A Beginner’s Guide to Different Types of Cannabis Consumption

Whether you were recently recommended cannabis treatment by your healthcare provider or you are getting curious about recreational cannabis use, you probably already know that cannabis is one of the most malleable substances out there. You don’t have to venture into a dispensary to know that you can smoke cannabis, vape it, ingest it or apply it topically — but knowing that there are different methods of consumption is different from understanding the benefits and downsides of different methods of use.

Before your first dispensary visit, you need this guide to the different types of consumption, so you can more confidently select the cannabis products you need and want.

Oils and Tinctures

Rising in popularity, especially among those new to cannabis culture, oils and tinctures are liquid extracts of cannabinoids and other cannabis compounds. Once extracted from cannabis or hemp, cannabis compounds are suspended in stabilizers, like coconut oil or food-grade alcohol, which keep the active ingredients from degrading on consumer shelves. Manufacturers can also add other components, like flavorings.

Oils and tinctures are incredibly user friendly, which is why beginners typically gravitate toward these cannabis products during their first trips to a Bethesda dispensary. Most often, oils and tinctures are administered sublingually, which means under the tongue; this allows the cannabinoids to sink directly into the blood stream and provide immediate, all-over effects. Oils and tinctures can also be ingested directly or mixed into food and drink, but consuming cannabis tends to provide unreliable dosing and effects.


Speaking of ingestion, edibles are cannabis products meant to be consumed orally, so cannabinoids are absorbed via the digestive system. Edibles are another attractive option for beginners because they come packaged like familiar foods: cookies, chips, chocolates, gummies, etc. Plus, making edibles at home can be a fun challenge for experienced bakers or cooks. Technically, cannabis products like pills and capsules also count as edibles because they are ingested.

The primary concern with edibles is dosing. Because the digestive system isn’t efficient at absorbing cannabinoids, it isn’t always obvious how intense one’s effects will be after consuming an edible. Plus, it takes time for food to pass into the intestines, where cannabinoids are absorbed, so there can be a significant delay before effects become noticeable. Edibles can be a fun change in a cannabis routine, but ultimately, they aren’t ideal for regular dosing, as might be required for medical marijuana users.


Cannabis topicals are products applied to the outside of the body, like lotions, balms, salves, scrubs and others. In this case, cannabinoids and other cannabis compounds are absorbed through the skin into surrounding tissues. It should go without saying that you shouldn’t eat topicals or use them in any way besides as they are indicated on the packaging.

Unlike other methods of consumption, topicals do not provide all-over effects; because only minute traces of cannabis compounds reach the blood stream through the skin, the effects of cannabis are limited to the very surface of the body. Thus, topicals are ideal for soothing skin conditions and relaxing tight, sore muscles and aching joints, but they won’t necessarily address health concerns like anxiety or epilepsy. Topicals are attractive to those who don’t want to feel high but enjoy the idea of using cannabis products for minor, acute pains.

Flower and Trim

Flower and trim are dried pieces of the cannabis plant; flower is, as the name suggests, dried cannabis buds and blooms, and trim consists of leaves, stems and other plant bits. Most often, dried cannabis is ground up and smoked, either by rolling it into joints — like a cannabis cigarette — or by packing it into the bowl of a pipe.

Cannabis beginners are often a bit intimidated by flower and trim because using it isn’t necessarily intuitive. Cannabis tends to be sticky and come in big, confusing chunks; rolling a joint or packing a bowl takes some knowledge and skill as well as tools that not every newbie has access to.

Still, if you have a more experienced friend to teach you, working with flower can be more affordable and more rewarding than other methods of consumption. Inhaling provides immediate effects, and with joints and pipes, you can precisely control your dosage. Even better, dried bud doesn’t cost nearly as much as more processed cannabis products, so users can save some cash with this method.

Oils, tinctures, edibles, topicals and regular-old bud are the best methods for cannabis beginners. You shouldn’t be afraid to experiment during your first few months (or years!) as a cannabis connoisseur; with so many options available to you, you should be able to find a consumption method that perfectly suits your needs and wants.

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