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Lifestyle, Research

The Health Risks You Need to Be Aware of When Smoking Blunts

Olivia Swann

by Olivia Swann

November 30, 2023 12:00 pm ET Estimated Read Time: 13 Minutes
Medically reviewed by Dr. Abraham Benavides
The Health Risks You Need to Be Aware of When Smoking Blunts

Blunts: What are they exactly, and how do they affect your body? If you’re interested in smoking blunts—or already smoke them—this guide is for you. We’ll cover everything you need to know about this popular cannabis intake method, including how they’re made, how they differ from spliffs and joints, risks of use, and alternative intake methods if you’re not sure blunts are for you.

  1. Introduction to Blunts
  2. Smoking a Blunt: What Is It?
    1. Different Methods of Rolling a Blunt
    2. Potential Risks of Smoking Blunts
  3. What About Smoking a Spliff?
  4. Is Smoking a Joint the Best Option?
  5. Does the Paper Matter?
    1. Different Types of Rolling Paper
  6. Harmful Chemicals to Avoid
  7. Alternatives to Smoking Blunts
  8. Final Takeaway

Introduction to Blunts

Every cannabis user has a preferred method of consuming the plant. Some prefer to smoke joints, while others opt for orally consumed products such as tinctures or edibles. Others favor concentrates like dabs and vape pens. There are benefits and drawbacks to every method of cannabis intake, and it’s important to find the one that’s right for you.

One of the most popular methods is smoking blunts. It is believed that following a wave of immigration from Jamaica, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic, smoking blunts became very popular in the New York area in the mid-1980s. Aside from this information, the roots of blunt smoking are difficult to pinpoint exactly—but it catches on during this time and makes its way into American rap culture. Snoop Dogg, a famous rapper and celebrity cannabis consumer, allegedly smoked his first blunt in 1993, according to popular lore.

Blunts are a particular favorite of social smokers (those who smoke occasionally in groups), and they’ve been popularized through several channels of pop culture—including famous musicians like Snoop Dogg. So what are blunts, and do they pose a higher risk to the health of the user than other forms of cannabis? If so, is it really worth the risk, and what are some alternatives to consider? Let’s explore some of these questions in more depth.

Smoking a Blunt: What Is It?

Blunts are cigars that have been modified to include cannabis, and there are a few different ways to make them. Blunt consumers purchase a cigar wrapper (“blunt wrap”) and a cigar or cigarillo (a shorter, more narrow cigar). The inner smokable tobacco is then removed by splitting the cigar open, using either fingers or a tool such as a knife or a blunt splitter to cut an even line along the length of the cigar. Finally, ground cannabis flower is inserted into the tobacco paper, rolled, and resealed to create a blunt.

Different Methods of Rolling a Blunt

When making a blunt with a more traditional cigar (e.g., Backwoods, Philly), it is necessary to first remove the outer tobacco leaf. If using a cigarillo (e.g., Swisher Sweet) then the consumer may split the blunt immediately without removing any outer layer. If using a cigar wrap (e.g., ZigZag), there is no need for any of the aforementioned steps since the wrap comes ready to roll (similarly to a joint paper but made from tobacco leaves).

After an individual successfully splits their cigar and removes the loose smokable tobacco, they may proceed to insert ground cannabis flower and reseal the blunt by tucking and rolling the paper tightly enough so that no flower falls out of either end (but not too tight so that it is unsmokable). When rolling a blunt, an individual will typically lick and seal the blunt as they roll it; the saliva works as an adhesive to seal the blunt shut.

Potential Risks of Smoking Blunts

Since tobacco is still present in the wrappings of traditional blunts, the same risks faced by cigarette smokers apply. It’s common for cannabis smokers to hold themselves apart from cigarette smokers, but it’s a mistake to do so in this instance. Before lighting up a blunt, read the warning label on the cigar that was modified to make it. Everything that is written on the cigar packaging still applies to the blunt you’re smoking, because the wrap used is a tobacco product.

According to the American Lung Association, smoking and consuming tobacco is conclusively associated with negative health effects, including but not limited to increased risk of heart disease, lung disease, stroke, several cancers, and damage to blood vessels. But the risks can actually go further for individuals smoking blunts. Tobacco smokers generally exhale right after inhaling; however, cannabis smokers hold the smoke in their lungs to allow the high to set in, exacerbating the danger of any tobacco present.

Smoking tobacco is the #1 cause of lung cancer, even with cigarette smokers tending to exhale quickly. Holding the smoke in your lungs can only increase those risks. Studies have also indicated that the amounts of nicotine present in blunts can lead to the development of an addiction—something cannabis users generally don’t need to worry about when they use cannabis-only products.

What About Smoking a Spliff?

If you find yourself confused about the difference between a blunt, spliff, and joint, you’re not alone. These three products share a lot in common, and to make matters worse, different countries might have varying ideas of what each of these terms refers to. For the sake of simplicity and clarity, we’ll discuss how these terms are defined in the U.S. We’ve already defined a blunt as a cigar that has been modified to include cannabis. So what is a spliff?

A spliff is made by mixing ground cannabis flower with loose tobacco. This mixture of cannabis and tobacco is rolled in a rolling paper (e.g., Raw, OCB, etc.). These papers, often made from non-wood fibers such as hemp, flax, or rice, typically come in packs of 32 and range from a white color to a light brown tone. From the outside, they may appear similar to a joint, but whereas a joint only contains pure cannabis flower, a spliff contains cannabis flower and tobacco.

You might be wondering: Is there anything harmful about what you’re inhaling when you light up a spliff? In short, yes, because tobacco is present. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cigarette smoking or using tobacco products harms nearly every organ of the body, causes many diseases, and reduces the health of smokers in general.

>> Learn more with our guide to choosing between spliffs and joints.

Is Smoking a Joint the Best Option?

Both blunts and spliffs contain tobacco products. A joint is made with the same kinds of rolling papers used to make a spliff. However, joints contain only cannabis flower, so there are no tobacco products present. Smoking of any kind can be harmful, especially when done in excess—but studies have shown that cannabis smoke may be less damaging to the lungs than tobacco smoke, even though they do share some similar carcinogenic compounds.

A 2005 study published in the Harm Reduction Journal reported that the two are not equally carcinogenic due to “fundamental differences in the pharmacological properties between cannabis and tobacco smoke,” meaning tobacco is much more likely to cause lung cancer than cannabis. Cannabis smoke also contains cannabinoids like THC that have demonstrated some anticancerous activity in early studies.

Does the Paper Matter?

To recap, blunts are rolled in a tobacco leaf, while spliffs and joints are both rolled in a rolling paper typically made of wood pulp, rice, or hemp. If you’re planning on rolling and sparking up a joint or spliff, you may be wondering if the type of paper matters. Let’s explore three types of rolling paper, each of which brings something different to the table (or rolling tray).

Different Types of Rolling Paper

Wood Pulp Paper

Cannabis consumers have been using wood pulp rolling papers to roll up for over a hundred years. They are generally thicker than newer types of papers and come in bleached (white) or unbleached (brown). These papers are very thick and texturized due to the fact that wood pulp is quite solid. These attributes make these papers great for beginners because they tend to hold their shape well. They also aren’t heavily affected by moisture levels (e.g., humidity, sweaty hands, etc.) and have a medium burn rate.

Rice Paper

Rice rolling papers are thinner than both hemp and wood pulp papers, which is a great thing for your lungs but may require more effort when rolling. Due to their thinness and smooth texture, rice rolling papers don’t grip well when rolling and are vulnerable to humidity, rain, etc. Though rice rolling papers are thin, they burn slowly. They are the best papers for your health but probably aren’t best for beginner rollers.

Hemp Paper

Hemp papers, like wood pulp papers, are thicker and rougher than rice ones, which helps them provide a good grip when rolling. They are good for the environment since they save trees, but are not necessarily better for your health than rice papers despite being naturally derived. If you’re looking for the healthiest option of hemp papers, try and find hemp rolling papers that are free of any harmful additives. They have a medium burn rate and therefore go out less often than rice papers.

Palm Leaves

Palm leaves have gained popularity recently as a healthy alternative to blunt wraps. These all-natural wraps—made from Cordia palm leaves—are free of tobacco, chemicals, glue, and artificial flavoring. They are softer than wood pulp papers and burn slowly and smoothly, producing thick clouds. Many of them come as pre-rolled cones that a user can simply fill, making them perfect for beginners or users who want to avoid the messy rolling process.

>> Learn more about choosing the best rolling paper alternatives for your needs.

Harmful Chemicals to Avoid

Although cannabis itself has not been found to have seriously harmful properties, there are downsides to smoking it. A 2008 study found that cannabis smokers absorb five times as much carbon monoxide—a dangerous gas—as tobacco smokers. Once in your lungs, it’s transferred to your bloodstream. Carbon monoxide decreases the amount of oxygen that is carried in the red blood cells and has a negative impact on lung health. There is also three times more tar inhaled from cannabis smoke versus cigarettes.

Smoking or inhaling cannabis, as with inhaling any type of smoke, creates additional free radicals that also carry unclear risks, such as chronic bronchitis, and may increase the short-term risk of adverse cardiovascular events, according to the American Lung Association and the Journal of Thoracic Disease. Low-grade research analyzed in a 2019 review may link smoking cannabis to testicular cancer, but overall, the link between cannabis and cancers is unclear.

There are also some harmful chemicals that users could avoid by not smoking blunts or spliffs due to their tobacco content. Chemicals such as toxic gasses, reactive oxygen species, and polycyclic aromatic compounds pose a risk to the respiratory system and other parts of the body. Nitrosamines, for example, which are present in tobacco smoke, are dangerous carcinogens that may produce cancer in various organs and tissues, including the lungs, brain, liver, kidney, bladder, stomach, esophagus, and nasal sinus.

Finally, it should be noted that pesticides and heavy metals detrimental to humans have been found in both blunt wraps and rolling papers. Science of Cannabis Laboratories Inc. (SC Labs) conducted an analysis of 118 rolling paper products in 2020, finding that 90% contained at least one heavy metal such as lead, while 16% had detectable levels of pesticides such as chlorpyrifos. To be on the safe side, consider purchasing organic wraps and papers grown in the U.S.

Alternatives to Smoking Blunts

Want the pleasure of a smoking circle without the tobacco risks of a blunt? Consider using a pipe, or bong, all of which will last a considerable amount of time and can be shared. But be sure to use a barrier method, because sharing does spread germs. Joints are great if you’re looking to enjoy a relaxing smoke on your own. Health-conscious cannabis users prefer joints to blunts because of the lack of tobacco. By rolling (or purchasing) a joint, you can get relatively clean smoke.

Vaporization is an even more efficient and healthier THC delivery method than smoking. There is no smoke involved and very little tar generated. Advanced vaporizers can yield a 9:1 cannabinoid-to-tar ratio. There is also a lower risk of accidental burns or fires. This method is better for people with sensitive breathing or respiratory issues. Although no smoking or vaporization is 100% risk-free, you’ll certainly be a lot better off leaving tobacco out of it.

Looking for an even healthier option? Turn to edibles or tinctures and protect your lungs entirely from inhalation risks or irritation. Edibles have a lot of benefits, including longer-lasting effects and no risk to your lungs due to the lack of hot smoke. They are also discrete, odor-free, and often delicious. Edible options range from sublingual tinctures to baked goods to gummies and drinks, so there’s something for everyone.

If you’re interested in benefiting from cannabis but would like to nix THC altogether, it might be time to consider using cannabidiol (CBD) instead. CBD is a cannabinoid like THC, yet it lacks THC’s intoxicating effects and contains many of the same (and additional) health benefits. CBD products most often come in the form of tinctures and edibles. To learn more about this cannabinoid, check out our complete guide to CBD.

Final Takeaway

Now you know the good and the bad about blunts, joints, and spliffs. The methods of consuming cannabis are extensive and varied, and there are pros and cons to each form of consumption. If you’re looking for the healthiest option, you’ll want to stay away from smoking or vaping entirely. If you’re looking for a relatively clean smoke, vapes, joints, or pipes are the way to go.

To get access to higher-potency cannabis—especially if you are using cannabis medicinally—consider talking to a medical marijuana doctor about obtaining your MMJ card. These professionals can answer any questions you have and help you find a consumption method that fits your lifestyle and needs.

Note: The content on this page is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be professional medical advice. Do not attempt to self-diagnose or prescribe treatment based on the information provided. Always consult a physician before making any decision on the treatment of a medical condition.

This blog post was originally written by Kat Helgeson and published on 12/11/19. Updated 11/30/2023. 

Post Your Comments

Christina Meadows says:

March 28, 2022 at 6:28 am

I truly appreciate this article. It was very informative and answered several of my questions. Thank you so much. I think I’m going to change the way I do things just a little bit. Thanks again

Cesar Ruiz says:

June 17, 2022 at 1:13 am

Well written


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