Vapes, topicals, tinctures, sublinguals—more alternatives to smoking appear daily.
But die-hard tokers still wonder, what’s the best way to burn one?
A trusty, old BIC, or the leading alternative, called hemp wick?
A bit of hemp twine dipped in beeswax offers better flavor and less landfill waste, many say. But for the first time ever, Leafly asks chemists and other experts to better understand the pros and cons of wicks vs BICs.
How bad is butane—really?
BIC lighters probably torch more bowls than any other source. They’re cheap and convenient. The actual research on lung health from butane lighters looks thin, but our experts weren’t concerned.
“For what it’s worth, butane is relatively non-toxic,” said Josh Wurzer, President and Co-founder of SC Labs, a leading cannabis lab in California.
As for maximum flavor, cannabis celebrity Ngaio Bealum said he doesn’t “hold the lighter over weed long enough to inhale much butane, and I havent noticed a difference in flavor.”
But when it comes to “giant cigar type doobies,” Bealum prefers wood matches for a lower temperature and more even burn.
Cigar aficionados certainly care about flavor, and they sometimes use butane lighters, or long, wooden, sulfurless matches.
Hemp wick—a natural alternative?
A combination of health, flavor, and landfill concerns led to the first major hemp wick brand—Bee Line, said Kea Eubank, Co-founder of the Maui-based, 16-year-old Bee Line Hemp Wick, and coiners of the term “hemp wick.”
Bee Line Co-founder Miranda Campbell survived car crash injuries that put her in a coma. When she woke up she weaned herself off heavy pain medications with weed. Campbell heard butane might impede bone healing and used “magnifying glass hits” to smoke, but wanted an easier way.
“We were definitely interested in improving the flavor and reducing environmental impacts of lighters,” said Campbell, “but the main reason was health.”
The couple settled on a hemp wick covered in beeswax because they loved beekeeping, it’s food-safe, and “paraffin wax was no better than butane.”
Today, over 70 different companies use the term ‘hemp wick’, and some claim to be vegan. Eubank and Campbell said, “All waxes and hemps are not created equal.”
“If it is not organically grown it can be worse than GMO cotton [and] possibly worse than using butane,” they said.
Go for thin wick over thick wick, they also recommend.
“When a wick is too large, it will consume more wax than the flame can burn [and] the unburned material escapes the flame as soot or smoke.”
Hippie wick health
Bee Line, like all other experts Leafly spoke to, said “there’s not a lot of studies behind butane or hemp wicks.”
Wurzer agreed, saying “I don’t have a ton of good data on this.”
Burning anything organic gives off carcinogens, he said. But “the added contaminants from the wick are likely minimal.”
By contrast, organic chemist Steve Palaia likes the purity of butane. “There’s literally nothing clean about hemp wicks … You burn lignocellulose and you get an extra serving of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and creosote.”
Mark Lewis, founder and CEO of Prrl Labs—a BIC lighter alternative—agreed: “Butane is pretty clean burning [and] burning waxes are more of a concern to me than unburned butane.”
Lewis said wax molecules are larger than butane. “There will be more unburned hydrocarbons from wax fumes than from butane.”
A better flavor, though?
Missing health research aside, many fans say so-called hippie wick interferes less with the flavor of smoked cannabis.
Prrl’s CEO Lewis—who has an engineering degree from Caltech—explained the science behind why: “Butane burns hotter than the hemp wick flame.”
Just like a low-temperature hit from a hash bubbler burns less terpenes and maxes out a dab’s flavor, hemp wick uses a gentler heat for a more flavorful smoke.
While studies varied widely, “there may be some support for the claim that hemp wick results in less loss of cannabinoids and terpenoids during combustion,” Lewis said.
Beyond BICs or wick
Other than hemp wick, there are several butane-free ways to combust.
Before waxy twine, stoners took solar hits with a magnifying glass on a sunny day. Country singer Margo Price touts smoking “out of an apple with a solar hit because it tastes better and there is no butane.”
Aside from solar bowls, you can buy a “weed wand”—a borosilicate smoking utensil that has a bulb end. You heat it red-hot with a kitchen torch, and then touch to flowers to vape and burn ‘em. Just don’t burn yourself!
Looking for a less medieval option? “Flameless lighters” use tesla coils to fire your flower, or you could go truly high tech and get an electronic heat wand, the Prrl Neo. The Neo works like a lighter, but you are vaping not burning.
“It’s positioned as an evolution of the lighter,” Lewis said.
The pocket-sized device lights up your herb like a super-sun tan. You can basically vape from most pipe bowls. Naturally, Prrl’s CEO poo-poos burning anything.
“The real issue is combustion in any form,” said Lewis. “Both the butane lighter and the hemp wick burn your material. This results in the formation of harmful ash particles as well as toxic compounds.”
So what’s ultimately better—hippie wick, or a butane lighter?
- For convenience and fire safety, flick that BIC.
- For sustainability, hemp wick doesn’t clog a landfill.
- The health debate looks like a stalemate—we’d need more research.
- And for flavor-savers: try hemp wick or a vape gun like the Neo, taste for yourself, and let us know.