As part of a series on Harm Reduction we take a look at the relationship between cannabis and tobacco use in Britain and how the culture of mixing the two has lead to some strange beliefs about cannabis alone.
Throughout the UK and Europe the tradition of smoking cannabis has coincided and become almost synonymous with tobacco. For the last 50 years or so, rolling a spliff has involved rolling a large cone shaped cigarette with a sprinkle of cannabis laced through it, usually without the aid of a cotton filter opting for a hollow “roach” of rolled cardboard. Only within the last five or so years has it become much more common within cannabis smoking groups to roll pure much more akin to the way the US cannabis culture rolls up.
I’ve seen first hand how smoking cannabis with tobacco changes the way people smoke. Invariably, just an hour or so after a spliff, you’ll find you want another. That’s not because you’re craving cannabis, but your body is craving the dopamine kick you received from the tobacco in the last one you smoked. This behavior leads to a sedentary pattern of smoking spliff after spliff with increasing amounts of tobacco and ever decreasing amounts of cannabis in each one to satiate the nicotine addiction that’s been unwittingly established.
I personally found that when I switched to smoking pure, a joint wouldn’t offer the same instant satisfaction I got from a spliff, it would take a few minutes for the cannabis to kick in, but once it did, I would be stoned for several hours and wouldn’t need to top up so frequently.
It’s a misnomer to say that smoking pure is more expensive these days. Excellent vaporisers can be purchased for less than the cost of an ounce, and glass pipes can be purchased for less than the cost of a gram. Dabbing and concentrates have brought new levels of efficiency to consumption, and edibles becoming more widely available has been a blessing for those who can’t openly consume their cannabinoids. Combine that with the fact that tax on tobacco is at an all time high, and the cost argument really doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.
However, there are much more significant reasons to cut the tobacco out of your spliffs than just your bank balance. I think everyone knows that there’s an unequivocal correlation between tobacco and cancer these days. It’s pretty hard to avoid that truth with the graphic images on cigarette and tobacco packaging, but it’s something people don’t necessarily think about all that often.
I know for a long time, I didn’t really consider myself a tobacco smoker, but I was smoking several spliffs a night, and I was consuming just as much tobacco as someone that smokes a few rollies throughout the day. Somehow, you put yourself in this state of mind where adding a sprinkle of cannabis to your hand rolled, cardboard filtered, extra long cigarette means you’re not smoking tobacco any more, now you’re smoking cannabis. Of course this is far from the truth, and all you’re doing is establishing that tobacco addiction we talked about in the first paragraph.
Leading on from this, many people will find 2 weeks down the road, without warning, they’re ready to pick up a pack of Marlboro Reds. For no good reason (after all, they’ve been smoking cannabis, and cultivating that mindset where the tobacco in a spliff doesn’t count) they’ve now taken to smoking tobacco on its own. I’ve friends that have become full time pack-a-day smokers from nothing more than the tobacco they first smoked when under the illusion that mixing cannabis and tobacco was the only way to consume it.
So by adding tobacco, not only do you turn an almost harmless activity into a highly addictive one, which has a 50% chance of being responsible for your death if you carry on with it until you die, but you are also undoing any of the health benefits you might be receiving by including all those tobacco tars and carcinogens with your increased dose of cannabinoids.
It’s very well documented that cannabis (specifically THC, Oh, here’s another study, and here’s one more, and one last one just to drive the point home, okay one more – there’s SO many of these I could keep going all day, Yes, here’s one more – have you ever googled THC apoptosis?! … Okay, at this point I’m just building my word count) shows an incredible efficacy for killing cancer cells whilst leaving healthy cells unharmed. Now, the doses required for fighting cancer are very large, so you’re not going to stave off cancer with a joint or two – recommended doses for cancer patients are upwards of a gram of high strength cannabis oil every day. The point I’m making here is it doesn’t matter how much cannabis you smoke, if you’re smoking tobacco with it, you’re still significantly increasing your risk of cancer.
Then there is the argument about psychosis with cannabis in Britain…something the American cannabis movement find fascinating as it;s not something their press report on…this study suggests that tobacco has a factor to play in psychosis, could we be blaming the wrong plant?
This health dichotomy doesn’t stop here though. Tobacco smoke is known to induce bronchoconstriction, meaning it tightens the airways in the lungs, makes you cough and wheeze, and pulls tars down deeper into your lungs. Smoking tobacco is literally one of the worst things anyone with respiratory illnesses/asthma can do for their condition. Cannabis is quite the opposite though. THC is a bronchodilator, meaning it opens up those airways, decreases resistance, increases airflow to the lungs, and often helps shift the tar left in the lungs from tobacco. Most of my tobacco smoking friends will cough and cough after a dab, only to find their lungs and chest feel cleaner and healthier, and breathing is easier after they’ve recovered from the expansive feeling in their chests.
With more time, wider acceptance and better education, we will likely see the number of users mixing cannabis with tobacco decline, but in the meantime, why not grab a glass spoon pipe from your local headshop instead of a pouch of GV? Or press your flowers into rosin and dab it? Or treat yourself, and roll a pure one? Just try a week without tobacco. If you can’t do it, or make excuses and don’t do it, perhaps you need to consider the nature of your relationship with tobacco.
If you really want to take a look into the cultural difference on cannabis in the UK and some US states that have legalised take 45 minutes to watch North West Trees, a documentary that looks at how legal recreational cannabis in Washington and Oregon has made it more difficult for teenagers to get hold of cannabis, oh the woes of legalisation. However, there has been a huge negative impact cause by the ripple of regulation. Not wanting to give up hitting the bong teens who now find cannabis too expensive are cutting it with tobacco for the first time. While cannabis prohibition may have ended for adults, it just got more dangerous for teens. Could we reflect this upon our own society and use it to understand the culture of belief some spliff smokers (not tobacco smokers) have about their own use? A study would be useful.
While we fully agree with you, that it is totally your fundamental human right to put whatever you like into your body – however, our inbox receives e-mails daily from people who have been diagnosed with cancer, many lung cancer, some now at stage 4 (irreversible) looking for hope in cannabis. The majority with lung cancer have spent their lives smoking tobacco products. If we can help people within our community from reaching this stage by changing their cannabis consuming habits, we will.
Please leave your comments below, we would love to hear about your experience.
By Lloyd Eggs