The Best Way to Consume Marijuana

different ways to consume marijuana
By Nick Congleton Updated October 22nd, 2022

Medically reviewed by Dr. Brian Kessler, MD

From the traditional pre-roll and bong to modern varieties of vapes, edibles, oils, and tinctures, today’s cannabis users can enjoy more ways of consuming weed than ever.

But is there a best way to consume cannabis?

To answer this question, we look at all the different methods of consuming marijuana, and compare them in terms of:

  • Health effects
  • Enjoyment level
  • Cost

Let’s start with the traditional methods.

Smoking Weed

pre-roll and cannabis flower near pot leaf

Cannabis consumption and smoking are practically synonymous in the minds of most people. The OG method of consuming marijuana medically or recreationally, there are multiple ways to smoke cannabis. 

The most common way to smoke cannabis is to roll the dried flower into a marijuana cigarette, or joint, using a rolling paper. There are multiple variations of this method, including using cigar wraps to roll larger quantities of cannabis into a blunt.

Small glass pipes are another convenient option, and they’re simple for new consumers to use. Often considered a step up from standard pipes, many consumers will use a bong or water pipe when smoking. Bongs use water to filter cannabis smoke, leading some users to prefer them for a cleaner, less harsh (and potentially larger) inhale. 

Pros of Smoking Cannabis

  • Convenient
  • Simple
  • Few tools required
  • Inexpensive
  • Easy to regulate (Depending on method)
  • Nearly universal

Health Effects

Cannabis is often cited for its potential medical applications, but inhaling any material presents potential health risks. Smoking cannabis plant material could lead to lung and throat irritation. And while early studies suggest that smoking cannabis presents lower risk to respiratory health than smoking tobacco, further research is required to establish consistent findings.

Enjoyment Factor

  • Works quickly (almost immediate)
  • Strength depends on amount smoked and THC concentration of flower
  • Easy to regulate by smoking more or less
  • Effects usually last 2-3 hours
  • Smoking more over time extends the high

Cost of Smoking Cannabis Flower

  • Cannabis flower is relatively inexpensive
  • Rolling papers are also very inexpensive (only a few dollars)
  • Glassware (pipes and bongs) eliminates the need for papers
  • Glassware is usually more expensive and can be quite costly at the high end
  • Grinder for flower is another recommended expense
  • Overall requires some startup cost for supplies, but less expensive for regular use.

Legality

  • Some states with legalized medicinal marijuana programs have banned smoking cannabis flower. For a more in-depth look at your state, see our Laws & Regulations section.

For practical tips on smoking, check out our guide: How to Smoke Weed Correctly.


Vaping Marijuana

blueberry cookie indica vape cartridge

Vaping is similar to smoking in that it involves using heat to create an inhalable form of cannabis. Most forms of cannabis vaping use a concentrated liquid or oil which is heated by an electric heating element in a portable device, though there are some that use dried cannabis flower. 

As the name suggests, vaping produces vapor rather than smoke. This tends to produce a less noticeable smell, giving consumers a more discreet option. Vape liquid also offers the opportunity for different flavor combinations beyond those naturally found in the plant’s terpenes, so users don’t have to choose between flavor and discretion.

Pros of Vaping

  • Relatively inexpensive after the initial cost of the vaporizer
  • Plenty of strain-specific options available
  • Easy to regulate dosage
  • Simple to use
  • Portable
  • Less smell (and more discreet) than smoking

Health Effects

While many consumers point to vaping as a healthier option than smoking cannabis flower, experts have yet to reach a consensus. Improper manufacturing or extraction methods can leave potentially toxic solvents in the finished product. 

Additionally, ease of access to vape products without proper oversight and instruction can mean some consumers are taking larger doses at higher temperatures than recommended, which may contribute to lung irritation or damage.

Enjoyment Factor

  • Works quickly (almost immediate)
  • Clearly labeled concentrations to better control dosage and experience
  • Strength depends on concentration and how much you vape
  • Usually lasts 2-3 hours
  • Vaping more extends the high

Cost of Vaping

  • Initial cost can be high, but lower cost options are available
  • Vape liquids are moderately priced
  • No additional equipment or recurring purchases needed if the consumer’s device is properly maintained

Legality

  • Some states have banned various vape products. Most of these products are flavored vape liquids, meaning only unflavored vapes are available. For a more in-depth look at your state, see our Laws & Regulations section.

Smoking vs Vaping Weed: Which is Better?

When it comes to vaping vs smoking there isn’t a clear winner. Both have advantages and disadvantages, and it all comes down to personal preference.

Smoking is more flexible and offers a wider range of consumption methods (pre-rolls, pipes, one-hitters, bongs, etc). It’s also less expensive in the long run. Smoking doesn’t require specialized equipment or vape cartridges. As long as you have cannabis flower and paper to roll it in, you can smoke.

Vaping is a fairly portable and more discreet way to consume cannabis than most methods of smoking flower. It affords a wide range of flavors while avoiding the usual cannabis smell. And depending on the device, vaping can also allow cannabis users to get a more precise dose.

Both vaping and smoking pose serious risks to lung health. While there’s room for debate on which is healthier, the science is pretty clear that inhaling any foreign substance – whether cannabis smoke or vapor – isn’t good for your lungs. So for consumers looking for the “healthiest” option, keep scrolling.

And for a more in-depth comparison, check out our complete breakdown of smoking vs vaping.

Edibles

cannabis gummies near pot leaf

Edibles are exactly what they sound like, cannabis products you can eat. The edible space is a colorful mix of old and new. Cannabis brownies are a longstanding classic, and it’s still very popular (and easier than ever) to make your own cannabutter or cannabis oil and bake your own edibles

That said, there’s a wide range of edibles on the market in legal states, extending well beyond traditional baked goods like brownies and cookies. The most common edibles you’ll encounter, especially in the medical market, are gummies. The rest of the varieties will differ by state and dispensary, giving consumers access to THC-infused candy, cookies, chocolates, drinks, and unique options like ice cream, popsicles, truffles, and dehydrated fruits.

Pros of Cannabis Edibles

  • Wide variety of options for discerning consumers and those with dietary restrictions
  • No risk of lung damage since users aren’t inhaling smoke or vapor
  • Effects may last longer and hit harder than smoking
  • Simple to use
  • Easy to get accurate dose
  • Portable
  • Discreet

Health Effects

Because edibles take longer to take effect, there is an increased risk of overdose (especially for new consumers). Additionally, edibles are often designed to be sweet and colorful, and without proper storage there is an increased risk of consumption by children or pets.

Enjoyment Factor

  • Edibles come in different concentrations
  • They generally take about an hour to take effect
  • Usually produce strong effects (new consumers should start with a low dose and allow 1-2 hours before taking another dose)
  • Effects can last between six and twelve hours

Cost of Edibles

  • Costs more on average than flower.
  • Gummies tend to be the least expensive among edibles.
  • Cost varies by product and state, but typically range from $10 to $30 for 100mg of THC.

Edibles vs Smoking Weed: Which is Better?

It’s difficult to compare smoking cannabis and edibles. They’re more different than they are alike. 

Smoking produces much more immediate effects. The high from smoking is typically less severe and shorter than edibles, as well, giving many consumers a greater sense of control. Smoking requires more equipment, but the cost of cannabis flower is lower than most edibles on average.

Because of these differences, many people who choose to use edibles do so occasionally and deliberately or for health reasons (e.g. not wanting to inhale cannabis smoke or vapor). Smoking, meanwhile, tends to be a much more casual and regular method of consumption.

From a health standpoint, edibles present far lower risk than smoking for a majority of consumers. Smoking (and vaping) pose clear risks to lung health. Whereas there are few, if any, additional health risks from edibles, aside from the risks associated with consuming processed sugar.

Check out our complete breakdown for a more in-depth comparison between smoking and edibles.

Cannabis Tinctures

cannabis cbd tinctures

Cannabis tinctures are another more manageable way to consume cannabis orally while avoiding many of the health risks associated with smoking and vaping.

A tincture is made by combining cannabis extract with either alcohol or an oil. Marijuana tinctures are usually taken via a dropper and are available in very specific concentrations, making it much easier to control the dose (and a more common method of consumption for medical cannabis patients than recreational consumers).

Pros of Cannabis Tinctures

  • Minimal ingredients for health-conscious patients or those with dietary restrictions
  • No risk of lung damage since users aren’t inhaling smoke or vapor
  • Sublingual ingestion allows users to feel effects fast
  • Simple to use
  • Easy to get accurate dose
  • Portable
  • Discreet

Health Effects

While fast-acting sublingual effects make it easier to get the proper dosage, the health benefits and side effects of cannabis tinctures have not been extensively studied. As with all cannabis products, medical patients should consult with their doctor prior to introducing marijuana tinctures as part of their daily routine. This is especially true when other functional ingredients are present, as some plants can result in allergic reactions or may be toxic in large quantities or if improperly prepared.

Enjoyment Factor

  • Strength depends on dose and concentration
  • Easy to regulate dose
  • Takes effect in about 15 minutes
  • High usually lasts between three and six hours

Cost of Cannabis Tinctures

  • Can be very cost effective due to higher concentrations in many packages.
  • Possible to make at home.
  • Prices typically range from $25 to $40.

Learn more about tinctures, including how to make your own tinctures at home.

Cannabis Pills, Capsules, and Tablets

cannabis pills

Cannabis pills, tablets, and capsules are far less common than the previous forms of cannabis. Depending on your state, there’s a decent chance you’ll have a hard time finding them at a dispensary. But given their ease of use and accurate dosing, they are a preferred option for many medical patients looking for oral forms of cannabis that aren’t edibles.

Pros of Cannabis Pills, Capsules, and Tablets

  • Minimal ingredients for health-conscious patients or those with dietary restrictions
  • No risk of lung damage since users aren’t inhaling smoke or vapor
  • Simple to use
  • Portable
  • Discreet

Health Effects

For the most part, cannabis pills, capsules, and tablets present the same health effects as traditional edibles. They tend to be easy to use and dose (including more microdose options than many traditional edibles), making them a common method of consumption for medical patients. Like edibles, it can take longer to feel effects when cannabis is ingested orally, which may lead to increased risk of overdose, particularly for new consumers. 

Enjoyment Factor

  • Strength depends on dosage
  • Dosage is clearly labeled and controlled
  • Usually takes about an hour to feel the effects
  • The high could last between six and twelve hours

Cost of Cannabis Pills, Capsules, and Tablets

  • Price tends to be comparable to other edibles.
  • Prices typically range from $15 to $30 for a 100mg container. 

Cannabis Topicals

cannabis topical CBD relief balm

Cannabis topicals are skin creams, gels, salves, and oils that you can apply directly to your skin. These aren’t intended to cause psychoactive effects. Instead, topicals are mostly medical in nature, designed to ease pain in a target area. It should be noted that transdermal patches can be psychoactive (more on these later).

Pros of Cannabis Topicals

  • Provide localized relief
  • Cannabis topicals aren’t psychoactive
  • Easy to use, easy to apply
  • Widely available (many topical products available without THC, which is more regulated in the U.S.)

Health Effects

Early research has shown cannabis topicals have many of the same potential benefits of other topical products, including pain relief, anti-inflammatory effects, easing migraine-related symptoms, and even working to reduce itchiness and acne. Likewise, possible side effects largely mirror unmedicated topical products, like itching, rash, and allergic reaction. As with other cannabis products, further study is needed to understand how topical creams, salves, and other products affect users. 

Enjoyment Factor

Cannabis topicals aren’t designed to impart psychoactive effects. That’s not what they’re for. They are often used by consumers in search of localized pain relief, improve skin, and reduce inflammation. They should start working nearly immediately on application.

Cost of Cannabis Topicals

  • Cannabis topicals are generally more expensive than flower, but may last longer depending on usage.
  • Prices usually range from about $35 to $80.

Cannabis Powder

CBD powder

Powdered cannabis can be dissolved in a liquid for drinking or infused into edibles. The powdered form of cannabis is still relatively new and can be harder to find than traditional edibles, tinctures, and capsules or tablets. 

Pros of Cannabis Powder

  • No risk of lung damage since users aren’t inhaling smoke or vapor
  • Simple to use
  • Portable
  • Discreet
  • Flexible application (can be used in drinks or edibles or consumed directly)

Health Effects

Powdered cannabis is ingested orally, like traditional edibles and capsules, tablets or pills, and it presents the same potential health benefits and risks. Because cannabis powder is packaged for accurate dosing, the risk of consuming too much is no greater than it would be with other edibles or tinctures.

Enjoyment Factor

  • Similar to edibles, but you control the dose of concentrated cannabis
  • Takes about an hour to take effect
  • High lasts for six to twelve hours

Cost of Cannabis Powder

  • Comparable price to other cannabis edibles.
  • Prices usually range from $15 to $25 per 100mg of THC.

Transdermal Patches

cannabis transdermal patch

Just like nicotine patches slowly release nicotine into a person’s bloodstream to help them quit smoking, transdermal cannabis patches slowly release THC and/or CBD to provide prolonged relief from pain, nausea, and other conditions that lower concentrations of THC can help treat.

Transdermal cannabis patches act by releasing a controlled dose over a longer timeframe to avoid misdosing and offer patients a discreet treatment method. 

Pros of Transdermal Patches

  • Prolonged relief over approximately 12 hours
  • Patch can be cut to reduce dosage
  • Provide psychoactive effects (unlike topical creams, salves, and gels)

Health Effects

Limited studies have focused on the health effects of transdermal patches. Since cannabis isn’t being inhaled, transdermal patches are generally considered a lower risk method of consumption. However, because patches can deliver a sustained dose over a 12 hour period, some consumers may feel the effects too strongly. Others may forget they have a patch on, which can increase the risk of operating heavy machinery or participating in other activities that increase user risk. As such, it is recommended medical patients consult with their doctor when considering transdermal patches and test a smaller dose to start.

Enjoyment Factor

  • Transdermal patches release cannabinoids slowly over a long period of time
  • Transdermal patches come in varieties that can produce psychoactive effects

Cost of Transdermal Patches

  • Transdermal patches are one of the pricier methods of cannabis consumption.
  • Single-use patches can cost over $20.

Summary

Comparison of different cannabis consumption methods

So how do the various methods of cannabis consumption compare? We rate each method on a scale of 1 to 5 (best) for health effects, cost, strength and duration of effects.

For tips on how to increase the desired effects of cannabis, check out 9 Healthy Foods to Enhance the Effects of Cannabis. Or if the effects of your last dose are too strong, read our guide on How To Sober Up From Weed.

The information in this article and any included images or charts are for educational purposes only. This information is neither a substitute for, nor does it replace, professional legal advice or medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about laws, regulations, or your health, you should always consult with an attorney, physician or other licensed professional.

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