Article written by
Tina MagrabiSenior Content Writer
Content reviewed by
Dr. Lewis JasseyMedical Director - Pediatric Medicine
Table of contents
- Smoking Marijuana – rolling papers, pipes, bongs, chillums
- Consuming Cannabis with Dab Rigs
- Consuming Cannabis Edibles
- Consuming Cannabis with Tinctures
- Full-Spectrum Oil, aka Rick Simpson Oil (RSO)
- Consuming Cannabis with Inhalers
- Cannabis Balms, Salves & Topicals
- Cannabis Suppositories
- Cannabis Transdermal Patches
- Marijuana Tablets and Pills
- The Best Cannabis Consumption Method
How should you consume cannabis? There are certainly ways that are preferable to consume cannabis, but no one method is necessarily the best.
Different conditions require different ingestion methods. For example, skin problems are likely to need topicals and salves, whereas conditions like Parkinson’s or Crohn’s may need the more immediate relief of vaporizers or inhalers. Some consumers may require multiple ingestion methods for the relief of different symptoms. These are the pros and cons of each cannabis ingestion method.
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Smoking Marijuana – rolling papers, pipes, bongs, chillums
Smoking cannabis is perhaps the oldest method of ingesting the plant. It is the “tried and tested” method most associated with the cannabis enthusiasts of recent decades. However, due to potential health problems, smoking cannabis is fast becoming less and less popular.
Pros of Smoking Marijuana
Here are some reasons you might enjoy this cannabis consumption method.
- Quick and immediate effects are very useful for those needing immediate relief from symptoms.
- Does not require huge technical know-how to use properly.
- Many people enjoy the taste of smoking cannabis – appreciation of cannabis’s flavonoids and terpenoids.
- Quite simple to dose, even if the dosage is not precise.
- Effects last around 2-3 hours, which is ideal for remaining functional.
Cons of Smoking Marijuana
Although some argue that cannabis smoke is not the same as tobacco smoke, this does not mean cannabis smoke is not potentially harmful to the mouth, throat, and lungs. Breathing in smoke of any kind is not the ideal method of consumption, especially for medical patients. In addition, the cons of smoking marijuana include:
- Not suitable for minors.
- Some beneficial cannabinoids and terpenes are lost in the heat and smoke – not the most efficient ingestion method.
- Cannot measure dosage with any precision.
- Effects may not be long-lasting enough.
- Perhaps the smelliest way of ingesting cannabis – keeping discreet can be difficult.
- The immunocompromised and those with breathing issues should be particularly careful with smoking cannabis.
- Rolling papers – these can contain damaging compounds of their own. Some brands are better than others, but even the best adds more burning matter. Blunt wraps are generally made from tobacco, which is addictive and harmful to health.
Are pipes, bongs, and chillums a better method of smoking cannabis?
While they can prevent the need for extra burning matter in the form of rolling papers, there is no major difference between smoking methods. Ice and water bongs may help cool down the smoke for a more pleasant experience, but smoke is still smoke. Pipes and bongs also require fewer hits, but they can still produce larger volumes of smoke and cause irritation to the mouth, throat, and lungs.
Vaping has become the preferred way for many to consume cannabis, with the perception that it is the healthier alternative to smoking. This is not always the case with the number of bad quality vaporizers and products containing additives like vitamin E oil. Moreover, in the non-regulated hemp oil market, disposable vaporizers have been found to contain synthetic cannabinoids. It seems that vaporizers are only safe if they are of particularly high quality, like Storz and Bickel’s Volcano vaporizer.
Pros of Vaporizing Cannabis
- Immediate effect.
- No smoke – vaporization heats the cannabis in a partial vacuum, heating the cannabinoids into a breathable vapor.
- Dosage is easy to control, although precise dosages are still difficult to determine.
- Quite an efficient way of using cannabis, as little cannabis is needed to get the desired effect.
- More discreet than smoking (i.e., less of an odor).
Cons of Vaporizing Cannabis
- High-quality vaporizers can be quite expensive.
- Bad-quality vaporizers can be extremely dangerous – you do not want to breathe in burning metals and plastic.
- Disposable vaporizers produced by companies suspend their cannabinoids in a vape solution. Not all such solutions are necessarily safe and, if improperly heated or if ingredients like Vitamin E acetate oil are used, may be carcinogenic and/or cause severe lung damage.
- Consistent dosing is difficult because you cannot easily measure the intake of a specific amount of cannabinoids.
- There is less smell with vaporizing compared to smoking, but there is still some.
- Some ready-made vape products have been found to contain synthetic cannabinoids, which we do not know their effects and could be far more dangerous compared to plant-based cannabinoids.
- Long-term effects are difficult to determine, as there are few studies on long-term issues.
Consuming Cannabis with Dab Rigs
Dab rigs are like bongs, except they are designed for the consumption of cannabis extracts (e.g. rosin, shatter, wax, etc.). Dab rigs are usually smaller in size and more mechanically complex than bongs to prevent potency loss. Dab rigs also require the heating of a metal plate using a torch.
Pros of Dab Rigs
- Ingestion of a large number of cannabinoids in a short amount of time can be useful for extreme pain or nausea.
- Clean, prominent taste.
- Less burning plant matter compared to using flowers.
Cons of Dab Rigs
- Using such a large amount of cannabis concentrate in such a short time can prove overwhelming.
- Concentrates need to be clean and free of solvents.
- Using such a high amount of cannabinoids may not be necessary for therapeutic effects. It may increase the likelihood of suffering from negative side effects such as anxiety, paranoia, extreme sleepiness (when not desirable), cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome (CHS), and even blackouts.
Consuming Cannabis Edibles
For many years, health-conscious cannabis fans would choose to eat their marijuana rather than smoke it. The only problem was that the edibles were more often than not in a sugary treat, usually to mask the taste of cannabis. This has changed somewhat nowadays, but infusing cannabis with sweet treats is still popular. Edibles are known for being considerably stronger and more psychoactive than smoking or vaping cannabis. This is because cannabis is digested and processed by the liver, converting THC into the more potent 11-Hydroxy-THC.
Pros of Marijuana Edibles
- Versatile – you can make your own cannabis oil or butter and use it for several dishes.
- Strong, long-lasting effects can be ideal for insomnia or chronic pain.
- Much more discreet compared to vaporizing or smoking.
- You do not need to inhale burning carbon from the combustion of plant matter, keeping your lungs healthy.
- Little is needed for therapeutic effects.
- Well-made products can be micro-dosed.
- This can be both a pro and con, but high doses of edibles can last 12 hours or longer — sometimes even over 24 hours! This depends very much on a person’s metabolism.
Cons of Marijuana Edibles
- Effects usually take a long time to kick in — one to two hours. This is not ideal for those who need immediate relief.
- Easy to take too much and suffer an unpleasant experience.
- Dosages in the product are uneven and unpredictable – ensuring that a product has an even spread of cannabinoids throughout the product is extremely difficult.
- Many edibles on the market do not contain the cannabinoid concentration stated on the packet, sometimes going below the stated value but often way above the stated value.
- Many must “build up” their tolerance to cannabinoids before eating them.
- Too much can cause extreme anxiety and panic, leading to high blood pressure and heart problems.
- While THC use, in general, is not advised for those with a history of psychosis, edibles are perhaps more likely to be a part of a THC-induced psychotic event.
Consuming Cannabis with Tinctures
High-quality, lab-tested tinctures where MCT, coconut, or olive oil is the main cannabinoid-terpenoid carrier make it the best way to consume cannabis for most people.
- Effect duration is similar to edibles (six to eight hours) but far easier to control dosage, with a slightly faster time for effects to be felt (usually between 15 and 30 mins rather than one to two hours).
- Versatile — can be used as-is, in food or beverages, or even as a topical.
- Suitable ingestion method for people of all ages.
- Widely available, with a range of cannabinoid ratios to choose from.
- Perhaps one of the most efficient ways to consume cannabis.
- Can contain a very wide range of cannabinoids, flavonoids, and terpenes.
- Can be available in capsule form for micro-dosing.
Cons of Tinctures
- As with edibles, the effects can be overwhelming, especially if the tincture has a high amount of THC.
- Again, as with edibles, the label is not always accurate. Tinctures do not always contain the cannabinoids that are stated on the label.
- Badly-made tinctures may contain harmful chemicals, cutting agents, pathogens, and synthetic cannabinoids.
Full-Spectrum Oil, aka Rick Simpson Oil (RSO)
RSO is a concentrated form of cannabis, where the cannabinoids and terpenoids of a cannabis plant are “stripped” using a solvent (such as isopropyl alcohol, butane, or ethanol). The solvent is then evaporated from the mixture, leaving behind a thick, brownish-blackish oil. This can be eaten.
Pros of Full-Spectrum Oil
- Versatile – can be used both internally and externally.
- High doses of cannabinoids and terpenoids may be particularly useful for conditions like chronic pain and some types of cancer.
Cons of Full-Spectrum Oil
- Effects can be overwhelming.
- Not necessarily suitable for all types of cancer, and there is no particular evidence suggesting that extremely high doses of cannabinoids are needed. Indeed, many may benefit more from a precise dosage.
Consuming Cannabis with Inhalers
Smoking and vaporizing cannabis does not have a medical image. Yes, they can be useful methods of ingestion, but too many health problems are associated with them. Inhalers have the immediate effect desired for conditions like asthma, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, or sudden panic attacks, but without the need for smoke or vapor.
Pros of Inhalers
- Consistent dosage can be achieved.
- Immediate effect without the need for smoke or vapor – an ideal ingestion method for those with asthma or other breathing disorders.
Cons of Inhalers
- Effect duration may be too short-lasting for some people.
- Is not an ideal consumption method for all conditions where a longer-lasting effect may be needed.
- Bioavailability can depend upon the patient’s inhaler technique and the size of cannabinoid particles.
Cannabis Balms, Salves & Topicals
Cannabinoids can be applied externally and internally, and for conditions like acne, eczema, and psoriasis, direct application to the skin is necessary.
Pros of Cannabis Topicals
- No psychoactive effect.
- Useful for soothing inflamed skin and muscles.
- As topicals and salves can be applied directly to a particular area, they can potentially be used for localized nerve pain and conditions like arthritis as well.
- Compounds like CBG and pinene can be useful for bacterial skin infections.
Cons of Cannabis Topicals
- The efficacy of topicals and salves is yet to be determined.
- Same issues as tinctures and edibles about cannabinoid-terpenoid consistency.
- Absorption can be quite slow.
- Some people may suffer from contact dermatitis with cannabis products.
Suppositories may be used when other ingestion methods fail or when trying to get cannabinoids directly into the colon or stomach.
Pros of Cannabis Suppositories
- High bioavailability – is easily absorbed into the bloodstream.
- Little-to-no psychoactive effect. This could make suppositories useful for when high doses of cannabinoids are needed.
Cons of Cannabis Suppositories
- Very invasive – most people do not tend to enjoy applying a suppository, let alone walking around with one.
- Highly uncomfortable and low absorption rate after rectal or anal surgery (although cannabinoids could be potentially very useful for battling inflammation after such surgeries as well).
- Can make using the restroom a bit more difficult and awkward.
Cannabis Transdermal Patches
A transdermal patch is a medicated adhesive patch that is applied to the skin. As transdermal patches penetrate through the three general layers of skin (epidermis, dermis, and subcutaneous tissue) and deliver a specific dose of medication into the bloodstream, they can have psychoactive effects.
Pros of Cannabis Transdermal Patches
- Can release a sustained amount of cannabinoids over a period of time.
- High rate of absorption into the bloodstream.
- Can provide long-lasting relief for chronic pain, arthritis, muscle spasms, nausea & vomiting, and nerve pain.
- Can provide localized pain relief.
Cons of Cannabis Transdermal Patches
- Not necessarily conducive for everyday life – bathing, exercising, and cooking can be made more difficult, as water and sweat can reduce the efficacy of transdermal patches.
- Can sometimes take a long time to take effect.
- Little is known about the long-term effects of using cannabinoid-infused transdermal patches.
Marijuana Tablets and Pills
Most medications involve the use of pills and tablets. This method of consumption is familiar, and it is an ingestion method often associated with medicine.
Pros of Marijuana Pills
- Tablets/pills are familiar and are preferred by many patients.
- Slow-release preparations can be made available.
- Precise dosages
- Can be formulated to protect from digestive enzymes, acids, etc.
- Uncomplicated to use.
Cons of Marijuana Pills
- Most medications have a very slow absorption rate, with low bioavailability when used as a pill or tablet.
- Pills and tablets have an unpredictable absorption rate due to degradation by the stomach’s acids and digestive enzymes.
- Not suitable for those who are vomiting profusely.
- Can be very invasive if the patient is not cooperating.
- Not many reliable cannabinoid-based tablets or pills are available, and cannabinoids may not be best ingested using this method.
- For those who are tired of taking loads of different pills, adding another one may not be psychologically beneficial unless there is a significant reduction in the need to take lots of other pills.
The Best Cannabis Consumption Method
So, is there a “best” way to consume cannabis? Not necessarily, as different conditions require different consumption methods. Generally, tinctures seem most well-tolerated, versatile, and have a broader range of uses for a wider number of people, but other ingestion methods may be needed as an adjunct to allow for immediate, long-lasting, or localized effects when needed.
One of our physicians can help you determine the best cannabis consumption method for you. Contact Leafwell today and apply for your medical marijuana card.