Is Vaping Pot More Powerful Than Smoking It?

By Paul Gaita 12/05/18

Researchers explored whether vaping marijuana produced a stronger high than smoking it in a recent study.

man deciding if a marijuana vape pen is stronger than smoking a marijuana joint

Researchers have published a new study that suggests inhaling vaporized marijuana will result in a stronger high than smoking it. Their conclusion was drawn from six, eight-and-a-half-hour double-blind sessions in which participants consumed marijuana, via smoking or vaping, in one of three possible dosages – between 0 and 25 mg of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis – and then reported their reactions while scientists conducted physical and cognitive tests.

The results suggested that vaping produced more significant physical and mental effects, as well as higher blood concentrations of THC, than the same doses ingested via smoking.

The study, conducted by scientists at the Johns Hopkins Pharmacology Research Unit in Baltimore, Maryland, utilized 17 healthy adult participants – eight women and nine men - all of whom had smoked marijuana at least once in the previous year but not in the 30 days before the first day of the study.

Over the course of the six outpatient sessions, each lasting 8.5 hours and conducted between June 2016 and January 2017, patients smoked or vaped a dose of marijuana containing either 0, 10 or 25 milligrams of THC.

Dosage order was randomized within each session, and while each participant smoked or vaped all three possible dosages over the course of the six sessions, they were unaware of how much THC they were consuming during each test.

After ingesting a dose, participants then filled out a drug-impairment questionnaire and underwent physical and cognitive tests, including heart rate and blood pressure; they were also asked to complete tasks on a computer, such as simple addition and replicating shapes on a screen. 

What the researchers found was that vaping marijuana resulted in more significant impairment than marijuana ingested via smoking. Both the high and low doses produced greater concentrations of THC in the test subjects' blood and at least twice as many errors on the cognitive tests. 

Vaping and smoking did produce similar results in regard to the highest dosage – two participants reportedly vomited after ingesting the 25mg dosage, and one experienced hallucinations – and both methods produced side effects commonly associated with cannabis use, including dry mouth, increased hunger and feelings of paranoia, though participants who vaped reported greater levels of these effects than those who smoked.

Most significantly, the researchers also noted that the dosage with the highest level of THC – 25mg of THC, or 13.4%  — was "substantially smaller and has a lower THC concentration that what is typically contained in pre-rolled cannabis cigarettes available for purchase in cannabis dispensaries." According to the study, these typically contain THC concentrations that exceed 18%.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.