A 2022 survey in the USA caused news headlines with its findings that more people in the USA now smoke cannabis than tobacco. So does this survey suggest that weed is now super popular and that cigarettes are not popular, or does it suggest the increasing use of cannabis as a tobacco substitute?
It’s certainly a turnaround, considering that in 1963 Americans smoked so much tobacco that it averaged out to half a pack a pack of cigarettes for each adult a day.
Does new poll suggest cannabis as a tobacco substitute
Manuscripts describing Christopher Columbus’s journey of discovery to the Americas record the first time that Europeans came into contact with tobacco.
In the account of Bartolomé de Las Casas, the indigenous people he and his men encountered ‘took certain herbs to take their smokes…
… They lit at one end and at the other chew or suck or take it in with their breath that smoke which dulls their flesh as it were intoxicates and so they say they do not feel weariness.’
The description of smoking tobacco describes an almost spiritual experience that is similar to a cannabis strain description describing an energetic sativa strain!
The USA Gallup poll that made More Americans Smoke Marijuana than Cigarettes headlines said that 16% of those polled said they smoked marijuana compared to 12% who had smoked a cigarette in the past week. So does this suggest the popularity of cannabis as a tobacco substitute or say something about the specific dynamics of the USA in relation to tobacco and weed consumption?
Different cultures of smoking tobacco and weed
Before we take a closer look, we should consider how tobacco and cannabis is used in different cultures, to understand the USA dynamic. Europe, North Africa and regions of the Indian subcontinent have a tradition of mixing tobacco with cannabis.
The reason for this is that for many years, hash (hashish) was the main form of getting stoned. Unlike a gram of weed, a gram of hash is very small and concentrated.and to smoke it in a spliff requires burning and crumbling the hash to add to a layer of tobacco.
Yes, you could smoke it in a pipe or bong, but sharing joints was an important sociable counter cultural norm and sharing a spliff was a bonding experience (in the days before covid made everyone think twice). Mixing hash with tobacco made it go along way and allowed users too roll longer joints.
This was rarely the case in the Americas and where spliffs were smaller and most commonly shared using pure weed. It’s a significant difference in the cannabis cultures across the Atlantic divide, and while smoking weed pure is becoming more popular in Europe, the weed and tobacco mix tradition is still universally popular.
This makes for an interesting tobacco or weed discussion, because in many countries people who ‘don’t smoke cigarettes’ are smoking several joints mixed with tobacco Inevitably such a method of consumption is going to lead to a level of nicotine addiction (it’s not another joint you want/need, it’s the tobacco hit…).
As such, the headlines are perhaps not so clear cut – in general people are smoking more cannabis in the USA due to its legal status in a number of states and the decline in cigarette smoking is a general trend in North America.
Swapping cigarettes for CBD
Nevertheless, the use of cannabis as a tobacco substitute is also a definite trend in recent years and one which has coincided with a rising interest in CBD weed.
As CBD is non-psychoactive and legal in many places – often in countries where THC cannabis is still illegal – there has been a rise in the number of people using CBD cannabis as a tobacco substitute. In 2020, Hemp Industry Daily conducted a survey of CBD users, also in the USA, and found that 24% of respondents were using CBD weed to help quit smoking.
Scientific studies to date have found that tobacco smoke is far more damaging to the pulmonary system than cannabis smoke. Nevertheless, the inhalation of any smoke (in weed and tobacco form) has negative health effects, which is why vaping cannabis has become popular as an even ‘safer’ alternative, not to mention a true terpene taste enhancer.