Inhaling vs Ingesting vs Applying Cannabis

While most people understand that different cannabis strains will have different effects, not everyone realizes that the same is true of how you choose you to consume. Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to dial in on the right consumption method for the effects you’re chasing just by asking yourself a few questions and understanding the differences between inhaling, ingesting, and applying cannabis.

Consumption Considerations

First things first — identifying the “why.” What’s your reason for consuming at this particular moment in time? Are you looking to relax, alleviate stress, enjoy some rest, knock down pain? Next, determine how each consumption method will serve that purpose by answering these three questions:

  • How soon can you expect to feel effects?
  • How long will those effects last?
  • How intoxicating is this consumption method?

Then it’s just a matter of matching the timing and intensity of a given consumption method with the specific effects you want for this experience. At this point, consumption methods fall into three categories: inhalation, ingestion, and absorption. Here’s what to know about each.

Inhaling Cannabis

This method includes smoking, vaping and dabbing and involves bringing inhaling cannabis into the lungs. It has a rapid onset that generally peaks within 15 minutes. An advantage of this consumption is that because you feel the effects so quickly, you’re less likely to overdo it in the way you might an edible. On the downside, effects of inhaled products can wear off a little faster, although high doses can stick around for a while.

Inhaling cannabis can also be a good method of microdosing. Those with lung issues are better off avoiding inhaled products of any kind. And if you’re interested in avoiding intoxication, inhaling may be be a good fit. Almost all inhalable cannabis products will have some level of THC.

Ingesting Cannabis

Ingested cannabis products include anything you swallow, including oils, tinctures, capsules, and edibles. Effects are slower to kick in, usually between thirty and ninety minutes, and peak usually a few hours in. They also linger much longer than the effects of inhaled cannabis. Using an ingested product sublingually – i.e. holding it beneath your tongue before swallowing – will mean effects kick in much quicker, typically around 15 to 20 minutes.

The process of digesting cannabis turns THC into a new compound called 11-hydroxy-THC, which is incredibly potent. Plus, pairing ingested cannabis with fatty foods can make for higher bioavailability, so you’re absorbing more CBD and THC.

Ingested products are a good choice for discreet consumption, and there’s no risk of lung irritation. Dosing can be pretty precise, which is also a benefit, but again, the big issue with ingesting cannabis is making sure you follow the start low and go slow rule. Too much too soon is going to create an unpleasant experience.

Applying Cannabis

Anything that you rub into your skin, like lotions, creams, balms, lubricants, or transdermal patches, falls into the topical category. This is an on-the-spot method of finding relief, and effects aren’t cerebral. It’s a good option if you’re dealing with aching joints, general pain, inflammatory skin issues, and even nausea and vomiting. Don’t reach for a topical to address anxiety, and be aware that onset is pretty gradual.


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