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Mixing Cannabis and Tobacco Could Hurt Heart Health, Improve Memory

June 1, 2017
(OlafSpeier/iStock)
A new research study from University College London is the first to examine how cannabis and tobacco interact together when mixed.

Published in the journal Psychological Medicine, the study found that adding tobacco to a cannabis joint does not, as some consumers believe, affect the resulting high—although it could help counter the memory-impairing effects of cannabis consumption.

“There’s a persistent myth that adding tobacco to cannabis will make you more stoned, but we found that actually, it does nothing to improve the subjective experience,” the study’s lead author, clinical psychologist Chandni Hindocha, told University College London.

The study examined 24 “healthy, non-dependent but experienced users of cannabis and tobacco,” as each took part in four sessions. The sessions included smoking joints filled with various mixtures: cannabis and tobacco, cannabis and a placebo, tobacco and a placebo, or a placebo mixture entirely.

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Researchers then tested participants’ episodic memories by having them recall passages of prose, which they heard both before and after consuming. Another test studied spatial working memory. The study team monitored participants’ heart rates and blood pressures, and afterward asked  them evaluate their moods and the experience.

Consistent with previous studies, cannabis was found to impair participants’ ability to recall information. Adding tobacco, however, reduced this impairment, which researchers said fits with prior findings that nicotine helps improve concentration.

Heart rate was its highest when participants consumed tobacco and cannabis together, with “a moderate increase” in blood pressure among participants. Study authors said the increase could add to the cardiovascular risk of smoking cannabis.

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While combining cannabis and tobacco is far from the norm in the US, a prior study found that the majority of cannabis consumers in Europe actually prefer the combination to joints filled purely with cannabis.

“In a previous study, we found that the large majority of cannabis users in Europe smoke cannabis with tobacco. Tobacco’s ability to reduce the memory-impairing effects of cannabis may be part of why people add it to their joints,” Hindocha said. “Surprisingly little research has been done on how tobacco might alter the effects of cannabis. As cannabis gets legalized in more countries, it is essential that any changes in cannabis policy consider their interrelationship.”

Another author, UCL clinical pharmacology professor Val Curran, said: “There is a clear public health implication here, suggesting that smoking tobacco with cannabis does not improve the stoned feeling but is still worse for physical health.”

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Gage Peake

Gage Peake is a former staff writer for Leafly, where he specialized in data journalism, sports, and breaking news coverage. He's a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's College of Journalism and Mass Communications.

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  • Mike Bernard

    I roll my own cigarettes. Sometimes I like to add a bit of cannabis to a cigarette. About a half inch from the end I’ll put in enough for one or two good hits. Then I have the rest of the cigarette. Makes for a nice treat.

    • Captainzen

      I agre with you there. I do the same. Get a little high as you satisfy that nicotine addiction.

  • SinCityMama

    When I lived in the Middle East in the 70’s, hash and black raw tobacco was rolled into joints that were shaped like cones. The small end always had a rolled up piece of thin cardboard. Was this study done with processed or “black” unprocessed tobacco? I’d be interested to see the impacts of all combinations hash, marijuana and processed vs non-processed tobacco.

    Thanks for letting me share my thoughts.

    • I don’t believe this comment by SinCityMama is accurate and is an observational misunderstanding (by a habitual tobacco smoker). In my experience (in the 70s) that so-called ‘black raw tobacco’ referred-to was invariably kief (kif) i.e. a form of loose drug quality (female plant) material made by fine screening of the dry (and sometimes frozen) bud. Being loose, kief (noting its a brown colour very much like tobacco) is needed in joints to ensure they burn smoothly from one end to another as the hash is just too hard. Tobacco is NOT customarily smoked by nationalities/communities who consume hashish, kief or even liquids such as the various equivalents of the Indian ‘Bhang’. IMHO mixing kief/bud and tobacco in joints is now exceedingly rare except in the UK, Australia and NZ. It’s way out of date even in Amsterdam. It’s not even customary in the tobacco-growing areas of the US. Native North and Central American communities who were/are very familiar with tobacco and the ritual smoking of it had/have no social rituals that require admixture of cannabis and tobacco.

      • Austin

        Who you calling habitual, Steve?

  • Austin

    This “study” from University College London sounds like as much of BS as all their other “studies” on smoked “cannabis”… (I put quotes on cannabis because theirs is literally ditch weed over there, so not sure if it can qualify as medical cannabis at all).

    • Sy Katus

      As a matter of fact the Amsterdam I knew was great in quality. They even had there own special grown super weed and hash, as well as their mostly imported. There were some five to ten qualities of pollen Hash and different imported weeds in most stores (one had about 100 varieties in folding book of little envelopes that one chose from). The California weed was probably the worst weed they had. An ounce of pollen Hash was $100 buying eighths, That was what they call keef in some places here, I knew Keef as ground up grass so I was taken back by the handle here for pollen, There were varieties from Morocco Lebanon Afghanistan India etc. some a bit more expensive. When the federal law permits medical Marijuana I suppose importing will be allowed and the US legal market will get to know quality and price, like Black Ganja, Hawaiian sense, Acapulco Gold, Panama Red, weeds as well as the varieties world wide of Hashish.

      By the way New York City around early 80’s was much the same as Amsterdam with numerous stores vending on a smaller scale (less choices, no coffee house gathering palaces, but best quality Jamaican, Colombian Hawaiian . Lebanese etc. NY law allowed non criminal possession 40 years before recently done in California. Even in the sixties great qualities were available n the black market their in NY.

      • Austin

        “The California weed was probably the worst weed they had.” ……..my, how things have changed, completely LOL. Our hash out here on the West Coast is simply years ahead of the rest of the world, now (if you ask someone who’s in the industry currently–even in Europe).

    • Sy Katus

      When I was in Amsterdam in 1990 their were 500 coffee shops, some with table soccer or pool tables and many seats and tables in most, that sold cannabis. The quality was usually good to great. The worst was California weed. They had domestic Dutch Sense as well as high quality domestic pollen Hash, (no bubble Hash. It is something new to me I‘ve never tried). There were in Amsterdam numerous varieties of pollen Hash starting from $100 per ounce in eighths and up from many different nations, such as India, Lebanon, Morocco, Turkey etc.
      I understand then from sources there that stores paid $200 per pound for their pollen hash.
      In Germany street venders sold 5 gram “fingers” of pollen hash for $5 as I recall.
      In NY in the early eighties when lived there, there were many stores that sold varieties in bags of such as Jamaican, Jamaican Sense, Hawaiian, Colombian, Colombian Gold, for $5 for 1, 1.5 or 2.5 grams per bag depending on quality. Lebanese hash sold for $100 per ounce in a grocery store, etc.
      NY decriminalized small quantities 40 years before California.
      Even in the sixties we had the hashish that they had in Amsterdam in NY too.
      Weed must be stored in a Cool Dry Dark airtight place, (not a refrigerator).
      In the 60’s pollen hash sold in host nations for $10 per pound.

      • collette.robert@yahoo.com

        In the 70’s me and my friend would split a quarter pound of good Mexican for $45. I would sell an ounce and keep an ounce. A real small operation officer. They tagged me in 72 anyway for driving looking like Jesus Christ. Apparently he is a famous criminal still on the loose. I was involved with a group of dangerous radicals who were so angry that they had to run miles every day. They said it felt good when they stopped.

        • Sy Katus

          Prices of Medical Marijuana in San Diego are off the edge. I had a farm supplier that sold weed at a reasonable price. Ounces were all about $100 plus tax and delivery charges. Though that is very high for weed, (a plant) other places charge as much as twice as much for the same thing such as OG Kush a popular blend. Last week storm troopers raided the place and destroyed everything this medical marijuana farmer distributor had. They charged him with a misdemeanor and if he asked for reparations they promise to charge him with a felony like they did recently when a grower got $100,000 back.

          My first half pond in NY cost us $100. In NY I sold Marijuana for $150 a pound in the 60’s.A pound in Sonora now a day on the farm goes for $36. In the 60’s a pound of pollen hash in the middle east sold for $10 on the farm but by the time I got it in NY it was $700 and I sold them for 8 hundred.

      • Austin

        And look at how far backwards New York has come since… Sounds like a cool little 80’s paradise, tho!

    • collette.robert@yahoo.com

      The only thing they can agree on is that they need more studies. I’m starting to get suspicious, if only I could get a clew.

  • I don’t agree with the conclusions of this study. I especially don’t even agree that smoking cannabis with tobacco is the norm in many countries. I
    worked in Switzerland and Germany for three years over 1991 – 1993 and have traveled around a fair bit during my 50-year working career and I didn’t see that use of tobacco with cannabis was the norm (as the University College London paper claims) even in Holland. The UK seemed to be only the relatively common one (for mixing and hence smoking tobacco with cannabis). I have spent a lot of time in the US, Europe, the UK, Australia and NZ over that 50 year working career and smoking tobacco with Cannabis is definitely not the norm in any countries other the the UK, Australia and NZ. As a matter of fact it is pretty much frowned upon in most countries, even in the Middle East although many good people are respectful of your freedom and really don’t say anything other than offer you an alternative, like specific herbs to add to your mix.

    • Sy Katus

      When I was in Amsterdam around 1990 the Method (Cone shaped joints with tobacco and weed mixed in the front end then just tobacco, before a index card piece type rolled filter at the thin end) was almost exclusively used. That was how pre rolls were sold in the 500 coffee shops in Amsterdam was the only way most Europeans smoked weed. One fellow would attack us literally for smoking plain weed joints without the Method.
      Weed is stored in a cool, dry, dark, airtight place, (not a refrigerator).

      • A very outdated view. There are also only a bit over 200 coffee shops in Amsterdam. Things were changing radically in respect of the nasty tobacco and cannabis habit back in 91 – 93 when I was first frequently visited Amsterdam. There is a tobacco smoking ban in place which means that you can only smoke cannabis with tobacco if the coffee shop has a special smoking room where no staff are allowed (most do have such a room). If they don’t, or it is against the views of the owner (also commonplace ) you can only smoke pure cannabis in a vaporizer or bong inside. Most coffee shops now also sell pre-rolled joints with herbs of choice instead of tobacco. There is only a small minority of coffee shops (and bars) that still ignore the tobacco smoking ban.

        • Austin

          He was talking about during the 80’s, not now…

  • Alan479 Martin

    I knew a young Indian man in northern India when I was staying there. He told me that he always smoked hashish on the end of a regular cigarette. I told him from my experience that this was a method which I gave up quite quickly as I don’t normally smoke and this method did terrible things to my throat and lungs. The man also said that his lungs were permanently perforated because of this method and he couldn’t hold air in his lungs except for a short period of time. He looked terrible and when he talked about this he seemed reconciled to a short life span, as if life spans in India aren’t short enough.

    • collette.robert@yahoo.com

      Hash on a pin in a book is the Scotch method my mom taught me. She used that autobiography of a yogi book. Nothing wasted. Remember the Black Nepalese Temple Ball hash? Damn that was good. I was thinking about putting a funnel on some tubing so that someone could catch what I can’t smoke. That shit is just quarters floating around and drifting away.

    • hanspy

      No idea where you get that story from, but it is not true. From hash smoking you can’t get perforated lungs. And i have been in India to. Half year only in the North. Not seen one person smoking hash like you described.

      • Alan479 Martin

        No idea where your brain was dumped. The story is no story. It was a personal revelation from him to me as I stated . I first started going to India over 30 years ago learned the language and I don’t care who you have seen and how they are smoking. India has always been a magnet for foreign losers who never really knew the country or the people. Same goes for Nepal.

  • Simon Rucker

    So the answer would seem to be vaporize the tobacco and cannabis together, then…

  • collette.robert@yahoo.com

    Tobacco in moderation, like dopers and Indians do, is beneficial. It is the 400 chemicals they put in commercial tobacco that make it dangerous, so go organic. I started smoking kif because the weed is so strong but now I just like the mix, like a fine nicaraguan rum soaked acid cigar–it’s what I smoke to celebrate the end of an evil empire. Most of the dope being sold is 60-80% contaminated with pesticides and herbicides so go organic there too.

  • K Simms (POGL)

    From my understanding, mixing a little tobacco with your medication makes for smoother smoking and is easier on the lungs. It also aids in reducing the strong smell associated with MMJ. I would argue that tobacco is mixed frequently in the U.S. – we call them BLUNTS!

  • Peter Mills

    That’s certainly been my experience with mixing cannabis and tobacco. I find I do my best work with a small amount of pot washed down with several cigarettes. The weed opens up my creativity while the tobacco keeps me focused and on-track. Yeah, I know it’s not great for my health…