weed, studies over the years have shown that vaping produces fewer compounds with carcinogenic potential.

While cannabis smoke is less toxic than tobacco smoke, inhaling any by-products of the burning process is less than desirable. We can even remember that combustion processes are one of the main causes of atmospheric pollution. Any type of smoke contains gasses, such as carbon monoxide and dioxide, and particles that can cause lung irritation and breathing problems.

Over 100 toxins and compounds are released when cannabis is burned.

Smokers are more prone to respiratory infections and bronchitis, but it’s not the cannabinoids that cause this, it’s the smoke. One of the first studies that compared smoking to vaping showed fewer negative respiratory symptoms with vaping.

Peak Pro oil vaporizer from Puffco

Amount and time of THC absorption

As for the time it takes for the effects to hit you, both smoking and vaping cause almost immediate reactions in the body. Through these means of use, cannabis’ effects peaks within 10 to 15 minutes. But when it comes to quantity and quality, vaporization has an advantage.

A study by California NORML and the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) showed that vaporizers convert approximately 46% of available THC to vapor, while the average joint converts less than 25% of THC to smoke.

Comparing the plant’s vapor to its smoke, the researchers found that the vapors “consist predominantly of THC, the main active component of cannabis, while the burned smoke contained more than 100 other chemicals, including various polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), toxins common carcinogens in tobacco smoke.”

In another 2007 analysis by researchers at the University of California at San Francisco, patients rated the high from smoking and vaping. According to them, there was no difference between the two methods per patient. Still, a significant majority of users preferred vaporization to combustion, choosing the delivery route with fewer side effects and greater efficiency.

Both users and researchers agree that the steamer is cleaner and more effective.

Enjoying our Peak oil vaporizer from Puffco, with a clementine in front of the river
Enjoying our Peak oil vaporizer from Puffco

Temperatures and safety

Another important point in this analysis is the temperature! After all, does it make a difference?

This 2009 study was one of the first to look at varying temperatures in vaporization. Not only did it show fewer harmful by-products in vaporization compared to combustion, but it also showed that temperature DOES matter!

In the analysis, cannabis was vaporized at three different temperatures: 338 F (170°C), 392 F (200°C), and 446 F (230°C). The ratio of cannabinoids to by-products was measured using high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC). The scientists concluded that the proportion of cannabinoids in vaporization at 392 F and 446 F was significantly higher than in smoke, and it also showed less harmful toxins.

Most vaporizers that don’t have an exact temperature control can heat the cannabis to a range just below combustion, between 180 to 200°C (356 to 392 F). The amount of compounds released increases as their boiling point approaches. Here, we can see the ideal vaporization temperature for each compound:


  • If you use cannabis for its medicinal or therapeutic properties, the ideal temperature to vaporize will depend a lot on the compound you need.
  • For adult use, it varies according to preference — but the safest range is around 338 F (170°C).
  • In a regular joint, the temperature can exceed 800°C. That’s why smoke is more harmful in that sense.

And speaking of safety…

We remind you that the substance used also counts a lot for the safety of the user! For both vapes and joints, quality cannabis and concentrates are the best choice. However, when it comes to vaping, attention should be redoubled with pre-made cartridges — especially from the irregular market. There are many substances used in them, such as thinners, that can cause serious damage to the respiratory system.

Puffco Plus, portable oil vaporizer
Puffco Plus, portable oil vaporizer

Different methods, different advantages and disadvantages

Vapor is less harmful to the lungs than smoke. Many medical patients have breathing problems, and their lungs can be highly irritated by the smoke. Thus, there is more relief and benefit in vaporizing.

There is less carbon monoxide and toxins in vaping the right product. In an initial study of 18 participants, each user smoked or vaped one of three different concentrations of THC (1.7, 3.4, and 6.8%). Afterwards, measurements of THC in the blood and carbon monoxide in the exhaled air were taken. Although the blood levels were not that different, the exhaled carbon monoxide was much lower in the vaporization.

Vaporizing also lessens the smell and enhances the taste. A 2014 survey of nearly one hundred participants who smoked and vaped resulted in the reporting of several advantages of vaping over smoking. Two of the main ones were the lack of smoke smell and better flavor when the product was vaporized! They also reported that the same amount of cannabis product produced more effects with vaping. After the study, almost all users stated that they would switch to vaping their cannabis products.

Vaporizers are simpler and more discreet to use. Another study indicates that consumers tend to prefer vaporization because the vapor can be inhaled in short puffs rather than deep breaths. Also, they appreciate the discretion of vaping over regular joints.

Many users who are used to smoking point out disadvantages in vaping. Some have problems with:

  • Vaporizer configuration;
  • Preparation of herb (which must be ground to a finer consistency);
  • Wait for the warm-up time;
  • Cleaning after each use.

In addition to a slightly more complicated process, many vaporizers are too expensive for casual consumers (although they save on product in the long run).

Let’s put it simply

Here, we have a more illustrative table to help you understand these points:

So, were you able to understand the differences between vaporization and combustion? We hope that this content has helped and answered some of your questions. Both here and on Instagram, a lot of people ask for product recommendations — but we don’t feel 100% safe to recommend this type of product in Brazil, as they are not regulated.

In the legal market, our favorite brand is Puffco, which brings different models of vaporizers more focused on the use of concentrates. You can check out their amazing products here.

To the next!

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Chad Vladimyr Mrtinovich
Chad Vladimyr Mrtinovich
1 year ago

Your brilliant girlfriend. Email me