Marijuana can be inhaled which provides immediate effect and lasts two hours. An inhalation marijuana is sometimes called a hit. Marijuana can be inhaled by either smoking it or inhaling it.
Caution: Smoking marijuana is illegal in many states, including states where marijuana is legalized for medical use. For example, in Pennsylvania the medical marijuana program forbids smoking cannabis products. Check your state laws before using cannabis.
Marijuana can be used in a few ways. Most commonly, the flower is ground up into finer particles and smoked. This can be done by rolling it into marijuana cigarettes (joints) using rolling papers. Most rolling papers are white but a common brand named Raw produces brown rolling papers. There are also clear rolling papers but they are more of a novelty product and tend to burn more poorly.
Another method of rolling marijuana flower was popularized in urban communities. Instead of using rolling papers, a cigar would be cracked down the middle or its leaf unraveled and the tobacco leaf would be used to roll marijuana flower into. This is not recommended for medical marijuana patients because it contains tobacco, which causes cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
The other way to smoke marijuana is using a pipe. Pipes can be made from different materials like wood, metal, ceramic, and stone. The best material is glass because it is easier to clean and does not burn itself. Glass is also a poor conductor so the pipe does not become as hot during use. Pipes are designed with an indentation or opening to put marijuana flower into it called a “bowl.” The bowl has a small hole at the bottom, not large enough for marijuana to fall through but large enough to draw smoke into a stem that acts like a straw to pull the smoke into the mouth and lungs. When the bowl is lit with fire while inhaling, the fire lights the marijuana flower and the ember is called a cherry. The cherry can stay lit, like the end of a cigar, for a short time but usually needs to be lit again for another inhalation. Some pipes (especially glass pipes) have a hole called a shotgun on the side to cover during use. When this hole is released and the pipe is inhaled, fresh air clears the smoke out of the pipe so it’s not wasted.
Pipes can contain water to filter some of the tar out of the smoke. These are called waterpipes. The water also cools the smoke. When they are small, they are called bubblers because of the sound of bubbles while they are used. Larger pipes with water can be filled with smoke entirely and then cleared out in a separate inhalation. These are called bongs and they allow high amounts of smoke and THC to be delivered to the lungs.
Vaporizing marijuana (vaping) is a cleaner and probably healthier way to inhale cannabis because it does not contain tar. The vapor is less irritating to the lungs than smoke. The process of vaporization requires heating cannabis products to a temperature that causes THC to evaporate so that it can be inhaled but low enough to prevent burning of the product, which produces smoke that contains unhealthy byproducts. Vaporization can be done with both flower and concentrates containing high percentages of THC. Vaporizers are devices for vaporizing and are typically made either for flower or for concentrates.
For vaporizing flower, it is recommended to purchase a high quality vaporizer. If you are able to afford it, we recommend the German-made Volcano that fills a plastic bag with vapor that can detach and be inhaled from. Cheap vaporizers are difficult to use because the temperature can not be adjusted accurately so flower will often burn during use and produce smoke.
Over the last decade, cannabis vape-pens have become very popular and the most common way of vaping cannabis. These consist of a cartridge that contains oil with THC in it. The oil is usually produced from propylene glycol and vegetable glycerol. Cartridges are screwed or clicked into a rechargable battery with a button that powers on and produces vapor that can be inhaled from the cartridge. Cartridges can contain oil with flavors and terpenes that change the flavor of the vapor. Cartridges and batteries are often called vape-pens. Using a vape pen and vaporizing concentrates produces an almost completely odorless vapor, which is more practical for use than smoking cannabis, which obviously produces a significant amount of smell.
Finally, the most potent method of vaporizing cannabis is called dabbing. This is done by applying small amounts of concentrates to extremely hot titanium or quartz glass and inhaling it while it vaporizes. With this method a very high amount of THC can be inhaled in a single breath. The vaporizers used for this are sometimes called oil-rigs and they are like water pipes but instead of being used for smoking, they are used for dabbing. This method is not recommended for beginners. Only advanced users who have developed a tolerance for cannabis should use this method. It can be very useful for people requiring very high doses of THC, like cancer patients or people in extreme pain.
Cannabis can be taken by mouth. The THCA present in the cannabis has to be heated to activate it before swallowing it. Heating THCA causes it to decarboxylate (a chemical reaction) so it turns into THC, the chemical that has activity in the body and medical benefit. This is the same process that occurs when cannabis is lit on fire during smoking or heated during vaporization. Cannabis products made to be swallowed are prepared so that they contain THC instead of THCA. For example, when cannabis is cooked into food, the food is often cooked and the cooking process is what heats and converts THCA into THC.
When cannabis is eaten, the effect takes about two hours to kick in and it lasts for at least five hours. For this reason it is important to take small amounts and wait a couple hours before taking more. The effect feels more like a “body-high” than inhaled cannabis. This may be due to the
metabolism of THC into 11-Hydroxy THC in the liver, which has some different properties than THC.
Dispensaries will sell capsules and tinctures containing THC. The term edibles is used for food products that contain THC. Examples of edibles include brownies and gummies. Not all states allow edibles even if they have legalized cannabis for medical uses. These states will limit oral cannabis products to tinctures and capsules.
The most common way to prepare edibles at home is to cook ground up marijuana flower in butter on low heat. The butter can be strained from the flower after sitting on heat for a couple hours (the longer the better). Later the butter can be used for baking. This process has to be done carefully and the edibles tried in small amounts because the THC content can only roughly be estimated in the final product.
Topical cannabis products have been researched very little but may prove to be useful in treating pain and inflammation, as well as neuropathy (overactive and hypersensitive neurons). THC is lipophilic, meaning that it absorbs into fat and can cross the skin barrier into the local tissues, providing relief. Topical products, like creams and ointments do not have systemic absorbption, meaning they do not go into the bloodstream. They do not cause patients to be high and only have an affect on the area where they are rubbed.
Topical THC products are good for superficial pains and less for deep muscle aches. They work better in the hands and knuckles than in areas like the lower back, where the pain tends to be deeper in the body. While these products can be expensive, it is worth trying them, especially for patients who want to go to work after medicating this way and don’t want to feel high afterward.