How to Consume Cannabis

Cannabis has been traditionally consumed with a variety of methods. Combustion (i.e. smoking) originally began with the people, who would burn it in a tent to inhale the smoke (think hot-box!). Oral consumption has roots extending to pre-biblical era, where pieces of pottery have been found to contain cannabis in the oils they held. More recently, vaporization and sub-lingual applications are becoming quite popular due to health considerations as well as the differing results one experiences with each application.

Smoking / Combustion

Onset: 0-10 minutes
Peak: 30 minutes
Duration: 1-4 hours

Smoking cannabis involves the burning of flowers, leaves or extracts to release all of the compounds – the main cannabinoids (i.e. THC, CBD etc.), terpenoids, as well as plant matter such as cellulose and pistils. This is absorbed into the bloodstream via the lungs, and thus has a quick and predictable onset of effects (0-10 minutes). It is important to note that the more CBD is present, the longer the onset. Cannabis can be smoked in a variety of methods, including cigarettes (aka joints or blunts), pipes, and water pipes (aka bongs). Smoking cannabis does contain many of the same carcinogens as tar from tobacco smoke, and is not recommended as a medical delivery method.

Vaporization

Onset: 0-10 minutes
Peak: 30 minutes
Duration: 1-4 hours

Similarly to smoking cannabis, vaporization generally provides a quick and predictable onset of effects (0-10 minutes). A vaporizer heats flowers, leaves or extracts to 185-210 C (365-410 F), which causes the active ingredients to evaporate into a gas without reaching the point of combustion – burning any plant material. The vaporization point of THC is 157 C (315 F). A lower proportion of carbon monoxide and other toxic chemicals are typically released than by smoking. The resulting effect is generally different than by smoking, since not all psychoactive compounds are released by vaporization (such as THCV, which is present in African strains). Generally, the resulting effect is anecdotally more cerebral (heady), but this can certainly vary by strain.

Food & Drink

Onset: 60-90 minutes
Peak: 2-3 hours
Duration: 6-8 hours, or more

Cannabis may be consumed orally; however it must be sufficiently heated to cause decarboxylation and activate most cannabinoids in cannabis. Decarboxylation is a chemical reaction that removes a carboxyl group from the THC molecule, yielding delta-11 THC from delta-9 THC. This process can be achieved through the internal metabolic system, but is highly ineffective compared to preparing and decarboxylating the cannabis before ingesting.

Although hashish is sometimes eaten raw or mixed with water, THC and other cannabinoids are more efficiently absorbed into the bloodstream when combined with butter and other lipids, or less so, dissolved in ethanol. Heating cannabis with fats allows it to bind with the fats, making it easier for the THC to pass through the metabolic system and become absorbed into the bloodstream (this is why cannabis teas with no milk, or non-fat milk, generally do not perform well).The time to onset of effects depends strongly on stomach content, but is usually 1 to 2 hours and may continue for a considerable length of time (6-8 hours or more).

Oral & Buccal

Onset: 0-60 minutes
Peak: 1-2 hours
Duration: 1-8 hours

Recently, buccal or sub-lingual products such as pastils, lozenges and tinctures have been introduced. Because these products are dissolved directly into the exposed blood vessels underneath the tongue, and into the mouth’s soft tissue, a “smoking/vaporization” effect is felt rather quickly (1-10mins) through uptake of delta-9 THC. As a sublingual will result in swallowing as well, the portion of THC that ends up in the stomach will metabolize, and an edible onset is also felt (typically 1 hour).