Navigate to our accessibility widget

Saturday February 27, 2021

By Paul Barach

420 Culture

The spliff, a mix of tobacco and marijuana rolled into a joint, has a long history in cannabis culture. It’s been the subject of stoner art, movies, and numerous songs, most famously the Bob Marley song, “Easy Skanking,” which opens, “excuse me while I light my spliff.” However, the popularity of the spliff in American culture has been waning throughout the years.

Why is this happening? Will this icon of stoner culture go extinct, like the lava lamp or the roach clip? Or will spliffs keep going strong amongst their fans as they are overshadowed by new technology like vaping and edibles? Join PotGuide as we explore one of the world’s most popular forms of cannabis consumption and where it stands in the modern cannabis landscape. 

Why Do People Smoke Spliffs?

Whether declining or not, the spliff’s popularity amongst stoner culture is well-earned. The high from marijuana and tobacco combined creates a clear-headed, caffeine-like lift as opposed to the more dopey effects of marijuana alone. Relaxed but still alert is really all a lot of casual stoners are looking for, and for many, spliffs are an ideal way to enjoy a joint without fear of getting too high to handle the rest of your day. For those that consume both products already, combining them is an easy progression, and a large portion of the world’s population already smokes tobacco.

A rolled up spliff
Spliffs have long been apart of the stoner culture. photo credit

Besides the effects, rolling spliffs made practical sense in the days before legalization and easy access to marijuana, and still persists in places where cannabis is scarce. Adding the dried tobacco to the sticky buds gives the joint a more consistent body. The tobacco leaves also create air pockets inside the paper, which means a clean draw through the filter that won’t get blocked by gunky resin. As well as crafting better joints, smoking spliffs is a practical way of stretching out one’s weed supply in case there was an unforeseen drought.  

How Common are Spliffs?

The decline in smoking spliffs among marijuana users is only an American phenomenon, for reasons that will be explained below. According to the 2014 Global Drug Survey over half of Australian weed smokers mix tobacco in with their marijuana. For many European countries, spliffs are pretty much the only way to enjoy cannabis on the continent. Italians can’t imagine a non-spliff world, with 94% of marijuana smoking citizens adding tobacco to their joint. On the lowest end, nearly two thirds of the Finnish enjoy a spliff with their weed. Across the Atlantic, things are quite different.

Only 8% of Americans add tobacco to their joints or pipes.

This glaring difference in spliff enthusiasm boils down to two major but connected factors: Location and history. Up until recently, and even today, Europeans are far more likely to get their marijuana in the form of blocks of hashish. Ounce by ounce, Europeans from Spain to Switzerland smoke as much hashish as they do flower. Imported from Northern Africa into Europe, hashish was historically far more potent and concentrated than marijuana, giving users a far better bang for their Euro. The small gold, brown, and black bricks of resin are also easier to smuggle onto the continent and distribute than the bulkier bales of marijuana flower. Because it’s nearly impossible to roll a joint with tarry, sticky hashish, and even harder to keep it lit, adding tobacco became a necessity. That tradition continues today whether it’s hash or flower in the joint.  

Spliffs and Tobacco Usage

In America, we’ve always had access to flower from Canada, Mexico, and local growers in places like California. Because of this, smoking spliffs over joints has been more of a choice than a necessity. Added to that, the rates of cigarette smokers in the US has also fallen dramatically in comparison to Europe’s population. In Europe over a quarter of people over the age of 15 are daily smokers. Meanwhile, according to a 2015 CDC study, rates of cigarette smoking in America have dropped from nearly 21% in 2005 to just under 16% in 2016. Over the same decade, the number of American smokers aged 18-24 dropped by a third, the sharpest drop out of any group. Fewer cigarette smokers means fewer people with tobacco on hand to put into a joint, and the stigma against tobacco means fewer people want such a harmful product anywhere near their lungs or their relatively safer marijuana. 

Someone smoking a cigarette
Cigarette use is much lower in the US than in many other places in the world. photo credit

The change can also be attributed to the increased variation of marijuana. As more strains become available, each with their own specific effects and strengths spelled out, smokers don’t need to add tobacco to cut or enhance the effects. There’s also the increased availability. Even outside of legalized states, prices have been dropping constantly, thus there are fewer and fewer times where your weed supply needs to be stretched out. There’s also so many more options. Having Glass pieces, grinders, vapes, and pre-rolls on hand means that fewer people need to pad out a joint. 

Spliff Smoking in America

So, will spliffs go extinct in America, remembered only in song and pop culture of the past? It’s unlikely. The Venn diagrams of cigarette smokers and pot smokers will always have an overlap, especially in the college years. And, honestly, as long as tobacco isn’t a turn-off, spliffs are a great way to enjoy marijuana. Much like free education and socialized health care, the Europeans aren’t wrong on that one either. 

But, it has to be said, if you’re not a tobacco smoker, don’t start. Tobacco has numerous negative effects on health.  Stick with weed. You’ll thank yourself later. 

How popular are spliffs with you and the smokers you know? Are they disappearing? Discuss in the comments!

Photo Credit: Jaymz Campbell (license)


Paul Barach Paul Barach

Paul Barach is a Seattle-based freelance writer, editor, and author with experience creating well-researched, edited web articles covering cannabis news, culture, history and science. Paul is a regular contributor to PotGuide and has also contributed to publications such as, SlabMechanix, Litro, and The Trek. He prefers to spend his free time outdoors and most recently hiked the Pacific Crest Trail. So far he has only fallen into the La Brea Tarpits once. You can follow him on Instagram @BarachOutdoors and stay up to date professionally through his LinkedIn page.

More From This Author

Related Articles