Photo: TruFlora

Does smoking botanicals with weed enhance your high?

As quarantine continues to keep us mostly at home, many of us have turned to alcohol and cannabis to self-soothe as we watch the world burn. We might’ve even gotten creative with how we imbibe, whether by infusing spirits or cooking gourmet weed-infused meals. Lately, I’ve been curious about smoking other botanicals — like lavender, mint, rosemary, or chamomile — with cannabis. But should you smoke herbs with your herb? How do these herbs alter the effects of cannabis, if at all, and importantly, how safe are they to smoke with it?

You’re probably familiar with spliffs — weed rolled with tobacco — but people roll cannabis with other plants, too. Cannabis media outlets have listed the best herbs to pair with weed, Barbari sells herbal blends you can combine with your bud, and TruFlora sells pre-rolls (in California) that include lavender and passion flower. That said, smoking herbs is nothing new. People around the world have long smoked them, often for medicinal purposes.

Claims about the benefits of smoking these herbs and how they affect your high abound — for instance, smoking chamomile with weed supposedly helps you chill and stabilizes your high. The problem is, there’s little research evidence to support them, according to Lewis Nelson, chair of the department of emergency medicine and chief of the division of medical toxicology at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School.

By and large, health claims about herbs rely on the same evidence as dietary supplement claims — anecdotes from users, as well as experiments in cells, and in animals only distantly related to humans, Nelson tells me. The few human trials that exist lack adequate controls, preventing us from definitively tracing any observed effects solely to the herbs being tested.

Plus, claims about the health benefits of herbs are based largely on the effects observed when ingesting them, Nelson says. Assuming they do provide benefits when ingested, it’s unclear whether they’d still do so when smoked. “Not all compounds are heat stable,” meaning you may not even be inhaling the supposedly beneficial compound when you smoke the herb.

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Likewise, it’s not clear what effects, if any, these herbs have on your experience of weed. “Most herbs are not psychoactive and largely enhance the experience through what can be called the placebo effect,” Nelson says. “That is, they make the use of cannabis more pleasurable, such as by improving the odor or taste.” Set and setting, or your mindset and surroundings, are especially important in influencing the effects of weed, he adds.

“If there is a silver lining, for the most part these are safe herbs,” he says. “These are safe things to add to the cannabis.” Your lungs aren’t meant to inhale smoke, period, but there’s no reason to believe that smoking one dried plant would be any more dangerous than smoking another. And most people don’t smoke cannabis or herbal blends frequently enough to put them at risk of developing lung cancer.

Other than that, “none of these [herbs] carry any significant harm,” Nelson says, “but whether they carry a benefit is in the eye of the beholder.” Since there isn’t any regulatory framework to validate whether a substance is safe to smoke, he notes that the only precautions you can really take are to use herbs that appear to be clean and come from a reputable distributor. “I don’t want to make it sound like you’re pouring toxins into your lung when you smoke an herb,” he says. “That being said, there’s no guarantee for its purity, quality, and safety.

So, if you find that blending your bud with passionflower mellows you out, or mint makes it taste better, and the herbs came from a legit source, then more power to you — roll up and enjoy.