Cannabis 101 

Cannabis education and information on ways to consume, how to grow or harvest, and more.

Consider the Spliff

Why smoke a spliff?

Why would anyone take the fragrant, delicious fluff that is ground cannabis and mix it with tobacco, a known carcinogen, especially if that person’s not a cigarette smoker? Why ever do it? It’s a fair question.

To be clear, this isn’t a position paper on tobacco. But if you encounter enough cannabis fans, you’re bound to bump into people (especially in Europe) who love spliffs. Some are almost exclusively spliff smokers. What gives?

The Spliff in Theory and Practice

Ground cannabis sprinkled on top of loose leaf tobacco in an open rolling paper with a paper crutch

Spliffs are easier to roll. Cannabis can be unpredictable. Its texture depends on a lot of factors, such as the strain, how old it is and how it’s been stored, the way it’s been ground, and so on. Rolling a joint with cannabis alone means you have to take all those factors into account, and it means they differ from time to time. Tobacco mediates that. If the flower is too dry, fresh tobacco adds some springiness. If the bud is too sticky, the tobacco keeps the mixture more workable. Staying with the same kind of tobacco also adds an element of consistency, allowing you to hone your rolling skills instead of trying to hit a moving target.

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They smoke better, too. Here are two annoying things about joints: They often run (another term for this is canoe), meaning one side burns faster than the other. They also have a tendency to self-extinguish. (“Can I borrow your lighter again?”) Adding tobacco mitigates both problems. Because rolling tobacco is cut fine, it fills in those air pockets within the ground cannabis. And because it’s less sticky, it’s less likely than cannabis alone to clump together and prevent a smooth draw. The result: A spliff is more likely to offer a uniform smoke from beginning to end.

Your cannabis lasts longer. Say, for the sake of argument, a gram of quality flower costs about $12. A pouch of high-quality rolling tobacco contains about 35 grams — and costs the same amount. Assuming a joint and a spliff weigh roughly the same, the spliff is far cheaper. That also means you can stretch a gram of cannabis much further.

They’re usually less potent than a pure joint. A good thing or a bad thing, right? If you’re looking to get baked-out-of-your-gourd high, spliffs might not be for you. But a lot of spliff smokers say they like their cannabis intake in smaller increments. A pure joint might contain a half or full gram of cannabis; a spliff usually contains about half that. And because the cannabis is combined with tobacco, you’re not only smoking less bud, you’re also adding nicotine — a stimulant — to the mix. Just like how sometimes a sativa fits better than an indica, there are times one might prefer a spliff over something else.

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Spliffs are more discreet. Say you live in a Seattle apartment that doesn’t allow smoking. Consumption in public is illegal. Cannabis cafes don’t exist. What do you do? If you’re like a lot of people, you smoke in a tucked-away spot, in the rain, where you hopefully don’t bother anyone else. To the degree you’re worried about a ticket from the police, smoking something that smells more like a cigarette can be reassuring. (Please don’t break the law and blame me, but for real, what is everyone else doing out there?)

You won’t smoke a paper crutch by accident. If you use a crutch — a little folded-up paper tip that acts as the “butt” of whatever you’re rolling — you risk accidentally inhaling a cloud of icky, acrid smoke if the paper starts to smolder. This usually happens at the end of a joint, when you’re trying to make use of every last crumb of cannabis. Tobacco solves that. Just leave a little pinch before the crutch. When you stop tasting cannabis, toss it.

Reasons Not to Like Spliffs

A large pile of loose-leaf rolling tobacco

You’re smoking tobacco. This is the most controversial aspect of the spliff, for obvious reasons. Scientists have documented anti-cancer properties of compounds in cannabis. Tobacco is a known carcinogen. It’s utterly horrible for your health.* Smoke a spliff only if you’ve considered and accepted that.

You smell like tobacco. And taste like it. That can be gross to those around you, or even to yourself. See above.

You miss out on taste. Cannabis is delicious. If you don’t like tobacco, it’s not nearly as enjoyable to mix your flower with the guts of a cigarette. “There’s a reason people are smoking joints from buds,” said Patrick Rooney at Vashon Velvet, a grower in Washington state. “It’s a perfect vehicle for the cannabis flavor to come through.” Tobacco, on the other hand, tastes like tobacco. Good tobacco tastes better, but it still tastes like a cigarette. If you want to Strawberry Cough to taste like actual strawberries, try vaping or a dab.

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If you’re a medical patient, talk to your doctor. Medical cannabis is a real thing, no matter what certain politicians or DEA chiefs want to tell you. If you’re using cannabis for treatment, adding tobacco to the mix is probably a bad idea.

Spliff Etiquette

A man's hand olding a rolled, lit spliff

Tell people it’s a spliff. If you’re sharing, people you’re passing to deserve to know what they’ll be smoking. Practice full disclosure. It’s common here in Seattle to hear two things when someone passes a joint: what strain of cannabis it is and whether or not there’s tobacco in it.

Tell people how much tobacco is in it. A lot of spliff smokers use as little tobacco as possible, mostly for the benefits described above. Others are cigarette smokers who like to toss in a little cannabis now and again. When sharing, most people describe how something’s rolled in percentages — 60 percent cannabis, 40 percent tobacco, for example. It’s nice to mention distribution, too. If you’ve put all the cannabis up front (which makes a difference, scientifically speaking), that’s something worth mentioning to friends.

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Hacks: How to Roll a Better Spliff

Side by side comparison of tobacco from a pre-rolled cigarette and high-quality loose-leaf tobacco

Use quality tobacco. If you buy cigarettes in packs and then cannibalize them for tobacco, you’re doing it wrong. Go to a tobacco shop and ask for a pouch of good rolling tobacco. Just like cigarette smokers, there’s a lot of brand loyalty at play here. Spliff aficionados on the West Coast used to swear by Bali Shag, but for my money the best out there now is Peter Stokkebye’s line of roll-your-own (RYO). Choose wisely. Many of the benefits that come from rolling a spliff instead of a pure joint are lost if you use dry, crunchy cigarette tobacco instead of fluffy, soft rolling tobacco. It’s one thing if you’re in a bind and only have a friend’s cig, but if you actually like spliffs, buy something better.

The different stages of crutch rolling: far left is unrolled paper, middle is partially rolled paper, far right is completely rolled paper

Fold a proper crutch. It’s common for joint smokers to learn how to roll a crutch by doing just that: rolling it. The result, viewed on end, looks like a kind of spiral. There’s a better way!

  1. Start by bending the paper back and forth, like an accordion, about halfway up the crutch.
  2. Make the width of each fold about as wide as you’d like the tip of the spliff.
  3. Try to avoid creasing the folds too much, as that can end up blocking the whole thing.
  4. To finish, roll the remaining paper around it. Why? For at least two reasons, maybe three.
  • First, it’s more effective at keeping tobacco out of your mouth, because the paths between the mixture and your mouth are much smaller. (Raw cannabis can be eaten without much effect; tobacco at high enough doses can kill you.)
  • Second, the folds make the crutch more durable, meaning clenching it too tightly in your fingers or lips won’t easily make it collapse. (The accordion-style crutch also looks much cooler.)
Open end of a rolled spliff

Don’t twist the tip. You know that classic “joint” look, where the excess paper is twisted shut at one or both ends? That’s a helpful way to make a spliff more portable if you’re bringing one along for later, but it’s not necessary if you’re going to smoke right away. It also creates a big wad of paper that can end up making the spliff harder to light and more likely to burn unevenly. Experiment with skipping this step next time.

Open-ended spliff next to a golf pencil with tobacco and cannabis shake spread on a table

Use a golf pencil, maybe? Most people pack down the ends of their spliffs, and they use all manner of gizmos to do it (nearby sticks when camping, the end of a key, etc). I’ve found golf pencils work splendidly. They’re cheap, easy to pocket, and they don’t have erasers on the end like regular pencils, which sometimes snag on rolling papers. Making sure the spliff is packed uniformly will ensure a smoother, more reliable smoke. But be careful — pack too tight and you won’t be able to smoke it at all. If that happens, tear the thing apart before you light it and start over. Life can be tough like that.

Do you love a spliff or do you hate them? Let us know in the comments about your experience with spliffs and why you choose to smoke them (or why you choose not to). If you have any tips, tricks, or questions, we want to know!

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* I’ve really grappled with the fact I smoke tobacco in spliffs. Over the years I’ve tried growing mint and dehydrating it, which was ineffective and maybe stupid, as well as using a “smoking blend” advertised as a “tobacco alternative” that I once bought at a farmer’s market, then later discovered was probably more poisonous than tobacco. If you have solved this problem, please get in touch immediately.

Image Source: Sara Dilley