A spliff of perfectly cured cannabis flower mixed with some tobacco can feel great, but comes at the cost of being hooked on nicotine. If you like to roll your own spliffs but don’t want to smoke tobacco there is no shortage of nicotine-free alternatives to mix.
What is a spliff, anyway?
A spliff is nothing more than a joint made from rolling weed and tobacco together. To make a spliff, all you need is to grind up some cannabis flower and mix it in with some tobacco and twist it up. You can use loose leaf tobacco or just dump some out of a cigarette.
Traditionally more popular in Europe than stateside, they’re a handy way to stretch your weed a little further when you want to smoke a joint or you want a less potent joint. The flavor mix and the sensation brought on by smoking tobacco with cannabis can also be appealing to some. Finally, joints rolled with tobacco tend to burn better than ones that only contain weed.
But what about people who want to avoid tobacco, for health reasons or because they quit smoking, or they just hate the smell and taste?
Non-tobacco alternatives you can use in your spliff
Lavender is a cheap, aromatic alternative to tobacco that could also potentially boost the effects of your cannabis due to its terpene profile. Lavender contains a significant amount of the terpene Linalool, which can produce a relaxing effect to help the stress melt away. And if paired with a cannabis strain that is high in Linalool, the two can enhance the effects of one another.
Lavender is also just very easy to find, and you can even take some from the backyard and dry it in the sun and grind it up when you’re ready.
Even if you never smoke cannabis you may want to burn a little sage around the house from time to time. A time-honored herbal medicine, dried sage can have several potential health benefits, and has traditionally been used to help with stress, inflammation, and other conditions. It also produces a pleasant, aromatic aroma when smoked and can help a joint burn more evenly. The taste of smoking sage can be a bit strong though, so start with a small amount until you get used to it.1
A traditional tonic said to work as an aphrodisiac or to ease stomach distress, Damiana is a shrub that grows across south Texas, Mexico, and central America. There is really only anecdotal evidence to back up the claims of aphrodisiac effects, but the dried and ground leaves of the plant can make for an aromatic and effective alternative to tobacco. Will it get you in the mood? Probably couldn’t hurt. 2
Rosemary is another very common herb that can be used as a tobacco alternative and which you likely already have in your house. Rosemary also contains terpenes like camphene, pinene, limonene, and myrcene, all of which are common in a wide variety of cannabis chemovars. Rosemary also produces a pleasing aroma, that’s described as having a pinewood scent, which is one of the reasons that it’s a popular essential oil.3
Popularly known as Mullein, plants of the Verbascum thapsus are frequently used as the base for herbal smoking mixes. This is largely because of their use in treating pulmonary problems, asthma, and spasmodic coughs. Mullein also makes for a gentle smoke with a subtle flavor. It can help temper overly harsh cannabis flower and is known for producing a relaxing sensation of its own.4
Chamomile is one of the most time-honored medicinal herbs and has been used to treat ailments ranging from inflammation to insomnia to rheumatic pain. Inhalation of chamomile as an essential oil can also relieve anxiety and depression. Like in a hot cup of chamomile tea, some dried chamomile in a joint can produce a relaxing, pleasing sensation in no time. When smoked, chamomile has a mild, earthy flavor that won’t overpower the weed.5
Mugwort (artemisia vulgaris) has become a popular herbal smoking alternative to tobacco because of its relaxing, stress-relieving effects. In the Middle Ages, it was called “the mother of herbs” because of its popularity as a medicinal plant, including in treating gastrointestinal and gynecological ailments. Research has also shown that it can potentially have bronchodilatory effects. In addition, many users report experiencing vivid, lifelike dreams after consuming mugwort. When smoked, mugwort has a light and very herbal flavor that can be a nice change of pace from tobacco.6 7 8
What do non-tobacco alternatives look like?
Tobacco alternatives can usually be found at your local smoke shop and there is a wide variety of brands available today. Typically these tobacco alternatives are sold as mixed blends that include a variety of natural ingredients.
For instance, Sacred Eagle Smoking Blend, which is sold in one ounce plastic bags and contains a variety of organic ingredients including spearmint leaf, mullein leaf, red raspberry leaf, and blue skullcap. Or there’s the herbal mix made by Bear Blend, which comes in three flavors that contain a variety of herbs like red raspberry, mugwort, mullein, and lavender, to name just a few.
The pros of non-tobacco alternatives
Natural tobacco alternatives make sense for a number of reasons.
- The health benefits of herbs
Many herbal tobacco substitutes have potential health benefits that have made them popular plant-based medicines since before the modern era. Smoking these herbs can potentially pass some of those benefits.
- Complimentary terpenes and flavonoids
The terpenes and flavonoids in the herbal alternatives can complement the chemical makeup of the cannabis you’re smoking, potentially creating a better, more holistic experience.
- Most importantly – stretch out your weed without nicotine
This benefit is perhaps the most obvious. Herbal alternatives allow you to conserve weed and still roll joints, without imbibing any harmful and addictive nicotine. They also tend to cost much less than tobacco.
The cons of non-tobacco alternatives
No alternative to tobacco is without its drawbacks, and here are a few to keep in mind.
- No type of smoking is actually healthy
The combustion of any substance to create smoke that you then inhale into your respiratory system is going to include health risks. The heat and smoke can damage your throat and lungs, and just like tobacco, any burned plant matter produces harmful tar and carbon monoxide. In fact, one 2021 report cited research that indicated that herbal, “alternative cigarettes” can be more harmful than traditional tobacco products.9
- Potential harmful reactions
Many tobacco alternatives contain natural ingredients that you may not be familiar with or have any prior experience with. Some of these could potentially have an irritant effect – especially if smoked – producing an unpleasant experience. This is without mentioning any additives that may be in the product, in particular if you’re using a brand that you’re not familiar with.
- You may end up smoking just as much – or more weed
One drawback of rolling spliffs, joints, or blunts is that they can make your stash run out quicker than if you were using a one-hitter or a pipe. Using an herbal alternative in your spliff won’t save you any weed, and may actually spur you to use more, either to mask the herbal aroma (assuming you don’t like it) or to make up for the loss of that invigorating nicotine sensation.
- Hamidpour, Mohsen, et al. “Chemistry, Pharmacology, and Medicinal Property of Sage (Salvia) to Prevent and Cure Illnesses Such as Obesity, Diabetes, Depression, Dementia, Lupus, Autism, Heart Disease, and Cancer.” Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine, vol. 4, no. 2, Apr. 2014, pp. 82–88. PubMed, https://doi.org/10.4103/2225-4110.130373.
- Reyes-Becerril, Martha, et al. “Assessment of Chemical, Biological and Immunological Properties of ‘Damiana de California’ Turnera Diffusa Willd Extracts in Longfin Yellowtail (Seriola Rivoliana) Leukocytes.” Fish & Shellfish Immunology, vol. 100, May 2020, pp. 418–26. PubMed, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fsi.2020.03.045.
- Rosemary – an Overview | ScienceDirect Topics. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/pharmacology-toxicology-and-pharmaceutical-science/rosemary. Accessed 5 Sept. 2021.
- Turker, Arzu Ucar, and Ekrem Gurel. “Common Mullein (Verbascum Thapsus L.): Recent Advances in Research.” Phytotherapy Research: PTR, vol. 19, no. 9, Sept. 2005, pp. 733–39. PubMed, https://doi.org/10.1002/ptr.1653.
- Srivastava, Janmejai K., et al. “Chamomile: A Herbal Medicine of the Past with a Bright Future.” Molecular Medicine Reports, vol. 3, no. 6, Nov. 2010, pp. 895–901. PubMed Central, https://doi.org/10.3892/mmr.2010.377..
- Ekiert, Halina, et al. “Significance of Artemisia Vulgaris L. (Common Mugwort) in the History of Medicine and Its Possible Contemporary Applications Substantiated by Phytochemical and Pharmacological Studies.” Molecules, vol. 25, no. 19, Sept. 2020, p. 4415. PubMed Central, https://doi.org/10.3390/molecules25194415.
- Khan, Arif-ullah, and Anwarul Hassan Gilani. “Antispasmodic and Bronchodilator Activities of Artemisia Vulgaris Are Mediated through Dual Blockade of Muscarinic Receptors and Calcium Influx.” Journal of Ethnopharmacology, vol. 126, no. 3, Dec. 2009, pp. 480–86. PubMed, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jep.2009.09.010.
- “How to Use Mugwort for Dreams, Sleep, and More.” Herbal Academy, 4 Dec. 2020, https://theherbalacademy.com/how-to-use-mugwort/.
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