The cannabis industry is rapidly evolving, with new brands and products launching every week. For both new and regular consumers alike, the sheer number of options when walking into a dispensary can be intimidating. As additional states legalize adult MJ use, it is crucial for consumers to learn about cannabis delivery technologies. Scientists and manufacturers have created numerous ways to enjoy the cannabis plant. Learning about the advantages and disadvantages of each offering can help to more easily navigate the dispensary to find the best choice for your unique needs and lifestyle. Below is a brief outline of the available cannabis delivery methods, meant to serve as a guide to better understanding how each one works with accompanying strengths and weaknesses.
For decades marijuana use has been associated with smoking, and although this is no longer the only way to enjoy the benefits of the plant, it is still a very popular method. When the flower of the female cannabis plant is heated THCa is converted to THC, the psychoactive component of cannabis. The effects are experienced quickly, whether using a pipe, bong or joint. New devices can even convert water bottles instantly into single use bongs. Smoking methods can, however, lead to long-term lung problems, including bronchitis. The instant effects and relatively low-cost make smoking a tempting option compared to other delivery methods; however, consumers should bear in mind potential health impacts.
Another inhalation method, vaporizing (or “vaping”), involves heating dried cannabis flower or cannabis oil. Often seen as a healthier alternative to traditional smoking, vaping still delivers effects rapidly and is less harsh on the lungs. These products come in various forms, including small vape pens as well as portable and desktop vaporizers. Vaporizing flower minimizes the hazardous effects compared to smoking as only the heated vapor is inhaled without the pyrolytic breakdown products. Potential downsides of vaping cannabis oil are the cutting agents used for the oil cartridges. These may include propylene glycol, polyethylene glycol or terpenes. These substances may also lead to lung problems with chronic use.
A newer method of cannabis consumption is “dabbing”. This method takes cannabis oils, waxes or shatters and vaporizes them on a dab rig. Unlike a bong which heats flower, the dab rig will heat highly concentrated oils/products for consumption. Many of these products require butane extraction to refine them. The rig is often composed of a nail with product on it that is heated at high temperature with a butane torch and then the vapors are inhaled. This method is rapid and can lead to a very high state due the highly concentrated THC in these products. Not much is known, to date, about dabbing large amounts of THC over a long period of time. Additionally, the high heat associated with the butane torch can lead to pyrolytic breakdown products such as benzene and acrolein.
Cannabis material that is classified as “live” means it is not produced from the extraction of dried plant material, but rather, from fresh flower that is frozen. This process maintains the terpene profile, including monoterpenes that are often lost during extraction processes. This can enhance the flavor profile of the products. Live rosin is made from a solventless process with an ice wax intermediate step so there is no risk for residues such as butane or pentane. It uses heat and a press to create small batch artisanal concentrates. Live rosin can be expensive due to the small quantities produced. Live resin is another concentrate product made by butane extraction following the freezing process.
There are a variety of edible cannabis products on the market that present desirable alternatives for those looking beyond inhalation methods, including candies and baked goods, savory crackers, and drinks like tea and soda. Nowadays, the taste of marijuana is barely, if at all, detectable. The downside of edibles is that they can take a long time for effects to kick in depending on the consumer’s metabolism, weight and gender. Further, many edible products on the market can be inconsistent in terms of dosing, and consumers must take care to “start low and go slow” to avoid taking too much, too quickly.
Other oral products that are not eaten include micromist sprays delivered under the tongue that directly enter the bloodstream. These sublingual sprays are a delivery method more recently introduced to the cannabis industry. They are administered from a fine-mist sprayer and come in a variety of flavors for a vegan, sugar-free, gluten-free experience. Onset of action can be as fast as 15 minutes from consumption. These products offer extremely precise dosing for enhanced consistency and effectiveness.
Another oral alternative is a tincture. Tinctures are made from cannabis flower or extracts steeped in alcohol that are administered through a dropper under the tongue. When delivered this way, the product enters the bloodstream to deliver rapid effects. With an extremely long shelf life, tinctures offer an option for those looking to receive faster relief than edibles, while still avoiding the risks associated with smoking.
Topical salves, transdermal creams and patches are options that apply cannabis-infused products to the skin. Simply massaged into the skin like any other lotion, cannabis topicals are discreet and effective, providing targeted relief for problem areas. Many are infused with essential oils to improve the aroma while allowing the product to permeate skin cells more deeply and maximize effects–with limited psychoactivity. Patches are touted for their pain relieving ability. Dermal products may be a good entry point for new cannabis consumers.
The cannabis nasal mist is among the recent innovations in modern cannabis technology. Nasal administration is one of the most effective delivery methods for cannabis due to the nasal cavity’s large surface area and extensive vascularization. Effects can also be felt quickly. Further, devices currently on the market are designed to administer super fine mists, allowing the product to cover more of the highly permeable nasal membrane with active cannabinoids, taking effect in as little as ten minutes.
Just as no two cannabis consumers are exactly alike, neither are any two cannabis products. Each has its own unique formula and delivery mechanism. What is pleasurable for one individual may be less effective or enjoyable for another. Above all, it is important to speak with local dispensary staff to determine the ideal product type for the specific need. It’s an exciting time to be a part of the cannabis community as we work together to develop healthier, more effective and innovative technologies, all with the consumer’s safety and experience in mind.