If you are searching for an alternative to traditional cigarettes that is better for your health, you may have heard claims that smoking herbs is a safer option. It's even possible that you've sampled a friend's herbal cigarette and found the taste appealing. Regardless of your level of interest in herbal cigarettes, understanding the risks of smoking them is essential before you pick one up.
Common herbs used in herbal cigarettes include damiana, mullein, coltsfoot, ginseng, mugwort, peppermint, lavender, thyme, and clove.
Like all tobacco products, smoking herbal cigarettes releases carcinogens and toxins during combustion and can be hazardous to health.
When smoked, herbal cigarettes produce higher carbon monoxide levels than tobacco cigarettes.
Research on the health effects of smoking various herbs compared to tobacco cigarettes is limited.
Preliminary scientific research suggests that herbal remedies can be used to support smoking cessation.
What are herbal cigarettes?
Herbal cigarettes are smoking products crafted from various blends of herbs. These herbal blends can include a diverse array of plants, carefully selected and combined to achieve specific flavors, aromas, or perceived benefits. What sets herbal cigarettes apart from traditional ones is their absence of tobacco and nicotine.
Variations of herbal cigarettes
The classification of herbal cigarettes can vary across geographic regions. In certain parts of the world, products like Kreteks, commonly known as clove cigarettes, fall under the herbal cigarette category. However, it's crucial to clarify that clove cigarettes, in addition to containing ground cloves and clove oil, also include tobacco and potentially other additives, distinguishing them from purely herbal nicotine-free cigarettes.
The perception of herbal cigarettes can vary significantly depending on where someone lives. Some regions attribute herbal cigarettes with health benefits or therapeutic properties, while in others, they are chosen primarily as a fashionable alternative, much like vaping. In certain cultures, herbs, including tobacco, are sometimes inhaled for spiritual or ceremonial purposes.
Throughout this article, our focus remains on herbal cigarettes containing no tobacco or nicotine, allowing us to evaluate the safety of purely herbal, non-tobacco cigarettes thoroughly.
10 herbs commonly used in herbal cigarettes
Herbal cigarettes typically contain a blend of herbs. Below is a list of the ten most commonly used ones.
- Damiana. Known for its hickory-mint flavor with peppery notes, it is thought to offer a pleasurable smoking experience and potential relaxation for the digestive system.
- Mullein. Provides a gentle and calming taste and is commonly used to alleviate respiratory discomfort.
- Coltsfoot. Has a mild taste that is thought to alleviate respiratory issues like asthma.
- Ginseng. Believed to have aphrodisiac and cognitive-enhancing properties.
- Mugwort. Has an earthy aroma and flavor and is typically smoked for its relaxing and mildly intoxicating effects, comparable to cannabinoids.
- Peppermint. Usually added to smoking blends for its menthol flavor, which provides a cooling sensation.
- Lavender. Provides a pleasant, mild, and slightly floral flavor, with possible benefits for reducing anxiety and tobacco cravings.
- Thyme. Included in smoking blends for its thymol content, which contributes to its unique aroma and potential therapeutic applications in respiratory, neurological, and cardiovascular treatments.
- Clove. Has a distinct robust flavor and is a popular addition to herbal cigarette blends and Kretek cigarettes.
- Rose petals. Have become increasingly popular in herbal cigarettes, even though traditionally they are not used for smoking.
Are herbal cigarettes safe?
Throughout history, herbs have been valued for their medicinal properties. Ancient Greek and Roman physicians like Hippocrates, Dioscorides, and Galen even recommended herbal inhalation for respiratory conditions like asthma.
While herbs and herbal medicine have much to offer for our health and well-being, it's essential to acknowledge that smoking, even herbal cigarettes, carries inherent health risks.
Health risks of smoking herbal cigarettes
All cigarettes, including herbal ones, contain numerous chemicals, including carcinogens (cancer-causing substances) and toxins that can lead to cancer when smoked. These harmful substances are released during the burning of tobacco or herbs. Regardless of the type of cigarette, when you smoke, you're inhaling substances like tar, particulates, and carbon monoxide, all of which can adversely affect your health.
As detailed in a 2015 study, researchers examined herbal cigarettes crafted from mugwort against traditional tobacco cigarettes. The findings underscored elevated levels of carbon monoxide and other harmful substances in herbal cigarettes.
Compared to tobacco cigarettes, herbal cigarette smoke:
- Can produce higher levels of carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide reduces your blood cells' ability to carry oxygen. This reduction in oxygen delivery can increase heart rate, fatigue, and mental confusion.
- May yield more polyaromatic compounds. This includes benzopyrene, a known carcinogen and DNA mutagen. It can also affect reproductive capacity.
- Contains aromatic amines. Including 4-aminobiphenyl, a known human carcinogen linked to lung, bladder, colon, and breast cancers, although in lower quantities than tobacco cigarettes.
Risks associated with smoking different herbs
Although it might seem pleasing at first, there are definitely things to consider before purchasing herbal cigarettes:
- Allergies. Some individuals may experience allergic reactions to smoking or consuming certain herbs.
- Clove. Smoking clove-infused herbal cigarettes has been linked to serious health issues, including coughing up blood, lung fluid accumulation, and spasms.
- Ginseng. Can lead to sleep disturbances and overactivity if smoked at night.
- Damiana. Can cause hallucinogenic effects when smoked.
This is not a comprehensive list, and smoking herbs may pose other health risks not listed here.
Overall, the safety of herbal cigarettes is poorly understood, with limited research on the health effects of smoking various herbs and blends. Despite needing much more research on herbal cigarettes, scientists have confirmed that smoking herbal cigarettes poses similar, if not worse, risks to tobacco cigarettes.
Herbal remedies to quit smoking
Some reports recommend using herbal cigarettes as a way to quit tobacco, but it's important to be cautious because researchers have found that individuals who tried quitting smoking tobacco by switching to herbal cigarettes actually ended up smoking even more than they did when using tobacco. While herbal cigarettes may not be an effective solution for quitting smoking, there are other herbal remedies that can aid you in your journey toward cessation.
Research suggests that herbal remedies, available in various forms like juices, teas, capsules, or lozenges, are more helpful than a placebo when you want to quit smoking. Some herbs, including Cyanthillium cinereum, St. John's wort, and lavender, have shown promise in aiding tobacco cessation.
Herbal remedies are obtainable without a prescription and offer potential support if you have a smoking addiction. However, it's essential to remember that an herb's effectiveness can vary depending on dosage, preparation method, personal health, current medications, and more.
To find the right approach for you, consider exploring different options and consult a doctor if you have any underlying health conditions or take any medications before incorporating herbs into your routine.
Are herbal cigarettes legal?
Herbal cigarettes are generally legal. In New York State, herbal cigarettes that do not contain tobacco are prohibited from being sold to minors but are legal for adults.
As with most things, there are exceptions. For instance, some individuals might refer to marijuana cigarettes as herbal cigarettes since marijuana is technically an herbal drug. In this context, the legality can vary widely depending on federal and state regulations.
It's crucial to check your local laws to understand the legal status of specific products like marijuana. When it comes to the use of herbal cigarettes in New York, the law does not provide a specific list of allowed or prohibited herbs. While marijuana has been decriminalized in the state, its consumption is still subject to certain restrictions, including designated areas for smoking.
In contrast, herbs typically included in herbal cigarettes generally face less stringent regulations compared to tobacco or marijuana. It's important to thoroughly research the legal aspects of using herbs if you intend to smoke herbal cigarettes in the state or country you are in.
What you should know before smoking herbal cigarettes
When it comes to smoking herbal cigarettes, consider trying alternative ways first to enjoy herbs and their health benefits, such as teas, essential oils, diffusing, tinctures, and capsules.
If you decide to smoke herbal cigarettes, even though they pose certain risks, always keep in mind:
- Safety. Herbal cigarettes are not safer than tobacco.
- Carcinogens. You inhale tar, particulates, and carbon monoxide when you smoke, whether it is herbs or tobacco.
- Type of herb. Herbs are not all created for consumption or smoking, make sure to verify the safety of herbs for smoking before use.
- Allergies. Be aware of potential allergic reactions to some herbs.
- Side effects. Understand how different herbs can affect your body.
- Medical advice. Consult a healthcare provider, especially if you have medical conditions or take medications.
- Unknown effects. Limited research means potential unknown health effects from herbal cigarette smoking.
Herbal cigarettes have a rich history associated with potential health benefits attributed to the herbs they contain. However, it is important to recognize that smoking these herbs may undermine their potential benefits. In reality, smoking herbal cigarettes, despite their perceived healthiness, can pose similar health risks as traditional tobacco cigarettes.
If you are trying to quit smoking, you may want to explore alternative options such as herbal teas or oils. These options can help manage nicotine withdrawal symptoms and provide a safer and more effective path toward quitting. Remember to consult a healthcare provider before trying new herbs if you have medical conditions or take medications.
- American Chemical Society (ACS Omega). How Do Herbal Cigarettes Compare to Tobacco? A Comprehensive Review of Their Sensory Characters, Phytochemicals, and Functional Properties.
- American Cancer Society. Is Any Type of Tobacco Product Safe?
- Toxicology Research. Safety Assessment of Mainstream Smoke of Herbal Cigarette.
- Addiction Health. Role of Herbal Medication in Tobacco Cessation Treatment: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis.
- NYCAC. Subchapter 2 – Regulation OF The Sale of Herbal Cigarettes and Flavored Tobacco Products.
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- NYC Health. Marijuana (Cannabis).