Among the biggest non-troversies in the cannabis world are the questions of edibles vs. smoking and vaping vs. topicals — or “what’s the best way to consume your cannabis?” In fact, the only “best” way is the one that works best for you, based on your needs at the moment.
As always, it’s important to remember that everyone experiences cannabis differently but the more you understand about the forms of cannabis available and the different methods of using it, the better equipped you’ll be to choose exactly the products that will deliver the experience you’re looking for.
Methods Of Consuming Cannabis — An Overview
Basically, there are three main ways to use cannabis: inhalation, ingestion and topical application, or, in layman’s terms, you can smoke (or vape) it, eat it, or rub it on. Each method has pros and cons, as well as specific marijuana forms for which they’re designed. This guide will help you understand the benefits of each of the different ways of using cannabis and give you some tips on how to get started.
Inhalation is one of the best known and most popular methods of using cannabis for two good reasons: It’s easy, and you feel the effects almost immediately. When you inhale, the THC and other cannabinoids are delivered directly to your lungs, and very quickly make their way from there into your bloodstream, where they’re carried to your brain. This makes it easier to judge when you’ve had enough, so there’s far less risk of getting “too high.” According to Dr. Robert Mann, a senior researcher at University of Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, most people in his studies reach “peak intoxication” within five minutes after smoking, and the effects last for several hours.
On the flip side, inhaling cannabis has some cons — most notably, smoke is irritating to the throat and lungs, though there is still some question about just how damaging it is. The smoke also gets into your clothing and hair, so it may not be your best option if you want to be more discreet about your activities. If you are around others, the odor created by smoking may turn people off.
That’s less of a problem with some inhalation methods — vaping, for example. Vapes don’t smell as strong as flower, and tend to be less pungent. That makes vaping an easy option for those who are trying to be a bit more discreet about their cannabis use, or in situations where you want your use to be less obvious.
While folks are most familiar with smoking as a method of inhaling cannabis, there are a number of different inhalation methods for consuming the sweet flower.
Ways To Inhale Cannabis
Smoking a joint, sometimes called cones, is a fairly simple process, though it may take some skill to roll your own. You grind the flower into a fine powder, roll it in cigarette paper and light up. If you’re not comfortable rolling your own — and it is an acquired skill — you can buy pre-rolls, which are, as the name suggests, your favorite strain of bud already rolled and ready to light. There’s no shame in that game — not only is it easier, but you can be sure you’re getting the same amount of flower in each roll.
You can also smoke bud in a pipe or bowl, or using a bong, bubbler or hookah. Many people find that filtering the smoke through liquid, as in a hookah or bubbler, makes it smoother and less harsh on the throat.
Vaporizing flower is similar to smoking, but cleaner and more efficient. With a vaporizer, the herb is heated to the point where the terpenes and cannabinoids vaporize, but the material doesn’t burn, so there’s no harsh smoke to irritate your throat. According to many cannabis consumers, it’s easier to control the dose and micro-dose with a vape, and since many dry herb vaporizers allow you to choose the temperature setting, you have even more control over which compounds you consume. Because of these benefits, some doctors recommend them to older adults who are just beginning to learn how their bodies react to cannabis. You can learn more in this article about how to vaporize flower.
Dabbing is a way to inhale a distilled cannabis concentrate, such as wax, resin or shatter. It requires a specialized water pipe, called a dab rig, a dab nail or a dabber, and a butane torch. In a nutshell, you heat the nail (which is inserted into the dab rig) until it is red hot, apply a small amount of concentrate to the nail, and inhale. The effects are nearly immediate and, since most concentrates are very high on THC, very intense. Dabbing is recommended for experienced users.
Ingestibles Aka Edibles
Cannabis-infused foods and drinks have become a whole market segment of their own. Ingesting cannabis is a very different experience from inhaling it — for one thing, the cannabinoids have to travel a whole lot farther to get to your brain, so it takes a lot longer to actually feel the effects. Because of that, it’s a whole lot easier to ingest more than you planned to and end up “too high,” as infamously happened to New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd. That said, there are a lot of good reasons to choose edibles in the smoking vs. edibles debate.
• Edibles take longer to affect you, but the effects last much longer.
• Edibles are more discreet than smoking. It’s easy to pop a gummy into your mouth and no one will think twice about it.
• There’s no telltale aroma.
• You don’t need any special equipment at all.
Edibles come in many different forms — candies, mints, gummies, chocolates — including some you may be less familiar with, such as tinctures. Tinctures are made by extracting the cannabinoids from cannabis using alcohol. The resulting mixture can be added to a drink or food, but is most often consumed sublingually — that is, dropping it under your tongue. It generally works much more quickly than other edibles, making it a good method if you’re looking for immediate relief from pain or anxiety, for example. Tinctures are available in various THC:CBD ratios, so you can easily choose the one that’s right for your needs.
And then there are imbibables — canna-infused beverages such as Hi-Fi Hops and Oh Hi beverages, which are growing in popularity. The earliest weed infusions were sweet and syrupy, a la soda, but the last few years have seen an influx of lighter, low-sugar and carb beverages — canna seltzers, for example. The technology that makes the infusion possible also makes the cannabinoids more bioavailable. They’re digested much more quickly, so the effects hit more quickly and don’t linger quite as long. The end result is a cleaner, according to consumers, and less sedative, making them especially popular for social settings, similar to grabbing a beer or having a glass of wine with friends.
You’re probably familiar with CBD creams and massage oils, but those are just the beginning of the possibilities in applying cannabis topically. As state and federal governments lift restrictions, researchers are diving deeper into the effects of cannabis applied topically. Among other things, there’s some evidence that topical applications, including salves, ointments and creams, can help relieve pain, itching and inflammation at the application site. Transdermal patches and gels, on the other hand, are absorbed into the bloodstream, which allows them to provide more systemic relief. Like tinctures, they’re available in various THC:CBD ratios, making them a good option for people who want the therapeutic — and other — effects of cannabis, but can’t smoke or ingest cannabis products.
If you’re still not sure about the best marijuana forms or methods for your use, bring your questions to a licensed dispensary with experienced staff. They can provide you with more information and make recommendations based on your lifestyle and needs.
Deb Powers is a Massachusetts-based freelance writer who has been writing about natural remedies, cannabis, and other health-related topics for more than 15 years. Her work has appeared in Civilized Life and other industry publications.