Tips for choosing the perfect cannabis consumption method
When it comes to consuming cannabis, I’ve tried most things, from top to bottom. Like, literally, bottom—suppositories are an effective form of medicinal cannabis. As most people, I have my preferred way to consume cannabis, but I also know the right time to try a different method. For example, it’s not ideal to bring a fat blunt to a celebration where you should be discreet about cannabis.
Though some people stand by their preferred method, but there’s no harm in branching out. I’ve learned these pros and cons of cannabis consumption methods over years of trying new things, budtending at cannabis dispensaries, and regularly consuming the plant.
There are many kinds of cannabis products, but flower remains a popular choice across generations. Headset data showed that the market share of smoking products grew 28% from 2021 to 2022.
The thick smoke, quick onset of effects, and often rich flavor could be why many connoisseurs return to smoking flower after dabbling with other consumption methods. But while smoking cannabis is likely not as harmful as smoking tobacco, smoking is smoking when it comes to vascular health.
A 2013 review of animal and human studies showed that regularly smoking cannabis caused minor lung injury and chronic bronchitis that cleared up after cessation of use. Habitual cannabis smoking increased airway resistance, but a few epidemiological studies showed no increased risk of lung or upper airway cancer with low or moderate smoking.
While lighting a baton joint or ripping a tube can be a simply delightful experience, pulmonary risks are worth considering.
When I was budtending in medical dispensaries, I noticed that patients who sought to replace prescription opioids with cannabis coveted extract products. I watched the eyes of many patients on this journey slowly regain their sparkle visit after visit as they shed pharmaceuticals in favor of cannabis products. The high THC in extracts made them more effective for people used to fast-acting, intense pain-relieving opioids.
For those who don’t have a high tolerance or need a large concentration of cannabinoids, the heightened effects of dabbing may cause uncomfortable paranoia or anxiety. These consumers might like dabbing CBD extracts. I love to dab high-CBD strains like Harlequin when I’m anxious. The quick shot of CBD successfully calms a doom spiral or persistently anxious day.
Dabbing also requires specific glass rigs, e-nails or torches, and other accouterments that can sometimes be expensive. Someone without an extensive budget may not be able to get everything together in just one day.
This method isn’t often ideal for beginners, but with the right gear and understanding of the process, dabbing could be accessible for all.
Vape pens, cartridges, and pods
There are a few types of vape pens, like 510-thread cartridges, disposable vapes, and Pax Pods. Each product contains oil. A battery activates the cartridge or pod heating elements which creates a vapor.
Despite controversy in 2019, vaporizer pens continue to grow in popularity because they are discreet and don’t leave a lingering smell on people. Despite the benefits, consumers should consider what kind of oil a brand uses and the cartridge quality before purchasing a vape pen.
Brands use various extracts that contain different ratios of cannabinoids in cannabis cartridges. Distillates are often THC-only with little to no terpenes, while live resin cartridges are high in terpenes and have a full spectrum of cannabinoids. The type of oil used will impact your experience, so form an idea of what you are looking for before visiting the shop.
The materials used to manufacture the cartridge elements can pose a consumer risk. I learned from Corey Mangold, CEO of vape cart company PurTec, that though 510-thread cartridges are tested for heavy metals and ceramic dust after production, they are not emissions-tested or tested after multiple cycles of heating and cooling.
In addition, Mangold informed me that ceramic elements, often used to heat cannabis oil inside the cart, must be made with grade A ceramic, or the possibility of the ceramic releasing dust into the oil increases. Inhaling ceramic dust in the air can develop Silicosis, but there are still no studies on the effects of inhaling ceramic dust in heated cannabis oil.
When buying vape carts, be a conscious consumer, ask questions, and learn about the brand before purchasing. Though you’re unlikely to get answers on the manufacturing and materials on the cart itself, trusting the cannabis brand you are buying from is a good step in the right direction.
Eating and drinking your pot is a great way to enjoy the benefits of cannabis without the risk of smoking–but eating edibles creates a much different experience than inhalation.
Many ingestible products pass through the liver, where THC morphs into 11-hydroxy-THC which, in my experience, promotes a heavier, sometimes more psychedelic effect compared to inhalation methods. Edibles can also be enjoyed discreetly at parties and other social settings, making them a viable option for consumption at weddings and other celebrations.
Edibles take 15 minutes to two hours to kick in, far longer than the somewhat immediate effects of smoking and vaping. Additionally, edibles can last as long as 24 hours, taking them off the table for those who don’t have a full day to be high.
It can also take time to choose the edible that matches your desired experience with a wide array of products and variance in labeling. But if you ask the budtender the right questions, you will be more apt to find the right edible at the dispensary. For example, a beginner might want to find an edible that is easy to separate into smaller doses. But products like high-dose lollipops and drinks are easy to over consume, often leading to paranoia and a very uncomfortable high.
Tell the budtender what experience you are looking for, how much you would like to eat at once, and see what products they recommend to set yourself up for a good time.
Topical balms, salves, lotions, and more
Though they come in many consistencies, packages, and doses, these products are straightforward. Brands design salves, lotions, balms, and creams to relieve pain, moisturize skin healing from a new tattoo, relieve itchy bug bites, and promote sexual stimulation.
A few topical products, like some transdermal patches, can breach the blood-brain barrier, but most will have minimal to no psychoactive effect.
Though it is the intended effect, many might consider topicals not getting you high a negative–but they come in handy. I recommend having CBD balm in the medicine cabinet.
Cannabis suppositories are technically topical products but with a specialty intake method. People use suppositories anally or vaginally for myriad reasons like relieving menstrual cramps, sciatica, and cancer symptoms–all of which I have either facilitated as a budtender or tried myself.
When I worked in a medical shop in Arizona, a patient came in for her first visit after taking her cancer treatment into her own hands. After selling her molds and high-quality shake, we taught her a coconut oil infusion method and guided her through making her suppositories. That was my first experience with this cannabis product until working in an adult-use shop a few years later in Washington.
The store in Washington carried infused suppositories. One day I was having a sciatica flare-up, so I tried one. The suppository alleviated my nerve pain faster and more effectively than many other home remedies I have tried, like over-the-counter pain medications, using a foam roller, and topical cannabis products. A coworker reported that suppositories did the same for her menstrual cramps when taken vaginally.
While some can feel uncomfortable talking about suppositories, I have learned that it is worth it to speak openly about this cannabis consumption method as it has personally provided me with relief from a persistent condition.
Dry herb vapes
As a lover of smoking flower that also values my lung health, I am always looking for a dry herb vape that rips. There is a bevy of dry herb vapes available, from desktop tech like the beloved Storz & Bickel Volcano to portable pieces like the PAX 3.
These devices often use convection chambers that heat flower atmospherically. Some use a rechargeable battery, while others plug into the wall during use. Pieces often allow you to personalize the experience and maximize the terpene content in your hit with pre-set temperature settings.
Dry herb vapes are ideal for someone who wants to enjoy cannabis flower but finds smoking weed harsh or too smelly–though flower vape hits will still leave a lingering cannabis aroma. The most common complaint with this consumption method is that hits are too light and don’t have enough visible smoke on the exhale, making people feel like they don’t “get anything.” But this is normal.
Unless you are baking your herb into high heaven, vapor will appear lighter than smoke because it combusts flower at a much lower temperature. Terpenes have a boiling point between 200-350°F, and cannabinoids boil at a range of 300-450°F. A lighter burns at 4,074°F.
The last con of dry herb vapes is that the best ones are pricey. The Volcano Classic starts at $479, and the PAX 3 retails for $250. While there are cheaper options, I mention these products because they function well and last much longer than their less expensive counterparts. Someone who loves smoking cannabis would be well-served to invest in a dry herb vape, but understandably, not everyone can pay to play.
There are many ways to consume cannabis, and few are wrong. Instead, each cannabis consumption method has a time and a place based on desired experience, health considerations, budgetary concerns, and personal preference. These are the most common methods for smoking, eating, applying, and vaping the plant.
So, after hearing the pros and cons of cannabis consumption methods, what’s your favorite way to get high?