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Is Secondhand Cannabis Smoke Harmful?

  • Very few studies have explored the effects of secondhand cannabis smoke, so we don’t know the full impact. However, we do know that inhaling smoke from burning any plant matter has adverse health effects.
  • If you rely on cannabis for pain and symptom relief, you can take steps to minimize housemates’ secondhand smoke exposure, or you can opt for effective, smoke-free cannabis alternatives.
  • Secondhand cannabis smoke shares many unfortunate similarities with secondhand tobacco smoke. Both release carcinogens and other fine particulates into the air.

People have been smoking plants for centuries—from tobacco to medicinal herbs like lavender and cannabis.

Despite smoking’s long history, experts generally agree that the chemicals released and inhaled from burning plant material of any kind cause adverse health effects. This includes smoke from wildfires.

The same risks apply to secondhand smoke.

Researchers have extensively studied the detrimental impact of secondhand tobacco smoke, but few studies have explored that of secondhand cannabis smoke.

Learn more about the potential harm cannabis smoke poses and how you can minimize or eliminate these risks without sacrificing your access to natural and holistic pain relief.

What is Secondhand Cannabis Smoke?

Smoking is one of the most popular cannabis administration methods. Burning cannabis releases its cannabinoids and other healing compounds, and inhaling these is one way to introduce them to the body and experience their effects.

Cannabis smoke is often referred to in two ways:

  • Mainstream smoke – The smoke you inhale and exhale
  • Sidestream smoke – The excess smoke that’s released from the smoking vessel (joint, blunt, bong, etc.)

Secondhand cannabis smoke includes both the mainstream smoke you exhale and the sidestream smoke that escapes into the air. It can be unintentionally inhaled by anyone in your vicinity, including family members, guests, and even pets.

It’s also the main feature of “hotboxing,” which is when several cannabis smokers intentionally enclose themselves in a small space (like a bathroom or parked car) to inhale mainstream, sidestream, and secondhand cannabis smoke, strengthening cannabis’ effects.

While cannabis smoke has been far less studied than other types of smoke, like tobacco smoke, many believe that it can be harmful to both intentional and unintentional inhalers.

Burning any type of plant will inevitably release chemicals that impact your health and the health of non-smokers around you. But how does secondhand cannabis smoke compare to other types of smoke and vapor?

Cannabis Smoke vs. Tobacco Smoke

The smoke generated by burning cannabis and tobacco share several similarities, though researchers haven’t extensively compared the potential common health risks.

Both secondhand cannabis smoke and secondhand tobacco smoke contain:

  • Carcinogens (cancer-causing chemicals) – Tobacco smoke has about 70 different carcinogens, and cannabis smoke shares at least 50 of them.
  • Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) – It’s believed that inhaling these chemicals increases your risk of lung damage, cardiovascular diseases, and certain cancers. In cannabis smoke, PAH levels are higher in sidestream smoke and lower in mainstream smoke.

Because of these commonalities, some people are quick to claim that both tobacco and cannabis smoke pose the same health concerns, but there simply isn’t enough evidence to support this yet.

Cannabis Smoke vs. Cannabis Vapor

Smoking and vaping are two distinct processes. Smoking requires you to burn cannabis to create inhalable smoke. In contrast, vaping involves merely heating the cannabis to produce cannabinoid-infused vapor.

Both cannabis vapor and cannabis smoke share many similarities. That said, when it comes to cannabis vapor, depending on the source, it may contain:

  • Heavy metals, which can be released from the heating coils in vape pens
  • Added flavors, which can contain lung-damaging fluids

Vaping cannabis may seem like a safer alternative to smoking it, both for yourself and non-smokers around you, but both pose similar health risks. Some believe that vaping may even be worse; again, there’s limited evidence to confirm this theory.

The Impacts of Secondhand Cannabis Smoke

Because cannabis smoke is extremely understudied, no one truly knows the full effects of inhaling secondhand cannabis smoke.

Some people believe that secondhand cannabis smoke can give non-smokers a “contact high.” While some secondhand smoke inhalers had small amounts of THC show up in research studies, these studies examined “extreme,” poorly ventilated, and high exposure conditions.

How to Minimize Secondhand Cannabis Smoke

Odds are, if you live with non-smoking family members, roommates, or pets, they’ve been affected by your secondhand cannabis smoke. It’s difficult to fully contain smoke once it’s entered the air.

There’s always a trade-off when using any type of medication. For some people who rely on cannabis for pain and symptom relief and improved quality of life, quitting is not an option. Instead, you can take preventative measures to support yourself and those around you.

To limit the amount of cannabis smoke the other members of your home are exposed to, consider these tips:

  • Smoke privately – The easiest way to reduce secondhand cannabis smoke exposure? Don’t smoke around non-smokers. Opt for a private room away from common spaces. Secondhand smoke can linger for hours after a smoke session, so avoid smoking anywhere a non-smoker might enter.
  • Ventilate your smoking area – Ideally, you would smoke outside where secondhand smoke can dissipate completely. But if you don’t have access to an outdoor smoking space, ventilate your area by opening windows or turning on fans.
  • Don’t smoke every day – The more you can minimize the amount of secondhand cannabis smoke you create, the better. Avoiding daily smoking will also benefit your cannabis tolerance, which will in turn allow you to smoke less to feel its effects.
  • Use smoke-free cannabis products – The only way to ensure that you and those around you aren’t exposed to secondhand cannabis smoke is to quit smoking. That doesn’t mean you have to quit using cannabis, though. The unique (and fortunate) aspect of cannabis is that you can consume it in a variety of ways other than smoking. Learn more about your alternative options below.

A Guide to Smoke-Free Cannabis Products

One of the main advantages of smoking cannabis is that it enters your system faster than other methods, like ingestion or topical application. For patients who need fast and effective relief, smoking seems like the ideal option.

But if you’re concerned about the harmful health impacts of first- and secondhand cannabis smoke, consider going smoke-free.

Here’s a breakdown of the most common smoke-free cannabis alternatives and how they interact with your body:

  • Edibles – Cannabis oil can be incorporated into almost any food for a euphoric high and calming pain relief. While edibles take longer to kick in (anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours) they’re often more potent than other forms. Try cannabis gummies, candies, baked goods, and more. You can also take cannabis capsules if you want to skip the sweet treat.
  • Tinctures – Cannabis tinctures are concentrated, alcohol-based cannabis extracts. You can mix them into drinks, but you can also take them sublingually (under your tongue) to feel their effects faster (within 10 to 60 minutes). Other sublingual products include mints and lozenges.
  • Topicals – Topical lotions, creams, and salves work best for treating localized pain, particularly for those living with arthritis or other physical aches. Once you’ve applied them, they’ll absorb into your skin and begin soothing. They won’t reach your bloodstream, though, so they won’t produce any psychoactive effects (especially because most topical products are CBD-based).

Try different products to discover your favorite, or speak to a medical marijuana doctor for individualized suggestions.

Explore All Your Medical Cannabis Options with TeleLeaf

Currently, not enough is known about the harm that secondhand cannabis smoke causes to definitively support or condemn smoking cannabis. The real world experiences of medical marijuana patients, however, prove that cannabis itself offers vast therapeutic benefits for an array of different conditions.

For a convenient and personalized medical marijuana recommendation experience, choose TeleLeaf.

During your telehealth appointment, one of our understanding and highly qualified marijuana doctors will assess your medical card qualification and offer a recommendation that same day. Our doctors (and pharmacists, if you live in Louisiana) can then advise you on the best products and dosages to meet your unique needs. If smoking isn’t an option for you, let us help you find the perfect solution.

Schedule your virtual appointment today to start your holistic healing journey off right.


Tobacco Free Life. Marijuana Smoke vs. Tobacco: Which is More Dangerous?

World Health Organization. Human health effects of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons as ambient air pollutants.

Verywell Health. Is Vaping Marijuana Safe?

Verywell Health. Secondhand Marijuana Smoke: Risks and Drug Testing.

American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation. Marijuana Smoke Fact Sheet.

Cresco Labs. Consumption Methods.

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