Vaping vs Smoking Weed: Which is Better (for You)?

vaping vs smoking weed
By Andrew Ward Updated March 8th

Fact-checked by Deb Tharp

Medically reviewed by Dr. Brian Kessler, MD

Smoking is the oldest, or close to the oldest, form of cannabis consumption. Since time immemorial, different civilizations worldwide have smoked marijuana for social, recreational or medicinal purposes.

Recently, another way of consuming cannabis came on the scene: vaping. The fast-growing popularity of vaping has led to vape pens and vaporizers designed explicitly for weed. Today, vaping is often seen as the second most popular consumption product sold, just behind dried flower.

So which method is better: vaping vs. smoking weed?

Smoking Weed: Pros and Cons

There are numerous points to consider regarding vaping vs. smoking weed. Here are some of the pros and cons: 

The pros:

  • Natural/From the Earth 
  • Multiple consumption methods (bowls, joints, bongs, etc.)
  • Numerous reported medical benefits for mental and physical pain
  • Rapid onset effects (i.e. you feel the effects right away)
  • Various effects, flavors and aromas (ideal for matching each person’s unique needs and preferences)

On the other hand, adverse effects can include:

  • Possible crime (if illegal in your state)  
  • Impaired functionality 
  • Minor chance of addiction  
  • Need additional equipment (lighters, rolling papers, ash tray, etc.)
  • Potential lung irritation
  • Pungent smell (not ideal for apartments or other semi-public locations)
  • Short-term memory loss

Vaping Weed: What is It?

Vaping marijuana allows consumers to enjoy many of the effects of smoked cannabis without smoking the plant material. Instead, extracted cannabis oil is heated to the point where the oil is converted into vapor. 

Vaping took off when products like The Volcano first came on the scene. Today, cartridges and pens are all the rage, making vaping more convenient and discreet than before. 

Today, consumers can choose how they prefer to vape, utilizing products like:

  • Vape Pens: The most popular way to enjoy cannabis concentrates on the market today, vape pens fit into your pocket and are about as discreet an option as you can find. Depending on the company, products may resemble a pen or stylus. But innovation from some companies has "pens" almost as tiny and hand-held as the cartridges themselves. Pens also come in reusable or disposable, one-off options.
weed vape pen parts infographic
  • Tabletop Vaporizers: Tabletop options, like the Volcano, are often meant for at-home or stationary consumption. Typically needing an electrical outlet, tabletop vaporizers helped introduce the cannabis world to vaping. While pens have cut into the demand, numerous brands still sell tabletop options and are enjoyed by scores of consumers.
  • Portable Vaporizers: Portable vaporizers are nearly as small as pens but often require a bit more space to transport. Capable of smoking flower, oil, or both, portable vape options continue to be popular among flower and oil enthusiasts. Consumers can also enjoy cannabis extracts like wax with some portable hybrid options. Dab rigs have seen similar innovations, with dab pens and portable dab rigs providing a huge cannabis punch in a small device.

Vaping marijuana has plenty of advantages, including:

  • A stronger high than smoking flower (up for debate)
  • Mobile/Easy to use on-the-go
  • More discreet
  • Smokeless option 
  • Temperature control
  • Strain-specific concentrates allow users to tailor their experience to the desired effects and flavor profile

Still, vaping cannabis has its concerns, with potential adverse effects including:

  • Additional cleaning and maintenance required with certain devices
  • A steeper learning curve than smoking (many types of concentrates and temperatures to learn about)
  • Higher costs 
  • Often less communal/shareable way to consume cannabis
  • Potential lung irritation

Vaping vs. Smoking Weed: Which is Healthier?

The answer isn't clear, but more and more consumers seem to believe that vaping is the safer choice.

With cannabis legalization spreading, we've seen an uptick in studies and analysis in recent years, providing deeper insights into the smoking vs. vaping debate. For now, however, the subject requires additional research, and we have to use the available results and anecdotal evidence to form conclusions. 

While smoking anything is harmful to your lungs, the effects of vaping weed can also be adverse. Smoking supporters are sure to point to the EVALI lung crisis a few years ago which affected over 2,000 people. While true, the crisis was believed to be caused by vitamin E acetate, a component found in unlicensed products (not licensed, lab-tested items sold in dispensaries). 

Other research has focused on the risks associated with cannabis vs. nicotine consumption. Conflicting studies have stated that smoking marijuana is more harmful than tobacco due to longer inhales by consumers and more toxins present in the plant. On the other hand, some studies state that smoking cannabis does not harm lung function.  

Vaping enthusiasts may counter claims that smoking is healthier with studies concluding that vaporized cannabis reduces exposure to toxins and serves as a more effective method for delivering medicine to patients. On the flip side, vaping introduces an additional layer of complexity as vaping at higher temperatures, above 450℉ typically, can reduce plant integrity, increase potential lung and throat irritation, and could lead to higher exposure levels to the suspected carcinogen formaldehyde.

In short, the jury's out on whether smoking or vaping is healthier, but vaping may be getting the edge as more information becomes available. 

Vaping vs. Smoking Weed: Which Has Stronger Effects?

While it may surprise some consumers, there isn’t a straightforward answer to whether vaping or smoking delivers stronger effects. The answer boils down to several factors, including strain, body composition and the possible use of artificial terpenes. 

With flower, smoked cannabis offers all the flavors and aromas of the naturally occurring terpenes. That isn't the case with all vapes. Depending on the extraction method used, oils may be stripped of the terpenes and other compounds during production, eliminating or minimizing their flavor, aroma, and some effects. Alternatively, many companies pump artificial terpenes back into products to boost the lost flavor and aroma.

Judging how long it takes to feel the effects of each consumption method (and how long the effects last) isn't much of a differentiating factor either. The onset time of both smoking and vaping is nearly instantaneous. And while the effects of each vary depending on the amount consumed, among other factors, both methods typically deliver psychoactive effects that last around one to three hours. 

You could use THC percentage as a metric. If so, vaping will deliver stronger effects than smoking due to the much higher THC percentages found in cannabis concentrates. But looking at THC potency alone can be misleading. Again, it comes back to the whole plant profile and all the compounds present. While THC will play a significant role in many strains, it shouldn't serve as a singular deciding factor. 

Learn more about the entourage effect and how it plays a role in a product’s effects.

Vaping vs. Smoking Weed: Which is More Cost-Efficient?

Cost efficiency of vaping vs smoking weed

Smoking seems to get the edge here due to its lower cost of entry, but it’s a close call for many consumers (and certain factors can sway your answer). 

Carts tend to start at a higher price point, no less than $15 per gram on most occasions (and up to $60 or more per gram for some products). Flower can run around $10-$20 per gram and higher in certain marketplaces. 

Also, consider the accessories and additional costs associated with each. Flower does include its other components, including rolling papers or a pipe, and a lighter. Things can get more expensive if you use a bong or enjoy spliffs (which require tobacco). You just need a battery with vape pens, which can run as low as $20 for a basic option. Likewise, vape batteries can run into the hundreds of dollars for a high end option. 

Take time to consider the amount of waste created by each method of consumption as well. Vaping often requires more disposable pieces, additional plastic waste created by child-resistant packaging laws, and “hazardous waste” as users replace carts and batteries. 

In the end, whether vaping or smoking is more cost-effective comes down to the accessories you use and the strains or concentrates you prefer.

Vaping vs Smoking Weed: Legal Status

Not all states with medical cannabis programs allow smoking and/or vaping weed. So before you plan your first trip to the dispensary with your new med card, take a moment to check your state’s medical cannabis program website (and the menus of state-licensed dispensaries).

As of June 2022, here's the legal status of cannabis smoking and vaping in the US:

Allows smoking of cannabis flower for adultsAllows vaping of cannabis flower or oilDoesn't allow medical cannabis, OR restrict products to low THC, effectively banning smoking and vaping
District of ColumbiaDistrict of ColumbiaNorth Carolina
FloridaFloridaSouth Carolina
MontanaNew Hampshire
NevadaNew Jersey
New HampshireNew Mexico
New JerseyNew York
New MexicoNorth Dakota
New YorkOhio
North DakotaOklahoma
OregonPuerto Rico
PennsylvaniaRhode Island
Puerto RicoSouth Dakota
Rhode islandU.S. Virgin Islands
South DakotaUtah
U.S. Virgin IslandsVirginia
VirginiaWest Virginia

Vaping vs Smoking Weed: Pros and Cons

The debate about whether vaping or smoking cannabis is better, healthier, and more cost effective hasn’t been settled. And every consumer should go with their personal preferences – and their doctor’s recommendations – to ensure the best experience.

With that said, here’s where we land on smoking vs. vaping:

Vaping weed vs smoking weed comparison

The information in this article and any included images or charts are for educational purposes only. This information is neither a substitute for, nor does it replace, professional legal advice or medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about laws, regulations, or your health, you should always consult with an attorney, physician or other licensed professional.

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