Tips for Choosing Non-Toxic Rolling Papers
Patients who prefer smokable medical marijuana fall into two categories; those who like to pack a pipe and those who prefer a paper wrapped pre-roll or joint. When it comes to getting fast-acting relief, smokable cannabis wins even though it is not the healthiest route compared to tinctures, capsules, or edibles.
The onset of psychoactive and physical sensations of smoking cannabis happens quickly. On average, from 1-3 minutes after inhalation, you may start to feel the effects. If you are a patient using medical marijuana for chronic pain, muscle spasms, or severe anxiety, it can help you feel better more quickly.
But when it comes to cannabis rolling papers and pre-rolls available at your local licensed dispensary, they are not all equal. There are many types of rolling papers to choose from, but not all are safe. And many have chemicals that, when incinerated, can lead to respiratory irritation and other health problems.
DocMJ would like to share what we know after seven years of helping patients. And provide some tips to help you find the healthiest rolling papers for your needs.
How Popular Are Pre-Rolled Cannabis Products?
Pre-rolls are very popular because they are ready to consume with no mess or fuss. In fact, in the last year, more medical marijuana and recreational users have purchased pre-rolls, and they are now surging in popularity.
According to one report from Headset (a data company), there were over $725 million in pre-roll sales in Canada and the United States from January to June 2022. In that same period, pre-rolled cannabis flower was the third most popular product sold at dispensaries. That accounted for 12.6% of all U.S. cannabis sales during those six months.
While vape pens and cannabis flower remain the top two choices, the convenience of purchasing pre-rolls is a no-brainer. But infused variations of pre-rolls are also growing in popularity. Infused pre-rolls may have cannabis concentrates like hash, rosin, or kief added to make them more potent.
Cannabis Rolling Papers Are Not Safety Tested
There is a misconception that everything on the shelf of a smokeshop, or convenience store, is safe to use. In fact, the one website that consumers rely on to learn about product hazards and recalls is the Consumer Product and Safety Commission. And rolling paper health or product safety alerts don’t even appear on the site.
When it comes to cannabis culture, rolling papers are common. Many people like to roll their own joints. And if you do, you probably have a couple of brands of rolling papers you prefer. But are you sure they are safe? When was the last time you looked at the ingredients listed on a package of rolling papers? Not many people do.
Here is the bad news; rolling papers aren’t tested in every state. Some states, like California, have stringent consumer product laws. A study from SC Laboratories in California resulted in a massive recall of several brands of rolling papers. The testing found 90% of popular rolling papers contained lead, pesticides, and cancer-causing chemicals or carcinogens.
What is even worse? Many of the toxic rolling paper brands had labeled them as “organic” to convince consumers the products were safe—a clever marketing ploy to get more people to buy unsafe rolling papers.
What Kind of Rolling Papers Are Used by Dispensaries?
Pre-rolls are so popular you are guaranteed to find them at your local dispensary. But only if you live in a state where smokable cannabis is legalized for medicinal or recreational use. States like Georgia, for instance, do not allow smokable cannabis, only Low-THC oil.
What kind of rolling papers do dispensaries use to produce pre-rolls? It depends on the dispensary and state safety regulations, but here are the most common types.
Classic Wood Pulp Rolling Papers
The OG of rolling papers was made from wood pulp, and they were popular. The wood pulp rolling papers were sometimes mixed with other fibers so that they would be stronger and easier to handle.
White wood pulp papers were used to handroll joints. But they were mostly made from bleached paper and toxic. When you incinerate cannabis, terpenes, flavonoids, and THC are released and inhaled through decarboxylation. But so are the harmful chemical treatments found in some rolling papers.
Bleached wood pulp rolling papers are also thicker, which is good at holding the cannabis inside as a joint rolling paper. But it also means a higher volume of toxic chemicals will be inhaled when you smoke.
Few dispensaries would use classic wood pulp rolling papers today since there are healthier and more environmentally friendly options. Also, people who are experienced cannabis smokers dislike the medium to fast burn rate of these types of rolling papers. You can go through more flower with a faster burn rate as the blunt wraps continue to burn, even when you are not inhaling.
Refined White Papers (Semi-Transparent)
Some dispensaries use a refined white paper product for pre-rolls. One of the reasons is that the semi-transparent paper allows the patient to see the color and packed density of the pre-roll.
The thin, refined white paper also allows more of the natural flavonoids and terpene scent to come through when incinerated. When inhaling flower, the smell and flavor can make pre-rolls more enjoyable, particularly if the cannabis is high-resin or sticky.
Some people worry that white papers indicate a chemical bleaching process. Dispensaries are very selective about the type of paper they use, and bleach isn’t an option for patients. You may, however, taste some calcium carbonate in refined white paper pre-rolls.
Unrefined Brown Paper Pre-Rolls
Unrefined brown paper is also sometimes used. One of the arguments is that brown paper helps preserve the quality of the cannabis and THC content. When cannabis is exposed to sunlight, the potency can erode over time. Not a big deal to a patient who will consume it in a week or two, but more a consideration for the shelf-life of products in the dispensary.
Organic Hemp Paper
Some dispensaries use only organic hemp paper to manufacture pre-rolls. There are several reasons to love hemp rolling papers compared to wood pulp papers. Some of the best rolling paper brands are made from hemp.
Hemp rolling papers are kinder to the environment. Industrial hemp grows quickly as an agricultural crop, which means fewer trees are harvested. Hemp rolling papers and cones have a light brown color and can be smooth or rough. Some types are grainy to allow you to get a better grip on the pre-roll.
Dispensaries also use hemp rolling papers because they have natural fibers which help reduce humidity. Pre-rolls made from hemp papers also have a medium burn ratio or rate. It burns a little longer than other materials used for rolling papers, with less of an aftertaste.
Which Types of Rolling Papers Are Less Toxic?
When it comes to the healthiest choice for rolling papers, it really comes down to two types; 100% hemp or pure rice paper (without alternate fiber content). But be careful because there are imposter brands, and since rolling paper products are virtually unregulated, you need to research the ingredients.
Some types of rolling papers and cones that are popular are 100% rice paper. It is a thin material derived from rice, a natural plant-sourced product. Some types of rice rolling papers claim to produce almost no ash and may use tree sap like Acacia gum as a sealant.
Hemp papers need no introduction because many traditional cannabis users are familiar with them. Generally speaking, hemp papers are devoid of most of the toxic chemicals you can find in other types of products. You may also find them at a dispensary or retail smoke shop called “hemp wraps.”
Look for rolling papers that are chlorine and bleach free and derived from healthy non-GMO plant sources for the cleanest smoking experience.
What Are The Most Unhealthy Types of Rolling Papers?
Bleached traditional rolling papers are probably the most toxic type you can buy. And the bad news is that they are the most prolific at recreational head shops and tobacco retail stores. They are also the most economical, which is why many people still buy them. Even though studies have shown they are not safe.
There are some exceptions, like Zig-Zag. The popular rolling papers are bleached using an oxygenation process that whitens them without chemicals. However, Zig-Zag and other brands also provide flavored rolling papers, which studies have shown can be toxic to your health.
Here are some brands that have been recalled due to health concerns in the United States. Interestingly, you may still find them on the shelves at small retail smoke shops.
What About RAW Rolling Papers?
When it comes to cannabis, RAW® was known for manufacturing the best rolling papers. And that is because they were advertised as hemp papers and a healthier alternative. The brand has been almost legendary, and its products extend to hemp wicks (alternative to butane lighters), rolling trays, grinders, and other essentials.
However, in February 2023, a number of RAW® products were recalled due to deceptive marketing. And that surprised many fans of the brand. The message of being the “healthiest choice” has been changed following the findings of a court case involving Republic Brands and HBI, the makers of RAW® brand products.
RAW or HBI will not be permitted to sell any products that mislead consumers by claiming:
- The company contributes funds to a charitable organization called the “RAW Foundation.”
- That the Organic Hemp rolling papers are “unrefined.”
- That the rolling papers have an adhesive made from natural hemp gum.
- That the Organic Hemp rolling papers are made in Alcoy, Spain. No use of the word Alcoy by HBI International can be used on packaging.
- That RAW® Organic Hemp rolling papers are manufactured with green energy, utilizing wind power.
- That the Organic Hemp rolling papers are manufactured from the center of hemp stalks.
HBI International also informed consumers that the founder of the company, Joshua Kesselmen, was the original inventor of pre-rolled cones. That is not true, according to an article in The Black Wall Street Times.
People who want to make healthier choices are now back to square one to figure out which brands of rolling papers are safe to use. Now that the globally leading brand
Stay Away from Flavored or Colored Rolling Papers
When you go to a dispensary, you are unlikely to see flavored rolling papers. Most dispensaries will not sell them because several research studies have shown they may be the most toxic option.
But they are everywhere you look. Brightly colored packages and assorted flavors like bubble gum, blueberry, menthol, chocolate, tropical fruit, and more. Many people have tried them and enjoy them because, let’s be honest, they are tasty!
And extremely dangerous to your health. The flavored coating that is applied to rolling papers is not natural extract, as the label may suggest. And it is unlikely to be organic, either. It is a chemical concoction sprayed directly on the rolling paper to achieve that flavor when burned.
Flavored products are commonly made from cellulose. One of the reasons is that cellulose absorbs and retains the chemical flavoring well. It is also the same material used for other products like toilet paper, napkins, and tissues.
Ingredients like cellulose nitrate have been found to cause cancer in animal studies. Other common chemicals in flavored rolling papers are equally toxic, including Chlorine Dioxide (C102), which is also used for pools and water treatment.
Watch out for other chemicals like Bromine and Oxygen Dioxide. Some brands use gluten flours to manufacture flavored rolling papers. That can cause a reaction in patients with gluten intolerance.
Colored Rolling Papers Can Be Toxic
One of the newest trends is using colored rolling paper varieties. If you are going to be social, why not match your blunt to your outfit? It may sound strange, but the colored joint paper is popular right now. Smoking blunts from colored papers can expose you to more harmful chemicals. Basically, anything but a natural material and unbleached, including “terpene enriched” tips, may be hazardous to your health.
Don’t Hold Your Cannabis Smoke In
Inside every cloud of incinerated cannabis are terpenes, flavonoids, and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Naturally, you want more of ‘the good stuff’ when you smoke your join or pre-roll. And you may even inhale and then hold the smoke inside your chest longer, thinking it will work better that way.
It’s a myth, however. About 90% of the THC is absorbed in the first few seconds following your inhalation. That deep draw on your pre-roll or joint won’t make you feel higher. What it does do, however, is give any toxins present in your rolling papers time to absorb into your mouth and lungs.
Inhale and then exhale naturally when smoking a cannabis pre-roll. The coughing that you experience when you “hold your smoke” is your body reacting to the toxins and hot, dry vapor. If smokable cannabis is your preferred intake route, make sure you are buying healthy pre-rolls (ask your dispensary for information) or buying safe, quality rolling papers.
I am a Chief Marketing Officer at DocMJ, a leading provider of medical cannabis health services to qualified patients. I have over 20 years of experience in healthcare marketing and communications, with a proven track record of delivering impactful and compliant campaigns that educate, inform, and empower patients to make better choices for their health and wellness.