Understanding the different cannabis consumption methods is important because the way in which we consume has a significant impact on the overall experience. How we consume dictates how quickly we feel the effects as well as how long the effects can last. Figuring out the right cannabis product is a matter of balancing your preferences around consumption with your needs for consuming. After you find the right product, all that is left to do is determine an appropriate dosage.
Below you will find a list of common consumption methods. I will discuss how cannabis works within each consumption method as well as make suggestions around dosage and usage. After completing this article, you will understand how each consumption method impacts the effects of cannabis and, therefore, be able to make an informed decision on how you wish to consume.
Inhalation: Smoking & Vaping
Smoking cannabis is probably the most iconic consumption method on the list. Regardless of how you smoke cannabis (or what you smoke it out of), the effects are going to last for a couple of hours. The biggest benefit of inhaling your cannabis is the immediacy in which the effects are felt. Inhalation brings the active compounds to your lungs where they are absorbed within a matter of seconds into your bloodstream. This is great news for beginners, as it allows them to start slow and get immediate feedback concerning the effects. It’s very easy to figure out when you have hit your sweet spot.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of drawbacks to smoking cannabis. Aside from the obvious health concerns related to inhaling smoke, smoking also lacks discretion. Combusting plant matter smells. If you smoke cannabis, the people around you can smell it on you — for a while! Discretion and concerns around inhaling smoke are the main reason many people choose to use the next consumption method.
Vaping Consumption Methods: Flower, Carts, Dabs
There are a lot of ways to vape cannabis, but what most people think of when they think of vaping are vape pens and cartridges. Yes, there are devices that allow you to vape flower, and dab rigs allow you to be more elaborate with your vaping consumption; however, they all have the same functional goals. Instead of combusting the entire flower, you are just heating the cannabis product to the point when the compounds in the trichomes vaporize. This is why vaping doesn’t carry the same aroma as smoking flower — no plant matter is being combusted. This is also why some people believe that vaping clean oil is a healthier alternative to smoking; however, they are also left to make sure that the concentrated cannabis oil that they are consuming is free of pesticides and additives.
The major benefit of vaping is that, like smoking, the effects are felt immediately. This is not only a great way to gauge your tolerance, but it is also the quickest way to feel the therapeutic benefits of your cannabis. Unlike other consumption methods, smoking and vaping give you instant feedback as to how strong you are experiencing the effects. So start slow. You can always take more. Taking less is more tricky.
Even if you have never tried edibles, you have probably heard a story of someone who had too much and experienced some unwanted effects. What can I say…sometimes people choose to eat homemade edibles that have an unknown amount of active ingredients, and sometimes impatient people eat several edibles because they don’t feel the effects from the first edible yet. As you can imagine, sometimes these people inadvertently consume too much cannabis. Thankfully, with a little preparedness, you can avoid these scenarios and find the perfect dose every time.
The first thing you need to know is that, unlike smoking and vaping, the effects of edibles have a delayed effect. The cannabis needs to make its way through your digestive system before it gets to your bloodstream. So, depending on things like your stomach contents, your metabolism, and your rate of absorption, you might not start feeling the cannabis you ate until an hour later. Infused liquids will be faster acting than solid food, but they can still take quite a while compared to other consumption methods. Be patient!
It is also important to note that an edible will produce different effects than other ways of consuming. When you eat THC (Delta-9-THC), it passes through your liver and is metabolized into a different form of THC (11-hydroxy-THC) before it hits your bloodstream. This produces an intense experience, and the experience will also last a lot longer than smoking or vaping. Depending on the dosage and your tolerance, the effects can last for 8 hours or more! People have also reported that they feel edibles more in their bodies compared to smoking or vaping.
Whether it is for sleep or for chronic pain, the long-lasting nature of edibles is definitely a benefit when you get your dosage dialed in. Thankfully, when you buy an edible from a dispensary, you know exactly how much cannabis is in each edible. No surprises! So start with a low dose (2.5mg or 5mg) and slowly increase your dosage (if needed) over the next few days. Be sure to give 24 hours between increases, so you can get an accurate feeling for the new dose.
Sublingual Consumption: Tinctures
A tincture is a food-grade alcohol or oil that has been infused with cannabis. When it comes to effects, tinctures sit somewhere between eating and inhalation. Tinctures are designed to absorb into your bloodstream through your mouth. Tinctures generally come in a jar that has an eye-dropper top. You put a few drops under your tongue (sublingually), let it sit there for a few minutes, and it absorbs directly into your bloodstream through the membranes in your mouth.
You should feel the effects within 15 minutes, and the high will be closer to vaping than edibles. The cool thing about tinctures is that they can also easily become an edible if you ingest them as such. People who need quick relief as well as extended relief often find tinctures work best for them, as it offers the long-term effects of eating an edible as well as an option for a more rapid activation time. When you are figuring out dosage, remember to find a sublingual dose AND an edible dose, as they are very different experiences.
Another benefit of tinctures is that they are incredibly discreet. You don’t even need to keep the small bottle with you. They can easily be drizzled onto any food or put in any liquid, giving you the ability to turn anything into an edible!
Topicals: Spot-Specific vs Transdermal
Topicals are products designed to be placed on the skin, and there are two primary categories for topicals. The most common type of topical is the kind that provides spot-specific relief. These are very popular with people who need relief but also need to avoid cannabis because they get tested for it. Of course, I would never recommend any cannabis product to someone who gets tested; however, as these products do not deliver the cannabis compounds into the bloodstream, there is no reason it would show up in a test. In terms of dosage, you aren’t going to be concerned with getting a high; however, you should avoid using the cream on open wounds.
The second type of topical is transdermal. Very similar to a tincture, transdermal topicals get absorbed into your bloodstream; however, transdermal topicals are designed to get absorbed through the skin — a lot harder to get through than the thin membranes in your mouth. This is why transdermal topicals require a permeation enhancer to help get the cannabis through your skin and into your bloodstream. You can get transdermal topicals in creams, but they are also found in patches — like a nicotine patch that delivers cannabinoids instead of nicotine.
Instead of taking ten 10mg edibles a day, you can put one 100mg patch on that slowly releases that 100mg over the course of that same time period. This is an incredibly discreet and convenient option for those who are looking to do longer activities and do not wish to bring additional cannabis products.
The effects will be similar to tinctures, as the cannabis is taken directly to the bloodstream. When considering dosage for transdermal topicals, be sure to find out if the product is going to slowly release cannabis throughout the day(s) or if it is going to put everything into your system at once. Then, as always, proceed slowly as you figure out the dosage that is perfect for you!
Creating A Regiment
Everyone is going to have their preferred consumption method for cannabis. Many people find that incorporating multiple types of products is the best solution. Sometimes you need something that will kick in fast, sometimes you need a product that lasts a long time, and sometimes you need both. Now that you know how all of the consumption methods work, you can create your own regiment and find cannabis products that meet your specific needs. Good luck!