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Different Formats, Different Effects: Understanding the Experience of Cannabis Consumption Methods

It used to be that consuming cannabis was relatively straightforward. Smoking and eating edibles were just about the only options. However, innovations over the years have expanded the ways people can enjoy cannabis. These different formats produce different effects, empowering consumers to select the experience they want from their cannabis journey. 

With a range of onset times and potencies, consumers need to be aware of how each method typically affects a person. Use the information below to explore the various ways to consume cannabis. 


Cannabis flower remains one of the most preferred and accessible consumption options, and part of its popularity comes from the fact that cannabis flower is the source material for every product on the market, from buds and shake to pre-rolls and other options discussed below. 

Consumers have claimed to feel the effects of smoked flower nearly instantly, with its peak arriving just a few minutes after inhalation. Expect the experience to last for an average of three or four hours. Just be careful, as flower potency has increased over the years.

Vape Cartridges

Vape cartridges are a top choice for consumers looking to enjoy the near-instant effects of smoked cannabis without lighting up. Vape pens heat concentrated cannabis oil rather than burn it. Heating creates a smokeless consumption experience that can be a convenient, discreet, on-the-go option. Numerous specialty pens for vape enthusiasts are on the market, as are less expensive, disposable options.  

Like flower, the onset time for vaping is often just minutes. The effects should last around one to three hours. That said, vaping creates a different experience. Vape oil can have three times the potency of flower due to various extraction processes it undergoes. Producers have also made products with varying THC to CBD ratios, which can lessen or offset the effects of THC.

Begin with a low dose and incrementally build up to your ideal range. Evaluate the effect every 30 minutes to two hours after consumption and consume more if desired. 

Cannabis Edibles

Edibles are a long-time favorite of the cannabis community, but what was once a limited market is now one of the most diverse. Edibles have gone from just infused brownies and cookies to encompassing a spectrum of foods, expanding to treats like macarons, ice cream, popcorn and just about anything else. There are even more savory items like falafel and soups, as well as condiments such as oil and honey. Virtually everything edible can now be infused with cannabis.  

The benefits of edibles, however, can also be risks for the unprepared. Because edibles travel through the stomach before being metabolized by the liver, onset times are typically 30 minutes to two hours. If you are new to edibles, a good rule to follow when it comes to dosing is “start low and go slow.” 

The effects of edibles are also longer-lasting than other formats. The experience typically stretches six to eight hours. This can be disconcerting for consumers who don’t anticipate such a long journey.  

Several companies are now using nanotechnology and fine emulsions to cut the onset time of edible products down to 15 to 30 minutes and shorten the duration of their effect. These products appeal to consumers who want the benefits of a smokeless, edible format that delivers the familiar experience of flower or vape.   

With edibles, it’s also important to take note of potency. Across the country, their doses can vary wildly, ranging from around 2mg up to 1000mg. The trick to finding the right dose with any edible is to start by eating small morsels. Wait one hour and eat another small amount if a more intense effect is desired. You can repeat this process every hour. 

Tinctures & Sublinguals

Tinctures and sublinguals can be consumed in different ways with different onset times,  allowing people to cater to their needs a bit more than most other options. 

When a tincture is mixed in a beverage, the effects should set in around the same time as an edible would, creating a similar experience. When dropped under the tongue, or sublingually, the onset time is much shorter, taking just minutes for some consumers to feel its effect. However, with sublingual consumption, onset times of approximately 30 minutes are also typical. In both cases, the experience tends to last between two to five hours.

Like vape cartridges, tinctures come in a range of THC to CBD ratios which can blunt the severity of its effects. As such, it is often recommended that consumers begin with .25ml and assess how they feel every 30 minutes to an hour at which point they can increase their dosage if they have not achieved their desired effect. 

Cannabis Concentrates

Concentrates represent one of cannabis’s most exciting and revolutionary spaces. Born out of the DIY days of kief catchers and hair presses, concentrates are now some of the most sophisticated, potent items on the market. Also known as extracts, concentrates come in several textures and consistencies, from gooey oils to freeze-dried hash bars. They are marketed under names like budder, badder, rosin and ice water hash. 

Though concentrates can be used in a variety of ways, including in edibles, vape cartridges and topicals, they are most commonly associated with dabbing. 

Dabbing involves torching or heating an extract on a metal nail in a rig that can resemble a bong. The onset of a dab is about as instant as they come. Be prepared for rapid, potent effects. Cannabis newcomers may feel more comfortable using concentrates for vaping or smoking as dabs can be a jarring experience if you aren’t prepared.

Cannabis Drinks 

Beverages represent a full-fledged offshoot of the edible space. Like edibles, beverages are a rapidly growing sector of cannabis, with options such as infused tea, low-dose sparkling seltzers and high-dose sodas. 

Beverages are expected to grow in popularity as social consumption lounges open their doors. Onset times for these drinks can mirror edibles, but several brands are now touting fast-acting effects that consumers can feel in 15 to 30 minutes. 

Beverage potency can range from less than one milligram per dose to 1000mg or more in certain parts of the country. Like edibles, the length of the experience varies by person due to factors like body composition and what food the person ate before consuming the drink. Take a few sips and assess how you feel before having a gulp.

With information on how each consumption method may affect you, have fun and take your time. Start low, go slow and decide what works best for your needs.