What's the Healthiest Way to Get High?

Perry Santanachote/Thrillist
Perry Santanachote/Thrillist

Regardless of your motivation -- pain relief, relaxation, a War of the Worlds viewing -- treating yourself with (to?) cannabis is highly personal. What works well for one person may not work for another, so here are a few recommendations to help you decide what's healthiest for your situation and preferences. Dabs, blunts, edibles; how you choose to use is up to you, just make sure you're informed about it!


6. Dabs, wax, shatter, budder

Onset: Take effect in one to three minutes
Duration: Effects last one to three hours
Most common use: Fast relief for acute problems

Dabbing uses super-potent forms of concentrated cannabis (60-90% THC) -- typically made from hash oil -- and is way too much for the casual pot smoker. Passing out from dabs is a common problem for new users, as the high concentration of THC lowers blood pressure rapidly. Combine that with the mistake of holding the hit in the lungs, and blood flow to the brain drops enough that you can faint. Don't hold in a dab, people.

And remember that, like alcohol, cannabis affects women more profoundly than men. Make sure you only use dabs in safe places with people you trust! There are no known scientific studies of dabs, so we cannot tell you what the best use or long-term effects may be, but some people report more drug abuse potential with dabs. This may be from chemical artifacts left by the extraction method, or it may be the result of the high potency. We don't know! Proceed with extreme caution.

flickr/Heath Alseike

5. Smoking with a bowl, joint, blunt, spliff, bong, pipe

Onset: Takes effect in one to three minutes
Duration: Effects last one to three hours
Most common use: Fast relief for acute issues, or when you don't want to be high for very long. Getting to sleep quickly (but often not staying asleep).

Smoking offers compelling benefits such as fast onset and short duration. The lungs have a vast surface area and transfer the active THC and other cannabinoids to the blood stream almost instantly. Peak THC in plasma has been observed in as few as five minutes for smokers and wears off steadily by up to 90% in just an hour or two. Experienced smokers can control the effects by varying how deeply they inhale and by holding the smoke in the lungs for a few seconds before exhaling. Because the liver is not directly involved in transfer to the blood, very little of that pesky 11-hydroxy THC is produced. So it's harder to make yourself feel bad by over-consuming than with edibles, and the brief duration means you're not wiped out for the day if you chose the wrong strain for you.

However, lighting your pot with a 500+ degree flame destroys some of the beneficial compounds. Only 10-25% of the THC/CBD/CBG and other cannabinoids actually make it into your body -- some of your product literally goes up in flames. Second, smoking is still smoking. Marijuana smoke contains carcinogens and toxic by-products such as carbon monoxide, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), and tar. That said, there are no known cases of lung cancer in cannabis-only smokers.

Perry Santanachote/Thrillist

4. Edibles, capsules, brownies, infused drinks

Onset: Take effect in 30-90 minutes
Duration: Effects last six to eight hours
Most common use: Nighttime to help people stay asleep (long duration) and to help reduce inflammation from the inside-out for chronic pain. Daytime use for experienced users is to give a long-lasting effect.

Swallowed marijuana products are the least predictable and the most difficult to dose. Because the edible must be digested before the THC is absorbed into the bloodstream, it can be from 30 to 90 minutes before you feel anything. During digestion, the delta-9 THC in edible is metabolized by the liver into 11-hydroxy THC -- a more psychoactive form. Some people convert more, others convert less. Fully 1 in 5 people have little to no response to edibles at all! Others have an extreme, uncomfortable way-too-high type feeling.

Be careful with edibles. Start low, go slow. A starting dose of 2.5-5mg for women and 5-10mg for men is recommended, and wait a FULL HOUR before taking another dose, if no effects are felt right away. Once you find your personal best dose, edibles can be a good way to get long-lasting effects, without having to carry around smelly paraphernalia.


3. Vaporizer

Onset: Takes effect in one to three minutes
Duration: Effects last one to three hours
Most common use: Fast relief for acute issues, or when you don't want to be high for very long. No smoke means it can be used discreetly in more places.

There are basically two forms of this kindler and gentler form of pot-smoking: tabletop and portable. Portable vaporizers are battery operated and often look like electronic cigarettes, thick pens, or an Altoids tin with a mouthpiece. Tabletop models plug in to the wall and vary from wood or plastic boxes with hoses for inhalation to round “Volcano” style metal bases with a bag to collect the vapor and inhale from. All vaporizers heat the marijuana by applying an electric coil to a product chamber holding plant material, oils, or hash. Most tabletop models allow you to adjust the amount of heat applied to the product, most portable “vape-pens” do not. Vape pens tend to be fixed-temperature and tabletop models typically offer a choice of heat ranges.

In all types, the heat is set high enough to activate the cannabinoids, but not high enough to actually burn it. When the material reaches a high enough temperature, the plant oils turn to vapor and can be inhaled. 60-90% of cannabinoids in the original material are present in the vapor, and this translates into measurably higher concentrations of THC in blood of patients using vaporizers. And the lower temperature makes vaporizing easier on the lungs than smoking.


2. Tinctures, drops, gums, suckers

Onset: Take effect in one to three minutes
Duration: Effects last one to three hours
Most common use: Fast relief for acute problems for people who cannot smoke or want a measured dose

By holding drops, tinctures, breath strips, suckers, and gums in the mouth, the THC is absorbed into the bloodstream through the mouth membranes without being digested first. It's a simple way to get the same fast onset and short duration as smoking, but without the smell or waste.


1. Patches and transdermals

Onset: Take effect in five to 10 minutes
Duration: Effects last eight to 12 hours
Most common use: Long-acting measured dose relief. Commonly used by people who want to continue going to work or school during treatment.

Patches are evenly dosed cannabis-infused products that look like nicotine patches. They are more of a medical product than a recreational product, which means they're pretty safe, but also not as fun.

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Martha Montemayor is a Certified Nutritional Consultant at Healthy Choices Unlimited, a Colorado medical marijuana evaluation clinic seeing patients in Denver, Vail, Montrose, Gunnison and other Colorado locations. She assists the doctors with patient treatment plans incorporating cannabis and nutrition. She also offers personal nutritional consultations for cannabis patients. She is the founder of the Colorado Cannabis Clinicians professional society www.COSCC.org and lectures frequently on medical cannabis.