Tinctures, vapes, pipes, joints tinctures, edibles or topical creams... What's the best way for you to consume your cannabis?
Words: Annie Brookstone
Illustration: Tammy Joubert
In the realms of legislation, it’s rare that change happens at a pace anything other than glacial. So can someone please explain how my mom went from calling marijuana 'the devil’s lettuce' to feeding her dogs CBD-infused 'weed cookies' in a period that feels faster than it’s ever taken for any spliff being passed around to make its way back to me?
As a growing body of research, long overdue updates to legal regulations and an increasing array of safer and smarter consumption methods are changing our perceptions of the plant, it’ll soon be as normal to ask how you take your cannabis as it is to ask how you take your coffee.
However, if you feel like you’ve had to go from zero to cannabis connoisseur reading about the latest in high fashion – and I do mean 'high' – in the pages of Vogue, you’re not the only one.
If you want to take your canna-journey from budding to blossoming, we suggest you start it here…
CBD? THC? WTF?
Understanding the difference between THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol) is the first step of realising the vast potential of pot beyond the tired stoner stereotypes. Both are cannabinoids – naturally occurring compounds of which over a hundred have been identified in the cannabis plant – and both interact with the neurotransmitters of our own endocannabinoid systems to produce certain effects.
In the case of THC, the main psychoactive compound in the plant, it binds with the CB1 receptors of the brain, so getting you 'high'. CBD, on the other hand, binds with the CB2 receptors of the peripheral nervous system, meaning it acts more on the body and less on the brain, reducing inflammation, pain, depression and anxiety without a notable high.
This is all well and good but what about that time you got too blazed and freaked out? Here’s the deal: up until recently, CBD’s potential was largely overlooked, meaning it took a considerable backseat to its more famous (and abundant) counterpart THC.
The result is that marijuana strains were being bred to have higher and higher THC contents – and, because CBD counteracts the psychoactive effects of THC, less and less CBD. The good news? A new generation of high-CBD product is making it clear that cannabis can be for everyone (yes, even your puppers). Hell, you don’t even have to smoke it.
Gone are the days of poorly rolled joints and rickety homemade bongs. Cannabis consumption is fast becoming a specialised craft and, depending on your intended effect, personal preferences and whether you are using cannabis therapeutically or recreationally, how you choose to deliver your dose can vary vastly. Here are some of the most popular methods for getting your fix:
Best for: Controlling your dosage, near instantaneous effects
Onset time: Within seconds
Okay, so that thing I said about poorly rolled joints – not entirely true. Smoking the dried flowers of the cannabis plant remains one of the easiest and most effective ways to enjoy its benefits.
Of course, for those who don’t have the delicate fingers of a small child, dexterity of a neurosurgeon and patience of someone trying to find parking in Camps Bay on New Year’s Day, pipes and bowls are a portable, easy to use and increasingly stylish alternative to rolling joints and one drag is enough to give you a solid hit.
If you don’t enjoy the burn of a pipe or joint, bongs or bubblers (mini bongs) might be a better bet since they allow time for the smoke to cool before it hits your lungs.
A word of caution though: less burn is likely to mean bigger hits and significantly more powerful effects. Remember to pace yourself. Even so, smoking remains one of the best ways to monitor and control the strain, source and strength of your bud.
Best for: A less harmful alternative to smoking
Onset time: Within seconds
Vaping has had some bad press recently and it’s not entirely without merit. Is it more harmful than breathing? Yes. But is it less harmful than smoking? Also yes. Vaporisers heat the cannabis rather than burning it and the active compounds are inhaled as vapour rather than smoke, so exposing users to fewer toxic chemicals.
Vapes are typically used with oil-containing cartridges, though dry herb vaporisers can also be used, which simply use the cannabis flower, much like a joint or pipe. There’s growing evidence that vitamin E acetate, an oil used by black market manufacturers to 'cut' or dilute THC, is behind the recent spate of vape-related illnesses in the US. It’s an important reminder to always be mindful of your source and use cartridges and oils from reputable companies only.
Best for: Discretion, full-body and long-lasting effects
Onset time: 30-60 minutes
By now there are so many cannabis recipes out there, often using infused oils and butters or CBD extracts, that it’s giving new meaning to the term 'baked goods'. Unlike some other consumption methods, it may take a while before you feel anything when using edibles but patience pays off with effects that are often stronger and last longer.
This can be a wonderful option, for example, for those wishing to use cannabis to manage chronic disease symptoms or pain. (Like, seriously, a chocolate brownie that’ll also sort out both your PMS and your period cramps? The downside to this deliciousness is that it can be easy to take too high a dose with edibles if users feel that they are taking too long to feel anything. Settle back down - that cookie’s not going anywhere.
Best for: Medical usage and fast onset of effects without smoking
Onset time: 5-15 minutes
A liquid cannabis extract concentrated in alcohol, tinctures are absorbed sublingually (under the tongue) for fast absorption into the bloodstream. For therapeutic cannabis users, this is a convenient way to avoid the toxic effects of smoking without having to resist the temptation to eat another infused gummy because 'surely it should have kicked in by now'. Tinctures are also discreet and odourless, making them an ideal on-the-go delivery method.
In South Africa it’s currently illegal to sell any tincture or cannabis product with more than a trace amount of THC but that doesn’t mean the market isn’t full of at-home tincture tinkerers and maverick brands hoping to fly under the legal radar with THC levels high enough to get you, well, more than high enough.
Remember that due to its psychoactive properties, THC can have very different effects to CBD. Know your needs and buy reputable, certified products, especially when using a product as high-potency as a tincture.
Best for: Direct and targeted action
Onset time: 5 minutes to 2 hours
'You want me to put weed where?' Whether you’re looking to treat localised pain or enhance sexual pleasure, there’s probably a cannabis topical for that. Cannabis-enriched lotions, balms and salves are increasingly being used to treat the pain and inflammation associated with conditions like arthritis, eczema and more, most often harnessing the medicinal properties of CBD.
Studies have shown that CBD inhibits both inflammatory and neuropathic pain, two of the most difficult types of chronic pain to treat. Being absorbed directly into the skin results in a localised effect and, for those users who prefer to maintain a clear mind with no 'head high'.
And speaking of getting high, unless you plan on drinking the stuff (don’t), THC topicals won’t do it either. You can slather yourself from head to toe but because THC can’t enter the bloodstream through the skin, the effects will remain localised only.
The array of cannabis consumption methods doesn’t end there and, when you think about it, why should it? We’re only just starting to fully realise the plant’s possibilities. You might feel like you’re only just beginning your cannabis journey but in all likelihood, we all are.