If you’re new to the world of cannabis, you may be bowled over by things like how many strains there are, not to mention how many options there are for actually consuming your cannabis. In fact, it can feel a little overwhelming if you’re not sure where to start or which way is best!

This is why we’ve created this simple reference. This guide is designed to help people decide which method of cannabis consumption is best for them based on goals, needs, intent, and other factors. We’ve also broken down the most common methods available and how they differ, so you can compare them side by side.

What’s the Best Way to Consume Cannabis?

If you’re trying to decide how to consume cannabis, start by asking yourself some basic questions:

Do I need to be discreet as I medicate? If so, go for tinctures, edibles, or patches. No one will see or smell you or your cannabis.

What if my THC tolerance is low or I’m just getting started? Try micro-dosed products or CBD-rich strains of flower. This is a great way to start getting benefits from cannabis without being overwhelmed by psychoactive effects.

Is my pain acute in one spot or otherwise localized? If so, transdermal patches or cannabis topicals like creams and balms that apply relief in a specific spot rather than delivering whole body benefits may be your best option.

Do I need effects that will last a long time? If yes, then tinctures or preferably edibles are your best, most lasting choice.

Smoking Cannabis Flower

Smoking the cannabis plant’s dried flower in a joint, bong, pipe, or other device is probably the most common method of ingesting the herb. It’s an extremely efficient way to deliver cannabinoids to your system quickly.

Onset: Almost immediate. Within seconds to minutes of inhaling your smoked cannabis, you will start to feel its effects.

Duration: Typically, effects peak within 30 minutes and start to dissipate in 1 to 3 hours.

Pros: There are lots of benefits to smoking raw cannabis flower. This method lets you retain the most control of the source, strain, and cannabinoid content, first of all. But also, for those who enjoy the culture and ritual of cannabis, smoking has a special place.

Cons: Even when you find your favorite strains of flower, that’s just the beginning. The same exact strain will still vary wildly in cannabinoid content, potency, and overall taste/smell and experience, depending on where you get it.

Furthermore, there are carcinogenic compounds in any smoke, no matter how “clean” your starting source is because combusting plant matter simply produces byproducts in smoke. On top of that, lighter papers and other cannabis adjacent chemicals from products can also end up in smoke. So if you have lung issues or otherwise have a compromised immune system, consider other methods of cannabis delivery and avoid smoking.

Vaping Cannabis

Vaping is like the younger, hipper cousin of smoking. The idea behind vaping is you heat the cannabis oil or plant matter but don’t burn it—you add just enough heat to achieve a temperature that separates the plant matter and the trichomes, sending those into the vapor for your enjoyment. The result is an efficient form of inhalation that is smoke-free.

Onset: Within seconds of inhalation, peaking quickly, just like with smoking.

Duration: Again, much as with smoking, effects from vaping cannabis will typically peak within about 30 minutes and dissipate within a 1 to 3 hours.

Pros: Somewhat more discreet than smoking, portable vaporizers leave behind minimal odor, which goes away rapidly. Those that are made of high-quality materials are totally safe to use and present a clean, healthy way to consume marijuana.

Cons: Especially for some more experienced cannabis users, the effects of vaporization feel weaker compared to other methods of consumption. Also, some vaporizers are better than others; look for ceramics and materials that cannot leave harmful residue in your vapor.

Along these lines, if you’re vaping oils or cartridges, it’s absolutely essential to stick to products from reputable companies. The risk of inhaling low quality materials and even residual chemical solvents is relatively high given the ongoing need for health and safety regulations during this transition toward legalization. And remember, some companies specifically design their products to work together, so be careful when mixing vape pens and cartridges.

Dabbing Cannabis Extracts and Concentrates

And speaking of hip, dabbing is the very latest generation in the cannabis consumption family, the heavy hitter in the group. For people with high tolerance or a need for serious medication only, dabbing delivers a much more concentrated form of cannabinoids.

Dabbing refers to heating a dab or small amount of cannabis concentrate to vaporize it for inhalation. Typically the heat comes from a blowtorch and happens on the head of a titanium nail.

Don’t be fooled by the tiny “dab” of concentrate”: it can contain up to 80% THC. The effects are stronger like a potent edible and more psychologically and physically intense. Cannabis concentrates include butane honey oil (BHO), budder, wax, and shatter, among others.

Onset: Immediate.

Duration: May persist a bit longer than other methods of inhalation.

Pros: This is ideal for seriously ill patients who need immediate relief from high levels of cannabinoids. Aficionados love the taste and aroma.

Cons: It’s safer to use lower temperatures because over 365 degrees, concentrated dabbing smoke can release carcinogens. If you dab routinely, you can develop a tolerance to high THC levels.

Cannabis Edibles

Since back in the 1960s, cannabis edibles have been one of the most popular ways to get your greens. Edibles can come in almost any form, but some of the most popular are chocolates, mints, gummies, brownies, cookies, sodas, and other snacks. If you’ve ever had edibles you already know they just feel different—definitely still like cannabis, but a unique experience.

That’s because when you eat your cannabis, the cannabinoids in it have to get metabolized by your liver before they reach your cells. It takes longer to happen, but in the process, the liver converts the THC into 11-hydroxy-THC, another, more potent psychoactive cannabis chemical.

Onset: The quickest, on an absolutely empty stomach, would be 15 minutes, but it can take up to two hours for edibles to produce their full effects, depending on how much food and drink the user had and their metabolism.

Duration: About 4 to 6 hours, but be careful! Unusually high doses can last for over 24 hours.

Pros: Far and away, the biggest benefit of edibles is that their effects last longer than other methods of cannabis use. There are also endless ways to eat and drink cannabis; the limits are basically your imagination and skill in the kitchen. Edibles are also one the most convenient and discreet forms of consumption.

Cons: For people who need immediate relief from symptoms like nausea or acute pain, edibles are not ideal. The onset is just too slow for those kinds of problems, unless you can manage to take edibles to prevent symptoms.

Also, there is a real danger of confusion and embarrassing mistakes—or worse—from edibles that are not stored safely. Edibles that are not clearly labeled can be mistaken for non-infused products. And of course edibles should always be kept away from children.

Finally, because edibles have a delayed onset, people are more likely to make overconsumption errors as they take more portions until they feel the effects they want. Little do they realize, they’re just at the edge of a wave because they’ve eaten too much. (On the other hand, people who are a little bit high may also overconsume edibles, forgetting what they are doing!)

Cannabis Tinctures

Tinctures are classic, old-school medicine. In the late 1800- early 1900s US, even cannabis-based tinctures were common. Today, cannabis tinctures are available in many dosages, flavors, and formulations featuring various cannabinoids—or the full spectrum. Tinctures send cannabinoids into the bloodstream directly as they are absorbed sublingually.

Onset: When you think about onset of tinctures, think about compromise. Tinctures are somewhere between inhalation methods like smoking or vaping and edibles, with effects typically surfacing within 20 to 30 minutes.

Duration: If you’re an everyday cannabis user, a cannabis tincture will probably keep you in effects for a couple of hours. If you don’t use cannabis very often, though, those effects might linger for 3 to 4 hours.

Pros: There’s so much choice out there when it comes to cannabis tinctures! Manufacturers have featured just about all of the minor cannabinoids in tinctures from CBN to THCV. And this is a very discreet method, with no odor at all.

Cons: For those who forgo all alcohol, tinctures are not ideal. And it’s important to keep the bottles sealed and stored safely, because THC content is degraded by heat, light, and oxygen. Also, for people who are more into a recreational or at least enjoyable vibe, this has a very medicinal feel.

Cannabis Topicals

Cannabis-enriched preparations such as balms, lotions, and salves have been used by Ayurvedic practitioners for thousands of years. The aim of using such topicals is to deliver more focused therapeutic benefits without psychoactive effects as cannabinoids are absorbed directly into the skin.

Onset: Several minutes up to two hours.

Duration: 3 to 12 hours—this is widely variable depending on the preparation, the person, and the condition. Transdermal patches in particular may offer extended periods of relief.

Pros: Perfect for treating just acute pain and localized inflammation, including bone fractures, arthritis and other kinds of joint pain, menstrual cramps, skin conditions, and migraines—without any psychoactive effects. This is ideal for people with a low tolerance for THC and new users. It is also an exceedingly discreet option.

Cons: For people with allergies or sensitive skin, some artificial fragrances, parabens, or other ingredients in cannabis topicals—including actual terpenes—may be irritating or exacerbating to existing health issues.

Rick Simpson Oil (RSO)

Rick Simpson Oil or RSO is a high potency full-spectrum cannabis oil named for cannabis advocate Rick Simpson. Simpson created the extract to treat his cancer and the formulation has become popular. It is typically high THC and features CBD and other cannabinoids.

Although some patients use RSO topically, most often RSO is eaten. Usually, patients start with an amount of RSO about the size of half a grain of rice. From there, work up with your dose until you reach 1 gram per 24 hours—if you need that much.

Onset: 15 minutes to 1 hour, but may take up to 2 hours to peak.

Duration: 4 to 12 hours.

Pros: Though largely anecdotal, successful patient stories with RSO abound. Many people report using RSO to treat tumors and skin cancer in particular. Some patients use it for gastrointestinal disorders.

Cons: As of this writing, there have been no human studies establishing full spectrum cannabis oil as a viable treatment for any specific form of cancer, although animal models prove that THC and CBD have anti-proliferative effects. It is most prudent to pursue treatment with RSO under the supervision of an oncologist.

Final Thoughts on Methods of Cannabis Consumption

If you’re new to the world of cannabis, you may be bowled over by things like how many strains there are, not to mention how many options there are for actually consuming your cannabis. In fact, it can feel a little overwhelming if you’re not sure where to start or which way is best!

This is why we’ve created this simple reference. This guide is designed to help people decide which method of cannabis consumption is best for them based on goals, needs, intent, and other factors. We’ve also broken down the most common methods available and how they differ, so you can compare them side by side.

How Should I Consume Cannabis?

If you’re trying to decide how to consume cannabis, start by asking yourself some basic questions:

Do I need to be discreet as I medicate? If so, go for tinctures, edibles, or patches. No one will see or smell you or your cannabis.

What if my THC tolerance is low or I’m just getting started? Try micro-dosed products or CBD-rich strains of flower. This is a great way to start getting benefits from cannabis without being overwhelmed by psychoactive effects.

Is my pain acute in one spot or otherwise localized? If so, transdermal patches or cannabis topicals like creams and balms that apply relief in a specific spot rather than delivering whole body benefits may be your best option.

Do I need effects that will last a long time? If yes, then tinctures or preferably edibles are your best, most lasting choice.

Smoking Cannabis Flower

Smoking the cannabis plant’s dried flower in a joint, bong, pipe, or other device is probably the most common method of ingesting the herb. It’s an extremely efficient way to deliver cannabinoids to your system quickly.

Onset: Almost immediate. Within seconds to minutes of inhaling your smoked cannabis, you will start to feel its effects.

Duration: Typically, effects peak within 30 minutes and start to dissipate in 1 to 3 hours.

Pros: There are lots of benefits to smoking raw cannabis flower. This method lets you retain the most control of the source, strain, and cannabinoid content, first of all. But also, for those who enjoy the culture and ritual of cannabis, smoking has a special place.

Cons: Even when you find your favorite strains of flower, that’s just the beginning. The same exact strain will still vary wildly in cannabinoid content, potency, and overall taste/smell and experience, depending on where you get it.

Furthermore, there are carcinogenic compounds in any smoke, no matter how “clean” your starting source is because combusting plant matter simply produces byproducts in smoke. On top of that, lighter papers and other cannabis adjacent chemicals from products can also end up in smoke. So if you have lung issues or otherwise have a compromised immune system, consider other methods of cannabis delivery and avoid smoking.

Vaping Cannabis

Vaping is like the younger, hipper cousin of smoking. The idea behind vaping is you heat the cannabis oil or plant matter but don’t burn it—you add just enough heat to achieve a temperature that separates the plant matter and the trichomes, sending those into the vapor for your enjoyment. The result is an efficient form of inhalation that is smoke-free.

Onset: Within seconds of inhalation, peaking quickly, just like with smoking.

Duration: Again, much as with smoking, effects from vaping cannabis will typically peak within about 30 minutes and dissipate within a 1 to 3 hours.

Pros: Somewhat more discreet than smoking, portable vaporizers leave behind minimal odor, which goes away rapidly. Those that are made of high-quality materials are totally safe to use and present a clean, healthy way to consume marijuana.

Cons: Especially for some more experienced cannabis users, the effects of vaporization feel weaker compared to other methods of consumption. Also, some vaporizers are better than others; look for ceramics and materials that cannot leave harmful residue in your vapor.

Along these lines, if you’re vaping oils or cartridges, it’s absolutely essential to stick to products from reputable companies. The risk of inhaling low quality materials and even residual chemical solvents is relatively high given the ongoing need for health and safety regulations during this transition toward legalization. And remember, some companies specifically design their products to work together, so be careful when mixing vape pens and cartridges.

Dabbing Cannabis Extracts and Concentrates

And speaking of hip, dabbing is the very latest generation in the cannabis consumption family, the heavy hitter in the group. For people with high tolerance or a need for serious medication only, dabbing delivers a much more concentrated form of cannabinoids.

Dabbing refers to heating a dab or small amount of cannabis concentrate to vaporize it for inhalation. Typically the heat comes from a blowtorch and happens on the head of a titanium nail.

Don’t be fooled by the tiny “dab” of concentrate”: it can contain up to 80% THC. The effects are stronger like a potent edible and more psychologically and physically intense. Cannabis concentrates include butane honey oil (BHO), budder, wax, and shatter, among others.

Onset: Immediate.

Duration: May persist a bit longer than other methods of inhalation.

Pros: This is ideal for seriously ill patients who need immediate relief from high levels of cannabinoids. Aficionados love the taste and aroma.

Cons: It’s safer to use lower temperatures because over 365 degrees, concentrated dabbing smoke can release carcinogens. If you dab routinely, you can develop a tolerance to high THC levels.

Cannabis Edibles

Since back in the 1960s, cannabis edibles have been one of the most popular ways to get your greens. Edibles can come in almost any form, but some of the most popular are chocolates, mints, gummies, brownies, cookies, sodas, and other snacks. If you’ve ever had edibles you already know they just feel different—definitely still like cannabis, but a unique experience.

That’s because when you eat your cannabis, the cannabinoids in it have to get metabolized by your liver before they reach your cells. It takes longer to happen, but in the process, the liver converts the THC into 11-hydroxy-THC, another, more potent psychoactive cannabis chemical.

Onset: The quickest, on an absolutely empty stomach, would be 15 minutes, but it can take up to two hours for edibles to produce their full effects, depending on how much food and drink the user had and their metabolism.

Duration: About 4 to 6 hours, but be careful! Unusually high doses can last for over 24 hours.

Pros: Far and away, the biggest benefit of edibles is that their effects last longer than other methods of cannabis use. There are also endless ways to eat and drink cannabis; the limits are basically your imagination and skill in the kitchen. Edibles are also one the most convenient and discreet forms of consumption.

Cons: For people who need immediate relief from symptoms like nausea or acute pain, edibles are not ideal. The onset is just too slow for those kinds of problems, unless you can manage to take edibles to prevent symptoms.

Also, there is a real danger of confusion and embarrassing mistakes—or worse—from edibles that are not stored safely. Edibles that are not clearly labeled can be mistaken for non-infused products. And of course edibles should always be kept away from children.

Finally, because edibles have a delayed onset, people are more likely to make overconsumption errors as they take more portions until they feel the effects they want. Little do they realize, they’re just at the edge of a wave because they’ve eaten too much. (On the other hand, people who are a little bit high may also overconsume edibles, forgetting what they are doing!)

Cannabis Tinctures

Tinctures are classic, old-school medicine. In the late 1800- early 1900s US, even cannabis-based tinctures were common. Today, cannabis tinctures are available in many dosages, flavors, and formulations featuring various cannabinoids—or the full spectrum. Tinctures send cannabinoids into the bloodstream directly as they are absorbed sublingually.

Onset: When you think about onset of tinctures, think about compromise. Tinctures are somewhere between inhalation methods like smoking or vaping and edibles, with effects typically surfacing within 20 to 30 minutes.

Duration: If you’re an everyday cannabis user, a cannabis tincture will probably keep you in effects for a couple of hours. If you don’t use cannabis very often, though, those effects might linger for 3 to 4 hours.

Pros: There’s so much choice out there when it comes to cannabis tinctures! Manufacturers have featured just about all of the minor cannabinoids in tinctures from CBN to THCV. And this is a very discreet method, with no odor at all.

Cons: For those who forgo all alcohol, tinctures are not ideal. And it’s important to keep the bottles sealed and stored safely, because THC content is degraded by heat, light, and oxygen. Also, for people who are more into a recreational or at least enjoyable vibe, this has a very medicinal feel.

Cannabis Topicals

Cannabis-enriched preparations such as balms, lotions, and salves have been used by Ayurvedic practitioners for thousands of years. The aim of using such topicals is to deliver more focused therapeutic benefits without psychoactive effects as cannabinoids are absorbed directly into the skin.

Onset: Several minutes up to two hours.

Duration: 3 to 12 hours—this is widely variable depending on the preparation, the person, and the condition. Transdermal patches in particular may offer extended periods of relief.

Pros: Perfect for treating just acute pain and localized inflammation, including bone fractures, arthritis and other kinds of joint pain, menstrual cramps, skin conditions, and migraines—without any psychoactive effects. This is ideal for people with a low tolerance for THC and new users. It is also an exceedingly discreet option.

Cons: For people with allergies or sensitive skin, some artificial fragrances, parabens, or other ingredients in cannabis topicals—including actual terpenes—may be irritating or exacerbating to existing health issues.

Rick Simpson Oil (RSO)

Rick Simpson Oil or RSO is a high potency full-spectrum cannabis oil named for cannabis advocate Rick Simpson. Simpson created the extract to treat his cancer and the formulation has become popular. It is typically high THC and features CBD and other cannabinoids.

Although some patients use RSO topically, most often RSO is eaten. Usually, patients start with an amount of RSO about the size of half a grain of rice. From there, work up with your dose until you reach 1 gram per 24 hours—if you need that much.

Onset: 15 minutes to 1 hour, but may take up to 2 hours to peak.

Duration: 4 to 12 hours.

Pros: Though largely anecdotal, successful patient stories with RSO abound. Many people report using RSO to treat tumors and skin cancer in particular. Some patients use it for gastrointestinal disorders.

Cons: As of this writing, there have been no human studies establishing full spectrum cannabis oil as a viable treatment for any specific form of cancer, although animal models prove that THC and CBD have anti-proliferative effects. It is most prudent to pursue treatment with RSO under the supervision of an oncologist.

Final Thoughts on Methods of Cannabis Consumption

We hope this has been a useful primer on methods of cannabis consumption. Once you have the right information in hand, it’s easy to get started!