For decades, a joint, or cannabis cigarette, was the standard method for consuming cannabis. And why not? They can be easily rolled with the same ubiquitous materials as cigarettes, require no extra hardware like a bong, and can be discreetly stored and transported. But as consumption methods have evolved, the humble joint has come under scrutiny for being a waste of weed. The prevailing logic is that as the joint continues to burn between puffs, precious THC is lost to the air. So does smoking joints waste weed? The short answer is yes, smoking appears to be a less efficient consumption method than vaporizing. Though maybe not much less, and maybe not for the reasons you’d expect. This article will answer whether or not joints are a waste of weed, reviews the efficiency of other consumption methods, and offers tips for conserving weed.

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Do Joints Waste Weed?

The two most damning arguments against joints are unfortunately fundamental to joints themselves: they burn and they smoke, and both of those things severely reduce the amount of THC getting to the consumer.

a man smokes a cannabis joint in front of a colorful mural When a joint is smoked, it produces a lot of smoke, some of which is “wasted” and not inhaled.
These details were first illustrated in a 1990 study from the University of North Carolina where researchers identified two factors responsible for significant THC loss or degradation, clinically called “sidestream smoke” and “pyrolysis.” When a cigarette of any kind is smoked, two streams of smoke are produced. “Mainstream smoke” is sucked through the cigarette and inhaled, while the rest floats from the smoldering tip into the surrounding air as “sidestream smoke.” Researchers at UNC estimated that this sidestream smoke carries away “between 40% and 50% of the original THC content of the cigarettes.”  Additionally, the excessive heat of the flame was responsible for destroying up to 30% of available cannabinoids (interestingly, this number dropped to 20% in water pipes). The researchers finally concluded that at best, 37% of the THC in joints is inhaled as mainstream smoke — possibly as low as 20%. This data only accounts for the brief act of puffing on a joint. Once the smoke is inhaled, several physiological factors inside the body further affect the amount of THC absorbed.

Other Factors Affecting THC Absorption

It’s true that smoldering joints burn away good THC, but don’t presume all those cannabinoids would have gone straight to your blood anyway. 

a man lets out a puff of smoke from a joint in front of a colorful mural Cannabis joints are among the most popular ways to smoke weed.
Once THC enters the lungs, it is subject to other factors that affect the bioavailability, or the proportion of the drug that ultimately enters circulation.

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Recovery Rate

The first factor is that not every cannabinoid inhaled is a cannabinoid absorbed. Only a certain percentage, or “recovery rate,” of cannabinoids in a given volume of smoke or vapor are actually absorbed, or “recovered,” by the lungs. In 2019, researchers at the University of Bern resolved to measure this recovery rate by different consumption methods and found that vaping offered a recovery rate of 75%. Smoking offered a far lower rate of absorption, peaking at only 27%. So not only are joints burning away more THC, but our lungs do not appear to pull THC from smoke as efficiently as from vapor. Their final conclusion estimated that joints waste 300% more THC than vaporized concentrates. In the joint’s modest defense, evidence suggests THC consumption can be increased by upping the volume or frequency of puffs. During this 2008 study from the Netherlands, researchers found that longer puffs, and thus greater volumes of smoke inhaled, increased the amount of THC absorbed by the lungs. 

a man wearing a white t shirt and jeans holds out a lit joint to pass it Long frequent puffs may be the way to go to absorb the most THC via joints.
Photo Credit: Shutterstock
To their surprise, they also found that puffs as frequent as every 15 seconds delivered more THC than puffs every 60 seconds. Their hypothesis was that frequent puffs kept the joint burning hotter, which increased THC synthesis through continuous decarboxylation, while joints puffed less frequently lost temperature or even went out.

Self-Titration Phenomenon

Quick consumption may be the key to optimizing THC intake because further reducing the amount of THC absorbed through the lungs is a phenomenon known as “self-titration,” or the process by which the body determines its own dose by either rejecting or otherwise not reacting to excess cannabinoids. This phenomenon was first observed in early studies of the Volcano vaporizer. Participants were given concentrates ranging in potency with the highest being 400% (4x) as strong as the lowest. The expectation was that blood THC levels in those participants would be 400% higher, but they were only 50% higher. A more recent study in 2020 tested subjective intoxication levels between participants using high- or low-potency concentrates. While blood THC levels varied as expected by potency, participants reported their intoxication did not. These studies contribute to a growing suspicion that the endocannabinoid system may have a way of regulating cannabinoid intake. By this logic, high-potency weed and concentrates both represent a potential “waste of weed.”

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The Wrap Up: How to Make Your Weed Last Longer


a white container of light orange cannabis wax Currently, the most efficient way to consume cannabis is via concentrates. Mathematically speaking, concentrates offer unparalleled purity and minimal wasted cannabinoids. No superfluous plant matter is being burned, and no vapor floats away between breaths. However, this isn’t to say concentrates are perfect. Measurements taken with the Volcano vaporizer in 2007 found only 54% of available THC had evaporated from the leaf. And stacked against data from the University of Bern, another 25% of that THC may be exhaled without being absorbed.

What About Bongs?

a clear large beaker bong on a white background Photo Credit: Shutterstock
Brief consideration should be given to bongs, which have been largely absent from this comparison of smoking and vaping. Anecdotal evidence suggests bongs may impart more THC than joints, but there is currently no empirical data supporting this. On the contrary, a 1990 study of smoking efficiency found lower blood THC levels in bong smokers than joint smokers. That said, THC levels are affected by the volume inhaled, therefore this impression of a higher high is likely the result of bong hits typically being bigger than joint hits, so more cannabinoids are delivered with each breath, as opposed to any increase in cannabinoids by volume. To put it more simply: any amount of weed sucked down in three breaths will get you higher than the same amount smoked over several minutes. So are joints a waste of weed? You could say that, sure, but all consumption methods lose THC at every step, and there’s yet another factor that hasn’t been considered: is it still a waste of weed if you enjoy it?

Frequently Asked Questions

Do Blunts Use a Lot of Weed?

Yes. Blunts are typically packed with 1-2g of cannabis flower, and about 60% of that THC will be lost to burning and sidestream smoke.

How Inefficient are Joints?

Various studies have suggested that joint smoke delivers only 20-40% of available THC into the consumer’s circulation.

Why are Joints Better Than Bowls?

Generally speaking, joints and bowls both deliver comparable rates of THC.

How Much Weed is in a Bowl vs a Joint?

A bowl holds about .25g of cannabis flower, while most joints are .5g-1g.