In popular culture, cannabis consumption is often synonymous with smoking. Marijuana use tends to bring to mind a pipe, a bong, or — most likely — the archetypal “joint.” But smoking isn’t for everyone.
Some people have cardiopulmonary conditions that preclude them from smoking, it’s not always the most discrete or convenient way to consume cannabis, and especially amid the coronavirus pandemic, many people might want to not take any risks with their lungs.
Furthermore, many people, especially older folk, associate traditional pills, capsules, and tablets as the way treatment is given. They prefer that method, and have difficulty associating smoking as medicinal. Even when that’s the case, there’s an option for everybody!
Here are several other methods for consuming cannabis — without smoking.
What is Marijuana?
There are two subsets of the cannabis plant. The first is what we all know as marijuana which has the psychoactive effect commonly referred to as a “high”. Though marijuana it is not yet fully approved as medicine. Scientific studies on its benefits have led the FDA to approval of some chemical pills and sprays containing THC and CBD.
What is Hemp?
The second subset of the cannabis plant is called hemp, which has lower doses of THC, therefore does not have the same intoxicating effects of marijuana. Both marijuana and hemp contain cannabinoids and terpenes. The two dominant cannabinoids in both plants are: Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Cannabidiol (CBD). Between the two plant types, marijuana is the one that is most sought after for its abundant THC content.
What is THC?
THC is a psychoactive cannabinoid found in both marijuana and hemp plant. In marijuana, however, it’s more abundant. THC, unlike CBD, can cause a person to get “high” when consumed. The science behind this psychoactive effect is that THC activates the body’s endocannabinoid system.
The endocannabinoid is a system of CB1 and CB2 receptors in the central nervous system and throughout the body These receptors alter the brain signaling process which influences concentration, appetite, and many more of the body’s operating systems.
THC, for example, binds onto CB1 receptors, which are consequential in that it has an effect on cognitive functioning such as attention span, the formation of memories and the coordination of movements. It also activates the reward system in the brain which in some cases can cause a surge in dopamine levels which induce an intense biological response that leads to a decrease in pain, nausea and more.
Now that you have a better understanding of marijuana and how THC works, here’s a look at some of the ways to consume cannabis.
Inhalation Delivery 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.
Different Ways of Smoking Cannabis
This ancient custom is the method most commonly associated with cannabis, and there are many different ways for consumers to smoke. Advances in vaporization technology, however, have offered smokers an alternative method with fewer health concerns. The effects associated with smoking are widely debated, but health professionals are in agreement that smoke-free methods pose less risk and are medically preferred.
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 influence the grade of smoke inhaled.
These are probably the most common smoking device in circulation today and generally favored for their convenience: they are small, portable, and simple to use. Hand pipes have grown into an artistic expression and are available in countless creative 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.
Water pipes come in slightly different variations, including but not limited to bongs and bubblers. Like hand pipes, these come in a variety of styles and designs but increase in sophistication by incorporating 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.
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 contain 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.
This is one of the less common methods of smoking cannabis and is generally associated with smoking shisha, the American term for wet tobacco. Cannabis is rarely 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 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 changing the smoking experience.
Homemade One-Time Use Devices
This method may allow for the greatest creativity and includes all disposable cannabis smoking devices. 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 equally variable depending on the material and method used for assembly.
From the iconic “pot brownie” to THC-infused gummies and lemonades, edibles (“medibles”) are a potent and powerful way to consume cannabis without smoking. Learn more about how to make edibles. Just make sure to start low and go slow!
Pills, capsules, and tablets
Medical cannabis pills, capsules, and tablets allow for precise dosing, without the calories or cooking of edibles. A traditional way of taking medication, it is often an attractive option for those who view medicinal marijuana with skepticism and abhor the idea of smoking. Talk to your doctor or budtender about what might be right for you.
Cannabis powder is a form of powdered THC that can be easily dissolved in water much like a sports supplement. Precise, easy, and has a much quicker onset than traditional edibles.
Transdermal patches allow cannabinoids to penetrate the skin and enter the bloodstream. Good for extended release, they can be removed if side effects occur.
Vaping heats up cannabis to a level that releases cannabinoids and other compounds into the air, producing a vapor which is then inhaled. There is no smoke, it’s more discreet and easier on the lungs, and can accommodate a wide range of products including oils, resin, and concentrates.
A cannabis tincture is a concentrated extract made by soaking the flowers and/or leaves in a solvent like alcohol. Very discreet, it allows for precise dosing down to a single drop. Learn how to make your own tincture.
Applied directly to the skin, cannabis balms, gels, salves and lotions can be used to treat pain, muscle aches and more. They do have a much lower bioavailability than other methods of ingestion, and should not produce a psychotropic effect.