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Consider the Spliff

March 24, 2016

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.

How Long is My Cannabis Good For? Leafly's Guide to Storing Cannabis

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.

Sativa, Indica, and Hybrid: What’s the Difference Between Cannabis Types?

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.

How to Dab Cannabis Concentrates

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.

Cannabis Science 101: The Physics and Chemistry of the Joint

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!

What's the Difference Between Joints, Blunts, and Spliffs?

* 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

  • James Smith

    I grow my own buds so sometimes if money is tight I will stretch my tobacco supply by making spliffs. If you use quality flower and make the mix 40-50% spliffs actually come out fairly smooth and provide the nicotine fix and a nice mood boosting effect that truly satisfies. I find the best way to have a slow uniform burn is to mix both ingredients together thoroughly before rolling. On my way out the door to have a spliff right now hope y’all have a happy Halloween!

  • Panama Red

    I love spliffs. They add the relaxing effect. They also help me with not getting the spins if I decide to have a few drinks and smoke. If you don’t like the effect or taste of tobacco, maybe try blunts. The tobacco is less noticable.

  • KhaleesiKush

    I’ve been doing spliffs long before I ever went to Amsterdam. When I arrived I was happy to find out I could get 25% tobacco or 50% tobacco, i think even a 75% I tried the 25%s and 50%s from the cafes. Now if I run into a consumer who doesn’t even know what a spliff is I’ll call it Amsterdam style and explain that it is definitely popular in Europe and not just little old me trying to be funky or cool, but instead truly have it has a preference like others. I always tell my fellows when i’m passing something with tobacco in it. I occasionally take breaks and go back to a pure joint, but miss the tobacco when i get something really potent and sticky.

  • horsemannv

    So much for using the true medical marijuana movement to facilitate the ongoing societal acceptance of cannabis. Why use tobacco, indeed. Unless you are an addicted stoner, no reason to try to “stretch” your supply. You can either grow your own illegally or get a medical cannabis card just about anywhere where it is legal to grow your own. Any dispensary will give you the name of doctor(s) who will write you a script and what to tell them your medical “symptoms” are so you can buy it or grow it. Using a mobile vaporizer is very handy as you can grind your cannabis very fine and pack it in but not too tightly. Carry two of them, one for nicotine vaping and one for cannabis and you can easily switch if the “security guard” comes around. Carry a small aerosol of Fabreeze or Ozium and wipe out any nic or mj odor on your clothes in a second. Carry breath mints if at work or you don’t want to offend or “notify” someone with either smell.

    • AntiHipster

      Shut up

      • Chaotic Rampage

        my thoughts exactly

    • Erik Bailey

      What the f**k are you babbling about? Is this the late 90s? Why are you here? This about rolling a proper spliff. Ever think tobacco may be a way to turn on a non-smoker? “Oh, so it’s mostly tobacco?” And, if their a smoker, even better. Wouldn’t it be better for an anti pot person to smoke something mellow and not “read the Bible, run the bath water, call your momma’ scary high? Oh, hate to rain on your parade, but Anything that is burned is carcinogenic. A well-done steak has as many carcinogens as up to a pack of cigs(Not sure the number). Also, your precious ‘mobile’ vaps are fools gold. Most DRY tanks use a coil identical to the ones found in car cigarette lighters. That is what you’re describing using when you say ‘very fine and pack it in but not too tightly’. Haha. Sounds like Snoop’s video telling you how to use his ‘vape’ pen. Haha. Try to cover THAT smell. The mobile ones that do Vape are ok at best. Especially considering the price. Now on to what’s up

      IRecreational use is where we need to focus our efforts. My great grandmother is for medical marijuana. Its God’s own healing power. Almost every patient that needs it, can get it. We need to slow the Med-Pot issue and move on to Rec use. Hear me out. I think the Med-Pot issue can cut both ways. One thing to think about is this, As extraction methods become more and more advanced, each molecule in marijuana Will be mapped and isolated and produced in a usable form. Then comes the testing and then Big Pharm will step in. A pill derived from marijuana will be dispensed to treat its respective ailment. I hate to say this, but THC isn’t a cure all. The reason the plant makes THC is to protect seed pods from UV rays from the sun. Now it produces THC to fulfill the symbiotic relationship between it and man. Since antiquity humans have grown marijuana for its THC. Years passed and as we found resin to contain the goods, we gravitated toward those strains. Jump to the last century where THC production topped out at about 7%. Weed moved indoors and with breeding, as well as Darwinian law, we have plants rumored to be close to 45% THC, 35% confirmed. If the med-pot issue is where we put our chips, what if they call, we show cards and they say Say ‘Ok, you win. ‘. A bill called Legal Federal Medical Marijuana is introduced. We all get pumped! We write our reps or vote yes if we vote and somewhere hidden in there are these few sentences-‘Upon adoption, Marijuana will be qualified as a medication and is to be treated as such. A Pharmacist shall be the only person able to legally dispense FDA approved Marijuana. Only government grown and tested marijuana shall be submitted for approval…’ Do you guys know how easily that could Happen? Stuff gets hidden in bills all the time. Stoners aren’t the most reliable ‘informed electorate’ haha, no offense. I’m one too. Does anyone else think this is possible? Isnt it naive to think the whole country could grow and sell “Medication”? I’m surprised dispensaries are around. Eh, shows some people have a heart and see marijuana as what it is.

      Do you think Big Pharm is gonna let people grow medicine that, if made legal on a federal level, can allow any ‘Patient’ who needs 20 drugs(products) daily cut that number down to 10,5, maybe 0? How long before we hear a senator’s speech “Why are we letting people grow and buy a plant that’s chemical makeup only contains a small amount of the beneficial molecules related to an individuals condition? A dentist doesn’t order kilo’s of Coca leaves for his patients to chew! No, the specific molecule essential to novocaine’s production is in the coca leaf, but Pharm can break down and isolate the essential properties found in the coca leaf and produce a uniform form of the aforementioned Novocain as well as lidocaine, etc. and discard the rest. On the other side of that coin is Cocaine! True, it had its ‘health benefits’ in the late 1800’s into the early 1900’s, but science isolated the numbing properties while discarding the druggy side effects. That’s exactly how marijuana should be viewed. Until we get THC out of the picture, it’s a loaded gun our youth are pointing at each other. That’s part of my new Medicinal Marijuana bill. Marijuana will be considered a class A narcotic until we get a conclusive report using government grown plants.’ This, of course would proceed the bill I stated earlier. Ha. I’m thinking backwards and inside out.

      This is just a thought I had and went all stream of consciousness on y’all ha I literally typed as I was coming up with this theory. It scares me, because it’s not out of the real, of possibility. Why wouldn’t Pharm Co isolate each and every molecule and make meds out of them? That’s literally their job. If it gets too out of whack, and they get medicine from the plant, it would kill legal, Recreational, use. They couldn’t let their meds be outdone by a ‘hippy with some plants in a basement’. Rec use would make med pot a non issue. A dr could say ‘take two tokes before bed…”like he tells people “drink two glasses of wine.”

      Recreational Use for all!!!

      • Wolf Crimson FireHeart

        Are you ok?

  • Martijn van Calcar

    When you pay £12 for a gram in England and money is tight you automatically choose to smoke a spliff…. I like to smoke around 5 spliffs out of my 10 pound 0.8 gram 10 bag. i sometimes use my bong but that is a 3 second hit and a spliff last for 20 minutes…

  • JunkoEnoshima

    Literally every Joint or Blunt has tobacco in it in UK. I’ve tried the American version of just Green. It tastes better but it doesn’t burn as easily as if you mix in some backy.

    I’ve almost never seen anyone roll without a “crutch” or a roach as we call it here.

  • Quincy J Rowe

    Not a fan of spliffs simply because of the tobacco involved. I like my herb ONLY!

  • An Pot

    I think that one important feature that people often forget is that you should still use a cotton filter and not a crutch. It smooths the smoke out and removes the worst of the worst.

  • Matt Begley

    WTF? When I smoked spliffs back in the 70s with actual Jamaican cats nobody put tobacco in them. That is blasphemy. The introduction of tobacco is a US and UK thing. A real spliff is a large cone shaped joint. It’s too bad that the wonderful Jamaican culture has been bastardized by adding a poisonous western taint. The crutch is also a new addition, a roach is not a crutch, it is the opposite. Why do noobs have to fuck everything up?

    • )))

      u must be fun at parties

    • Theo Jeffery

      that is so incorrect it hurts.

  • SnoopRattu

    Smoking a bong is literally the only way I like my weed and I was introduced to bongs by someone who liked to mix her bowl half weed half tobacco. So because she was sharing her weed with me, I would just smoke out her bowl. And man — she also had A+ weed — those highs. Those were good highs. So I don’t always add tobacco but when I do, I do it cause it gives me that crazy body feeling. Like a super rush that’s super relaxing and my nerves tingle.