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Cannabis Products and Consumption Methods

Cannabis is an extremely versatile plant that can be consumed in a variety of different ways. In today”s article, we will provide an overview of the most common product formats (eg. cannabis flower, concentrates, edibles and sublingual oils) and consumption methods (eg. inhalation, oral ingestion and sublingual absorption) and compare them in terms of their benefits, risks, onset times and duration of effects.

Cannabis flower

Cannabis flower is the most well-known and widely-used form of cannabis. Once the flowers have been dried and cured, it is grinded into smaller pieces, and smoked (via a joint, pipe, bong) or vaped (using an electronic vaporizing device). Following inhalation, psychoactive effects can be felt almost immediately, as THC directly enters the bloodstream via the lungs. Effects usually peak within 10-15 minutes and last about 2 – 4 hours. One of the major benefits of smoking / vaping cannabis is that it allows for a high degree of dose control. You can easily adjust the amount you consume through the amount of inhalations you take. For instance, you can start off with only one or two puffs, and after 10 – 15 minutes, when peak effects occur, you can decide whether you”ve had enough or want some more.

In order for cannabinoids to be activated, it needs to be heated. Cannabinoids such as THC and CBD are present in the cannabis plant as carboxylic acids (THC-A and CBD-A). When these compounds are heated (eg. through vaping / smoking), the acid releases a CO2 molecule in a process known as decarboxylation or “activation”. Decarboxylation is a process that happens naturally over time, heat just speeds it up. 

Compared to smoking, vaping is considered to be a much safer option, as it involves a stream of heated air to vaporize the active ingredients without combustion. In fact, experts believe that vaping is 95% less harmful than smoking. While vaping is not risk free, it is less likely to cause lung irritation and other respiratory-related symptoms compared to smoking. To minimize harm, choose a vaping device with a heating chamber made from ceramic / glass (avoid plastics & heavy metals) and keep the temperature below 200°C to reduce the risk of inhaling benzene and other toxic by-products which form at higher temperatures.

Cannabis concentrates

Cannabis concentrates are becoming increasingly popular due to their high potency. Cannabis flowers typically contain between 10-25% THC, whereas cannabis concentrates can contain up to 80% THC. There are several methods for making cannabis concentrates, including solvent-based extractions, which uses butane, propane or ethanol to strip the cannabinoid-rich trichomes from the plant material. Solvent-free extraction methods include CO2 extraction and mechanical separation, which uses pressurized CO2 and mechanical force, respectively, to remove the trichomes from the plant. Once the trichomes have been extracted, they are processed and refined to create various products such as “butane hash oil”, “shatter”, “wax”, “bubble hash” and “live resin”. These products vary in consistency and potency, and can be consumed in a variety of ways. It can be used to create cannabis-infused edibles, or it can be inhaled through vaporization or “dabbing”, which involves heating a “dab” of concentrate to produce vapor that is inhaled. This method allows users to experience the effects of cannabis concentrates almost immediately. However, because these concentrates are extremely potent, it should be used with caution, as it is easy to consume too much and experience adverse effects, such as anxiety or paranoia. 

Cannabis infused edibles, beverages and capsules

Cannabis infused edibles, beverages and capsules are increasing in popularity, as it offers a convenient and discreet way to consume cannabis without any of the respiratory-related risks associated with smoking. Compared to inhalation, ingestible cannabis products have a much slower onset time, as THC needs to travel all the way to the liver before it enters the bloodstream. Once it reaches the liver, THC undergoes a process known as “first pass metabolism”, where about half of the THC is converted to 11-OH-THC – a psychoactive secondary metabolite that is even more potent than THC. This explains why ingestible cannabis products can often feel much stronger than expected.

Depending on the person”s metabolic rate and amount of THC consumed, it can take anywhere from 30 minutes – 2 hours for the effects to fully kick in. Psychoactive effects usually peak around 2 – 4 hours and can last between 8 – 12 hours. Due to its potent and long-lasting effects, ingestible cannabis products are often preferred for medical use (eg. for chronic pain relief). However, since edibles have such a delayed and unpredictable onset time, it can easily lead to overconsumption and unwanted side effects. If you want to try edibles, make sure you don”t drive anywhere for at least 10 – 12 hours afterwards. 

Sublingual oils, tinctures and edibles

Another effective way to administer cannabis (usually in the form of oils, tinctures or meltable edibles such as mints or strips) is sublingually (ie. under the tongue). This method allows for the direct absorption of active compounds into the bloodstream via the mucous membranes in the mouth. For maximum absorption, it should be kept under your tongue for at least 60 seconds before swallowing.  The onset time for sublingual products is slower compared to inhalation, but faster than oral ingestion, with effects typically peaking after 15 – 30 minutes and lasting up to 4 h. Similarly to ingestible products, sublingual products offer a smoke-free and discreet way to consume cannabis. 

Cannabis infused suppositories and tampons

Cannabis infused suppositories and tampons refer to products that are inserted into the rectum or vagina, where they are absorbed via the mucous membranes directly into the blood. Since this method bypasses the liver, users will experience relief without getting “high”. Effects are usually felt within 15 minutes and can last around 4 – 8 hours. For patients who have issues such as lung disease, difficulty swallowing, or extreme nausea, cannabis suppositories are revolutionary. Rectal suppositories are used for the treatment of chronic pain, colon / prostate cancer, eating disorders, gastrointestinal disorders and hemorrhoids, while vaginal suppositories / tampons are used to treat women”s health issues such as endometriosis, menstrual cramps, pelvic pain and PMS.

Cannabis-infused creams, lotions and ointments

Topicals refer to cannabis-infused creams, lotions, and ointments that are applied directly to the skin. Topicals provide localized relief (eg. for joint pain and inflammation related to arthritis) without causing any psychoactive effects. Due to its potent anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties, CBD is often used as the main ingredient in these products. Effects are typically felt within 15 minutes and last around 3 hours.

As mentioned in our previous post on “finding your optimal dose”, the key is to start low and go slow, until you find a product and dose that works for you.