Here is every way to consume cannabis listed (I bet at least 3 of these you have never even thought of).

There are lists everywhere of the top ways to consume cannabis.

Herb lists 12 ways to consume cannabis: joints, blunts, pipes, drinks, dabs, bongs, bubblers, vaporizers, capsules, tinctures, sprays, and edibles.

TheWeedBlog tries to answer which way to consume cannabis is the best among joints, pipes, bubblers, bongs, blunts, knife hits, gravity bong, waterfalls, vaporizers, topicals, tincture, and edibles.

Even mainstream sites like Thrillist list the pros and cons of different cannabis consumption methods: edibles, joints, pipes, tinctures, dabs, bongs, vaporizers, and vape pens.

But here’s the deal: after working with drug delivery systems for a long time, I would classify almost all of these methods as falling into just two categories. And that’s two categories out of 7 different ways to consume cannabis.

So in the interest of being comprehensive and scientific, I am going to list every single method of cannabis consumption (route of administration is a more technical term) that I can find. You might say that some of these are a little…out there, but there have been scientific studies on every single one of these.

1. Pulmonary

[Flickr/ Paul Sablemman]

[Flickr/ Paul Sablemman]

Bongs, bubblers, joints, blunts, dabs, vaporizers. Anything where you inhale smoke or vapor containing cannabinoids fall under the same category. Pulmonary administration is popular because THC and other cannabinoids are rapidly absorbed by the lungs. In fact, the THC reaches its maximum blood concentration just 3 to 10 minutes after a hit.

If you are smoking, about 30% of THC is lost to pyrolysis and more is lost in the side smoke and roach of a joint. Vaporizers are likely as efficient as you can get in terms of not losing THC. Pulmonary bioavailability of THC is lower than you might expect, at about 25%. This value goes even lower if you are not an experienced smoker.

2. Oral

[Flickr/ Frederic BISSON]

[Flickr/ Frederic BISSON]

Edibles, tinctures, drinks, capsules, tablets. These all fall under the umbrella of oral administration, where a drug is swallowed and then absorbed through the gastrointestinal tract. Bioavailability is the lowest of all routes, at about 5% on average.  However, bioavailability and rate of absorption can range drastically depending on different factors, making this the least consistent of all consumption methods.

There are some unique aspects to the oral route:

  • The ratio of THC metabolites changes due to first-pass metabolism. Although THC bioavailability is low, much is converted to the active 11-OH-THC metabolite.
  • The effects can be significantly different whether you take the dose fasted or fed.

3. Buccal

[GW Pharma]

[GW Pharma]

Buccal means that the THC and other cannabinoids are absorbed through the lining of the mouth, including sublingually. The most common product that uses this route is Sativex, which is a cannabinoid extract spray that contains THC and CBD in a 1:1 ratio.

Presumably there is an advantage to buccal dosing over oral dosing in terms of faster onset and higher THC bioavailability. However, buccal absorption is still relatively slow, and most THC is swallowed before being absorbed in the mouth.  In fact, a clinical study showed that the pharmacokinetics (the time course of blood concentrations) were essentially the same with Sativex and oral THC. So ultimately, the buccal method may have all the same characteristics as oral administration.

4. Intranasal

[Flickr/ Valerie Everett]

[Flickr/ Valerie Everett]

Intranasal administration is associated more with hard drugs like cocaine than it is with cannabis. However, this may change in the future. Although it is hard to imagine someone doing lines of pure THC crystals, an appropriate formulation (like a Sativex for intranasal administration) could be well received by consumers.

In a study in rabbits, two THC formulations performed well, with maximum blood THC concentrations reached at 20-45 minutes and bioavailability of 15%. So far,  I have not seen any data in humans, although certain formulations for intranasal delivery have already been patented.

5. Transdermal


[Flickr/ Iwan Gabovitch]

Transdermal administration of THC (in the form of lotions, gels, creams, or patches) has been studied going back to at least the 80s. This is a somewhat formidable method because the skin forms a strong barrier to absorption. THC needs to pass through several different layers of skin before arriving at capillaries. Without a good formulation, very little THC is absorbed into the blood. There have been several patents on new formulations and some commercial products are recently available. However, there may still be room for improvement in terms of how rapidly the cannabinoids are absorbed.

6. Rectal

6037992_origSuppositories are not the most popular way to take drugs (although somewhat more popular in Europe than the US). However, it is a route that seems to work well for THC. Because rectal administration bypasses most first-pass metabolism, there is the possibility of higher bioavailability in addition to faster absorption. One very small clinical study did indeed show that bioavailability was about twice as high with the suppository route compared to oral THC. Lower levels of THC metabolites also confirmed that first-pass metabolism was bypassed. Several do-it-yourself instructions are available to make your own, but I have yet to see a commercial product. We will see if this method ever picks up popularity or if commercial products are developed, but for now it remains obscure.

7. Intravenous


[Flickr/ Colin Stebbing]

Please do not inject any type of cannabis or extract into your veins and then say it was endorsed by Prof of Pot! Intravenous dosing has been an important tool for studying the pharmacokinetics and effects of THC and its metabolites such as 11-OH-THC and THC-COOH. I have highlighted some of the studies using intravenous dosing in the past. However, amateur attempts at intravenous administration of cannabis have landed multiple people in the emergency room…see Intravenous Marijuana Syndrome. Please, just don’t.


Final Thoughts

There are active research programs to develop better formulations and new products for several of these routes (for both medicinal and recreational purposes). I think there is definitely a niche for the intranasal and transdermal routes that has not yet been fully taken advantage of. I look forward to seeing what innovative cannabis companies come out with in the near future!

Last modified: June 22, 2017

3 Responses to " The 7 Ways to Consume Cannabis "

  1. Greg says:

    Hi Prof
    I do like your site but believe that Big Pharma is trying it’s best to get comlete control over the cannabis market which I’m strongly against. Big Pharma has done enough to poison people all over the world.

  2. Hi Prof!

    Huge fan of what you’ve created here. I’m an edibles writer and your research and reporting is incredible. I love your classification model in this post.

    I have a question that maybe you can help with. Is there anything that people can use (or do) at home that will increase transdermal absorption? I’d like to share recipes for salves and lotions that are effective and economical. I like using cannabis topically, but it’s definitely not a “bang for your buck” type of process.

    Thank you so much for sharing all of this and breaking it down for everyone!

    Much love,

    • Hi Corinne,

      Formulating with an oil is probably the best way to go for do-it-yourselfers. You can see the formulation used by Mary’s Medicinals in the patent for their transdermal patches ( Basically, they mix a cannabinoid extract with oleic acid, eucalyptol, and a permeating agent. Oleic acid and eucalyptol can both be purchased online and any similar oils should work as well. The permeating agents are not so easy to come by and are a bit nasty unless properly diluted, so not really appropriate to include at home.

      I’m glad you enjoyed!

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