When it comes to consuming cannabis, whether with the product comes from psychoactive (marijuana cultivars containing THC) or non-psychoactive varietals (hemp-derived cultivars without THC), the format of delivery chosen is an important and often overlooked consideration.
The ideal method of consumption correlates with the type of cannabis product you have selected (flower, concentrated forms, etc.) and your desired experience. Each format of delivery is processed by the body in a unique way, which explains the variation in onset, duration, and intensity of effects. 1
Not to mention, there are genetic reasons 2 that impact the way cannabis is processed by your body, which may explain why you favour one method over another to achieve your desired experience from moment to moment. So, you can see why it can be helpful to learn about the differences between inhalable, ingestible, and topical methods of cannabis consumption.
INHALATION – Consuming cannabis via the lungs by smoking or vaping.
Inhaling cannabis has one of the fastest onsets of effects that lasts for hours (depending on your THC and CBD metabolism rates which are determined by your genetics). This is because the active ingredients, known as cannabinoids (THC and CBD are the most popular) are delivered to your system very quickly through the lungs. They are absorbed into the bloodstream via the lungs and then carried up into our brains where the cannabinoids start activating the body’s endocannabinoid receptors and their effects can be felt. 2, 3, 4
Smoking cannabis consists of heating dried flower (the “buds”) with high heat/open flame to the point of combustion. The most popular methods of smoking cannabis is in rolling papers (known as joints) or in a pipe, bowl, or bong.
Vaping of cannabis is a smokeless form of inhalation, wherein heating mechanisms extract the active ingredients from plant matter without combustion, which converts them to vapor. There are dried flower vaporizers and oil/concentrated cannabis vaporizers.
Most medical professionals prefer their patients to consume their flower via a vaporizer over smoking. This is because with the lack of combusted plant material and paper, it can be more gentle on the lungs and the body is able to absorb the cannabinoids the most efficiently, known as bioavailability. 5 However, because vaping cannabis can be more potent due to concentrated strength (and the hardware can be expensive), most cannabis experts and educators will tell you that vaporizers are best reserved for the more moderate to experienced cannabis consumers.
INGESTION – Consuming cannabis extracts via the mouth to reach the digestive system and liver by swallowing edibles, capsules or oils.
Ingestible cannabis products have a longer onset and duration of effects as the cannabinoids, active compounds like THC and CBD that have already been extracted from plant matter, need to be digested, then metabolized by the liver, (rather than absorbed by the lungs like when cannabis is inhaled). 6, 7.
With ingestible THC products (the psychoactive cannabinoid tetrahydrocannabinol) is converted in the liver into a stronger version of itself before entering our bloodstream through the process known as THC metabolism. This process causes longer-lasting, full-body, psychoactive effects commonly known as a “body high”. Because this process takes time, it causes a delayed onset of effects, anywhere from an average of 45 mins to 6 hours depending on your metabolism rate. 2, 3
Often when people don’t feel “high” soon enough, or at the same time as their friends, they are more likely to consume more cannabis. This causes an increased risk of THC overconsumption so a best practice often recommended is to “start low and go slow” when consuming cannabis products. Depending on how efficiently your body metabolizes cannabis (fun fact, you can have different THC and CBD metabolism rates) 2, the effects can last anywhere from 6-72+ hrs 3.
Medical users with chronic issues seeking the therapeutic effects of cannabis often prefer ingestible delivery methods, even with a slower onset, because the effects last longer than inhalation and therefore do not need to consume as often.
Edibles are a group of cannabis products where an extract of active compounds is combined with a food product and comes in many forms including treats, candies, snacks, and drinks.
Capsules are liquid concentrates or ground-up flower in pill form and swallowed whole.
Oils are extracts from the cannabis flower that are processed into a concentrated form using a food-safe carrier oil as a base. Oils can also be dropped or sprayed under the tongue, which allows some of the active compounds to be absorbed directly into the bloodstream before they are swallowed. This allows for a more rapid onset, known as the SUBLINGUAL delivery method.
Some oils can also be applied directly to the skin to achieve different therapeutic effects, known as the TOPICAL format of consumption.
TOPICAL – Consuming cannabis via the skin with direct application of lotions/ balms and oils, or soaking an area in infused water.
Cannabinoids (including THC and CBD) are extracted from the cannabis plant matter and combined with skin-friendly carrier ingredients to be massaged into the skin for more focused therapeutic effects. This is highly effective because the cannabinoids (THC and CBD) can reach the receptors closest to the area needing therapy via the skin, without passing into the blood, meaning there will be no psychoactive effect experienced by the brain. 8
Topical cannabis products have a near-immediate onset, last for hours at a time, and help to relieve symptoms from skin ailments 9 or inflamed muscles causing irritation or discomfort in localized areas. 10 They are a great choice for anyone who wants to target the therapeutic benefits of cannabis in specific problem areas rather than feel the effects throughout the body.
Lotions, balms, and salves are creamy products of varying thicknesses that may contain THC and or CBD extracted from cannabis plant matter, and are most often massaged into the skin of consumers seeking relief from painful or irritating skin, muscle, or joint conditions.
Bath products typically are bath bombs or Epsom salts that have been infused with concentrated THC or CBD extracted from cannabis plant matter. They are to be dissolved in bathwater, with the troubled area to be submerged and soaked.
Now that you’ve learned a bit about each of the most popular cannabis formats, Lobo is happy to help you find legal recreational products nearby!
If you’ve got questions about Lobo’s Genetic Tests, which will tell you about your CBD and THC metabolism rates, as well as how cannabis affects your memory and mental health, here is the link to the FAQ’s.
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Kelsey Cannabis is an Alberta based Cannabis Educator and Public Speaker who has certifications from the Cannabis Training University, The Trichome Institute, and the University of Alberta. As a long term medical cannabis patient and Brain Care Centre Ambassador, Kelsey loves to share her first-hand knowledge of the therapeutic properties of cannabis. She strives to educate the Canadian cannabis community about the facts of this amazing plant and is committed to being a powerful voice, speaking about where the industry is headed and how we can debunk the myths (and improper terminology) plaguing the industry.
1. Huestis M. A. (2007). Human cannabinoid pharmacokinetics. Chemistry & biodiversity, 4(8), 1770–1804. https://doi.org/10.1002/cbdv.200790152
2. Hirota et al. (2013). Impact of genetic polymorphisms in CYP2C9 and CYP2C19 on the pharmacokinetics of clinically used drugs. Drug Metab. Pharmacokinet. 28(1): 28-37. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23165865
3. Sachse-Seeboth et al. (2009). Inter-individual variation in the pharmacokinetic of ∆9-tetrahydrocannabinol as related to genetic polymorphisms in CYP2C9. Clinical Pharmacology & Therapeutics. 85(3): 273-276. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19005461
4. Jiang et al. (2013). Cannabidiol is a potent inhibitor of the catalytic activity of cytochrome P450 2C19. Drug Metab. Pharmacokinet. 28(4): 332-338. https://www.jstage.jst.go.jp/article/dmpk/28/4/28_DMPK-12-RG-129/_pdf/-char/en
5. Millar et al. (2018). A Systematic Review on the Pharmacokinetics of Cannabidiol in Humans. Front. Pharmacol. (26):1365 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6275223/
6. Bland et al. (2005). CYP2C-catalyzed delta(9)-tetrahydrocannabinol metabolism: kinetics, pharmacogenetics and interaction with phenytoin.Biochem Pharmacol. 70: 1096-1103. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19005461
7. Ujvaŕy et al. (2016). Human metabolites of cannabidiol: a review on their formation, biological activity and relevance in therapy. Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research. 1.1: 90-100. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5576600/pdf/can.2015.0012.pdf
8 Huestis, M. (2007, August). Human cannabinoid pharmacokinetics. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2689518/
9. Tóth, K., Ádám, D., Bíró, T., & Oláh, A. (2019, March 6). Cannabinoid Signaling in the Skin: Therapeutic Potential of the “C(ut)annabinoid” System. Retrieved September 03, 2020, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6429381/
10. Bruni, N., Della Pepa, C., Oliaro-Bosso, S., Pessione, E., Gastaldi, D., & Dosio, F. (2018, September 27). Cannabinoid Delivery Systems for Pain and Inflammation Treatment. Retrieved September 03, 2020, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6222489/
11. LoboJane (July 2020) Shop By Effect https://www.lobojane.com/smart-menu-search?smartMenuCategory=format&smartMenuSubcategory=edibles
12. FAQs about Lobo’s Genetic Tests https://www.lobogene.com/faq
13. THC Genetic Test for Purchase from Lobo Genetics https://www.lobogene.com/en_ca/our-tests/thc