Smoking Cannabis or Cigarettes: Is One Better Than The Other?

Lit Cigarette Resting on a Ledge

Proponents of cannabis use tend to think that because cannabis is thought to be less harmful than cigarettes, there are no health risks. However, as is the case with any substance, it is best to know all pertinent risks before engaging with the substance. This article will compare and contrast the effects of smoking cigarettes and cannabis so that you can best be informed about your future smoking decisions. 

Key Takeaways

  • Smoking both tobacco and cannabis products can have negative health effects and risks, although it has been found that cannabis is less harmful 
  • It has been found that cannabis is less addictive than tobacco, although you can still form a dependency on cannabis. 
  • Smoking plant matter of any kind will result in the consumption of chemicals, so it is best to know the risks before partaking. 

Risks of Smoking Cigarettes/Tobacco

Cigarette smoke contains over 7,000 toxins, among which at least 7- are known to cause cancer. Smoking cigarettes is the leading cause of lung cancer deaths in the United States. Cigarettes are extremely addictive and 94% of current smokers in the United States started smoking before the age of 21. 

Smoking cigarettes can lead to the following long-term conditions:

  • A Variety of Cancers – Throat, Mouth, and Lung
  • Heart Disease
  • Higher Chance of Stroke
  • Diabetes
  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)*

*For our purposes, this article primarily refers to tobacco consumed via cigarettes, but many of these effects can also occur with the use of other smoked tobacco, such as cigars, cigarillos, etc.*

Man Lighting a Joint

Photo by GRAS GRÜN on Unsplash

Risks of Smoking Cannabis/Marijuana

It is tricky to gauge all the exact risks of smoking cannabis because there are so many ways to consume it. The effects on a user’s body will be different based on whether they use a joint, an e-vaporizer, or ingest it via edibles. In this article, we will focus on the effects of cannabis on the lungs when cannabis is smoked or inhaled. 

Smoke is harmful to our lungs, no matter its source. While cannabis smoke is nowhere near as harmful as cigarette smoke, there are still some carcinogens that can be found in cannabis smoke, thus making it harmful and potentially doing long-term damage to lung tissue. Additionally, while this topic is still being researched, secondhand smoke from cannabis products can be harmful to others in the area where it is being smoked. 

Heavy use of cannabis and increased smoke inhalation can cause certain long-term effects:

  • Chronic Cough
  • Bronchitis
  • Injury to Lung Tissue and Airways 
  • Weakened Immune System

Is Smoking Cannabis Better than Cigarettes?

While there are many similarities between the two, there is evidence to suggest that cannabis is the least harmful of the two substances. It is important to consider any health risks and seek advice from a medical professional if you have questions about your risks in engaging in either of these activities. 


Harmful Chemical Levels

Cannabis and cigarette smoke both contain polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, but their concentrations differ by smoke type. The composition also includes a mix of other chemicals, with certain levels being higher in cannabis smoke and some in cigarette smoke. Importantly, cannabis smoke shares at least 50 carcinogens commonly found in cigarette smoke.

Ultimately, burning plant matter releases numerous harmful chemicals, no matter the source. Even cigarettes containing no tobacco have harmful tars and carcinogens. So, smoking can be harmful even before we discuss all of the manmade chemicals and additives that are introduced to smoking products. While there are differences between the smoke from cannabis and cigarettes, fundamentally, they share many harmful characteristics.

Secondhand Smoking

Secondhand smoke from both of these substances is also harmful to those around you. There is no “safe” level of exposure to secondhand smoke; any chemicals and particles you inhale and exhale can then be inhaled by anyone around you. Young children or the elderly’s lungs can be particularly sensitive to smoke particles, and even secondhand smoke can damage anyone nearby. 

There are two types of smoke to think about when thinking about inhaling second-hand hydrocarbons:

  • Mainstream Smoke – This is the smoke that is exhaled by a smoker. This type of smoke is more harmful in cigarettes than in cannabis products. 
  • Sidestream Smoke – This is the smoke that emanates from the end of a lit cigarette, joint, etc. This type of smoke contains more hydrocarbons in cannabis than in cigarettes.


Long Term Effects

Studies and research regarding the long-term effects of cannabis are much less established than that of cigarettes. However, that does not mean cannabis is free from risk. While some studies link daily o near-daily cannabis use to some cancers, some other studies show no link to relevant cancers that cigarettes are linked with. It’s best to be wary while research is still being done on long-term effects. 

Many topics relating to cannabis such as cancer risk and addiction percentages are still vastly understudied, so keep this in mind when conducting research of your own. The risks of cigarettes and tobacco have been studied for over fifteen years, while cannabis’s new growth in the market and recent recriminations mean that peer-reviewed studies are still lacking. 


One benefit of cannabis is that it is much less addictive than cigarettes. Cigarettes, chewing cigarettes, and vapes contain nicotine and other extremely addictive substances and chemicals, while cannabis does not contain chemicals with the sole purpose of being addictive. 

Studies show that those who smoke cigarettes and cannabis concurrently are over 73% more likely to form a long-term addiction to cigarettes than to cannabis. While cannabis and tobacco interact with the same pathways that form addiction mechanisms in the brain, the connection formed by compounds in tobacco is much stronger.

It has also been found that those who smoke cigarettes and cannabis concurrently are about 30% more likely to form a mild to severe cannabis dependence versus those who only smoke cannabis on their own. 

Smoke Hanging in the Air Against a Black Background

Photo by Damon Lam on Unsplash

Making the Switch: Go Smoke-Free 


The bottom line is that there is no safe way to smoke cigarettes, and your best option is quitting. Nicotine patches and gum provide a smoke-free way to reduce your cigarette intake while easing off of the chemicals that cigarettes contain. 


There is even more hope for those concerned about smoking cannabis, especially those who use cannabis for its potential medical purposes. Making the switch to gummies or other edibles alleviates many of the risks above because there is no smoke inhalation involved. 

Many gummies on the market are offered in a large range of dosages, from 1mg up to over 1,000 mg. This means that no matter why you are using cannabis, there is an alternative that will work for your lifestyle. 

You can also incorporate THC and other cannabinoid oils and tinctures into your own baked goods and cooking, to add psychoactive and therapeutic properties to all of your favorite dishes. 

**(Disclaimer reminder: This article is not medical advice. It is based on anecdotal user experience alone. If you are thinking about incorporating cannabis (delta-8 THC, delta-9 THC, CBD, etc) into your medicinal routine, please consult a healthcare professional. Do not stop taking any prescribed medications without first consulting your doctor.)

Disclaimer: This article was written in March 2024 and reflects the current laws of the United States at that time. Because cannabis laws in the United States laws are subject to change at any time, please make sure that you are always staying up to date on your federal, state, and local county’s cannabis laws. Additionally, we are NOT encouraging anyone to break the law––we are simply showing people ways to legally and discreetly bring their cannabis products along with them on their travels so that they may have access to those products when they reach their intended destination.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *