Cannabis Consumption Methods
There are four primary methods of using marijuana: inhalation, oral ingestion, sublingual absorption through the mouth, and topical application. Each technique has its own advantages and disadvantages.
Approximate Onset: 1-2 Hours, Duration: 4-8 hours
The ingestion of cannabis infused products leads to more powerful physical and psychoactive effects. After being broken down in the gastrointestinal tract and passing through the liver, the active cannabinoids are delivered into the bloodstream. The more potent nature is attributed to the digestion process, which metabolizes the active form of THC—delta-9-THC—into a stronger compound known as 11-hydroxy-THC as the cannabinoids pass through the liver. In this way, when you’re ingesting cannabis, you’re experiencing both delta-9-THC and 11-hydroxy-THC as the THC breaks down.
Most commonly, cannabis is ingested as an ingredient in readymade food or drink or even homemade concoctions. This allows people to eat tasty snacks while achieving their desired benefits, which could be considered a bonus considering the fact that cannabis is known to induce appetite in the first place. Other ways to ingest cannabis include encapsulated cannabis extracts and cannabis oils.
Ingested cannabis has some advantages other forms of cannabis don’t feature. Cannabis edibles are easy to make and use, and even easier to purchase readymade from your favorite dispensary. Whether you’re making your own cannabutter, infusing food and drinks with cannabis oil, or selecting a cannabis soft chew, there are a variety of ways you can ingest cannabis without needing a great deal of practice or equipment.
For therapeutic or medical purposes, ingested cannabis can be very beneficial. Because of the higher potency levels and longer duration, ingested cannabis is especially helpful for people with chronic pain issues, anxiety, and other concerns. In addition, if you want to be discreet about your use, need to avoid inhaling vapor or smoke, or just want to avoid that cannabis smell in your house, ingested cannabis is a great option. Simply put, you’ll get more out of less, while being less obvious than other forms of cannabis.
Of course, ingested cannabis isn’t the best choice for everyone. One drawback for some people is its potency compared to other forms. As mentioned, this can be good in some situations, but it also means that, depending on factors like metabolism, tolerance, strain, and more, it’s hard to know exactly how much you’ll be affected. Combine this with needing to wait at least half an hour for the effects to begin, and you may suffer an unpleasant reaction if you take more than your body can handle. Too much ingested cannabis can cause panic and anxiety, which is what many people use cannabis to avoid. Limiting your consumption to clearly labeled—and dosed—products purchased from a Zen Leaf dispensary can help you ensure your ingestion experience is a good one.
For some people, the potency, duration, and versatile nature of ingested cannabis makes this method a favorite. For others, that same potency coupled with the unpredictability of consuming homemade products can make it seem like a gamble. For this reason, you should start small and only use products from trusted sources until you’re familiar with ingesting your cannabis.
Approximate Onset: 0-15 Mins, Duration: 2-4 Hours
Historically, the most common method of inhalation is smoking the dried flowers from the cannabis plant. The other method of inhalation is vaporization, which uses a lower temperature and does not require combustion to receive the benefits of medical cannabis. A patient can receive the safest and healthiest way to consume cannabis via vaporization, with a minimal onset time. The most common forms of vaporization utilize dry flower or concentrated forms of cannabis.
Inhalation is a classic for a reason; it’s a method that has been employed since cannabis was discovered. This means there’s also plenty of useful information about how inhalation works—the cannabis smoke or vapor delivers a direct dose of THC or CBD to your lungs, where it then enters the bloodstream and is carried to the brain. This allows inhalation to be relatively quick-acting, though not as potent as other methods. Inhalation of either cannabis smoke or vapor is a reliable way of consuming cannabis whether you’re using a vaporizer and cartridge, or a bowl, bong, dab rig, chillum, blunt, joint, or pipe.
It’s no surprise that inhaled cannabis has some unique pros the other forms don’t have; if it didn’t, it wouldn’t be such a popular dosing method. Allowing smoke or vapor to come into contact with the pulmonary circulatory system means the effects come a lot faster, as you don’t need to wait for your body to absorb or digest the compounds.
In addition, inhalation methods are simultaneously simple and diverse; most methods don’t require much experience or know-how, they allow for relatively simple dosing provided you are familiar with your cannabis strain, and there’s little risk of overdoing it. For the most part, you won’t need to worry about overpowering effects because whether you’re using a vape cart or a joint, you have control regarding how much you’re ingesting and how large each hit should be. You also will find a wide variety of vape pens and carts, as well as countless smoking devices, at most shops.
Of course, there are a few reasons some people are switching to different consumption methods, most of which can’t be avoided when inhaling your cannabis. Cannabis smoke can be an irritant for those with sensitive lungs, and may not be an option at all for those with lung conditions. In general, inhalation is not as discreet as some other methods, and smoke leaves behind that classic cannabis odor that some people may find unpleasant. While vapes are odorless, they can still be rough on sensitive lungs, especially if you purchase a vape from a disreputable source.
Some of the desirable cannabinoids and terpenes may be lost in the combustion process, so vaporization might be preferable if you want to experience the full flavor and cannabinoid profile of your cannabis. However, keep in mind that extracts designed for use in poorly made vape carts may have lost terpenes as well during production. Look for high-quality products to be sure you are able to access all the most desirable compounds.
Overall, inhaled cannabis is a tried and true method that’s known to work reliably. However, the potential for lung irritation might be enough to make some people skip it. If you smoke or vape your cannabis, you're far from alone—just remember that not everyone is into it.
Cannabis Sublingual Dosing Method
Approximate Onset: 30-60 Mins, Duration: 4-8 Hours
By utilizing sublingual cannabis products such as tinctures, infused liquids and dissolvable tablets, patients can bypass the need for intestinal absorption with a quicker onset time than most edibles.
As the name suggests, dissolvable tablets, tinctures, and liquids are designed to be placed under the tongue, allowing for quick absorption into the bloodstream via the thin skin and close-to-the-surface blood vessels located there.
Then, essential cannabinoids can reach the brain fairly rapidly, as they don’t need to be digested and metabolized first. Sublingual cannabis products also tend to be rather potent, and are typically higher in THC by design.
Sublingual Dosing Pros:
Using sublingual products can give you similar benefits to ingesting, such as a more potent effect and discreet dosing method well-suited for those who don’t wish to display their cannabis consumption. They can be ideal for microdosing, as it is very easy to control the size and number of drops and dissolvable tablets used. In this way, sublinguals are versatile and easy to incorporate into your daily life without the need for equipment, time, or cannabis odor. There are also a variety of products to choose from, since sublinguals can come in various styles and flavors based on your end goal.
Sublingual Dosing Cons:
For some users, the potency of the stronger sublinguals can be overwhelming. If you want something less strong, you can consider using a smaller amount, choose a less potent version of the tincture, tablet, or simply use a different method altogether. As mentioned, you can consider microdosing, the practice of consuming very small doses of cannabis on a regular basis. For some, the often-bitter taste can be a turnoff, though it should diminish quickly. Keep in mind, too, that although sublinguals are quicker-acting than ingested cannabis products like edibles, their effects diminish more quickly as well.
Sublingually absorbed cannabis is a broad category with wide variations regarding product potency, targeted cannabinoid, and even flavor. If you’re a fan of stronger products and want something easy to use and discreet, sublingual products are worth consideration. However, if you want something less powerful or longer lasting, other methods of administration may be a better fit.
Approximate Onset: 15-30 Mins, Duration: Up to 12 Hours
Topical products include infused products such as creams, lotions, salves, and patches. This form of administration is geared towards physical alleviation of ailments such as inflammation, skin-irritation and pain. The majority of topicals affect only the localized area they are applied to. Very few forms of topical administration, except specialized transdermal patches, deliver cannabinoids into the bloodstream to provide a more prominent full body effect.
It’s worth noting that the vast majority of topical methods aren’t intended to get you high, nor do they have an impact on anxiety or mood like other forms of cannabis. Instead, they are meant to provide therapeutic results for a targeted area of the body, and are often mixed into well-known topical solutions that may already have their own therapeutic benefits. However, pure cannabis oil can also be used topically; Rick Simpson Oil is a good example, as it was originally created for topical application to skin cancer lesions.
Topical Dosing Pros:
Topicals are soothing, non-invasive, and don't provide a euphoric high like other THC-containing products. They are also an excellent way to begin a self-care regimen, since they fulfill a specific purpose and use cannabinoids as a healing product rather than a recreational one. Simply apply your chosen topical product to the affected area, and experience localized relief without worrying about how cannabis will affect your ability to go about your day. Topicals are also the ultimate in discreet cannabis use, as they appear no different than other topical medications and typically have no cannabis odor.
Topical Dosing Cons:
Like all skincare products, some people may develop an allergic reaction to topical cannabis products, so they are not suitable for everyone. In addition, anyone who wants a full-body experience must utilize transdermal products, which encapsulate the cannabinoids for delivery into the bloodstream. These products can be hard to find and are only available in select dispensaries. Finally, the fact that topical products do not provide a psychoactive effect can be a drawback for some users searching for relief from anxiety, stress, and other conditions.
Overall, topicals are a unique method of using cannabis that comes with plenty of benefits, and are becoming more and more popular as time goes on. For people looking to experience targeted pain, skin irritation, and inflammation relief, topical cannabis products are ideal. However, it's important to keep in mind that if you’re looking for euphoric effects, full-body relief, or mental health benefits, you will likely be better off sticking to the products you already know and trust.