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The Many Ways to Consume Cannabis

Cannabis: you can put it in a vaporizer, eat it in a gummy, swallow it in a capsule, and rub it on your skin. And that’s just the beginning! There’s an endless array of options for consuming cannabis products, each of which leaves its own unique mark on your experience. What are your options, and how does each one affect you?

How is cannabis consumed?

Cannabis can be consumed in a variety of ways, depending on the type of cannabis product you choose. Each consumption method has its own unique elements that influence the consumption experience. From taste to feeling, the method of cannabis consumption you choose matters a great deal.


  • Product types: Cannabis flower, concentrates, vaporizers
  • How it works: Inhaling cannabis generally breaks down into two categories: smoking and vaping. Smoking involves applying heat in a process that releases cannabinoids while combusting your cannabis. Vaping raises the temperature to the boiling point of the cannabinoids and other internal compounds, reducing the chances of combustion and generating a less harsh inhalation experience. Inhaling cannabis is generally a fast-acting method of consumption, allowing cannabinoids to directly enter your bloodstream through your lungs.
  • How it’s used: Cannabis flower is ground and placed into a pipe, rolled with rolling papers, or placed into an electronic vaporizer. Concentrates are generally inhaled with a dab rig or a concentrate vaporizer.
  • What to expect: Inhalation tends to have faster onset time, but a shorter duration than some other methods. Your precise experience depends both on the potency of the product you choose and your own cannabis tolerance.


  • Product types: Lotions, sprays, patches
  • How it works: The cannabinoid content in your topical interacts with the many endocannabinoid receptors found in your skin. These receptors, part of the endocannabinoid system (ECS), are responsible for maintaining balance and equilibrium throughout your body. 
  • How it’s used: Cannabis Topicals are often used as needed along with other cannabis products like flower or a tincture. To use, clean the application site and rub in the topical.
  • What to expect: Although topicals get to work within a few minutes, the effect is limited to the application site. 

Oral Ingestibles

  • Product types: Edibles, capsules, RSO
  • How it works: Cannabis products taken by mouth must go through the digestive system before they enter your bloodstream. The food, capsule, or other product gets processed by the stomach and liver, and from there the cannabinoids move into your bloodstream. This is called the first pass effect.
  • How it’s used: Oral ingestion of activated cannabis products is a popular method most commonly associated with infused edibles, like brownies or gummies. However, any activated cannabis product, such as Rick Simpson Oil (RSO) or cannabis oil capsules, could be ingested orally as well.
  • What to expect: Oral ingestion tends to be slower acting than other methods because the product must be digested before it takes effect. However, edible products also tend to last much longer and can increase the overall intensity of your consumption experience. It’s always recommended to start with small amounts of ingestible cannabis as you get to know how your body metabolizes it.


  • Product types: Tinctures
  • How it works: The sublingual method bypasses the digestive system. The cannabinoids go directly into your bloodstream.
  • How it’s used: Place the product under your tongue, where it absorbs directly into your bloodstream. 
  • What to expect: Sublingual application is one of the fastest consumption methods available because it bypasses the digestive system. This process allows for a more complete ingestion of cannabinoids. This also increases cannabis’ bioavailability, or the percentage of cannabinoids that make their way into your body.

How do you choose which consumption method is right for you?

There is no right or wrong way to consume cannabis. Each consumption method has its own set of pros and cons. Which method is best for you depends largely on the following factors:

  • Knowing your goals: Understand your goals for consuming cannabis first to make the best decision possible. Do you have a specific symptom you hope cannabis could alleviate, or are you just looking to relax? Do you want a fast-acting product that offers an intense but short-lived experience, or would you prefer a gradual onset and long-lasting experience? Answers to these questions will help guide your product choice.
  • Your desired consumption experience: Consumption experience includes every part of your session, from taste and aroma to the way you feel after you consume. Each of these elements relates to the cannabinoids and terpenes found within the product you choose; understanding which combinations promote an energizing experience versus a relaxed one, for example, can help you select the right product.
  • Your cannabis experience and tolerance: If you are a new cannabis consumer, don’t reach for the most potent product right off the bat. Newcomers will likely feel the effects of a smaller amount, while experienced consumers will want larger amounts and potentially higher potency as well.
  • Your desired experience length: Plan for how long you want your products to last. Ingesting an edible, for example, can be a long-lasting experience, so be sure you have the time and space to safely consume. On the other hand, inhalation is a much shorter experience, so don’t expect it to last all day. Setting reasonable expectations around your desired duration and the typical characteristics of each consumption method and product type will help you achieve a better experience.
  • The product’s bioavailability: The amount of cannabinoids your body actually absorbs is dependent on how the product made its way through your body. The higher the bioavailability of the product, the less you need to consume to feel the desired effects. Inhalation and sublingual administration generally result in higher bioavailability, while edibles and topicals have lower bioavailability.
  • Personal preferences: Finally, there’s a fair amount of personal preference involved in choosing the right consumption method. If you don’t like the taste of cannabis, for example, you may want to look for an edible that covers the taste. Some prefer to avoid inhalation altogether, which would make a tincture a better option. Whatever your preference, there’s a consumption method that best suits your needs. 

Cannabis is a highly individualized experience, and no two people are alike. The many cannabis products available can help you craft the precise experience to meet your goals. There’s a right fit out there, whether you’ve found inhalation to be relaxing or that capsules help with pain relief. And if you find yourself with questions about your consumption method options, the budtenders and pharmacists at Ethos are here to help you make educated decisions.

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