For those of you who are new to the world of cannabis, the wide array of options to consume can be very overwhelming. Cannabis can be ingested, inhaled and applied topically to the body. As mentioned, our differing body chemistries play a role in how each consumption method will affect the individual. To cover the basics, there are 4 main methods of cannabis consumption:

  • Inhalation: When inhaled, cannabinoids enter through the lining of the lungs directly into the bloodstream. The onset is immediate and the effects can last anywhere from 1 to 4 hours.
  • Sublingual: Cannabinoids are absorbed through the mucosal lining of the mouth. The onset generally takes anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes and can last anywhere from 1 to 4 hours.
  • Oral: When eating cannabis, cannabinoids travel through the gastrointestinal tract where they are broken down by the liver. The onset generally takes one to two hours and can be a much stronger high that can last anywhere from 4 to 8 hours.
  • Topical: When applying cannabis topically, cannabinoids are absorbed through the skin, but often times fail to make it into the bloodstream. The therapeutic onset activates within minutes and has no psychoactivity.

All cannabis products are based on these consumption methods but vary in their duration and effects. Let’s dive a little bit deeper into the categories of products that you will see in today’s market.


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The most common way that cannabis is consumed is by smoking. Cannabis is smoked in a pipe, bong (water-pipe), or rolled up into a joint. When cannabis is inhaled into the lungs, the onset is immediate and will last between 1 to 4 hours. When combusting, some of the beneficial properties of the plant are lost through burning at high temperatures. In the future, we will see less smoking as the smell can be offensive and is the least healthy way to consume cannabis as it can be irritating to the lungs.


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Since legalization, we have seen a huge rise in the use of cannabis extracts. By using solvents like butane, propane, ethanol or CO2, the cannabinoids and terpenes are extracted from the organic flower material creating various forms of concentrated extracts.

Extracts are usually consumed through the process of “dabbing.” This involves heating up a quartz or titanium attachment for a water pipe with a blowtorch to a temperature that will instantly vaporize the oil allowing it to be inhaled. Although this may seem a little off-putting to the general population, dabbing is a much cleaner method of consumption as you are inhaling the vapors of cleaned, refined cannabis oils, rather than consuming burnt plant material. Since the concentrated oil is being inhaled into the lungs, the onset is immediate and will last between 1 to 4 hours. Concentrates are generally for the more seasoned consumer as they test between 50%-90% THC and thus can produce a much heavier psychoactive effect than is typical from smoking flower. This is one of the most efficient ways to medicate as one is able to consume a higher concentrated dose in a single inhalation.

Dabbable Extracts – Hydrocarbon (butane) & Solventless Extracts

Shatter – Shatter is a cannabis extract made using hydrocarbon solvents like butane or propane to extract the plant resins from dried and cured plant material.  Shatter is a thin, translucent extract that ranges in color from light yellow to dark amber.  Typically shatter has a potency of 60% – 80%  Shatter was given its name due to its resemblance to shattered glass.

Wax – Also made using hydrocarbon solvents and dried and cured plant material, wax was given its name for its resemblance to ear wax.  Ranging in color from yellow to brown, wax has a similar cannabinoid and terpene profile to shatter.

Live Resin – Live resin is also made using hydrocarbon solvents, but the plant material is frozen immediately after being harvested instead of going through the drying and curing process. Freezing the plant material directly after harvest preserves the trichomes (the resin glands of the plant that house the cannabinoids and terpenes) and creates an extract with 3 to 5 times the amount of terpenes as an extract that was made from dried and cured plant material.  Live resin comes in a few different forms, but the most common are cannabinoid crystals, often referred to as diamonds or a wax.

Solventless Extracts – Solventless extracts use ice and water to separate the trichomes from the cannabis flower.  The trichomes are then sieved through a series of small screens to separate them by size.  Once the trichomes have been extracted and separated they are then dried.  Once dried, the trichomes are ready to be consumed, but many solventless extractors are taking the process a step further and pressing the trichomes with a heated pneumatic press.  This creates a dabbable extract called Rosin.  Rosin can be made from either dried and cured or fresh frozen plant material.  Solventless extracts have had a meteoric rise in popularity in the industry over the past year.

Cannabis Oils – CO2 and Distillate Extracts

CO2 Oil – CO2 oil is made using Carbon Dioxide to extract the plant resins from the dried and cured cannabis plant material.  CO2 oil ranges in color from honey-colored to dark brown.  The color of the extract is based on the quality of the starting material and the varietal of cannabis.  When extracting with CO2 the extraction happens in fractions or parts.  First, the terpenes are extracted from the material at low pressure and temperature.  Next, the plant material is decarboxylated (a process of applying heat) activating the cannabinoids and then the cannabinoids are extracted from the cannabis material.  Once both parts have been extracted they can be recombined and used in vape pens, or the CO2 oil without the terpenes can be used to formulate both topical and edible products.

Distillate – Distillate is an incredibly viscous oil that is generally composed of one isolated cannabinoid.  Using the process of distillation, CO2 or butane oil is refined into a very pure, isolated version of the cannabinoid.  Distillate is a translucent oil with a slightly yellow tint and generally has a potency of 90% or higher.  Since the process of distillation isolates the THC, there are no other compounds present in the oil.  That means distillate is an odorless and tasteless oil which makes it an excellent choice for formulating edible products.  Distillate is also combined with terpenes or other flavoring and used in vape pen cartridges as well.


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Vaporizers are also very common in the cannabis community as they are much more discreet than smoking or dabbing. Flower vaporizers heat up the flower through convection to a temperature that strips the flower of its cannabinoids and terpenes creating a light vapor that doesn’t irritate the lungs.

Concentrate vaporizers are generally sold as preloaded cartridges that are strain-specific and attach to a small battery with a button similar to an e-cigarette. These cartridges are easy for on the go consumption and are very discreet.  The disposable nature of the cartridge also makes them a convenient product for consumers. Since the vapor is being inhaled, the onset will be immediate and generally lasts only an hour or two, which is a much lighter experience than smoking flower or dabbing concentrates.


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Edible cannabis products come in a variety of forms including foods, beverages, and tinctures. Cannabinoids are fat-soluble meaning they bind to the fatty lipids in our body and work within the digestive system. Edibles that are infused using butter tend to produce heavier effects as they have a higher fat content for the cannabinoids to bind to.  Since edibles are consumed orally, it can take anywhere from 45 minutes to 2 hours to feel the effects which can last upwards of 6 hours. The effects of edibles are much stronger than the other consumption methods, producing intense psychoactivity and full-body effects. This will vary from person to person as it is based on the person’s body chemistry and metabolism. There is a small percentage of the population that will not feel any effects from edibles as they are missing the proper enzymes to break them down.

Cannabis products that come as beverages, hard candies or tinctures are taken into the body sublingually.  Sublingual absorption activates within 10 to 30 minutes and has a shorter duration of the effect compared to edibles that are digested through the stomach.

In Colorado, a government regulated does for an edible product is 10 milligrams.  If you are new to cannabis edibles, it is recommended to start with a lower dose to see how your body chemistry handles edibles.  Many products come in 5 or 2.5-milligram doses to help ease you into the effects.


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Topicals are non-psychoactive but do need to be decarboxylated, in order to activate the cannabinoids.  Generally used for more medicinal purposes, topicals are great for inflammation and localized areas of pain. Most topicals on the market today blend different cannabinoids like CBD, THC, and CBC for more holistic healing.

Topicals are applied to the skin and activate in about 10 minutes.  The effect can last for a few hours depending on the type of topical product.  Popular topicals that you will see in the market come in the forms of lotions, salves, gels pens, bath soaks and patches.  Each of these products varies in effectiveness and duration. For example, patches that are applied to a venous part of the body allow for a slow release of medicine that can offer relief for 8 to 10 hours.

Topicals are great for those who don’t want any of the high, but still want the medicinal benefits of the plant. Great for arthritis, post-surgery pain, Crohn’s disease, muscle soreness and other ailments related to pain reduction and epidermal health.

Continue your education on the different methods of consumption and how they work in your body in our next blog, Bioavailability & Consumption Methods – What’s Right for You? 

For a deeper dive into the cannabis plant, its various compounds and the industry that surrounds it, call and book your private educational experience with City Sessions today.  720-250-8828