Cannabis Consumption Methods

Written by BlackbirdGo June 1, 2018
The Plant

Many people who don’t use cannabis assume that you have to smoke the plant to feel its effects. While smoking is a perfectly viable option for consuming cannabis, it’s not the only way. Medical cannabis patients and cannabis users living in recreational states know that there are a multitude of consumption methods, each with an overwhelming number of brands and varieties.

Even if you know about other non-smoking consumption methods, like vaping or edibles, you may be wondering how safe or effective these methods are. In this article, we’ll be talking about the many ways you can consume cannabis and the various pros and cons of each consumption method.

Smoking Cannabis

Perhaps the most ubiquitous consumption method is smoking the dried flower (“buds”) of the cannabis plant. Smoking is how most people are introduced to cannabis. Whether you prefer using a pipe or rolling your cannabis into joints, there’s no denying that smoking is an effective way to consume cannabis.

Pros of smoking:
- Fast-acting with near-immediate effects
- Ease of dosing due to quick onset of effects
- Convenient. Once you own a pipe, there’s no need to purchase any additional devices or recharge any components as with other consumption methods.

Cons of smoking:
- Smoke and heat from combustion of cannabis can irritate the lungs.
- Causes second-hand smoke.
- Leaves residual odors.

Using a Vaporizer (Flower)

If you’re looking for a slightly healthier alternative to smoking, vaporizing cannabis is a good consumption method. There’s a lot of debate over just how effective vaporizers are at filtering out chemical byproducts that stem from heating up plant matter (which also happens when you smoke cannabis). Though further studies are needed, preliminary research suggests that vaporizing cannabis provides the same fast-acting relief that smoking does and is most likely less harmful to cannabis users than smoking.

Vaporizers work by heating cannabis without burning/combusting the plant matter. This activates the cannabinoids in cannabis, allowing you to inhale the beneficial components of the plant without inhaling smoke that could irritate or damage your lungs and throat. Vaporizers come in both tabletop and portable forms.

Pros of vaporizing:
- Effects are felt just as quickly as with smoking.
- Dosing is easy and generally considered a safe alternative to smoking.
- Reduces second-hand smoke exposure.
- Leaves little (if any) lingering odors, making it easy to dose discreetly.

Cons of vaporizing:
- Equipment can be expensive compared to the cost of a pipe or rolling papers.
- Maintenance can be time-consuming, especially when compared to cleaning a pipe.
- Research suggests that vaporizing cannabis is less harmful to the lungs than smoking, but there is a lack of long-term randomized clinical trials. Therefore, some medical experts won’t conclusively say that vaporizing is in itself a healthy method of consumption.

Dabbing (Concentrates)

Dabbing has been growing in popularity over the past few years. This method of consumption involves the concentrated hash oil or wax extracted from the cannabis plant, commonly called “concentrates”. You don’t need a lot when it comes to dabs - in fact, some people speculate that dabbing got its name because when it comes to concentrates, a little dab'll do ya.

To take a dab hit, cannabis consumers scoop out a small quantity of concentrates and place them in a special type of water-filtered pipe often called a “dab rig.” Like the process of vaporizing flower, however, dabbing doesn’t require combustion. Instead, dabbers superheat a nail nested in the bowl of the dab rig using a blowtorch, then place hash wax onto the hot surface and inhale the resulting vapor.

Many vaporizer manufacturers now make electronic dab rigs that remove the need for a blowtorch, including portable “rigs” in a sleek pen shape that contain a ceramic heating chamber for concentrates. These pens are easier to use, and they’re much more convenient for dabbing on the go.

Pros of dabbing:
- VERY potent. Concentrates can have THC levels up to 99%. By comparison, most medical-grade cannabis flower has a THC level ranging between 15% and 30%.
- Doesn’t require combustion.
- Delivers a higher cannabinoid and terpene profile than flower can provide.

Cons of dabbing:
- Risk of burns and/or fire when using a blowtorch.
- The high potency of concentrates can make some cannabis newcomers uncomfortably intoxicated.
- If purchased through the black market, there is a risk of residual solvents remaining in the hash oil. (In medical and recreational states like Nevada, strict testing standards put in place by the law help ensure a cleaner, safer product.)

Using a Vape Pen (Concentrates)

This consumption method offers the same potency and quick onset of effects that you’d get from dabbing without any of the expensive, cumbersome equipment. Vape pens look like e-cigarettes and operate more or less the same way, except they contain cannabis concentrates instead of nicotine.

Vape pens consist of a battery component and a cartridge component, which contains the concentrate oil. Some vape pens contain both the battery and the cartridge in one disposable unit, while other cartridges are removable from the battery. Some cartridges are even refillable!

Pros of using a vape pen:
- They’re extremely convenient. This is particularly true of all-in-one disposable vape pens, which come ready to use and don’t need to be recharged.
- Detachable cartridges can be swapped out using one single battery pen, making it easy to switch between different strains of cannabis to better meet your needs.
- They’re discreet. Most vape pens are small, sleek, and don’t draw attention to themselves. They look like e-cigarettes and they leave little (if any) residual odor.

Cons of using a vape pen:
- Pens with high battery voltage and high temperature settings may produce toxic byproducts, including carbonyls like formaldehyde. Experts recommend using a low-voltage battery with temperature settings that can be manually adjusted.
- Some vape pen/cartridge manufacturers use additives like propylene glycol in their concentrate oil to increase the size of your “vape clouds.” Propylene glycol is safe as a food additive, but long-term inhalation may cause a type of permanent lung damage commonly known as “popcorn lung”. When choosing a vape pen, it’s always best to check the ingredients.
- Disposable cartridges and vape pens create excess waste. However, some dispensaries help combat this by collecting disposable pens for recycling.

Eating Cannabis-Infused Edibles

Even if you’ve never consumed cannabis before, you’re probably familiar with the culturally-pervasive “pot brownie.” But edible cannabis consumption doesn’t just end at baked goods. You can also get cannabis-infused pretzels, chocolate, gummy bears, ice cream, peanut butter, and even soda. They’re also available in easy-to-swallow capsules with precise THC and CBD dosages. These products often have a high concentration of THC, so caution is advised if you’re new to consuming edibles. Budtenders typically advise that you start with a low dose of your edible and wait up to two hours before consuming any additional doses.

Cannabis products like these are made by infusing cannabis into an edible fat like butter, coconut oil, or olive oil. This is typically done by first gently heating cannabis buds in the oven at a low temperature, a process called decarboxylation. That decarboxylated cannabis can then be cooked into the edible fat of your choosing - just be sure to remove any residual plant matter with a fine strainer like cheese cloth.

Pros of consuming cannabis-infused food/beverages:
- Very discreet. Most cannabis edibles look just like commonplace food items.
- Prolonged effects. While smoking or vaping cannabis produces a high that lasts one or two hours in most consumers, the effects of edibles typically last several hours.
- Convenient method of consumption for cannabis users who can’t smoke or vape due to respiratory issues. There is no risk of damage to the throat or lungs when cannabis is eaten instead of inhaled.
- Edibles purchased from a dispensary have precise doses of cannabinoids and undergo mandatory testing, making it easy to gauge the effects you’ll feel once you get to know how your body handles edible cannabis.

Cons of consuming cannabis-infused food/beverages:
- The onset of effects can take anywhere from one to three hours, depending on your metabolism. Edibles have to be digested and broken down by your liver before any cannabinoids reach your brain. This can be a painful delay for individuals treating chronic pain and other medical ailments. (But again, the effects do last longer.)
- It’s very easy to inadvertently eat too much of an edible before the initial effects have kicked in. Remember to always start with a low dose and wait for the effects to set in before consuming any more. You can always eat more but you can never eat less!
- Some people experience anxiety and an unpleasant level of intoxication after eating too much of an edible. This is due to the high concentrations of cannabinoids like THC found in edibles.
- Because cannabis-infused edibles often look like familiar foods and candy, there’s a risk of children and pets inadvertently eating them and getting intoxicated or sick. If your child or pet has ingested edible cannabis by accident, get them to an emergency room or veterinary hospital (respectively) as quickly as possible. Always store edibles in a child-proof container that’s kept out of your child’s reach.

Using Cannabis-Infused Sublingual Sprays and Tinctures

If you’re averse to smoking cannabis and you don’t want the long wait time and intense effects of edibles, a tincture or sublingual spray may be a good alternative. These products are absorbed through the mucosal membranes in your cheeks, gums, and under your tongue. In addition to products containing THC, you can also get non-psychoactive CBD sprays and tinctures for fast-acting, functional relief that won’t leave you feeling intoxicated.

Most tinctures come with a glass dropper, so you can experiment with how many drops or droppers-full you need to feel the desired effects. With sprays, you can generally measure your doses by the number of pumps you use. However, you should always defer to the dosing measurements and instructions that come with your chosen cannabis product.

Pros of using sublingual sprays and tinctures:
- They take effect fast - some products can start to work in as little as 15-30 minutes.
- The dosage is usually very easy to measure with sublingual sprays and tinctures.
- They’re discreet and easy to use when you need to medicate on the go.
- Like edibles, there is absolutely no risk of respiratory damage when using tinctures and sprays.

Cons of using sublingual sprays and tinctures:
- These products are typically not cheap. If you suffer from a medical condition and need to take high doses, buying sprays and tinctures can potentially get very expensive.

Applying Cannabis Topicals and Soaking Agents

Anyone seeking chronic pain relief may benefit from using cannabis-infused topicals and soaking agents (cannabis-infused bath salts, bath bombs, etc). These products are applied directly to the skin and they make it easy to target localized pain, like in your knees or your back muscles.

There are many options when it comes to topicals and soaking agents. These products are generally designed to produce pain relief and muscle relaxation without any psychoactivity, meaning you can get long-lasting effects without any euphoria or intoxication. Some people find that specific brands or types or products are more effective than others, but that’s strictly a personal choice. Everyone’s body chemistry is different, so be cautious at first and don’t get discouraged if it takes a little experimenting to achieve your desired effects.

Pros of cannabis topicals/soaking agents:
- Easy to isolate and treat specific parts of the body.
Provides relief from pain, spasticity, and discomfort without causing intoxication.
- Can be combined with other therapeutic treatments, such as a gentle massage.

Cons of cannabis topicals/soaking agents:
- Some of these products can be expensive.
- May cause sensitivity or allergic reaction in some people.

Applying Cannabis Transdermal Patches

While topicals and soaking agents can provide a lot of comfort, many people also want the pain-relieving body high that other consumption methods provide. To that end, cannabis transdermal applications may be able to offer some middle ground.

These products target your cannabinoid receptors and provide fast-acting, long-lasting relief. Transdermal patches are applied to the skin, just like a nicotine patch. Each patch contains a precisely-measured concentration of cannabinoids (THC, CBD, CBN, etc) that will be absorbed into your bloodstream through your skin.

Pros of using a transdermal patch:
- Effects are felt quickly. Some products begin to take effect 20 minutes after application.
- Long-lasting. Depending on the transdermal patch you use, you may feel the benefits and effects for up to 12 hours or longer.
- Very discreet.
- Offers the same inflammation relief that you’d get from topicals, but adds a relaxing body high (depending on the product).
- Also available in non-psychoactive CBD formulas.

Cons of using a transdermal patch:
- May pose the same dosing problems that edibles do. Because transdermal patches start to work fast and provide long-lasting effects, beginners may want to choose patches that can be cut into smaller portions and applied topically. You can always add more, but you can’t undo transdermal applications once the cannabinoids enter your bloodstream.

Using Cannabis Suppositories

Cannabis-infused suppositories are carefully inserted into the vagina or rectum, where cannabinoids are absorbed through the body’s permeable mucous membranes. The effects and duration may vary considerably from one product to the next.

While transdermal products can produce feelings of intoxication, suppositories typically contain a fat-based carrying agent like oil. Lipids are not easily absorbed by the rectum or vagina and therefore will not make you feel “stoned.” With that said, suppositories that do not contain a fat-based carrying agent could potentially cause intoxication. It’s always best to read the ingredients on a given product and do some research online beforehand so you know what to expect.

Pros of using cannabis suppositories:
- Fast-acting and long-lasting. Takes effect as quickly as 15-20 minutes after application and lasts for up to eight hours.

Cons of using cannabis suppositories:
- May be uncomfortable for some people.
- While they’re discreet in so much as they don’t produce residual odors like smoking would, suppositories may need to be applied either on the toilet or while laying on the floor, making them slightly more challenging than using a vape pen or an edible.

Which Consumption Method Is Right For Me?

There’s no right answer to this question. The consumption method you choose depends entirely on your body and your medical needs or desired effects. Most cannabis consumers use multiple methods of consumption, either separately or in conjunction with other means of consumption at the same time.