Cannabis use is on the rise globally. Whether seeking relief from pain, menopause, stress, or a host of other ailments, individuals across the world are increasingly seeking cannabis as a form of medicine or as a recreational outlet. As tired stereotypes around cannabis consumption fade away and as more governments look to the industry as a source of economic output and personal wellness, forecasts for industry growth are significant.
The global cannabis market was valued at nearly $30 billion in 2021 and is expected to grow to approximately $200 billion by 2028, an impressive compound growth rate of 32%. In terms of market segmentation, consumption growth is the fastest among Generation Z, with use among baby boomers and women also growing rapidly.
Because the industry is evolving quickly, a plethora of new products are now available to consumers. This piece will touch on different methods of consuming cannabis so that you can make a more informed choice about what works best for you.
Smoking or inhaling cannabis is what traditionally comes to mind when thinking about weed. Inhaled cannabis is enjoyed by many as their preferred method of consumption. Cannabis can taste amazing and many folks simply enjoy firing up a bowl or a joint. The process can become somewhat ritualistic and I always derived satisfaction from handling the flower, smelling it, putting it in my pipe or bong, and watching it burn. Many also prefer the effects of inhaled cannabis as it hits you quickly, often on the exhale for strong flower and extracts. Effects tend to last from 1-2 hours for experienced users, and longer for newcomers.
Smoking isn’t the healthiest of activities though. Cannabis burns hot and can be irritating to the throat. Some research also shows that compounds found in cannabis can become carcinogenic when heated. While no direct causal link has been found between cannabis smoke and cancer diagnosis, the plant does contain certain chemicals deemed harmful such as benzopyrene and benzanthracene. Interestingly, some scientists believe that the active compounds in cannabis, cannabinoids and terpenes, actually prevent these chemicals from causing cancer in pot smokers…fascinating stuff that we’d know more about with a national R&D effort.
Smoking cannabis also produces a very strong odor that some find offensive. Of the delivery methods for consumption, smoking is the most inefficient way to get cannabinoids into your system. 50% of the active compounds are lost directly to flame, and another 20% are lost upon exhale. Physicians rarely recommend smoking cannabis, favoring vaporization for those who need a very fast onset of effects, such as those consuming for migraine or nausea relief.
In terms of the California market, approximately 41% of dispensary sales are for smokable flower.
Vaporizing is another form of inhaled cannabis that more and more consumers are adopting. When vaporizing at a lower heat, plant resins and oils melt without burning plant material and without allowing tars and burning embers to enter your mouth. Because vape devices burn at lower temperatures, fewer potential carcinogens are associated with this method. This method is also essentially odorless and can be a very discrete way of consuming. Vaping is also a far more efficient way to consume cannabis that preserves over twice as many cannabinoids as smoking.
Caution must be taken though. Vaporizing, especially cannabis oils and dabs, can be a very powerful delivery method not suitable for novice users. Additionally, research is now showing that not all vape devices are created equal. Some include metal alloys, contaminants, and plastics inappropriate for heating. Using high-quality devices with medical-grade inputs is important.
Finally, as was in the news a few years ago, illicit market vape cartridges can very dangerous. Because extracts are a highly concentrated form of cannabis, any pesticide residue or other harmful chemicals on the cannabis will be concentrated in the extract and found there at higher levels. Additionally, some cartridges use vitamin e acetate to thin the cannabis oil and this has proven to be quite dangerous.
Vape carts make up approximately 23% of the legal market here in the Golden State.
Edibles refer to cannabis products that we eat. Because smoking is associated with certain social stigma and health concerns, many find edibles to be an appropriate alternative. Unlike inhaled cannabis which goes directly to the central nervous system, edibles must be digested by the stomach and metabolized in the liver before effects are felt. As such, depending on your metabolism and what’s in your stomach at the time of consumption, the onset of effects can take between 30 minutes and 2 hours.
A plethora of edible products are coming to market. Those made with distillate, an odorless, tasteless substance, don’t taste like cannabis and are the go-to method for some. I prefer full-spectrum water hash gummies, which taste like ganja and provide me a full-body, lasting experience characterized by creativity, curiosity, and a general sense of well-being. The effect of edibles lasts quite a while, up to 6-8 hours for some, longer for the less experienced, or if a very high dose is taken. Those with chronic pain and sleep issues find a nighttime edible to be very beneficial.
Edibles are stronger than inhaled forms of cannabis and need to be approached cautiously. I overshot one time on a brownie about 10 years ago. Damn thing tasted like ganja sludge and I frankly should have known better. I got sick, was an odd sort of green/yellow for several hours, and the effect lasted all day. I was slumped over in the drift boat and was half-ass dragging a fly down the Trinity as I couldn’t stand or cast for several hours.
When edibles are broken down by the body the THC (the active ingredient that gets you high) converts to a stronger form which explains the increased potency. I have also heard several stories of children and pets accidentally consuming edibles, so for those with families, extreme precaution must be taken to keep products safe, secure, and away from unwanted hands (or paws). Initial dosing recommendations for novice users are 2.5mg THC. Most edibles are sold in 5mg to 10mg increments, which I believe is overly strong for newbies.
Within the edibles category is an increasingly popular choice – drinkables. Cannabis spiked, non-alcoholic beer, wine, seltzers, and sodas are becoming more widespread in social settings. Unlike traditional edibles with a very slow onset, drinkables hit the user in about fifteen minutes.
Edibles account for approximately 15% of California dispensary sales.
Tinctures are cannabis-infused liquids made from alcohol or oils most generally. Tinctures are designed to be used under the tongue and are administered with a dropper. With this sublingual delivery, active compounds enter the bloodstream and the onset of effect is much quicker. Duration tends to be around several hours. Were you to swallow the tincture instead, it would essentially become an edible with slower onset.
I enjoy the effect of tinctures but have found homemade versions displeasing as I don’t like the taste of alcohol or oil. For many though, this discrete form of consumption is a go-to method.
Topicals are another interesting method of consuming cannabis. Creams and salves are becoming increasingly available and with this method, cannabis will not show up on drug screening tests if that’s a concern for you. Topicals are being used for skin beautification, localized pain management, and therapeutic massage namely. This method of consumption will not get you high and has a relatively rapid onset of effects around 30 minutes. Duration tends to be around 2-4 hours. Like all things, specifics matter. Understanding how much active ingredient is in each product is important and will indicate how much relative value a product has.
Transdermal Patches, akin to a nicotine patch, are growing in interest and availability. With a patch, medicine is released slowly, providing ongoing relief for those who need it. It’s important to note that, unlike salves or balms, a transdermal patch will show up on drug screens.
Because delivery of active compounds can be somewhat limited through a patch, they should be placed on venous tissue where there is less fat and softer skin. Research is underway in this area to improve delivery, so we can expect to see further developments in months and years to come.
Raw Cannabis is being labeled as a superfood by some in the industry. Cannabis acids like CBDa and THCa are available in raw plant material that has not been heated, so folks usually juice cannabis or eat it as an ingredient in salads. Full of antioxidants, omegas, and amino acids, raw acids have been shown to improve immune function and serve as anti-inflammatories. A very recent report from Oregon State University and the Oregon Health and Science University even claims that cannabis acids prevent the virus that causes Covid-19 from entering human cells.
Raw consumption is non-psychoactive so it will not get you high. Cannabis trichomes can be a bit hard to digest, so some practitioners recommend eating only immature cannabis leaves, while others believe that eating both leaves and flowers is the way to go. Raw cannabis can also taste bitter, so complimenting it with another fruit or vegetable can make your experience more enjoyable.
Consuming cannabis is no longer confined to friends passing around a doobie or a pipe. Both psychoactive and non-psychoactive options designed to treat a host of ailments are now available in the marketplace. With a plethora of new products and consumption methods available, even those with long-standing opposition to cannabis are entering the market as they search for alternative forms of medicine, relaxation, spiritual connection, or enhanced sensory experiences. Local dispensaries are becoming more well-versed with relation to their increasingly diverse product offerings and can be a resource for you on your path to personal wellness.
Jesse Duncan is a lifelong Humboldt County resident, a father of six, a retired financial advisor, and a full-time commercial cannabis grower. He is also the creator of NorCal Financial and Cannabis Consulting, a no-cost platform that helps small farmers improve their cultivation, business, and financial skills. Please check out his blog at, his Instagram at jesse_duncann, and connect with him on Linkedin.