The ritual of smoking has been blended along with the human development process as far back as 5000 BC. Cannabis is known to have existed in the Middle East since 2000 BC and in the 16th century, the consumption and cultivation of tobacco spread quickly as it soon became a staple in our modern society. With more than 1 billion people in the world engaging in the daily custom, it is hard to ignore the effects on our health when burning our carbon-based ally.
There are several ways we choose to consume our favorite dried herbs. Sometimes you want to pack a pipe, sometimes you want to roll up, but you always have a lighter handy. (That is if your friend didn’t pocket it during an earlier sesh). Very few people are perturbed enough to find alternative ways to light up. One of the more common alternatives is hemp wick, a spool of hemp fiber coated in beeswax. The argument here is that butane from your everyday lighter is toxic and hemp wick is not.
When something is heated up it, creates vapor or soot, which is produced by burning organic matter. No matter what you choose to smoke and how you smoke it, there are negligible concerns. Butane is an organic compound that is a gas at room temperature. When the pressurized liquid is released and the “flint” (ferrocerium) is sparked, you have fire. In order for the flame to stay lit, the butane gas needs to be expelled from the plastic container. We know lighters contain butane, but the type of fluid and purity with Bic lighters is unclear. We just obediently conclude it is butane. No further questions. As for the Clipper brand lighters, they claim to use only the best quality isobutane, which is better for the environment, but any type of butane still remains toxic to our health.
Butane is a hydrocarbon, made up of gas and water vapor. When using a butane lighter while smoking out of a water pipe, the volume of the vapor that is being inhaled increases as it is concentrated. Still, according to the Center for Disease Control, exposure to humans at the rate of 1,000 PPM for 8 hours does not induce any signs of toxicity. An ordinary Bic lighter gives off about 800 PPM of butane, which is the current Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s permissible exposure limit for the average sized adult. However, acute exposure over time may lead to central nervous system depression, as the volatile hydrocarbon fluid may be stored in the brain and tissue cells. Chronic exposure or abuse through inhalation can cause narcosis, asphyxia, cardiac arrhythmia, fluctuations in blood pressure, temporary memory loss and death from ventricular fibrillation. Also, some plastics that are used in the production of lighters may form formaldehyde gas during combustion, which can be considered a carcinogen, if the amount exceeds 40/mg a day. Imported lighters are known to have lower standards of production, which results in the more toxic examples of fluid used, as well as other hazards such as injuries resulting from malfunctioning and exploding lighters. Between 1997 and 2002, the Consumer Product Safety Commission estimated that more than 3,000 individuals were sent to the ER for injuries stemming from faulty lighters.
“the volatile hydrocarbon fluid may be
stored in the brain and tissue cells.”
Hemp wick is favored among the leery as an alternative to traditional lighters, despite the fact that these too emit byproducts of combustion, as does any organic compound. The material being burned is cannabis matter, which for medical marijuana patients reflects the same material that is being consumed in their pipe. The wax coated on the hemp wickhelps keep the flame lit, as does the butane in a lighter. But when smoking from a water pipe, the wax, being a solid, precipitates as it is filtered through the cooled bong water. When cannabis is burned, some would argue that it causes carcinogens similar to tobacco, yet there is no actual evidence that marijuana causes cancer. Pure tobacco however, contains small amounts of radioactive materials such as Polonium, which is absorbed through the soil and into the tobacco leaves. Perhaps this is what differentiates the health concerns between marijuana and tobacco? That as well as the countless other known and unkown chemicals that are blended to create cigarettes.
From an environmental standpoint, the choice is obvious. Hemp wick is entirely bio-degradable. The plastic from lighters is not. With nearly 1 billion lighters sold in the US annually, this clearly presents an issue for our fragile Earth. There is no proper way to dispose of a lighter short of tossing it in the trash can, but before doing so make sure you drain the lighter first. Hold down the fuel-release button while outdoors to drain the butane from the disposable lighter.
“Hemp wick is entirely bio-degradable.
The plastic from lighters is not.”
Though the main two options we have for lighting up seem evanescent, try using hemp wick for a few weeks and go back to using a lighter. See for yourself if you recognize a difference in taste and harshness. You could even have your friends participate in a blindfold test to see if their taste palates can recognize the subtle differences. For me personally, after using hemp wick for months and then using a lighter, I immediately distinguished a sort of chloraseptic numbing taste in my mouth. Granted I didn’t enter a state of narcosis, but the taste was more odd and disconcerting than anything. Butane lighters have only been around for a little over 50 years, so there is no evidence relating to the long term effects of toxicity for the average smoker. If the health concerns we recognized today from tobacco cigarettes goes hand and hand with our little flame generating friend and the harshness of every hit is contributed in part by the mildly-toxic concoction being showered upon our pungent herbs and medicine, then I would certainly re-think the negligible concerns.