Poppers are a mix of cannabis and tobacco taken through a bong. The point is to get super-high.
Doing poppers (a method of combining cannabis and tobacco to smoke) is all the rage among young people. And unsurprisingly, it has become a cause for concern according to new research from the journal Psychology of Addictive Behaviors.
The study seeks to explain how taking tobacco and cannabis during adolescence influences young lives and health outcomes. Researchers surveyed nearly 2,500 kids from California about their tobacco and cannabis habits, including whether they consumed these together, separately, or one right after another. Amazingly, consumption methods were a good predictor of poor mental and physical health. Adolescents that smoked cigarettes and cannabis had a higher frequency of “troubling” behaviors like fighting, skipping school, getting fired, and having run-ins with the police.
The Problem with Poppers
There’s a large cross-over between young people who consume cannabis and those who use tobacco. For many years, experts suspected that smoking cigarettes led to smoking cannabis (which would help explain the popularity of poppers). However, more recent research contends that cannabis consumption might lead to tobacco consumption (or happen simultaneously) as thrill-seeking youth look to edge up their high by adding nicotine into the mix. This leads to nicotine addiction and increased health risks.
Tobacco-using teens are already more likely to suffer from anxiety and panic attacks than those who abstain. Exposure to nicotine and free radicals can alter how the brain behaves and develops. For teens whose brains are still growing, tobacco is a valid threat to their long-term health and happiness.
So if cannabis can change how tobacco affects the brain, it’s probably a good idea to avoid mixing the two. The study in Psychology of Addictive Behaviors noted that the troubling behaviors and poor health outcomes only occurred in teens who combined, or sequentially consumed, tobacco and cannabis. While a number of those surveyed admitted to doing both, the teens who separated consumption had much lower levels of negative effects.
BUT, Does Cannabis Reduce the Harm of a Tobacco Popper?
While the study may be troubling, there is another way to read it. What if cannabis is actually reducing the harm of tobacco? Other research shows that cannabis consumers who also use tobacco smoke fewer cigarettes than those who don’t. So it’s possible that the kids who are doing poppers are consuming less tobacco than they would be otherwise. That’s good for long-term health.
And while the results of the study are cause for concern, it’s certainly not the last word on the subject. After all, research that came out two years ago found nearly the opposite result — in adults, anyway. In that study, people who smoked tobacco and cannabis together showed less memory impairment than people who consumed cannabis alone. Once again, age may be the largest contributing factor to harm.
Moreover, while researchers made sure to note that poppers or spliffs did not “increase the high” provided by cannabis, the extra alertness that comes from nicotine use seemed to counterbalance a few effects of THC and CBD.
Cannabis vs. Cigarettes — Is There a Difference?
Of course, poppers or not, the debate always comes down to which is the “worse” substance to smoke: cannabis or tobacco. For the record, it’s clearly tobacco. Consumers often smoke cannabis straight, without added chemicals or flavorings. Tobacco, on the other hand, is processed with more 7,000 chemicals — including known carcinogens.
While smoking anything is damaging to the lungs, the extra layers of crud that are included in mainstream tobacco products are far worse for your health than the terpenes and cannabinoids found in good ol’ weed. It’s also true that cannabis smokers actually pull less smoke into their lungs, so they’re exposing their organs to fewer irritants. And, of course, cannabis doesn’t have to be smoked at all. It can be vaporized, cutting out the risk of lung problems almost completely.
Let’s also not forget that nicotine is highly addictive. People who use it regularly become full-blown addicts and go through severe withdrawals when they quit smoking.
Quitting Poppers — And Other Things
If you’re worried about the ill effects of smoking tobacco concurrently with your cannabis, why not quit tobacco altogether? And if you can’t quit completely, at least change your schedule so that you’re not combining the two.
But before you decide how to quit, be careful. Recent research out of the Medical University of South Carolina suggests that quitting strategies for people who do poppers or spliffs needs to be different than those who use tobacco on its own. It all depends on how interrelated the two activities are for you personally. So be sure to monitor your own habits to determine if you’re hooked on poppers or just nicotine.