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4 Ways People Consume Marijuana Without Smoking

Now legal in 33 states, more and more Americans are familiar with medical marijuana, which can offer relief to people struggling with everything from multiple sclerosis to inflammatory bowel disease. Research on the endocannabinoid system — a system of receptors present throughout the body which plays a key role in the central nervous system and other bodily processes, helping the body maintain homeostasis — has helped scientists and medical professionals develop a whole new array of ways to utilize cannabis; a trip to a dispensary today would give you access not just to medical marijuana to be smoked, but topical cannabis solutions, edibles, and other new methods designed specifically with medical users in mind.

Because of all this, more people are looking to medical marijuana to treat their ailments. But how do you choose the best way for you to consume medical cannabis?

Ultimately, that’s a decision you can only make for yourself (ideally with the help of a respectful medical professional). Shannen Barnett, a nurse and the founder of medical cannabis company Sana Sana Formulas, tells Bustle that everyone’s endocannabinoid system “is individual and everyone has different responses to cannabis, period, regardless of age, sex, weight, or diagnosis” — so it’s tough to make any across-the-board recommendations for how much cannabis a person should use to treat their ailment, or how they should take it.

Potential cannabis users should also stay aware of dosing guidelines or suggested doses on packaging. “When you go to the doctor and you’re getting prescribed a medication, you’re not getting prescribed a. dose that is for you as an individual,” says Barnett. Rather, “this is a dose based off of generalized dosing guidelines for a population.” The same is true in medical cannabis doses — so know that going in.

With this in mind, Barnett suggests that new users might want to experiment with micro-dosing, in order to get a true understanding of their medical cannabis needs, and maintain a journal tracking their results: note the size of the doses you’re taking, what times of day you’re taking them, and how they make you feel. This kind of measured approach, says Barnett, is “the only way to really know how it’s going to work for you. And it allows you to do it without having any negative experience — I call it the ‘I wish I could un-take it moment’ many people have had, when they come to cannabis.”

To get your research started, here is an overview of a few of the medical cannabis methods available.

1. Vaporizers

A 2007 University of California study found that vaporizing marijuana, rather than smoking, minimized the amount of harmful toxins consumed.

While Barnett feels that inhaled cannabis makes more sense as a recreational rather than medicinal option, she notes that you can still micro-dose when using inhaled cannabis — “you can just take smaller hits.”

2. Edibles

Edibles — candies, baked goods, or other foods infused with marijuana. appeal to many new medical marijuana users, as they seem familiar and non-threatening (who doesn’t love a cookie?). But Barnett urges caution: users “need to be careful, because everyone metabolizes it differently. Edibles aren’t going to kick in at the same time for everyone. Some people, they kick in right away, other people, it doesn’t happen until they go to dinner and all of a sudden they’re high.”

Typically, it takes more time for the THC in edibles to hit the bloodstream compared to smoked marijuana, so giving your dose time to be fully metabolized before you try any more is key.

And be aware that even though they contain medical cannabis, edibles also contain food ingredients — so if you have a food allergy, or should not consume sugar or artificial sweeteners, make sure to look out for them while choosing edibles.

3. Topicals

According to some research, topical ointments and creams can potentially help relieve the symptoms of ailments like arthritis and eczema without any of the psychoactive components one might experience with smoking or edibles. In fact, they’re a favorite way to use cannabis to decrease inflammation. “The best way to consume the anti-inflammatories properties of cannabis is not going to be inhaling them,” says Barnett. “It is probably going to be better if it’s ingested or used topically.”

4. Capsules

One of the newest medical cannabis products on the market, cannabis capsules typically contain oils of varying levels of potency. Users can swallow them, or cut them open to apply topically.

The Bottom Line

Barnett’s main advice for beginners has less to do with utilizing any particular method than it does doing your own research to ensure product quality: “A lot of [companies producing medical cannabis products] will boast that their lab testing and the third party tested, [but] just saying it doesn’t make it true.” Rather than just trusting branding, “you want to actually see those results,” and check for more than just potency — Barnett recommends checking for tests to make sure that the batch is not full of pesticides or heavy metals. “You want to actually see that it’s been tested for multiple things and that it has a date and a batch number.”

She also notes that when it comes to medical cannabis, “there’s different strains — that’s like different brand names for medications. And the strain is like its own profile.” She recommends keeping notes on which strains you have used in your journal as well, so that you can keep on top of your specific reactions to them.

And in the end, the best way to find what works for you is with slow, controlled experimentation. “For the general person,” says Barnett, “the best course is to start with one thing, implement it in the smallest dose possible and adjust the frequency of dosing before [you are] adjusting the dose size.” It will allow you to gauge your response, and “be able to continue living [your] life without really any interruption.

This post was originally published on September 21, 2015. It was updated on July 3, 2019.

This article was originally published on Sep. 21, 2015

Now legal in 33 states, more and more Americans are familiar with medical marijuana, which can offer relief to people struggling with everything from multiple sclerosis to inflammatory bowel disease. Research on the endocannabinoid system — a system…

Is There a Safer Way to Smoke Cannabis? How the Methods Stack Up

If you’re looking for the healthiest way to smoke cannabis, keep in mind that there’s no totally safe way to do so — even with the purest, most pesticide-free bud. Cannabis smoke contains most of the same toxins and carcinogens that make tobacco smoke harmful to your health.

There are, however, methods that may be slightly less harmful than others. Here’s a look at how different methods compare, plus some smoke-free alternatives to consider.

The dangers of smoke inhalation are well known, so it’s not surprising that a lot of folks assume vaping is the healthier alternative to smoking. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.

There’s mounting evidence that vaping can have serious health effects. Much of the concern comes from inhaling vitamin E acetate, a chemical additive found in many vaping products containing tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC.

However, this risk seems to apply only to vaping concentrates, not flower. A 2006 study suggests that vaping actual cannabis, not concentrate, is less harmful to your respiratory system than smoking. Still, research on vaping cannabis is pretty limited.

Lung health aside, there’s also a matter of potency. People who vape cannabis report experiencing stronger effects — regardless of the amount of THC in the product — than they do when smoking. This means a higher chance of overdoing it, or greening out, when vaping.

Maybe a teeny, tiny bit, but nowhere near enough to make a difference.

Bongs offer a smoother toke because you don’t get the dry heat from smoking cannabis rolled in paper. Though it feels less harsh when you inhale, your lungs don’t know the difference.

Well, both still involve inhaling smoke, so there’s that. But if you had to choose the lesser of two evils, joints are probably the better option. This is because blunts are made with hollowed-out cigars, and cigars and their wrappers are highly toxic.

Even after removing all the tobacco from a cigar, cancer-causing toxins, such as nitrosamines, can remain. Plus, cigar wrappers are more porous than rolling papers, so the burning is less complete. This results in smoke with high concentrations of toxins.

Then there’s the matter of size. Blunts are a lot bigger than joints, and they hold way more pot. Smoking an entire blunt is like smoking roughly six joints.

Dabbing is supposed to give you a “cleaner” high, but what does that actually mean? Not much.

Budder — another name for dabs or marijuana concentrate — delivers a lot more THC than other weed products, often as much as 80 percent more.

Dabbing is still pretty new, so experts still don’t know the full impact.

There’s evidence that exposure to high THC may lead to long-term mental health effects, like psychosis. The risk of misuse and addiction is also higher when using high-THC products, especially for young people.

Plus, unless you have high-tech lab equipment and are trained in extraction, your dabs may be far from pure. Research shows that dabs can contain contaminants and residual solvents that can to neurotoxicity and cardiotoxicity.

Dabbing also has respiratory effects, even though you’re not technically “smoking.” There have been cases of people developing lung damage from dabbing.

The bad news? There’s no safe way to smoke cannabis. The good news? There are plenty of other ways to consume it.

Here are your main options:

  • Edibles. Unlike smoking and vaping, ingesting cannabis won’t harm your lung health. The downside for some is that edibles take longer to kick in because they need to clear your digestive system before getting into your bloodstream. The upside is that the effects also hang around longer. You also have an endless variety to choose from, with everything from gummies to baked goods to cannabutter.
  • Sublinguals. These are usually lumped together with edibles, but they’re not quite the same. Unlike edibles, you don’t actually swallow sublingual forms of cannabis, which include things like tinctures, films, and dissolvable tablets. Sublingual cannabis is placed under the tongue for absorption, and is absorbed through your mouth’s mucus membranes, so the effects are felt faster.
  • Tinctures. Tinctures are made of alcohol-based cannabis extracts that come in bottles with droppers. You can add tinctures to drinks, but you can also get the effects faster by placing a few drops — depending on your desired dose — under your tongue.
  • Topicals. Cannabis topicals are for people looking for the therapeutic benefits of cannabis without the cerebral effects. Creams, balms, and patches can be applied to the skin to relieve inflammation and pain. There’s also cannabis lubricant made for, well, sexy time.
  • Suppositories. The idea of shoving cannabis up your butt (or vagina, depending on the product) may make you clench, but it’s definitely a thing. Most of the suppositories on the market are CBD-infused and used for therapeutic reasons, like pain or nausea relief, but some brands have upped their THC content for added effects.

If you’d still rather smoke your weed despite the risks, consider these harm-reduction tips to help make it a little safer:

  • Don’t hold the inhale. Inhaling deeply and holding it in exposes your lungs to more tar per breath. Don’t be greedy; exhaling faster is better for you.
  • Use rolling papers approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Rolling papers may seem like NBD, but some contain chemicals and flavorings that can be toxic.
  • Stick to glass bongs and pipes. Plastic bongs can contain chemicals like BPA and phthalates, which have been linked to serious health effects, including cancer.
  • Keep your stuff clean. Keep your bongs and pipes clean, and don’t roll your weed on dirty surfaces.
  • Don’t share mouthpieces or pass joints. Sharing your stash is fine, but not your pipes, bongs, or joints. When you share these, you’re basically swapping spit with that person and putting yourself at risk for infections.

No matter how you dice it, there’s really no safe way to smoke cannabis, whether you prefer to roll one up or are partial to bongs. As cannabis becomes more popular, so do products that allow you to indulge without the smoke.

That said, if you’re partial to puffing and passing, a vaporizer that allows you to use flower, not concentrates, may be a less harmful option.

Adrienne Santos-Longhurst is a freelance writer and author who has written extensively on all things health and lifestyle for more than a decade. When she’s not holed-up in her writing shed researching an article or off interviewing health professionals, she can be found frolicking around her beach town with husband and dogs in tow or splashing about the lake trying to master the stand-up paddleboard.

You can smoke cannabis in a variety of ways, but is one safer or healthier than others?