The definition of a “spliff” is a marijuana cigarette. If this sounds like the same definition that might be applied to a joint or a blunt, both of which at least vaguely resemble a hand-rolled cigarette, you’re not too far off. A spliff contains tobacco, which is mixed in with the weed that you are preparing to smoke. While some people, especially non-smokers, would never consider putting tobacco into their joints or blunts, there are some who swear by the practice and are almost exclusively spliff smokers.
Mixing tobacco with your weed is not exactly a common habit here in the United States, but in other reaches of the world-particularly among European nations-it is a part of many smokers’ daily lives.
If you’re not a spliff enthusiast, you might ask yourself “Why?” Why take weed and add something that is proven to be both addictive and dangerous, especially if you’re not already a cigarette smoker? It’s a fair question, but let’s be clear that this is not going to be an article wherein the writer gets on their soap box and preaches against the use of tobacco. Instead, let’s talk about not only what a spliff is, but how it came to be and why the practice persists to this day.
Where did the spliff get its start?
The term was first cited in 1936 and is believed to have its roots in the Caribbean. The etymology of this word suggests that it is a combination of the words “split” (divided) and “spiff” (well-dressed or good). Over time, this word has actually been adapted to reference any well-rolled joint, blunt or tobacco-weed combination. For the purposes of this article, we are discussing the latter: the combination of tobacco and our favorite psychoactive plant.
In what is commonly called the “cannabis renaissance” of the 1960s and 1970s, it wasn’t uncommon for Europeans who didn’t have as much access to the cannabis flower. The intent was to prolong the life of their weed stash, and at this period in history nobody really knew the damages that tobacco causes to the body. Even though we are much more aware of tobacco’s harmful effects in the 21st century, that hasn’t stopped people from inhaling this mixture, even if they have regular access to cannabis.
We know that tobacco is harmful. So why do this?
As we touched upon above, the mixture of weed with tobacco has helped people to preserve their weed-which can be very expensive and difficult to access for some of us. But that isn’t the only reason why people smoke spliffs.
They can be easier to roll.
How easy it is to roll a joint depends on a lot of things, specifically the weed that’s going into it. Your bud, depending on how old it is, how it was stored, and the strain itself, can make rolling a difficult task. If the weed is too dry, adding tobacco can provide a certain “springiness,” thus making it easier to roll. If it is too sticky, the addition of dried tobacco can make it easier to work with as you start rolling.
Most weed smokers have noticed that there can be a lack of consistency in what you have in your stash. Availability plays a huge part in this, as well as the storage of the weed itself, making joint-rolling a fairly inconsistent experience. Tobacco provides consistency, and in doing so can make a frustrating experience more manageable.
Smoking a spliff can be easier than smoking a weed-only joint.
There are two problems that you have likely run into if you’ve ever smoked a joint. The first is when the joint burns unevenly, causing that side-winding effect that makes half of the paper burn while the other half remains untouched. When this happens, it is usually called “running,” or a “canoe.” Another problem that you may have run across is the issue of your joint extinguishing itself. If you’ve had to ask your buddy for their lighter because the cherry has burned out, you know what we mean.
Because tobacco is so finely shredded and is less sticky than weed tends to be, it helps to mitigate both of these concerns. Because tobacco fills in areas that might be otherwise left as air pockets by clumpy ganja, spliff smokers often experience a smoother, more consistent smoke session from beginning to end.
A pure joint is more potent.
The diminishing of potency caused by adding tobacco to your joint can be either a good or a bad thing. Obviously, less weed means less high, and for some people this is a great thing. For those smokers who might get “faded” and spacey from pure, weed-only joints, the addition of tobacco can let them enjoy their smoke without feeling like they’re checking out of the planet.
Discretion is key for some smokers.
Maybe you live in an apartment building that has banned smoking of weed. Or maybe you live in an area where weed isn’t legal at all. What do you do, then, if being discreet is on the top of your priority list? A spliff can help, as the smell of tobacco can effectively mask the telltale aroma of burning cannabis. No, we aren’t advocating any illegal behavior, for the record. But we know what people out there are doing, don’t we?
You won’t smoke your paper ‘crutch.’
A crutch is a folded-up piece of paper that serves as the “butt” of your joint-yes, like a cigarette butt. Some joint rollers enjoy adding this feature to their smoke sessions, which is a great practice, until you get to the end of the joint. As you try and make use of every last speck of green in your joint, you’ll likely end up inhaling that nasty, acrid taste of burning paper. But for spliff smokers who add tobacco right before the clutch-just tobacco, no weed-they can toss the roach once it’s become nothing but tobacco. This might seem like a small detail, but for those who are big on flavor and don’t want their experience made harsh by a terrible taste, it makes sense.
Okay, so we’ve covered the pros of the spliff. But what about the cons?
Of course, there are some genuine disadvantages to smoking spliffs. That’s why the topic is so controversial in some cannabis-friendly circles. And of course, the biggest issue is….
You’re still smoking tobacco.
In this day and age, nobody is ignorant of the harms of tobacco on the body. Emphysema, cancer, and COPD are just a few of the conditions that can be brought about through the use of tobacco. Additionally, this substance is known for being highly addictive. That’s why you’ll hear people say things like “I’m an expert at quitting cigarettes. I’ve quit ten times already.” Nicotine patches, gums and even pills exist to help tobacco addicts curb their cravings and ditch the stuff entirely. Stop-smoking clinics are available in some areas to provide extra support to those struggling to kick the habit.
In some cases, people who would never have smoked tobacco before end up hooked on cigarettes in the long run because they are still introducing this addictive carcinogen into their bodies. It’s easy to get addicted to cigarettes, and it’s much harder to stop.
And with tobacco comes the taste and smell of it, which most people find to be distinctly unpleasant. It can linger on your breath, in your hair and in your clothes, even on your hands.
You miss out on the taste of your weed.
Weed tastes amazing, doesn’t it? Cigarettes, not so much. No matter how high-grade of tobacco you choose for your spliff, it will still taste very much like a cigarette. Even for those who don’t mind the mixed flavors of weed and tobacco, it’s no contest: weed simply tastes better.
Medical cannabis patients should be especially wary.
No matter what the federal government tells you, weed can be and is utilized for its therapeutic properties. If you are a recipient of medical cannabis for any of the number of conditions for which you may qualify (this differs state to state), you should reconsider the addition of tobacco to your medicine. Tobacco is still a stimulant, even when it’s mixed with weed, and that can interfere with the functionality of your medicine-just like how smoking can affect other medicines in your body (birth control, for example).
If you add tobacco to your medical cannabis, it is in your best interest to speak with your doctor. Of course, they are likely to tell you to steer clear of tobacco entirely.
In conclusion, there are many perceived “benefits” of smoking a spliff versus pure, weed-only joints. But with the health risks associated with tobacco, and how much we know about it in the 21st century, it is becoming more and more difficult to find justification for this practice. To minimize the harm that can come from ingesting tobacco with your weed, try doing what many spliff-smokers do, and use only the smallest amount of tobacco possible when you’re rolling.
If you are not a regular tobacco smoker, our official advice is to stay away from spliffs entirely.
Photo by alvaro IN