Five Marijuana ‘Blunts’ Are Equal One Cigarette

New preliminary findings suggest smoking five marijuana blunts could expose you to the nicotine equivalent of one cigarette. These and other findings related to nicotine exposure via blunts will be presented in June at the 2016 College on Problems of Drug Dependence conference.

What are marijuana ‘blunts’?

Blunts are marijuana smoked in cigar shells or tobacco rolling papers (a.k.a., cigar or blunt wraps). Blunt smoking is popular in the United States, where 1 in 2 current marijuana users report smoking some amount as blunts. Since cigar shells and wraps are made from tobacco, it stands to reason blunt smokers are exposed to nicotine and other harmful chemicals, but exactly how much remains unclear.

Collaborating with researchers from Johns Hopkins Medicine and RTI International, Dr. Fairman will be presenting new findings on the nicotine levels from cigar shells and wraps used for making blunts, as well as preliminary data on urine cotinine levels (a nicotine metabolite) from a small sample of daily blunt smokers who reported no other self-reported, personal tobacco use. These findings may help researchers better understand the potential health hazards from mixing these two drugs together.

These findings will be presented at the 2016 College on Problems of Drug Dependence (CPDD) conference held in Palm Springs, CA (June 11-16). This presentation will be during the “Late-Breaking” section, where researchers give a very brief (5 min) talk about their new findings. If you’re attending CPDD this year, please stop by and ask questions.

Nicotine content of cigar shells and wraps used for making marijuana blunts
Brian J. Fairman, Brian F. Thomas, and Ryan G. Vandrey
2016 College on Problems of Drug Dependence
When: Wednesday, June 15, 2016 @ 2:15-3:15pm
Where: Fiesta 6/8 (La Quinta Resort and Club: Palm Springs, CA)

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.


      • Thanks for the question! The tobacco used in cigarettes and the filling of cigars may indeed to be treated with chemical additives like analgesics and bronchodialators (to open airways and reduce the irritation of smoke on the lungs) and metal oxides (to improve combustion). To answer your question, I haven’t found a source that tests the degree to which cigar companies had similar additives to blunt shells, which is why our research seeks to focus in on the main ingredient of interest – nicotine. However, anecdotally, the cigar shells in blunts might contain some type of glue or other substance to keep the shell together, since I’ve heard that more expensive cigars (e.g., that use pure tobacco leaves) don’t make good blunts because they fall apart when you try to deconstruct them. Keep in mind that cigarette/cigar companies are in the business of selling products regardless of their health consequences, and are surely aware that their cigars are used for blunts, so I’d presume whatever tricks they use for cigarettes they’d use for cigars.


  1. Hi, thanks for publishing your study.

    How many blunts equal a “pack year”? Is that something that is even quantifiable, considering that marijuana itself must contain some of the same carcinogens as tobacco, no?


    • Trying to equate chemical exposures of blunts vs. cigarettes would depend upon the chemical in question. Certainly, nicotine levels are lower in blunts vs. cigarettes. One study that was published after my post found similar evidence – the cigar shells of blunts contain about 1.2-6.0 mg of nicotine (cigarettes usually contain 10-15 mg). Another study suggests that those who smoke blunts may be exposing themselves to nicotine levels typical of heavy second-hand smoke, although the sample was small and their frequency of blunt use uncertain. In terms of carcinogens, marijuana smoke contains many of the same chemicals as tobacco smoke, but there are a lot of factors that translate into exposure, such as smoking topography, duration, and frequency. Cigarettes are typically smoked filtered while marijuana usually is not. However, there is currently no safe level of tobacco smoking.

      Thanks for the question!


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