Since marijuana ‘blunt’ smoking (i.e., rolling marijuana inside a hollowed cigar) is quite popular in the US, my research has been trying to understand the causes and potential health consequences of this mixing of tobacco and marijuana. However, a vexing and unanswered question is the degree to which blunt smokers are even exposed to nicotine. Working with my collaborators at Johns Hopkins and RTI International, our recent research begins to answer this question. I’ve been invited to present these new findings at the College on Problems of Drug Dependence (CPDD) conference in June 2016. Below is the abstract for our late-breaking research:
Nicotine content of cigar shells and wraps used for making marijuana blunts
Brian J. Fairman, Brian F. Thomas, and Ryan G. Vandrey
Department of Mental Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, MD
RTI International, Research Triangle Park, NC
Behavioral Pharmacology Research Unit, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD
Background: Half of past-month cannabis users in the US report “blunt” use, i.e., cannabis wrapped in a cigar shell. Significant nicotine exposure may result, affecting use patterns, dependence, and health-related harms, but the level of exposure is unclear. The present study assessed the nicotine content of cigar shells commonly used to make blunts and evaluated biomarkers of nicotine exposure in blunt users.
Methods: Gas chromatography (GC) was used to measure the nicotine content (mg/g) of cigar shells in 8 commercial products, including complete cigars and cigar wrappers sold without tobacco fill. Product weight (g) and median nicotine content were compared to standard reference cigarettes. Semi-quantitative (LOQ 200ng/mL) testing for cotinine, a nicotine metabolite, was conducted on urine samples from daily blunt users self-reporting no other nicotine/tobacco use (N=6).
Results: Cigar shells had a median nicotine content of 5.4mg/g (range: 3.5- 22.5mg/g) and weight of 0.49g (range: 0.3-2.0g). By comparison, reference cigarettes contained a median nicotine content of 18.5mg/g and weight of 0.76g. Adjusted for weight, cigar shells had about one-fifth (19%) the nicotine content as a standard cigarette. Two of six daily blunt users had positive cotinine urine tests (range <200-931ng/mL).
Conclusions: Cannabis users may be consuming the nicotine equivalent of about one cigarette for every five blunts smoked. Qualitative testing of a small number of blunt users was consistent with significant nicotine exposure in some cases. A lack of filter, smoking topography, and frequency may affect true daily exposure to nicotine and other harmful tobacco byproducts via blunts. Epidemiological and controlled studies measuring cotinine levels of blunt smokers may provide supporting evidence of tobacco exposure. Regulating the nicotine content of these products may be a target for tobacco and cannabis control efforts.