Vaping and Smoking What's the Difference?

Liz Filmer
27 Sep 2023

Vaping and smoking involve applying high temperatures to a material to cause it to be inhaled. The difference between vaping and smoking is the temperature. At relatively low temperatures, molecules vaporise–changing from solid or liquid to aerosol. If things are hot enough, combustion occurs. This causes the same molecules to evaporate and convert into other items, for example the transformation of  THCA into THC. However It can also degrade them and form harmful byproducts.

The vaporisation temperature for THC is different for dried flowers compared to concentrated oil. It will also vary somewhat between different types of concentrates. Generally, the temperature needed to vaporise THC and other cannabinoids in flowers is roughly 200C  (392F). 

So, will the cannabis experience be different if you smoke the same amount of the same product instead of vaporising at lower temperatures, using very high temperatures where combustion occurs? 

Yes, it will; the smoke from the combusted material contains particles of a different size than vapour, which affects their ability to be absorbed in the lungs. In addition, much of the smoke and THC within it will be lost to the environment, as when you cough or exhale a cloud of smoke, THC is lost. The smoke will also contain less THC because some will degrade into other substances you inhale. Overall, vaporisers are a more efficient way to deliver THC to the body than smoking.

The critical difference between cannabis smoke and vapour is that smoke generally has higher levels of carbon monoxide, which “outcompetes” oxygen for access to red blood cells. This leads to mild hypoxia, where less oxygen is delivered to tissues in the body.

The make-up of tobacco smoke has been well studied, and over 90 harmful and potentially harmful substances have been identified. This includes things like carcinogens and explains why tobacco smoking carries an increased cancer risk. Although nicotine is the psychoactive and main addictive component of tobacco smoke, it is the harmful byproduct of burned plant material responsible for its carcinogenicity. 

The flavour will also differ between vaping and smoking. Much of the taste of cannabis comes from terpenes, which vaporise at lower temperatures than cannabinoids. For this reason, the ratio of terpenes to cannabinoids will change across a range of temperatures. Lower temperatures encourage a higher terpene-to-cannabinoid ratio and, therefore, more “terp flavour.”. 

Additionally, there are also physical differences between vapour and smoke that concern lung health. Smoke is hotter and denser than vapour, which can be more irritating and physically damaging to our lungs. This is true as long as the vaporised product you are using is approved and does not contain any additional harmful additives, which can be expected in black-market concentrates, vapes and oils.

More on this topic from Soft Secrets:

The Pros and Cons of Smoking

Is Vaping Safe?

Vaping gets you higher than Smoking

Liz Filmer