Cannabis use is remarkably versatile and nuanced. You can smoke it, eat it, inhale the vapors, or apply an infused topical to find relief. This versatility can be confusing when trying to decide where to channel resources for maximum benefit. In this basic overview, I’ll attempt to help you determine why you would choose one method of cannabis use over another.
There are no hard and fast rules for cannabis use. Flexibility, adaptability, and creativity are traits that serve you well as you explore how cannabis fits into your life. This is how I make my choices.
Setting Intentions for Cannabis Use
I have five different reasons for deciding on a method for cannabis use:
- A gentle introduction to cannabis for those with sensitive systems, those new to cannabis use, or those who are skeptical but curious. (Check our previous post to learn about THC and CBD!)
- Speedy onset.
- Lengthy duration of effect.
- Avoiding euphoria.
- Critical illness calling for higher cannabinoid doses.
Answering some basic questions will help you focus in on the best cannabis use method for you.
Medical or recreational?
You’re coming to cannabis for recreational or medical reasons.
If you intend on cannabis use bringing recreational bliss, what kind of high are you after? Inhalation and vaporization will get you high faster, but edibles will carry that buzz much longer, and suppositories will extend the window of experience even further, often without the head buzz.
Medical patients will consider the severity and nature of the condition being treated. A powerful topical can control local pain, relax muscle tension, keep your mind calm or soothe skin conditions, whereas a capsule or tincture regimen or the use of suppositories can be established to manage chronic pain.
What medicines are you currently taking?
Your medical support team will do a better job of monitoring your condition if you let them know you use cannabis in any form or concentration. The greatest concern here is with the use of CBD isolates in high doses. CBD will jump to the head of the line to be transported into cells, causing the pharmaceutical meds that travel the same pathway into the cells to back up, and some of them can be toxic when they get too concentrated. We don’t know enough about this subject yet, and the safest response is to be extra-cautious.
Let your medical staff know if you’re using CBD with any drugs that caution against grapefruit products so they can keep a closer eye on your labs.
What’s your personal history with pot?
A novice to cannabis would be ill-advised to try a dab, and conversely, a regular consumer of cannabis products would be unimpressed with a 5 mg gummy. Your weed history will, to some extent, guide your choices.
Incidentally, it’s more likely you’ll develop tolerance if you use the same strain or cannabis product of than if you introduce variety. You can always learn more about finding your minimum effective dose or microdosing in our previous posts.
How healthy is your gut?
If you have absorption concerns through your gut system you’ll have absorption concerns with edibles. A healthy gut increases absorption. You can also have a genetic predisposition to absorb faster or slower than the average person.
What social obligations do you have that would restrict cannabis use?
I’m a retired woman who writes for pleasure. I can choose to use cannabis more freely than a mother with three small children or a couple running a metal-fabricating business, or a school bus driver. We all have social obligations, and a responsible cannabis consumer, be they recreational or medical, structures their cannabis use choices to reflect those obligations.
Are you being tested for cannabis use? Can a positive result cause you trouble?
We live in a transitional time. Despite the growing acceptance of cannabis use many of us are drug tested for employment or for pain management contracts. Sometimes a positive test for THC can mean you’ll lose that job paying your bills or you’ll lose access to the other pain medications before you find matching relief with cannabis. No one wants this drama in your life. A viable option is focusing on topicals, which won’t show up on a drug screening of urine.
With new insight into our intentions, let’s look closer at the methods we can choose to get cannabinoids where we want them.
The Possible Pathways
I divide cannabis products into five basic categories:
Topicals – creams, salves, sprays, oils, patches, anything through the skin.
- Local relief (can be very quick response).
- Excellent for healing damaged skin.
- Can be used without restriction (a little goes a long way too).
- No intoxicating effects.
NOTE: If you get drug-screened be careful about applying topicals to broken skin.
Your drug screenings should be clean, so long as you avoid applying THC topicals to broken skin.
Although you won’t get high with topicals, we have learned that applying high-THC topicals to the upper back (where C7 and T1 vertebrae meet) can elevate the mood to a sense of wellbeing and stave off a headache.
I’ve personally used topicals in conjunction with vaporization to evaporate a full-blown migraine by applying oil to the entire neck area and across the forehead to the temples.
It’s easy to underestimate the healing potential of cannabis topicals. I believe everyone benefits from including a cannabis topical in any regimen. They do much more than relieve pain, and now they come in exciting delivery methods like transdermal patches and sprays.
Combustion – joints, bongs, pipes, anything using flame and inhaled into the lungs.
- Fastest onset (within seconds; great for breakthrough symptom relief).
- Short duration (about 1-2 hours).
The most familiar pathway of cannabis use, combustion gets a bad rap about the pollution it creates in the lungs. A quick hit will put pain in its place, calm tremors, silence suicidal thoughts and so much more that combustion deserves respect for the relief it brings.
Vaporization – vaporizers, atomizers, cartridges, concentrates (dabs), using heat and inhaled into the lungs.
- Onset as quick as combustion.
- Short duration (1-2 hours).
- Greater control of administration than with combustion.
- Vapors are cleaner inhalation than combustion.
Vaporizing eliminates pollution to the lungs, making it an attractive alternative to combustion. Make sure to check our post to ensure you always vape safely.
A Note About Dabs: Dabs are extremely heavy loads of cannabinoids that can hit your endocannabinoid system (ECS) like a freight train. They have an important place in both recreational use and in cannabis therapeutics, but it’s worth remembering that they’ll increase your tolerance levels quickly if you overload and can stress the ECS as it overcomes the influx of too many cannabinoids at once.
Edibles – infused foods, capsules, gummies, infused liquids, tinctures, anything through the gut.
- Slower and unpredictable onset (typically anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours).
- Much longer duration (up to 8 hours).
- Attractive as sleep meds.
- Adaptable to most social situations.
- A significantly more intense effect. Through the gut and delivered to the liver, delta-9 THC is converted to 11-hydroxy THC, up to 10 times more potent than its chemical precursor.
Specials – suppositories, medicated baths, IV, any method that doesn’t fit the other categories.
- Cannabinoid counts can be raised without concerns of being too high.
- The response to critical illness that calls for greater focus of the regimen.
- The therapeutic window can be significantly extended.
- Uncommon entry points deliver meds to areas otherwise unreachable.
The hardest sell of all cannabis use methods, and yet I’ve seen anal suppositories bring relief to chronic back pain that was unresponsive to any other treatment.
Inserted in the anus or vagina they’re also the best way I know of to bump up the cannabinoid load without euphoria becoming a problem. Inserted just inside the sphincter muscle they deliver medicine without the head high you’ll get with other administration methods.
Deeply inserted, anal suppositories offer a unique and satisfying recreational buzz that carries for hours.
Putting It All Together
I prefer a well-rounded and diversified regimen, and I tend to use multiple administration pathways in an effort to get the greatest return of relief. Over time my choices have tended to fall into these patterns:
|If my intention is:||My chosen cannabis use method will be:|
|Gentle introduction to cannabis||Topicals or edibles|
|Speed of onset||Combustion, vaporization or topicals|
|Extended duration||Specials or edibles|
|Avoiding euphoria||Topicals or specials|
|Treating critical illness||Specials or vaporization (lung disease)|
With more knowledge, you gain confidence in choosing the appropriate pathway to your endocannabinoid system. If questions arise or you have insights to share, feel free to leave them in the comments section below.