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Is There a Best Way to Consume Cannabis? The Pros and Cons of Each Method

There are certainly ways that are preferable, but no one method is necessarily the best. Different conditions require different ingestion methods. Skin problems are likely to need topicals and salves, whereas conditions like Parkinson’s or Crohn’s may need the more immediate relief provided by vaporizers or inhalers. Many may well require multiple ingestion methods for relief of different symptoms. These are the pros and cons of each ingestion method.

Medicated edibles; edibles; cookies; cannabis cookies

Smoking – rolling papers, pipes, bongs, chillums

Smoking cannabis is perhaps the oldest method of ingesting cannabis. It is the “tried and tested” method most associated with the cannabis enthusiasts of the past 50/60 years. However, due to the health problems, smoking cannabis is fast becoming less-and-less popular.

By Circe Denyer; from PublicDomainPictures.net (CC0 Public Domain)

Pros

  • Quick and immediate effects – very useful for those who need 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 dosage is not precise.
  • Effects last around 2-3 hours, which is ideal for remaining functional.

Cons

Although there is some argument 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.

  • Not suitable for minors.
  • Some of the 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 ought to be particularly careful with smoking cannabis.
  • Rolling papers – these can contain damaging compounds of their own. Some brands are certainly 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?

Whilst 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 tend to require fewer hits as well, but they can still produce larger volumes of smoke and cause irritation to the mouth, throat and lungs.

Vaporizing

Vaporizers have become the preferred way for many to consume cannabis, with the perception that it is the healthier alternative to smoking. With the number of bad quality vaporizers and products containing additives like vitamin E oil, this is not always the case. 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.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/weedporndaily/39917946351

Pros

  • 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 in order to get the desired effect.
  • More discreet than smoking.

Cons

  • 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 vapable solution. Not all such solutions are necessarily safe and, if improperly heated or if ingredients like Vitamin E oil are used, may be carcinogenic and/or cause severe lung damage.
  • Consistent dosing is difficult.- 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, where we do not know their effects and could be far more dangerous compared to plant-based cannabinoids/
  • Long-term effects are difficult to determine – few studies on long-term issues.

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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 compared to bongs, in order to prevent loss of potency. Dab rigs also require the heating of a metal plate using a torch.

From https://www.pxfuel.com/en/free-photo-qwelb (CC0 – Public Domain)

Pros

  • Ingestion of a large amount of cannabinoids in a short amount of time, which can be useful for extreme pain or nausea.
  • Clean, prominent taste.
  • Less burning plant matter compared to using flowers.

Cons

  • Using such a high amount of cannabis concentrate in such a small amount of time can prove to be overwhelming.
  • Concentrates need to be clean and free of solvents.
  • Using such a high amount of cannabinoids may not be necessary for therapeutic effects, and 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.

Edibles

For many years, the health-conscious cannabis fan 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 the cannabis is digested and processed by the liver, converting THC into the more potent 11-Hydroxy-THC.

Pot Brownies with Cannabis Leaf
Marijuana brownies

Pros

  • Versatile – you can make your own cannabis oil or butter and use it for a number of dishes.
  • Strong, long-lasting effects, which can be ideal for insomnia or chronic pain.
  • Much more discreet compared to vaporizing or smoking.
  • You do not need to inhale burning carbon resulting from the combustion of plant matter, keeping your lungs healthy.
  • Little is needed for therapeutic effects.
  • Well-made products can be microdosed.
  • 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

  • Effects can take a long time to kick in – 1 – 2 hours, usually. 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 people have to “build up” their tolerance to cannabinoids before eating it.
  • Taking too much can cause extreme anxiety and panic, which can lead to high blood pressure and heart problems.
  • Whilst 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.

Tinctures

High-quality, lab-tested tinctures where MCT, coconut or olive oil is the main cannabinoid-terpenoid carrier makes it the best way to consume cannabis for most people.

Essential oil; tincture; infused oil in a tincture bottle; medicine bottle with pipette.
Tincture.

Pros

  • Effect duration similar to edibles (6 – 8 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 1-2 hours).
  • Versatile – can be used as-is, in food or beverages, or even as a topical.
  • Suitable ingestion method for people of all ages.
  • Discreet.
  • 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 microdosing.

Cons

  • As with edibles, effects can be overwhelming, especially if the tincture has a high amount of THC in it.
  • 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 a whole host of harmful chemicals, cutting agents and pathogens, as well as 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.

cannabis oil, wax, concentrate

Pros

  • Versatile – can be used both internally and externally.
  • High dose of cannabinoids and terpenoids, which may be particularly useful for conditions like chronic pain and some types of cancer.

Cons

  • 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, specific dosage.

Inhalers

Smoking and vaporizing cannabis does not have a medical image. Yes, they can be useful methods of ingestion, but there are too many health problems associated with them. Inhalers, on the other hand, 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.

Source: https://www.myupchar.com/en/disease/asthma (CC BY-SA 4.0)

 

Pros

  • 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

  • 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 size of cannabinoid particles.

Balms, Salves & Topicals

Cannabinoids can be applied externally as well as internally, and for conditions like acne, eczema and psoriasis, direct application to the skin is necessary.

Pros

  • No psychoactive effect.
  • Useful for soothing inflamed skin and muscles.
  • As topicals and salves can be applied directly to a particular area, it can potentially be used for localized nerve pain and conditions like arthritis as well.
  • Non-invasive.
  • Compounds like CBG and pinene can be useful for bacterial skin infections.

Cons

  • Efficacy of topicals and salves is yet to be determined.
  • Same issues as tinctures and edibles with regards to cannabinoid-terpenoid consistency.
  • Absorption can be quite slow.
  • Some people may suffer from contact dermatitis with cannabis products.

Suppositories

When other ingestion methods fail, or when trying to get cannabinoids directly into the colon or stomach, suppositories may be used.

By Alcibiades (CC0 – Public Domain)

Pros

  • 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

  • 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.

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

  • 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.
  • Discreet.

Cons

  • 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.

Tablets/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

  • 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

  • Most medications have a very slow absorption rate when used as a pill or tablet, with low bioavailability.
  • 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 a great deal of reliable cannabinoid-based tablets or pills available out there, and cannabinoids may not necessarily 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.

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Overall

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 in order to allow for immediate, long-lasting or localized effects when needed.

 

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Written by
Dipak Hemraj
Dipak Hemraj - Chief Research Officer

Dipak Hemraj is a published author, grower, product maker, and Leafwell’s resident cannabis expert. From botany & horticulture to culture & economics, he wishes to help educate the public on why cannabis is medicine (or a “pharmacy in a plant”) and how it can be used to treat a plethora of health problems. Dipak wants to unlock the power of the plant, and see if there are specific cannabinoid-terpene-flavonoid profiles suitable for different conditions.

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