Although technological advances in cannabinoid delivery systems have significantly improved in recent years, smoking cannabis maintains its appeal for a large subset of the population. Whether due to traditionist impulses or the desire to maintain familiar “buzz” integrity, millions of people worldwide prefer combusting the plant - despite the inherent health risks associated with smoking.
Of course, a primary quandary of such usage are the potential adverse health affects associated with such action. Simply put, burning plant material produces toxins and carcinogens detrimental to human health (CO2, tar etc.). Although there is solid evidence that anti-carcinogenic properties of Delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), terpenes and flavonoids protect against many deleterious health effects relative to cigarettes, the fact remains that smoke inhalation exposes the human body to undesirable toxicity.
But is there a convenient and cost-effective way to mitigate such damage? Perhaps, and it’s as accessible as visiting your local health food store.
Activated Charcoal has similar properties of common charcoal, however its structural properties have been specifically adapted for medical use. Common charcoal is heated in the presence of a gas, causing it to develop an abundance of internal pores. When exposed to constituents such as smoke from combustion, these pores bind select positive-charged toxins and gas to them, preventing absorption within the body.
Due to its high degree of microporosity, 1g of activated charcoal has approximately 1000 square meters of surface area. That’s roughly equivalent to your average 5-bedroom dwelling in many cities!
While activated charcoal is versatile in alleviating minor ailments ranging from diarrhea, indigestion, flatulence and more, it’s known for its proven ability to trap vaporous chemicals. This includes many known carcinogens associated with the combustion of carbon, including: acetone, benzene, formaldehyde, isoprene and many more. However, many other harmful by-products may pass through unimpeded, including acetylene, carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide.
Although the data below relies on cigarette combustion studies, it’s been established that burning any plant-based (carbon) material – including cannabis – produces similar by-products. Thus, the science below should provide a reasonable facsimile of applicability to cannabis smoke.
Please note that many different types of compounds can bind with activated charcoal – including essential vitamins and minerals – so internal ingestion is not condoned (although efficacy has been established in low doses). The following section describes filtered administration, where activated charcoal is used as an oral intermediary.
According to 2009 non-clinical smoke analysis studies supported by U.S. tobacco conglomerate Phillip Morris USA, activated charcoal (AC) decreases the yields of smoke vapour phase constituents including those identified as human carcinogens and respiratory irritants. Furthermore, reduced yield of vapour phase irritants from AC filter cigarettes correlated with markedly decreased in vitro cytotoxicity - or the quality of being toxic to cells outside a living organism.
A subsequent co-study carried out by Akdeniz and Necmettin Erbakan universities in Turkey reiterated a more complete result. In a research report tilted Utilization Of Activated Carbon Cloth For Cigarette Smoke Filtration, the authors concluded that, “When (an activated charcoal cloth) ACC used in cigarette filter, it can protect the health of non-smokers from hazards of chemicals in cigarette smoke as well as smokers’ health.” Using a double layered ACC filter, 22 different cigarette smoke chemicals were reduced significantly or completely. In effect, an AC cloth effectively filtered out harmful substances in cigarette smoke before entering the body during smoking.
These results were corroborated by a recent study (2018) by researchers at Pennsylvania State University. It concluded that the effect of charcoal in cigarette filters significantly reduced free radicals in mainstream smoke. Decreases in radical production increased in a dose-dependent manner, with as little as 25 mg reducing pass-phase radicals by 41%.
Free radicals are a highly reactive class of oxidants abundant in cigarette smoke, which scavenge the body to pair up with other electrons. Free radicals are linked with various neuro and macular degenerative diseases, auto-immune diseases, and premature aging.
Again, JWC would like to reiterate that AC filters can absorb all types of compounds – both beneficial and detrimental. While the research indicates many harmful chemicals are removed from carbon-based smoke, desirable cannabinoid compounds could potentially be removed as well. Thus, this article strictly focuses on what is known - the alleviation of combustion-based toxicity. Whether AC-filtered cannabis smoke is ultimately a net benefit to the consumer is unknown.
The most common way to use activated charcoal to filter human inhalation is via pre-fabricated filters. Carbon is embedded into lining or throughout the filter, trapping chemicals as smoke passes through. Although the consumer market is generally geared towards cigarette smokers, the experienced cannabist could modify as needed. Take note that these filters are not cheap.
With any consumption of cannabis products by whatever method or means, the general rule is to start with a low amount, and only increase slowly. Here at JWC, we would like to remind you that determining your dosage should be based on the information provided on your medical document. Do not change your dosage without first consulting with your healthcare provider. As always, make sure that your cannabis consumables are properly labelled and stored out of reach of children and pets. When creating cannabis consumables, try to maintain the ratios between the amount of cannabis and the ingredient (such as butter or oil) which is being infused. If your cannabis ingredient is potent, consider reducing the amount used in a recipe by increasing the portion of non-infused ingredient. This caution applies for cannabis whether obtained on the recreational or the medical market, such that you should carefully monitor your use in order to determine a dosage which is predictable and appropriate for you.
The recipes and other information presented in this site are intended for entertainment and/or informational purposes only and for use by persons having appropriate technical skill, and for use by persons solely at their own discretion and risk. JWC makes no representations or warranties regarding the accuracy, reliability or completeness of the content of the articles presented on this site. It is your responsibility to determine the value and quality of any content, or recipe or other instructions provided on this site and to determine the value, if any, and the safety of the preparation and use instructions. To the extent permissible by law, JWC disclaims all warranties, express or implied, including but not limited to implied warranties of merchantability and fitness for a particular purpose and of non-infringement. JWC shall not be liable for any damages of any kind, whether indirect, incidental, special, consequential or punitive damages, or damages for loss of profits, revenue or use, incurred by the user or by any third party, even if JWC has been advised of the possibility of such damages, which arise or may arise out of your use of or reliance upon this site or the content hereof.