Cannabis

The Completist’s Guide to Getting High

Marijuana bud and bowls of weed
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This article is cont­ributed by Leafly, the world’s largest cannabis information resource. For more information, please visit Leafly.

When it comes to cannabis consumption, the second-most important consideration, after the flower itself, is the delivery method. This point is often overlooked, as evidenced by the prevalence of consumers who have limited their experimentation to only one or two methods. If you find yourself within this category, but aspire to become a comprehensive cannabis aficionado, let this be your checklist.

Gaining the mental and physical benefits of cannabis is largely dependent on how it's consumed, with each method providing a unique experience and a host of effects. Who knows -- you could find a new favorite. Let the exploration begin!

There are three basic delivery methods: inhalation, oral, and topical. Under these umbrella methods are various techniques that serve unique functions, each appropriate for different occasions.

man smoking marijuana
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Inhalation methods

When cannabis is inhaled, the gases enter the lungs before absorbing into the bloodstream. There are currently two prevalent types of inhalation methods: smoking and vaporization.

Smoking
This ancient custom is the method most commonly associated with cannabis. The effects associated with smoking are widely debated, though health professionals are in agreement that smoke-free methods pose less risk and are medically preferred. Advances in vaporization technology have offered smokers an alternative method with fewer health concerns, yet for the time being, smoking continues to be the most common cannabis consumption method.Cannabis smokers have a wide array of devices at their disposal, including hand pipes, water pipes, rolling papers, hookahs, and homemade one-time-use devices. Each of these provides different experiences and influences the smoke inhaled.

Marijuana hand pipes bowls
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Hand pipes
These are likely the most common smoking device in circulation today and generally favored for their convenience: they are small, portable, and simple to use. The device has grown into an artistic expression and is available in countless forms and styles, both for decoration and functionality (such as disguise pipes that imitate everyday objects). Hand pipes operate by trapping the smoke produced from burning cannabis, which is then inhaled by the user.

man smoking marijuana from a water pipe
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Water pipes
Water pipes come in various forms, including but not limited to bongs and bubblers. Like hand pipes, they are available in a variety of styles and designs, but add a level of sophistication and functionality through the incorporation of water. The health benefits associated with the addition of water are up for debate: water cools the smoke, but it's uncertain whether it acts as an effective filter for harmful constituents.

rolling papers and marijuana
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Rolling papers
Generally, these are used to smoke joints or blunts. Joints are cannabis rolled in a paper, the composition of which varies across an assortment of plants including but not limited to hemp, bamboo, and rice. Blunts are cannabis rolled in cigar paper made from the tobacco plant and containing nicotine. Blunt consumers often prefer the flavor and combined effects of the nicotine and cannabis; however, the medical risks linked to nicotine deter most health-conscious cannabis consumers.

hookah
Courtesy of Leafly

Hookahs
One of the less common methods of smoking cannabis, hookahs are generally associated with smoking shisha, the American term for wet tobacco. Cannabis is seldom smoked alone in a hookah because its low water content causes the plant to burn faster than it can be inhaled, producing an acrid taste and wasting the herb. For economically-conscious smokers, this is likely the prominent concern as large quantities of cannabis are needed to yield the same results as other smoking methods. To resolve this, cannabis is sometimes sandwiched between tobacco, introducing the same health concerns associated with blunts. However, the hookah does allow multiple people to smoke at the same time, significantly altering the smoking experience.

homemade one time use weed device to smoke from
Sara Dilley/Leafly

Homemade one-time-use devices
This method may allow for the greatest creativity, and includes all cannabis smoking devices that are disposable. The most common homemade device is a pipe due to its simplicity, but skilled crafters have taken on water pipe designs as well. Health effects associated with this method are variable depending on the material and method used for assembly.

man with a weed vaporizer
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Vaporization

Vaporizers are the logical choice for health-conscious cannabis consumers. A vaporizer steadily heats the herb to a temperature that is high enough to extract THC, CBD, and other cannabinoids, but too low for combustion to release potentially harmful toxins; essentially, vaporization eliminates most health risks associated with smoking. Vaporizers also offer a significant reduction in odor.

At present there is a diverse landscape of vaporizer models, and the market is only expanding as technology improves. Multiple elements distinguish vaporizer designs, including portability and the product they vaporize.

As the market matures, so do the efficiency and quality of portable models, though these still frequently fall short of fixed models (tabletop and desktop vaporizers requiring an outlet power source) in terms of durability and robustness. The form of cannabis product vaporized is the other primary variable distinguishing vaporizers. Many take cannabis concentrates (which come in a variety of forms including oil, shatter and wax); these can be added manually or using cartridges depending on the vape design. The prevalence of concentrate vapes is due to their mechanical simplicity; fewer vaporizers take flower, which requires a heating element to accomplish vaporization, and thus a more sophisticated design.

A younger delivery method that is a point of contention amongst the cannabis community and attentive policy makers is dabbing. Dabbing is a form of vaporization in which potent cannabis concentrates are dropped on a heated nail, creating vapor that is trapped in a glass globe and inhaled. Although there are obvious health benefits associated with clean concentrates over combustible flower, concerns arise from dabbing's image and the intense effects of high-THC extracts. That said, dabbing is currently one of the fastest-trending delivery methods in the cannabis industry.

Marijuana cornbread edibles
Perry Santanachote/Thrillist

Oral delivery methods

Oral delivery techniques include anything administered through the mouth, such as tinctures, ingestible oils, and infused food and drinks. We most often assume that oral delivery denotes ingestion through the digestive tract before entering the bloodstream, but this is not always the case. Tinctures are essentially a topical administered through the mouth, and they are immediately absorbed into the bloodstream unlike edibles or cannabis-infused drinks.

miarjuana tinctures
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Tinctures
Tinctures are liquid cannabis extracts used by consumers looking for dosage control and fast-acting effects without the health risks associated with smoking. Most commonly, alcohol is used as the solvent (any proof greater than 80 can be used effectively), but other fat-soluble liquids can be used as well, such as vinegar or glycerol. Generally, three or four drops of a tincture are placed under the tongue, where they are absorbed directly into bloodstream rather than being digested. When ingested (i.e. swallowed), tinctures are immediately absorbed in an empty stomach but require time to process through the liver, reducing dosage control.

ingestible oils marijuana
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Ingestible oils
Ingestible oils are a happy medium between edibles and concentrates: they are swallowed and digested like an infused product, but have the consistency and potency of concentrated cannabis oil. Such oils can either be eaten or put into easily-ingested capsules. One popular oil is Rick Simpson Oil (RSO), which originated in 2003 when the eponymous Simpson used hemp to treat his skin cancer. RSO is made by extracting the therapeutic compounds of cannabis with alcohol and then evaporating the solvent, leaving behind a tar-like substance resembling oil.

marijuana edibles
Courtesy of Leafly

Edibles
Eating or drinking cannabis provides significantly different effects from delivery methods that immediately enter the bloodstream, such as smoking or vaping. Edibles can be defined as any food or drink that contains cannabis, whether or not the cannabinoids are bioavailable. These products have longer onset times, and tend to cause powerful, full-body psychoactive effects.

Infused food and drinks can be made a variety of ways. Most often, edibles are created using a staple infused ingredient high in fat – like butter or olive oil – that enables extraction of cannabinoids from the cannabis plant material. Adding tinctures to food or drink is another means of creating edibles. Generally, cooking with cannabis flower can be difficult because of the complication associated with cannabinoid activation (including sensitive heating temperatures and times, and sufficient solvent fat). However, as the prevalence of cannabis grows, so does the presence of flower in the kitchen.

Topical cannabis
Courtesy of Leafly

Topical delivery methods

Topical cannabis administration utilizes full cannabis extract -- a thick oil that has been decarboxylated to activate cannabinoids. Once cannabinoids are activated, they can be absorbed through the skin.

Topical effects differ from other delivery methods in that they don’t provide the cerebral stimulation that users describe as "being high." Because of this, topicals are appropriate for consumers needing a clear head and localized relief (for example, muscle aches or soreness).

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This article was originally published as The Complete List of Cannabis Delivery Methods. For this and more articles on cannabis news and culture, visit Leafly News.