Although smoking may be the most well-known method of marijuana consumption, it’s by no means the only way to go. With countless new products released in a booming market, there are more options than ever for how to find relief.
Here are the four primary methods of marijuana use:
- Inhalation: Smoking and vaporizing; ingesting through the lungs
- Edibles: Using cannabis oil in foods, drinks, or pills; ingesting through the digestive system
- Sublingual Tinctures: Using cannabis products that dissolve in the mouth; ingesting through the mouth’s permeable membranes
- Topicals: Applying cannabis-infused products to the body; ingesting through skin absorption
To many people, this is the classic method of consuming marijuana, using pipes, joints, or vaporizers. Inhalation has an immediate effect on the body, allowing for quick and personalized dosing that takes effect within 10 minutes and dissipates over the next 30-60 minutes. [ 6 ]
Both smoking and vaporizing cannabis are easy and popular methods of consumption. However, smoking may carry its own risks, and vaporizing is considered safer and recommended more by doctors. [ 7 ]
When you inhale cannabis smoke or vapor, the THC is absorbed into the blood through the lungs, where it makes its way directly to your brain. Concentrations peak in your blood within 5 to 10 minutes. Compare that to the effect of edibles, where THC must first be metabolized by the liver, and converted to 11-hydroxy-THC. [ 6 ] This compound takes longer to create, but is particularly adept at crossing the blood-brain barrier, which can cause a more intense high.
Because inhaling marijuana takes effect and tapers off more quickly than with edibles, new users often find that smoking or vaporizing allows them the most control over their dosage and experience.
Like any other kind of culinary herb, marijuana can be used to infuse oils, or extracted and added to everything from candy to butter to salad dressings. Ingesting marijuana through edibles can be a creative and delicious alternative to inhalation, although the way your body processes it is very different.
Before the THC in marijuana-infused products can reach your brain, it first must be processed by the liver, where it is turned into 11-hydroxy-THC. This compound is efficient at crossing the blood-brain barrier, resulting in a more intense and long-lasting high. Because edibles take the long route to absorption, they can take from 30 minutes to two hours to take effect. The peak usually comes in around four hours, and the high typically lasts for several hours after. [ 6 ]
For patients with chronic, debilitating conditions, edibles can allow you to take fewer doses of medical marijuana, and have steadier relief throughout the day. [ 8 ] The downside is that each batch of infused product can affect the body differently, which means trial and error is necessary to get the dosage right.
If you’re new to edibles, patience is key. Start with a small dose and weight the effects over several hours. Because edibles can cause a more intense and long-lasting high, ingesting too high a dose can throw off your whole day. Better to have slightly too little and increase the dosage next time, than start with way too much and have a bad experience.
Medical marijuana can also be ingested orally, but unlike edibles, tinctures bypass the digestive tract. These products are absorbed through the walls of your mouth, directly into your bloodstream, where they head to the brain. Tinctures act quickly, like smoking or vaporizing, but without any inhalation-related health risks. Marijuana extract is suspended in a carrier, like alcohol, vinegar, or glycerol. A few drops of tincture are held under the tongue, where it’s absorbed. If accidentally swallowed, there are no ill effects--it just gets processed like an edible, needing to be metabolized by the liver before taking effect. [ 9 ]
Topicals are cannabis-infused ointments, lotions, oils and patches that are used for treatment of pain and discomfort. Just like a salve you’d get from the drugstore, topicals are applied to specific areas of the body, where the cannabinoids are absorbed through your skin. These products don’t cause psychoactive effects like the other three methods of ingestion, which makes them perfect for people seeking cannabis-infused therapy without the high.
Topicals work by tapping into the natural cannabinoid receptors throughout the body. The network of receptors in your skin are called CB2, and topical treatments only penetrate to this level, rather than being absorbed into the bloodstream. That’s why topical treatments are great for localized relief without psychoactive side-effects. [ 10 ]