Cannabis and it’s extracts, such as CBD oil, can be consumed in various ways. Each way of consuming cannabis products has its advantages and disadvantages. Whether you’re smoking a vaporizer cartridge or eating a gummy, you’ll experience different effects depending on how you consume the product.
Everyone processes cannabis and cannabinoids differently. Finding your ideal form of cannabis consumption may take some experimentation. Here are the key differences between the ways one can use cannabis:
- Onset: How fast will cannabinoids begin to work?
- Dose: What’s a sensible starting dose?
- Distribution: Which body parts will be most affected?
- Duration: How long will the properties last?
Remember that the dosage required depends on the quality of the product and the reason for its use. Described below are doses based on initially managing the psychoactivity of THC.
Smoking and Vaping
- Onset: Seconds to minutes.
- Dose: As little as one puff may be necessary. A joint is typically 0.3 – 1.0 grams of cannabis.
- Distribution: Affects the lungs immediately, then the heart and brain, then is distributed throughout the body.
- Duration: Most effects, including psychoactivity, subside after 2-3 hours.
When you inhale a cannabis product through the lungs, it first travels to the brain before metabolizing by the liver. Inhalation is by far the quickest method for administering cannabis. Between 20-30% of the phytocannabinoids like THC and CBD are absorbed this way. The heat caused by either smoking or vaporizing converts the acid cannabinoids into their neutral forms.
The short duration and onset make inhalation the most appropriate for acute problems (i.e., acute pain or nausea). The immediate start allows patients to adjust and find the desired dose quickly. If you’re new to THC, ‘getting too high’ is short-lived when inhaling compared to other methods such as edibles.
Smoking Bud vs. Vaping Oil
It may seem like common sense, but one inhales cannabinoids by smoking or vaporizing flowers. Also, cannabis oil extracts can be vaporized or dabbed. The main problem with this method is that smoke is harmful to the lungs. While smoking cannabis is not associated with lung cancer, there are other health issues related to breathing any smoke (i.e., asthma, congestion, chronic cough, etc.).
Compared to smoking, vaporizing has a slightly slower onset but facilitates better absorption. Although vaporizing can be better for the lungs, thinning agents and other additives in oil extracts and cartridges can break down into carcinogens when heated in badly-made vaporizers. When vaporizing flowers, this is not an issue.
Just because you can vaporize oil and flower doesn’t necessarily mean it’s better than smoking. There is very little research on the effects of vaping oil concentrates. These extracts will have different cannabinoid and terpene profiles than the plants. On the contrary, flower is extremely inconsistent. Patients/consumers rarely have access to the same plant.
Edibles & Capsules
- Onset: 1-2 hours.
- Dose: Doses of CBD-rich products range from 5 mg to hundreds of milligrams. The threshold for mild psychoactive effects is 3 mg THC in most new users.
- Distribution: Absorbed through the gut and modified in the liver, spreads pretty evenly throughout the body.
- Duration: Psychoactive effects subside after about 6 hours in most people. Other effects may last up to 12 hours.
Edible cannabinoids are absorbed through the intestines and sent to the liver. If on an empty stomach, it can take about an hour to feel the effects. With food in the stomach or after a meal, it can take up to three hours to feel the effects. Do not re-dose THC edibles for at least three hours after initial ingestion.
While on the way to the liver, cannabinoids will interact with receptors in the gut. This effect is more pronounced in conditions like inflammatory bowel disease. Three enzymes will start to modify THC and CBD in “first-pass metabolism” once in the liver.
Here THC is converted to 11-OH-THC, which appears to cause a more potent high than THC. This is why new users should become comfortable with being high before using edibles containing more than 5 mg of THC. Because of their longer-lasting effects, edibles and capsules are more suitable for many chronic conditions.
- Onset: 15 minutes to an hour.
- Dose: 2.5-5 mg of THC and CBD is a standard starting dose. This could cause a slight ‘high’ in new users.
- Distribution: Absorbed into the bloodstream in the mouth, then distributes evenly throughout the brain and body.
- Duration: After 6-8 hours, most THC and CBD metabolize and leave the body.
Tinctures or drops absorb directly into the blood vessels in the mouth and under the tongue. If placed below the tongue, the user should try to wait at least one minute before swallowing. Effects typically start after 15-30 minutes and reach their peak around an hour and a half after administration. For consistency, it is best to avoid eating right before or after using a tincture.
Tinctures typically come in two forms: an under-the-tongue spray or a dropper with a marking at a specific volume (0.5 ml or 1.0 ml). This helps for consistent, measurable dosing. Pay attention to the labels on these products. These labels contain the dose of cannabinoids per spray or ml.
Tinctures contain solvents like ethanol or sesame oil. Some of the unwanted side effects of cannabis extracts may be ingesting large amounts of carrier oil.
If you take a CBD tincture under the tongue but then accidentally swallow it immediately, your body will process most of it like an edible. This means that you will receive a smaller dose over a more extended time. With CBD products, this can make for a weaker effect. But with a THC-rich tincture, you may take another dose after half an hour – thinking it was too small of an amount – leading to accidental intoxication with THC.
Genetics and THC Sensitivity
The metabolism of THC plays a critical role in its psychoactivity. About 20-25% of people of European descent have genetic mutations that slow the metabolism of THC. This mutation is less common in those of African or Asian descent. People with this mutation may be considerably more sensitive to the effects of THC. This mutation can double or triple the dose someone experiences. The result is most dramatic when taking edibles, so people should understand their THC sensitivity before using edibles.
Cannabinoids are sticky, waxy chemicals. They like to mix with oil, not water. There are, however, several ways to get cannabinoids to dissolve in water. This allows for products like CBD-infused and THC-infused beverages.
Research in this area is limited, but the processes that make cannabinoids soluble in water may also make it easier for your body to absorb THC and CBD. This means that such products should have a quicker onset than an edible (as fast as 20 minutes), and the dose may be more potent over a shorter time.
On the whole, ingesting water-soluble cannabinoids shouldn’t be much different than eating an edible. Although the former may turn out to be faster acting and a bit more potent.
Although transdermal products like patches apply to the skin, their effects are nothing like topicals. A transdermal patch releases cannabinoids into the bloodstream at a constant rate. If it has THC, the user can experience psychoactive effects.
Topicals and rubs are some of the more common kinds of cannabis products. They can be used effectively for skin or joint issues but do not absorb into the bloodstream. The presence of terpenes or non-intoxicating acid cannabinoids (THCA and CBDA) seems to increase skin permeation, but still not enough to get it into the blood. Large concentrations of terpenes in topical products may irritate and damage the skin.
How do you like to take your cannabis products?