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These Smokable Herbal Blends Offer a New Kind of (Legal) High

Move over cannabis. We cover the trendiest botanicals to inhale—but safety first, of course.

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A recent report says the majority of Americans live where cannabis is legal. But did you know that cannabis isn’t the only smokable herb? Smokable herbs have a long history in Indigenous cultures around the world, with communities smoking plants for their symbolic, spiritual, and medicinal properties. Over the years, these traditions have overlapped with psychedelic culture and science and led to continued exploration into herbs that can be smoked for desired effects. While not at the potency level of cannabis, many of these can have intoxicating effects that range from mood-boosting to mind-expanding.

But it’s important to remember: smoking anything still comes with risks. “Smoking is not for everyone,” herbalist Sian Seligman, MS, writes in an email to DoubleBlind. Smoking herbs “may cause symptoms of bronchitis including coughing, wheezing and tightness in the chest.” Long-term nicotine or cannabis smoking may have a negative impact on lung health, she says, referencing academic research. “Some people have sensitivities to smoke, heat, irritants and may also have allergies related to the herbs being smoked. It is important to be aware of these sensitivities and listen to your body’s signals.”

For those who want to inhale, a dry herb vaporizer may offer an alternative to combustion. “Vaporization typically creates smoke or water vapor that has a much lower heat point over traditional smoking and may be preferred,” says Seligman. In contrast, combustion will always produce noxious chemical compounds that may have a net-negative effect on your health. Seligman points to a study published in ACS Omega in 2022. “Smoking herbs may induce certain metabolic issues and may increase the risk of metabolic disease,” she says.

What Herbs Can You Smoke? A Short Guide to Alternative Herbal Blends

Herbs for smoking are usually combined in a blend that has been optimized for smokability, effect, and taste. These components are usually referred to as the base (or carrier) herbs, supportive (or effective) herbs, and flavoring herbs. Base herbs will make up 40-60 percent of the blend and are chosen for smooth burning and mild flavor qualities. Supportive herbs should be 30-40 percent of the mix and are added for specific physical or mental effects. Finally, 10-20 percent of the blend is to enhance flavor and aroma. Ingredients can often fill multiple roles, so these ratios are a good starting point, but creating your perfect blend will likely include some experimentation and adjustment.

With these ideas in mind, we’ve put together some herbal combinations to consider next time you want want to experiment with herbal alternatives:

Looking for Non-Smoking Options?

Tinctures, teas, and capsules are alternative ways to consume some of these relaxing herbs—without the smoke. Smoke contains carcinogenic compounds. It also can be hard on your throat and airways. Herbalist Sian Seligman walks you through how to make your own Blue Lotus Tincture right at home.

Quit a nicotine habit

Trying to give up a nicotine habit is one of the most common reasons people turn to smoking herbs, specifically herbal cigarettes. Using herbs to support quitting works for many people because it mimics the physical sensation and habit of smoking. But, while these herbs may not contain nicotine, combustion still produces noxious chemicals. “There is also no current data to support that smoking herbs produce less tar or carcinogens over traditional nicotine cigarettes,” writes Seligman, referencing the earlier ACS Omega study.

Mullein is a commonly available and popular base for blends, partly because of its smooth smoking qualities. “Some herbs like mullein,” Seligman writes, “can be added to a smoking blend to help to balance some of the perceived negative effects, but should not be seen as a replacement for good judgement if your body is responding poorly to smoking.”

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“Mullein is known for its capacity to promote lung health. It is often used for respiratory issues such as cough, breathing issues and is anti-inflammatory.” But, if this herb inspires excessive coughing, dial it back and consider a non-combustion option. Another popular smoking herb is Red Raspberry Leaf. This herb is a good choice for future former smokers and vapers, due to its tobacco-like body and subtle sweetness. 

When it comes to supportive herbs to kick a nicotine addiction, Lobelia is an interesting one. It has similar properties to nicotine and even binds to the same nicotine receptors in the brain—without the addictive element. 
If it’s menthols you crave, consider Peppermint, Spearmint, or Holy basil to flavor this smoke. These herbs have supportive properties, too: choose a mint if you want more energizing effects and the basil if you want to relax. If you like sweeter taste, try Licorice root.

Photo Depicting Close Up Angle of Mullein
Mullein. Photo Courtesy of Nick Kenrick via Flickr.

Stimulate Your Mood

Gotu kola is a great base herb if you’re looking for an uplifting, mentally energizing experience. A staple of traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine, gotu kola has been dubbed the “the fountain of life.” In Western medicine, it’s being researched for it’s potential in supporting memory, brain, and nerve functioning, as well as in supporting the circulatory system.

“[Traditional Chinese Medicine] suggests that gotu kola removes heat and is often used to treat inflammation, fever and colds,” writes Seligman. “However, in TCM, it is typically used as a tonic or tincture, as an ingredient in food or topically.”

“From a TCM perspective, smoking brings both heat and dampness to the lungs and disrupts Qi,” she continues. In TCM, “good health and wellness is all about finding balance or homeostasis in the body, particularly of the energetics and four primary qualities of the body and herbs balancing these qualities—hot/cold, damp/dry.”

“Someone who naturally runs hot or has chronic inflammation, should avoid smoking. Because smoking is rarely consciously metered by the smoker, the lungs can often get overloaded and disrupt balance. This can manifest symptoms that regular smoking can produce, production of phlegm, coughing, a feeling of heaviness in the chest, wheezing, and shortness of breath.” 

Photo Depicting Close Up Angle of Rosemary
Rosemary. Photo Courtesy of Benjamin Abbot via Flickr.

The rest of the herbs suggested for this blend are all great for both a mood and flavor boost, so play with the mix to see what works best. Rosemary (both the leaves and flowers can be smoked) and White sage are both cleansing and focused. Throw in a little Lemongrass for a bright and uplifting citrus flavor.

Calm Your Mind

For the ultimate soothing blend, consider using Hemp or Cannabis for your base if available. THC, CBD, and other cannabinoids in the plant have long been known for their ability to relax the body and mind. If it’s not an option, try Marshmallow leaf or root instead, which makes a great base and is known for its soothing effects and sweet flavor. (It can also be mildly psychoactive, so skip or use sparingly if that doesn’t sound enjoyable.) 

Catnip is a popular herb for its tranquil effect, (which is different for humans than cats). In higher amounts, it can also have a sedative effect, so experiment with the dose and consider using before bed. Skullcap is commonly used to relax and relieve stress while imbuing the blend with a hint of cinnamon flavor. If a sweeter floral flavor is desired, try Passionflower, which is used to soothe anxiety and support the nervous system.

Have a spiritual experience (and maybe lucid dreams)

Mugwort is the base of choice if your desired effect is more spiritual or psychoactive. Known for centuries as the “lucid dreaming herb,” mugwort’s effects are calming and can be somewhat hallucinogenic. 

Photo Depicting Close Up Angle of Blue Lotus Flower
Blue Lotus Flower. Photo Courtesy of Ptolemy The Cat via Flickr.

To enhance these effects, add Blue (or Egyptian) lotus flower, which has a long history of dream-stimulating and sedative properties, or try Calendula (or Marigold flower) if you want a more uplifting and energetic experience; this mood-lifter also has lucid dreaming properties and an appealing floral and citrus taste. White Sage is another herb to keep in mind when one wants the energy to move forward mentally and spiritually.

Get in the mood

For the ultimate herbal aphrodisiac, smokers turn to Damiana, a popular base herb with a cannabis-like flavor that can ease stress, promote relaxation, and stimulate libido.

Photo Depicting Close Up Angle of Hibiscus

For the rest of this blend, a bouquet of Rose petals, Hibiscus, and Jasmine will leave you feeling calm and relaxed, but these blooms can also invoke feelings of euphoria, bliss, or sensuality. Expect a floral and sweet flavor from this flower power blend.

Feel better 

Sometimes people turn to herbal blends for relief, perhaps from stress or pain. Although, it’s important to keep in mind that combusting these herbs may reduce some of their medicinal value. People like Yarrow for it’s calming and analgesic properties. 

Photo Depicting Close Up Angle of Chamomile
Chamomile. Photo Courtesy of Photoksenia via Flickr.

Chamomile is also well-known for its calming properties. In teas and herbal blends, it is often recommended for anxiety, sleep, and pain relief, specifically for menstrual symptoms. But, there are some important things to know before smoking this particular flower. “Chamomile, which is a daisy-like herb from the Asteraeceae family is a known allergen, particularly among those who suffer from seasonal allergies like pollen and hay fever,” writes Seligman. “Asteraeceae herbs are known to trigger respiratory issues for those who have sensitivities to it. It is very important to check the ingredients in your smoking blend before smoking.”

Violet is another herb that can help with menstrual and gut issues. Other herbs for pain relief include Uva Ursi (also Bearberry or Kinnikinnick, which translates to “smoking mix”) and Wild Dagga (or Lion’s Ear), which are both used in Indigenous medicine to treat headaches. Wormwood is another herb that has a long history of use for pain relief, and despite its associations with absinthe, it is not hallucinogenic when smoked. Finally, Clove can add a lovely flavor and is also recommended for relief of common ailments such as headaches, congestion, and cold or flu symptoms.

Disclaimer

Inhaling smoke from any source can have negative health effects. Many of these herbs are not as well-studied as cannabis and tobacco. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re dangerous, but it does mean that there is little available information about the long-term effects of smoking them. It’s always recommended to talk with a health professional before taking new herbs or supplements.

Finally, please note that not all herbs are smokable, so do your research. Though the herbs listed here have been proven safe for human consumption, anyone can have an adverse reaction when ingesting any substance.

DoubleBlind Magazine does not encourage or condone any illegal activities, including but not limited to the use of illegal substances. We do not provide mental health, clinical, or medical services. We are not a substitute for medical, psychological, or psychiatric diagnosis, treatment, or advice. If you are in a crisis or if you or any other person may be in danger or experiencing a mental health emergency, immediately call 911 or your local emergency resources. If you are considering suicide, please call 988 to connect with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

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