For years, cannabis and tobacco have been indelibly linked thanks to their shared common method of intake: smoking. Nowadays, there are alternative choices of intake for both substances. Edibles, topicals, and vaporizers are becoming increasingly popular cannabis intake methods, and snuff or chewing tobacco have been widely available for years. Vaping nicotine oil is also increasingly common.

But what about both?

It has long been known cigarette smoke – the most popular vessel of tobacco intake – is detrimental to the respiratory system, digestive system, and esophagus; so mixing cannabis and tobacco will not garner the same health benefits as the intake of cannabis alone.

In many cultures, especially in the Oceana, Asian, and European regions, the mixing of cannabis and tobacco is extremely common. Cannabis flower is exceedingly expensive in these regions, so ‘spinning’ or ‘mixing’ saves users financially by cutting the cannabis with cigarette tobacco. The trade-off is a far more detrimental toke, a harsher smoke entering the lungs, and an all-around completely different high. Tobacco is also highly addictive and can create a hard to kick habit.

Tainting Trees

Currently, 25 US states have some form of legalized cannabis program, either recreational or medical. While public, recreational use has only been legalized in five of these states, the prevalence of marijuana in the United States is at an all-time high. Pun not intended.

While public acceptance of marijuana has increased worldwide, Asian/Oceanic and European regions have seen only a little change in its legality at the legislative level compared to the USA namely Australia and parts of Europe. This could partially be explained by the relaxed attitude towards cannabis, marijuana, and hash previously shared by these regions for many years. Law enforcement officials and public alike share a lax attitude towards marijuana use in some of these regions. Without the increased access to cannabis, and furthermore its legality (which eliminates black market pricing), the demand for the supply is still very high, leading to continued high cost for cannabis.

The cost of cannabis in some countries means mixing it with tobacco is the most cost effective way of smoking.

Common in Australia and England, adding ‘spin’ or tobacco to a marijuana joint, is an attempt in offsetting the high price of weed by cutting it with tobacco. Both cannabis and tobacco are ground simultaneously, and added to a joint — now a spliff — or bowl. Smoking tobacco with marijuana dilutes the cannabis concentration, allowing for longer bouts of cannabis use from the same pickup.

But is the price of cannabis that much greater than the known negative effects of tobacco? Most Australians and Europeans would still say, ‘Yes’. ($80+ for an eighth will do that.)

Physical Effects

In a 2015 study published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence, scientists showed the tobacco/cannabis combination commonly achieved while smoking blunts showed and increased chance of cannabis use disorders as well as detrimental physical effects¹.

cannabis and tobacco
Blunt smokers show a higher rate of detrimental respiratory effects when combining cannabis and tobacco together.

Blunt smokers were shown to have a harder time quitting cannabis than those that only smoked cannabis via non-blunt-related methods due to the associated simultaneous tobacco and nicotine intake of the blunt wrap.

Additionally, cigarette smoke has been shown to acutely increase heart rate, leading to increased instance of heart disease and stroke in longtime tobacco smokers. Conversely, cannabis has shown no increase in the instance of future heart disease, despite also acutely increasing heart rate immediately after inhalation. Cannabis with tobacco users receive a double whammy increase to their heart rate directly after smoking a ‘spun’ combination joint, or a ‘spliff’. This could be too extreme of a heart rate change for some users, leading to a possible increase in acute heart incidents.

Cannabis users who add tobacco to their joints may feel shaky, nervous, or nauseous due to the quick spike in heart rate. In most cases, the point of cannabis use is for relaxation, pain relief, or cognitive enhancement. Simultaneous tobacco use blocks the relaxation and pain relief pathways, leading to a much more energetic high initially, but also a far less effective one over time.

The Inverse Rule

While cannabis users who also smoke tobacco typically see far more detrimental effects than those using cannabis alone, tobacco users who begin using cannabis may see an important positive result. According to a study published this week in The American Journal of Addictions, marijuana does not affect the ability to quit smoking tobacco². In other words, tobacco users looking for a ‘safer alternative’ to smoking cigarettes without quitting smoking altogether have an equally likely chance of quitting smoking cigarettes than those who attempt to quit cold turkey.

References

1. Cannabis problem experiences among users of the tobacco–cannabis combination known as blunts . (2016). Sciencedirect.com. Retrieved 3 June 2016, from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0376871615000988)

2. Rabin, R., Ashare, R., Schnoll, R., Cinciripini, P., Hawk, L., & Lerman, C. et al. (2016). Does cannabis use moderate smoking cessation outcomes in treatment-seeking tobacco smokers? Analysis from a large multi-center trial.The American Journal On Addictions,25(4), 291-296. doi:10.1111/ajad.12382)