For cannabis fans in California, and in other medical and legal states, there are more options now than ever before for how to consume. To a newbie, it can easily become overwhelming. From smoking to vaping to edibles, and all the options in between, there are almost an infinite number of choices available to consumers even at dispensaries with small selections.
To help break down the menu, here’s a primer on the pros, cons, and details of each choice – along with what to expect.
Smoking cannabis is far and away the most classic way to go, and is also the method most familiar to the average person. The benefits of this choice are many, and while the downsides are few, they may be deal-breakers for some people. On the plus side, smoking is simple, and - whether or not you have tried it before - the learning curve should be pretty quick, at least if you’re using a pipe. Joint-rolling is another story – some people find this easy, and take to it quickly, other people never manage even after years of trying.
In fact, how you smoke, if you choose to consume that way, opens up a whole new set of choices. Simple hand pipes are convenient, easy to use, and portable. Water pipes like bongs and bubblers take a bit more planning, and are less portable. Water does indeed cool the smoke, often allowing for larger, less harsh, pulls. However, it’s unclear whether the water actually filters out any of the particles that make smoking more harmful on the lungs and throat than other consumption methods. Joints, cannabis rolled in cigarette papers, require some technique to roll, and by some accounts can be harsher on the throat as a result of the burning paper. Blunts, or cannabis wrapped in cigar paper, are often favored for their taste, size, and for offering the combined effects of tobacco and cannabis. Of course, smoking blunts regularly may entail all the health hazards involved in other tobacco smoking, making it much more of a health risk than other methods. However, all smoking methods carry the same health risks associated with the inhalation of any combusted plant matter.
So, in general, smoking may not be the most health-conscious choice. How this factors into your decisions may depend on how regularly you smoke, and whether you have other lung issues such as asthma.
As far as what you will be smoking – cannabis flowers are the buds, and sometimes leaves, that we normally think of when we think of cannabis. Hash, the extracted psychoactive components of cannabis, comes in a variety of forms, from hard and brick-like, to softer bubble hash, to clay-like Indian charas style hash.
Compared to other methods, smoking kicks in and wears off the quickest, which can be a big upside when trying to calibrate the right dose. Important to note, however, is that smoking also has the strongest and longest lasting odor of any method listed.
Vaporizing has become increasingly popular and accessible for those looking for a somewhat more health-friendly option. To vaporize means to heat the cannabis to a temperature that is high enough to extract cannabinoids and terpenes, but that temperature is low enough not to combust the material, creating a vapor as opposed to smoke. Though not totally free of having an effect on the lungs, the health risks are minimized compared to smoking.
Many lower priced vaporizers are portable “vape pens” that vaporize hash oil instead of flower. In general, it is easier and less expensive to find a way to vaporize oil - often in the form of pre-filled oil cartridges - than to buy a pricier vaporizer with a heating element able to vaporize flower. So unless you’re able to invest a few hundred dollars, a vape pen and pre-filled cartridges are probably your best bet.
Many cheaper vaporizers for flower are falsely advertised, and will actually just combust the plant material, creating smoke. It takes a quality vaporizer to control the heat well enough to vaporize flower. If you can’t afford a quality vaporizer for at least 150 dollars or so, just go for the oil vape pens. If you are going to invest in a good vaporizer for flower do some research, read reviews to make sure, at the very least, that the vaporizer actually vaporizes.
As far as the effects, vaporizing is fairly close to smoking. Sometimes the effects take slightly longer to kick in, to the tune of 10 to 15 minutes instead of 5 to 10. But generally they are in the same ball park, with the most noticeable effects lasting 2 to 3 hours. For some people, vaping can feel a bit more subtle, and in the background than the effects of smoking, potentially leaving you in a more functional state of mind at lower doses. Also, as a bonus, there is little if any lasting odor. You may smell cannabis if you stand within a few feet of someone who is vaping, but the smell is not likely to stick to clothes, and will not stick in a room or other space the way smoke does.
Dabbing is a controversial form of consumption in which high-THC cannabis concentrates are applied to a heated nail, technically vaporizing it, before it is inhaled. These concentrates come in forms called wax, shatter, budder, and butane hash oil. Though technically vapor, dabbing can be quite harsh on the lungs. Also, there is the potential for less pure concentrates that could contain chemical contaminants leftover from the extraction process.
This being said, dabbing is one of the most efficient ways to consume cannabis, with just one hit providing a similar dose of cannabinoids to smoking an entire blunt - or more in some cases. Obviously, the flip side of this is that it is incredibly easy to overindulge. As with too high a cannabis dose in any form, this can be an uncomfortable, anxiety provoking experience.
Anyone new to cannabis should be cautious about over-consuming in any form. Always take breaks and try to get a sense of how you’re feeling before consuming more. This becomes especially key as we move on to orally consumed cannabis, which lasts much longer and has the potential for a generally higher level of intensity, in some cases lasting hours.
This includes an increasingly wide range of products, including two subcategories – edibles, processed through the digestive system, and sublingual consumption, which is absorbed on the tongue. I will go more in depth on the latter shortly.
Oral consumption is perhaps the most feared, and least understood method of cannabis consumption. To some extent, this reputation has been earned legitimately. Possibly the biggest downside of edible consumption is the same factor that makes it so notorious. After eating edible cannabis, it can take between 1 and 2 hours for the effects to even begin to kick in. While annoying for the impatient, the bigger problem is how difficult this makes it to find the proper dose. Sometimes nothing will happen, other times, you will be knocked off your feet. Especially if you were tempted to consume more in those first two hours of waiting, only to find the first dose hadn’t kicked in yet. Not a good feeling.
Besides the effects easily adding up quantitatively, there is also a qualitative difference to the effects of edible cannabis – at any dose, it is simply more intense, and more psychedelic, than vaped or smoked cannabis. The noticeable effects can last 4 to 6 hours, so it’s easy to see how these qualities can make a recipe for disaster. By some accounts, edibles are more likely to keep you awake instead of helping you sleep, and are less likely to stimulate your appetite – although not all cannabis users would agree on those points.
Of course, the big plus side to edibles is that they leave your lungs alone completely, and are arguably the healthiest way to consume cannabis. Also, if you get your dose right, and generally enjoy the effects of edible cannabis, the long-lasting effects can be a benefit. Not to mention no cannabis odor whatsoever.
If you decide this is the way to go, start with a low dose edible. 5 milligrams is a good place to start, but 2.5 milligram edibles are out there as well for the super cautious. Wait 2 full hours before deciding to take more. Once you find a brand or product that works for you, try to stick with it. I’ve certainly had 10 milligrams (fairly standard dose) feel very different from one product to another. These rules apply to a wide range of edible products, from the classic weed brownie, to gummies, mints, other candies, and even drinks.
Probably the least widely understood method of all, sublingual consumption involves cannabis products that are absorbed under the tongue instead of through the digestive system. This can include tinctures, sprays, and some mints. It kicks in quicker and lasts for somewhat less time than edibles. Some tinctures can kick in as quickly as 20 minutes, although for cautious consumption you’ll want to wait 45 minutes to an hour to take more. Still, this is much more manageable than the 2 hour wait for edibles.
It shares the benefit with edibles of leaving your lungs untouched, and leaving no odor whatsoever. It shares the downside of being slow to kick in compared with smoking, but not to the same degree as digested edibles. In my experience, sublingual methods are also a bit more predictable, less affected by variables such as a full or empty stomach.
Tinctures can be made from alcohol, or the healthier and less harsh options of vegetable or coconut oil. Sometimes you’ll find tinctures in spray form, which are essentially the same thing but dispensed via a spray bottle instead of a dropper. You’ll need to let these sit under your tongue for a few minutes, since just swallowing them will mean they’ll be digested like any other edible. To make sure you get sublingual rather than digested effects, try to keep these under your tongue for as long as 10 to 15 minutes. Not everyone loves this part of the process, but I find its worth it for the quicker kick-in.
Take note – dosages in tinctures vary greatly. Some will suggest an appropriate dose of only several drops, others will indicate a standard dosage of half or even a full dropper. Just be sure to read the instructions and any dosage information. Other than topical cannabis, which is entirely non-psychoactive (used to treat skin and muscle pain), that sums up your choices when it comes to consumption. Whatever your decision, make sure you understand all the details, the right dosage, and the right approach to your method of choice.