Smoking Is Just One Way To Use Marijuana: An Introduction To Vaporizers, Edibles, Oils, Tinctures, Dabs And Other Cannabis Products

While reporting for a book on the cannabis business I recently finished writing, I realized many people don't differentiate smoking weed from using cannabis. “Isn’t it the same?” is the question I was asked far too often.

The answer: certainly not.

Smoking is just one of many ways cannabis can be used, and it is rarely the most effective cannabidiol delivery mechanism, especially for medication purposes. Smoking can be useless when using cannabis to treat certain ailments.

One example: while smoking would not help eczema or acne, cannabis-infused topical treatments or creams are used for the conditions.

Here's a chart that illustrates some of the most popular cannabis consumption methods available today: 

Image by Agustina Yofre

Using cannabis as a whole plant — smoking it — can be fun and useful to treat certain conditions. But when cannabis is smokd, the user consumes a large variety of chemical components present in weed. This is often called the “entourage effect.”

“Cannabis has about 500 chemical constituents, and many of them interact with each other,” said Dr. Godfrey Pearlson, a professor at Yale University’s School of Medicine and director of the Olin Neuropsychiatry Research Center.

“If you are taking many different things at one time, it may be the combination that is helping, rather than any one particular compound.”

Unlike smoking, other cannabis delivery mechanisms like sublingual sprays, tinctures, transdermal patches and capsules, allow for certain components to be isolated and delivered to the consumer individually, in a fashion more similar to traditional pharmaceutical drugs.

“We know cannabis is good for medical purposes, but the solution is not always inhalation,” said Aras Azadian, CEO of Avicanna, the first cannabinoid therapeutics company to be admitted into JLABS @ Toronto, part of Johnson & Johnson Innovation.

Each specific indication is best treated through a particular delivery method.

Let’s take a look at marijuana delivery methods beyond smoking.


Even though the name would suggest otherwise, cannabis edibles are not necessarily edible. Some are edible, while others can be drank. What all of them have in common is that they are infused with cannabidiols extracted from the plant like THC and CBD.

Edibles range from cannabis-infused brownies, cookies and gummy bears to olive oil, water and juices. Other products that fall into this category are cannabutters, cereals and even alcoholic beverages like cannabeers.


Vaporizers constitute another very popular product category in cannabis, largely because they allow users to obtain a “smoking” sensation and ritual without actually having to ingest smoke in the lungs. Vaporizers can be separated into two “families.”

Dry herb vaporizers take dried cannabis flowers and heat them up to temperatures at which the plant’s chemical components are activated and released in the form of vapor. The temperatures are not high enough to “burn” the flowers, avoiding the release of smoke.

Concentrate-based vaporizers use cannabis extracts and concentrates like oils, liquids and waxes — concentrates with a consistence similar to that of honey. These devices also release a sort of vapor that contains diverse chemical components present in the cannabis plant.

Vaporizers can be found in a few formats, including handheld devices, vape pens and desktop vaporizers.

Related Link: Even Alabama Republicans Disagree With Attorney General Jeff Sessions' Views On Marijuana Legalization

Oils And Tinctures

In numerous countries — and American states — pot cannot be used as a whole plant, even for medical purposes. However, they do permit the use of high-CBD, low-THC oils and tinctures. 

Cannabis and hemp oils are extracted from the cannabis or hemp plant and contain high concentrations of THC, CBD or other chemical compounds present in these plants, like the hunger-suppressing THCv. Some are psychoactive, meaning they will make you feel stoned or high, while others only have physical effects rather than mental ones. They can be consumed alone, a few drops at a time, or be used in food and drink. 

Unlike oils, tinctures are not extracted using complex processes like pressing. Cannabis tinctures are instead alcohol-based and have existed for more than a century. Cannabis tinctures were sold as medication in pharmacies across the world until prohibition began in the 1930’s. Similar to oils, cannabis tinctures can be consumed on their own or added to foods and beverages.

Dabs And Concentrates

Similar to oils, dabs and other concentrates like cannabis waxes, shatter and resin are high-potency concentrates that can either be smoked using special pipes and bongs or vaporized using concentrate-specific vaporizers. 

Dabs, for instance, are sticky, honey-like concentrates that are usually consumed through “flash” vaporization. This means the product must be placed on a very hot surface before the  is inhaled, usually with a pipe of some kind.

Another popular cannabis extract is rosin, which is produced using heat and pressure, but no solvents. The result is similar to the wax used for hair removal. Rosin is consumed in the same manner as dabs, usually by depositing the substance on a hot platter or “nail” and inhaling the smoke that comes out. Rosin can be added to good old joints and smoked, or vaporized with a device that supports concentrates.

Finally, there’s shatter, which looks and feels a lot like dried caramel. Shatter can be dabbed, vaped or smoked in a joint or hash pipe.


Cannabis can also be put into capsules or pills.

Some pills contain dried flower, while others carry cannabis-infused oils or extracts that can be ingested orally. One of the most popular varieties are cannabis-infused coconut oil capsules.

Formulations, dosages and chemical components vary widely, so consult a doctor or cannabis expert before deciding which one to use. Beyond that, capsules are pretty simple: you ingest them the same way you would take an Advil from Pfizer Inc. PFE or a Tylenol from Johnson & Johnson JNJ. Put it in your mouth, take a sip of water and let the pill go down with the liquid.

Topicals And Transdermal Patches

Another method to deliver cannabis into your body is through the skin. Two prevalent delivery mechanisms exist: topicals and transdermal patches.

Topicals are cannabis-infused creams, lotions, oils and balms that are applied externally, usually locally and are absorbed through the skin. Even topicals that have high concentrations of THC are usually non-psychoactive, meaning patients receive the medical and wellness benefits of the cannabinoids and terpenes present in the cannabis plant without getting high or stoned. With just a bit of crème on the part of your body that’s aching, many users experience pain relief in just a few minutes.

One final cannabis intake method we’d like to look into is that offered by transdermal patches. As their name indicates, these cannabis-infused patches deliver cannabinoids transdermally. The user just places the patch on a venous part of the body and waits for the cannabinoids to enter his or her bloodstream. Effects often last several hours and can be psychoactive in some cases.

Marijuana Stocks: Alternative Delivery Plays

Here are a few publicly traded cannabis companies that offer these products — even though they may also sell dried flowers:

  • Aurora Cannabis Inc ACBFF
  • GW Pharmaceuticals PLC- ADR GWPH
  • Cronos Group Inc PRMCF
  • Canopy Growth Corp TWMJF
  • Cannabis Sativa Inc CBDS
  • THC Biomed Intl Ltd THCBF
  • Aphria Inc APHQF

Image Credit: Javier Hasse. Infographic by Agustina Yofre.

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