If you want to feel the effects of cannabis, it has to be decarboxylated—which is a very fancy way of saying it needs to be heated before ingestion. This can be done countless ways, and the number of methods will only expand with legalization. From smoking to dabbing to baking, we’ll walk you through some of the most popular ways to consume cannabis.
Smoking is one of the easiest and most popular ways to ingest cannabis. It’s fast-acting, convenient and requires less gear than other methods.
When smoking cannabis, the cannabinoids go from your lungs straight into the bloodstream. Although it may seem straightforward, there are several methods of smoking, some more complicated than others.
Joints vs Blunts vs Spliffs vs Bongs
A joint is a hand-rolled “cigarette” made with rolling papers and filled with milled cannabis. Joints are the most commonplace and standard method of cannabis intake.
A spliff is similar to joints, but the filling is a mix of tobacco and cannabis. So expect a different flavour, and it will evoke a different type of buzz. This is appealing to those who enjoy the rush triggered by tobacco, and revolting to those who aren’t fans of cigarettes.
A blunt is a hollowed-out cigar that’s filled with milled cannabis. Since cigar papers are made of tobacco leaves, they combine nicotine and marijuana. This makes it compelling to tobacco lovers and repelling to others, who desire that “pure” high.
A bong is a vase-like object that works through a water-filled base, a tube, a bowl and a downstem that rests in the water. Smoking from a bong produces a cool, smooth hit— but it doesn’t filter out harmful particles from the smoke. [Note: Water pipes are similar to bongs, but tend to be a little more streamlined, with smaller chambers.] Homemade bongs can also be easily crafted out of everyday objects, like apples or pop cans.
Smoking Cannabis Accessories
Smoking is an easy and convenient way of consuming cannabis, and there are plenty of ways to
change up your experience when it comes to intake. Here are some of the basic accessories for
1. Rolling trays are for those who regularly roll joints, and don’t want to lose precious pot that may fall on the floor in the process. (Novice consumers can easily use a book or table top to track loose buds.) Trays are generally between $10 and $30, depending on material, size and make, but can go up to $100 for something custom made.
2. Rolling papers come in an array of colours, flavours and materials, like blueberry-flavoured to go with some fresh Blueberry Kush or even 24k gold leaf, for those who are feeling opulent. The average price for a pack of standard rolling papers is about $2.
3. Pipes are portable, and they come in an endlessly fun array of shapes, sizes and designs. Some double as functional art pieces, others are discrete, like the one-hitters that are disguised as cigarettes. A standard pipe is generally inexpensive, starting at $5 for a small wooden pipe, and goes up to $30 for a glass pipe. But prices can be significantly higher if you’re looking for a custom-made piece shaped as say, a mythical creature.
4. Grinders break cannabis flowers into an ideal fluffy texture, and they make it easy to sift out any cannabinoid-deficient stems or seeds, so it’s easier to get rolling or smoking from a bowl. They range in price, depending on the material, from $15 for an aluminum to $80 for an electric grinder.
5. Filter tips are small strips of semi-perforated cardboard to create a filter for your joints. With some crafty folding and rolling, use filter tips to prevent bits of bud from getting in your mouth when you smoke. Some rolling packs come with filters, you can buy a pack of 50 for under $5 or simply tear off a piece of cardboard.
6. Rolling machines are handy manual devices that simplify the process of rolling a tight joint. Dump some milled cannabis and a filter into the slot, close the rollers to tighten it up, slip a paper in and roll—voila! You have a perfectly rolled joint. They average about $5.
7. A bong is a vase-like object that works through a water-filled base, a tube, a bowl, where you put and light your cannabis, and a downstem that rests in the water.
Smoking Cannabis Tips and Tricks
Consider the rolling paper you use—different textures and flavours will produce a different smoking experience. Some people are also conscious of the bleach or other substances found in conventional papers, and instead choose papers made with fewer toxic chemicals or with natural fibers like hemp.
Despise rolling or have challenges with your hands? Pre-rolls take the tedious work out of smoking, and the incoming legal market will also have tons of options for you to sample.
Is Smoking Cannabis Bad for You?
Smoking cannabis has significantly fewer risks than smoking tobacco, but there are still health consequences. Cardiovascular function is affected by inhaling any kind of smoke, whether it’s from a cigarette, a joint or a campfire. But it’s worth noting that with cannabis, it’s a result of the combustion of the flower, rather than from inhaling the cannabinoids like CBD or THC.
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine published a comprehensive review of the scientific research into the health impacts of cannabis consumption conducted since 1999. It found several points:
Smoking cannabis does not increase the risk for cancers associated with tobacco use, such as lung, head and neck cancers.
• More research is needed to know if there’s a link between cannabis and heart attacks, strokes and diabetes, but so far there is some evidence that smoking marijuana may trigger heart attacks.
• Regular smoking is associated with frequent chronic bronchitis episodes and can worsen respiratory symptoms, like chronic cough and phlegm production.
• There is evidence that cannabis use can increase the risk of triggering psychosis, schizophrenia, social anxiety disorders and to a lesser extent, depression.
• Lastly, some evidence suggests that smoking cannabis when pregnant is connected to lower birth weight in the baby.
What is vaping?
Vaping is considered less harmful than smoking because the process doesn’t produce as many carcinogens or tar. Cannabis is packed or poured into a vaporizer—a device that heats the flower or oil to the point just before it burns, releasing the active ingredients like cannabinoids and terpenes. It produces vapour, which is then inhaled from the mouthpiece of the vape.
How to Vape
Vaping is a distinctly different experience from smoking. It’s one of the best ways to really taste the flavours, or terpenoid profile, of the strain you’re using. You can feel and see the difference when you exhale—like fog rather than smoke. You can vape cannabis flower or oil using a multitude of accessories and the results are fast-acting.
Vaping flower for beginners
• Grind your cannabis flower, then load the chamber, also known as the oven, of the vape. Shut it tight.
• Set the temperature to a low heat. That way, the vapour won’t be too harsh on your lungs when you inhale for the first time.
• The consistency of the vapour depends on the temperature it’s set to: turn it up if you want thicker vapour, and lower for thinner.
• If you set the temperature above 230˚C, the flower will smolder, which will give the vapour a mildly burnt taste. With more practice, new users will eventually find the Goldilocks “just right” temperature on their device.
• The vape will indicate when the flower is ready. Put your lips to the mouthpiece. Take a gentle, slow inhale, rather than a deep drag. Some people describe the action of inhaling from a vape as sipping, as you don’t need to haul on it deeply like a cigarette or joint.
How to use concentrates for beginners
• If you’re using an oil vape pen, it will come with a pre-filled or disposable cartridge, depending on the model. (Note: oils for vaporizers aren’t legal yet in Canada, so these products still sit firmly in the black and grey markets.)
• Pre-filled and disposable cartridges don’t allow for temperature adjustments since it is automatically set when the product is used.
• Some vape pens require you to press a button a few times in a row to turn it on and activate the heat chamber; others are ready to use and are activated by the inhaling action.
• For those you have to turn on, the device will indicate when it’s ready. Then put your lips to the mouthpiece and take a sip.
• The sensation of vaping feels a bit like taking a breath in a steam room, although you might experience a tickle or mild scratch in the back of your throat if you’re new to it. Next, exhale the vapour—it’ll be thinner than smoke and smell less pungent, something akin to a sauna.
Flowers or Oil?
There are a few things to consider when choosing between vaping flower and vaping oil: price,
quantity and variety.
Oil cartridges can cost between $40 and $60+ a pop, and last between 100 and 200 pulls, depending on the size. With flower, prices depend on strain quality, and buds sometimes come with bulk discounts.
Loose leaf generally lasts longer in a vape than if it were smoked in a joint or blunt. Although the vape won’t indicate when all the effects has been pulled from the flower, users can generally tell by the difference in flavour.
But when it comes to strain variety, there is a discrepancy between oils and flowers. While there are thousands of different types of cannabis flower strains, oils don’t have nearly as much range.
Unlike flower, cannabis oil doesn’t release much of a smell when used in a vape. It’s far more discreet than vaping flower, and there’s fewer steps involved since the product is generally all ready to go.
Some users say that vaping oils provide a fuller experience when it comes to tasting and smelling the product, in comparison to vaping flower.
Finally, cannabis oils are much more concentrated than flower, which means less is needed.
Vaporizers come in an array of sizes, styles and price points. Finding what works for you depends on the type of experience you’re after.
Fun fact: the Volcano Medic Vaporizer, one of the most popular desktop vaporizers, is the only
Health Canada approved device for medical purposes. These are larger devices that plug into an outlet, which means they’re not portable and are best to be used from home. Desktop vapes are more expensive than portable vapes, and often have digital features that allow you to choose an exact temperature. Some desktop vapes use a plastic tube mouthpiece, which is called a whip.
The well-loved Volcano fills a clear plastic bag with vapour that’s inhaled through an attachable nozzle. They don’t come cheap though—Volcanos run between $500-$600.
Flower and oil vape devices
These smaller, portable devices are convenient for quick hits on the go or for medicating intermittently throughout the day. Unlike desktop models, these vapes are usually battery operated or are USB-rechargeable. There are also pen-sized models and bulkier versions about the size and shape of a walkie-talkie. Some oil pens use replaceable cartridges or tanks that are manually refilled. On average, oil pens last between 100 and 200 hits. There can range between $60 – $350.
There are also single use vape pens, which means that once the cartridge of oil is finished, the pen can be tossed or recycled. Many of these automatic pens require users to click a button a number of times to activate the pen, so be sure to read the instructions to your device. These pens can range between $60-$100.
Vaping Tips and Tricks
Preheat your vape before using. Just like baking with an oven, your vape needs a bit of time to warm up before it can get to work. If you’re using dried flower, make sure to grind it before packing your chamber.
It’s important to regularly clean out your vape and replace disposable parts when needed. How you clean it will depend on the device, so be sure to read the instructions carefully.
Is Vaping Bad for You?
Vaping is considered the safest option for people who want the least harmful method of consuming cannabis. Since vaping heats cannabis to the point before combustion, fewer carcinogens and tars are produced, compared to smoking cannabis.
A 2007 study published in Harm Reduction Journal found a decline in respiratory symptoms in cannabis users who vaped cannabis flower.
“The argument that the medical use of cannabis is inappropriate because of its potential to create (lung) problems is now clearly invalid,” the study reads. “Regular users of joints, blunts, pipes, and water pipes might decrease respiratory symptoms by switching to a vaporizer.”
When it comes to vaping oils, it’s hard to say: some contain butane hash oil (BHO), where butane is used to extract the cannabinoids. Some worry that not all of the butane is removed in the final product. But it’s not clear what the health impacts are of inhaling the stuff, which shouldn’t contain any butane. That’s why there’s a shift towards CO2 extraction methods—to avoid the use of butane at all.
Vaping Cannabis vs Smoking
Vaping is considered the less hazardous method of consuming cannabis, compared to smoking, which omits tar and carcinogens. But it has the potential to be more costly, as it requires vaporizers, which range from cheap ‘n’ cheerful to ultra-luxe.
What is dabbing?
Dabbing is a relatively new phenomenon that’s become so popular, it’s inspired its own subculture. (Be careful: concentrates are not legally sold yet in Canada, and these potent substances really pack a punch. Some concentrates can be up to 80% THC. If you’re new to cannabis, hold off on dabbing until you’re comfortable with other forms of ingestion.)
Dabbing is a broad term that refers to ingesting a cannabis concentrate in the form of oil or wax. Concentrates are potent, and made by extracting terpenes, THC and other cannabinoids with butane or carbon dioxide.
The end result is a substance that can resemble softened amber, bee pollen or hardened sap, with names like budder, butane hash oil (BHO), shatter, and wax.
Dabbing is when you place a small amount of the concentrate on a very hot pre-heated surface, usually referred to as a nail, attached to what’s called a dab rig. Then you inhale a cannabinoid-potent vapor through the mouthpiece of the rig.
The act of dabbing—not to be confused with the nose-into-your-elbow dance move—requires caution and a lot of gear.
1. A water pipe or rig: A specific type of bong, used specifically to do dab hits. Instead of a bowl, the glass tube where your flower goes, a rig uses a nail and a dome.
2. A nail/banger: The vessel that’s placed inside rig’s gauge where the concentrate is placed onto and heated up. Nails come in a variety of different materials, like quartz, glass clay or titanium.
3. A dome: The glass hood that’s placed over the nail.
4. A dabber: The tool used to apply the concentrate to the nail.
5. A butane torch
6. Concentrate Water (not pictured)
How to Dab
• Add water to your rig
• Scoop a small—tiny if you’re new to this!—amount of concentrate with your dabber
• Aim the torch directly at the nail until it heats up, then turn off your torch
• Wait about 25-45 seconds for the nail to cool down. (Be mindful that the time depends on what the nail is made of; for example, a glass nail will cool down faster than a titanium nail)
• Bring the dabber with your concentrate in contact with the nail and swirl it around the heated surface and then inhale from the pipe’s mouthpiece
• Slide the dome over to trap the vapour in the rig
Dabbing Tips and Tricks
Dabbing is an extreme method of intake for those new to cannabis, since the substance is considerably stronger than flower. For seasoned recreational and medical cannabis consumers, it can simply be the most efficient method of ingestion. Concentrates can have THC levels as high as 80%. “A little dab will do ya” is a good rule of thumb.
Dabbing vs Smoking
Dabbing is more involved and requires more gear compared to smoking. Unless you’re using a vape, there are more steps to follow and lots of parts involved. Since it requires a blow torch, for both extraction and consumption, there is also risk involved.
In terms of benefits, many medicinal users will dab because the physical impact is immediate, leading to fast relief. The high is also said to last longer.
Is Dabbing Bad for You?
Dabbing is not considered a method of harm reduction for cannabis intake, despite producing vapour, rather than smoke. “Toxicant Formation In Dabbing: The Terpene Story,” a Portland State University study, found that dabbing may release carcinogenic substances. It concluded, “dabbing, although considered a form of vaporization, may in fact deliver significant amounts of toxic degradation products.”
What are edibles?
Cannabis-infused food and drinks are known as edibles. Homemade edibles are already made by thousands of legal medical patients, but pre-packaged edibles aren’t expected to be legalized in Canada until a year after the Cannabis Act is enacted.
When you eat activated cannabinoids, the metabolized THC becomes the even-more-psychoactive 11 hydroxy-THC, and it’s absorbed through the tummy’s digestive system rather than the bloodstream. That’s why the “high” has a different sensation from that of smoking or vaping.
Brownies and cookies have long-dominated the edible genre, but that’s quickly shifting. Just about any recipe can incorporate cannabis, through oils and butters, so edibles are being elevated by the culinary world.
Although edibles are a palatable way to consume cannabis, proper dosing can be tricky. Since the effects can take time to set in—sometimes up to two hours—some novice users might eat more than needed, leading to a potentially unpleasant experience. That’s why understanding dosing is essential.
How to Make Edibles
• Before you make edibles, you have to heat your cannabis, which is a process called decarboxylation, or “decarb” for short. The naturally occurring delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA) in cannabis transforms to tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
[Note: if you’re using cannabis for medical purposes to reap the benefits of CBD and/or you don’t wish to feel the “high,” there’s no need to decarb! Go ahead and skip that step.]
• When smoking or vaping bud, this process happens naturally, since the flower is either being burned or heated at a high temperature. But with edibles, the cannabis flower needs to be baked first before it’s added to food.
• To do this, use a tray and parchment paper. Spread your flower evenly and bake at 105°C for about 45 minutes. The buds should get crispy and turn brown in colour.
• Once your flowers have been decarbed, they can be infused into oil or butter, which can then be used in just about any recipe. It is essential to be cautious of dosage. In American markets where cannabis is legal, 10 milligrams is considered a single dose.
How Long Do Edibles Last?
While the effects of edibles can take up to two hours to kick in, once they do, they can last a lot longer than if smoked or vaped. Factors like the dose size, whether they were ingested on an empty stomach, and your personal tolerance can all affect how long you’ll feel intoxicated. Once you’re feeling the effects, get comfy—they can last anywhere between four to 12 hours. So plan accordingly!
Edibles Tips and Tricks
If you’re using a vaporizer, save your “ABV”—the Already Been Vaped cannabis—after it’s been used. Since it has been decarbed (see above) in the vaporizer oven, you can add it to butter or oil in a slow cooker for a no-fuss infusion.
Some advise eating edibles with a fatty snack like an avocado, nuts or baked goods made with butter, to reduce the potency of your experience. Others advise the opposite—to consume edibles on an empty stomach.
With edibles, the body has to digest the THC through the mouth, stomach, intestines and liver before making its way to the bloodstream—so the process can take up to two hours before you feel anything. The most common mistake new edibles consumers make is to follow up an initial dose with another because they’re impatient to feel something. Be aware that this could result in a non-lethal but exceedingly unpleasant experience. It could be potentially embarrassing—remember the Toronto police officer who ended up in a tree after taking too many edibles?—and could pose some danger if you’re in unfamiliar surroundings.
Edibles vs Smoking
When smoking cannabis, the chemical compounds make their way to the bloodstream quicker, via the lungs. That means you’ll feel the effects swiftly, but they’ll also fade faster. Because pre-packaged edibles aren’t legal yet, it’s a lot of work to decarb, then infuse and then prepare a recipe. It will take some time from start to finish!
What is cannabis oil?
Cannabis oil is a broad term used to describe a liquid substance made of cannabinoids extracted from the cannabis plant. It’s considered an ideal method of intake for precise dosing, and elicits longer lasting effects.
There are different types of strain-specific cannabis oils. Some can be high in THC, which produce a psychoactive effect, while others can be CBD-specific, which provides medicinal relief.
The latter cannabis oil has received a lot of media attention for effectively treating seizures, often in young children.
Extracting oil from the cannabis plant can be done industrially, using multi-million dollar equipment, or through a simple DIY process, using a solvent like ethanol, petroleum ether or olive oil to extract the cannabinoid oil. Once the oil is extracted, the solvent evaporates. Then, it’s added to what’s called a “carrier oil”—medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) oil being one of the most popular.
How to Use Oil
Cannabis oil can be used topically to help with conditions like inflammation and acne. Or it can be used orally to reportedly treat a range of ailments. When taken orally, a few drops under the tongue can do the trick, or it can be added to edibles.
Certain types of oil concentrates, like butane hash oil or honey oil, need to be heated and vaped or smoked in order to be effective. However, cannabis oil does not need heat for its properties to be activated, and can be used straight from the bottle and ingested orally.
Oil vs Smoking
Onset time for cannabis oil takes longer than that of smoking—between 30 minutes to 2 hours, compared to several minutes when inhaled. However, the duration of effects also often lasts longer than smoking, as many as six hours.
Oil is considered a safer method of intake, compared to smoking, since no tar and carcinogens are emitted as a result of combustion.
What are topicals?
These are cannabis-infused balms, lotions, sprays and creams used topically to help with localized swelling, pain and soreness. Anecdotally, they’ve also been shown to help with a broad range of ailments like psoriasis, headaches, and cramping. Unlike other cannabis delivery methods, topicals are not psychoactive and are used strictly for therapeutic benefits.
Topicals work by binding to a network of the body’s receptors, called CB2. These receptors, found throughout the body, are switched on by the body’s own endocannabinoids or by cannabis compounds, like THC and CBD, found in the plant.
Despite containing cannabinoids like CBD and THC, topicals won’t get you high—they’re meant to make you feel good on the outside, not on the inside.
How to Use Cannabis Topicals
Topicals are used in much the same way as any over-the-counter ointment from the drug store. Start by cleaning and drying the external area you’re targeting. Scoop out as much topical needed to cover the area and rub it vigorously. Be sure to wash your hands afterwards, as many topicals contain essential oil extracts like cayenne, mint or citrus, which don’t feel good if accidentally rubbed into an eye or orifice.
Cannabis Topicals Tips and Tricks
Topicals have proven to have lots of therapeutic properties, but don’t expect them to be a cureall for your ailments. They’re meant to be used as a remedy, rather than a cure.
Are Cannabis Topicals Bad for You?
Topicals are reported to be a safe treatment. They don’t get you high and you can’t overdose on them. However, as with any other cream or lotion, avoid touching your eyes or mouth during or after you apply the topical.