Consumption Methods: The Best Route to the Results You Need

Have you got questions about edibles, topicals, vaping and extracts? You might be surprised how differently each method can affect your experience. Learn what to expect from the legal formats so you can get what you need from your weed.

You probably know that different strains of cannabis can give you different effects. But did you know that how you take it is also important? Some methods lend themselves better to feel the sensations quickly, while others are better for a longer, stronger experience. Learn what happens when you inhale, eat or apply cannabis-based products to your skin so that you can choose the best method for your needs.

What Are the Different Methods of Consuming Cannabis?

In Canada, cannabis formats have been legalized in two stages. The first stage, beginning October 17, 2018, allowed for dry flower (to be smoked or vaped) and oils/capsules (to take orally). The second stage, beginning October 17, 2019, will bring in edibles (like gummies, chocolates and teas), extracts (like distillate vape pens, wax and shatter) and topicals (like creams, roll-ons and intimate lubricants). Some of the products in this second round will be much more potent than the dried flower you’ve grown used to over the last 12 months.

What Do I Need to Know About Each Method? 

When you’re trying to decide which method is right for you, some things to consider are:

- How long will it take to start feeling the effects?
- How long will the effects last?
- How intoxicating will it be?

Depending on whether you’re looking for relief from sleep problems, pain, stress or social anxiety, you can dial in your results by choosing a method that will fit the timing and intensity that you want.

Although there will eventually be dozens of different ways to consume your cannabis, they can all be divided into three main routes: inhaled, ingested and absorbed through the skin.

All of these can produce different results, so you’ll still have to experiment to find how your body reacts to each method, but with the basics on how these dosage routes work, you’ll have a better idea of what type of product you’re looking for.

Inhaling Cannabis  


- Smoking (burning cannabis in a pipe, bong or joint)
- Vaping dry flower (heating without burning in a tabletop or handheld vaporizer)
- Vaping extract (heating in distillate pens)
- Dabbing with wax, shatter or other concentrates (heating in a dabbing rig)

What to Expect:

- Inhaled cannabis kicks in faster than other methods, generally peaking within 15–30 minutes1
- Vaping dry flower can have quicker and stronger effects than smoking the same amount2
- Vaping dry flower or distillate minimizes the cannabis smell
- With dry flower, you’re less likely to accidentally overdo your dose than with concentrates or edibles3 4
- Effects of inhaled products wear off faster than other methods, generally within 3–6 hours5 though high doses can impair you for 24 hours or more6
- Vape pen extracts and dabbing concentrates can be 15–25 times more potent than dry flower7
- You can choose a terpene profile in a flower strain or vaping liquid to enhance certain effects8
- Vaping dry flower releases the active compounds without the dangerous byproducts of burning9 10 and causes less irritation to your lungs11 
- By vaping dry flower at specific temperatures, you can target particular terpenes and cannabinoids to get their effects12

Used For:

- Quick onset of effects
- Microdosing (1.25–5 mg THC; or one small draw) for less intoxication
- Consuming pure CBD in distillate vape pens
- Combing small doses with edibles to give fast effects while waiting for the oil to kick in, or to top up when pain breaks through a long-acting dose

Not Ideal For:

- Conditions where you need long-lasting relief, like chronic pain or insomnia
- People who have lung issues, like asthma13
- Staying completely sober; almost all inhalable products contain some THC, with the exception of pure (and legal) CBD distillate
- Controlling your exact dosage because the amount of THC you take in depends on how deep you inhale, how long you hold it in, and how hot you smoke or vape the material14

Safety Issues:

Never drive after inhaling THC15
Always lock concentrates out of reach of children and pets16
- Always start low and go slow, especially with concentrates, so you don’t get unpleasantly high17
Health Canada recommends: (1) Never hold smoke in your lungs; the longer the tissue is exposed to the irritants, the more likely it is to get damaged and (2) Never use illegal or unregulated vaping products
- Smoking dry flower (in a pipe, bong, or joint) may cause COPD; the smoke contains substances known to cause cancer18
- Unregulated vaping liquids can be cut with materials that cause dangerous lung disease19
- Unregulated vaping cartridges can contain poisonous metals that contaminate the vapour20


Consuming Cannabis: Vaping, Smoking, Edibles and More

Ingesting Cannabis Oils and Edibles 


- Oils
- Tinctures (alcohol-based drops)
- Capsules
- Infused cooking oils, syrups and foods

What to Expect:

- Effects usually take 30–90 minutes to kick in21
- Effects peak at around 2–4 hours and can take several days to taper off
- Fatty foods eaten with your cannabis can help you absorb up to 3 times more CBD and 2.5 times more THC22
Digesting THC breaks it down to create 11-hydroxy-THC, which is about 3–5 times more potent23
- Taking a tincture or oil under your tongue (sublingually) makes the effects come on somewhat faster (15–45 minutes) because it is absorbed directly into your bloodstream, rather than travelling through your digestive tract24

Used For:

- Taking cannabis discretely. It looks like any food or supplement
- Avoiding the lung irritation caused by smoking or vaping
- Getting long-lasting relief, especially for pain and sleep problems
- Measuring exact dosage with pre-packaged capsules and carefully measured oils
Infused foods or drinks can help mask the taste of cannabis oil for people who don’t like it
- Getting more bang for your buck: you can use the leftover bud after dry vaping, (called AVB, or Already Vaped Bud) to infuse your own oil or syrup

Not Ideal For:

- Quick effects
- Benefitting from terpenes; they tend to get removed in the infusion process
- First-time cannabis consumers; it's easy to underestimate the potency of edibles
- Exact dosing for homemade edibles; they’re hard to predict

Safety Issues:

- It is doubly important to start low and go slow with edibles. Their long time to onset makes many people think their dose isn’t working and take more, only to get way too high25
- Digesting THC into 11-hydroxy-THC means that gram per gram, edibles will make you higher than the same dose if you had inhaled it
- Never drive after consuming THC edibles. The impairment can last several days.
- Always lock edibles out of reach of children and pets. They can easily be mistaken for “clean” foods, and the potent dosing is toxic to small bodies26

Topical Cannabis Products


- Lotions and creams
- Skin oils and roll-ons
- Transdermal Patches
Personal lubricants

What to Expect:

- Topical cannabis will not usually make you high27
- Some evidence shows that topicals can relieve local pain28 and inflammation29. Transdermal patches, which bring higher levels of cannabinoids into the bloodstream, may also reduce nausea30
- Your body absorbs more CBD through the skin than from an oil or edible31
- Topical absorption is slow and steady; levels peak within 6 hours32 33 and in animal studies, cannabinoids stayed in the blood for up to 48 hours34 35
- Does not result in detectable levels of THC in the blood or urine36

Used For:

- Relief from pain, inflammation, nausea and vomiting without intoxicating side-effects37
- Getting the benefits of cannabis without the lung irritation from inhaled methods
- Inflammatory skin issues, like eczema, psoriasis and dermatitis38
- Inflammatory pain, like arthritis39
- Chronic pain40
Discrete cannabis use

Not Ideal For:

- Recreational use, as topicals aren’t psychoactive
- Anxiety relief; no evidence that topicals help
- Quick relief; onset is slow

Safety Issues:

- Some products may contain other substances such as parabens or fragrance that may irritate the skin
- With creams and salves, it’s hard to control the dose
- There are only very limited studies on transdermal patches and the evidence so far on ointments, creams or lotions comes from animals and isolated tissues
- Avoid applying man-made cannabinoids (pharmaceutically synthesized or illegal products) on your skin, because they are too concentrated and can give unpleasant or unhealthy side-effects41

Now that you have a basic picture of what the inhaled, edible and topical cannabis products are all about, you’re ready to explore deeper to find the right product for you. As with any medicated product, always avoid illegal preparations, and talk to your doctor or cannabis educator for advice about your unique situation.



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