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10 minutes minute

A Beginner’s Introduction to Consuming Cannabis

By Margaret Sung RHN, CHt.
Holistic Nutritionist

What comes to mind when you think about the ways to consume cannabis? Most of us might think of smoking cannabis, but there are several other ways to consume cannabis. It may take some time to figure out what you like and decide on an approach that best works for you. Don’t be afraid to seek medical support.

1. Inhalation

Inhalation is one of the most common methods of cannabis consumption. When cannabis is inhaled, it’s absorbed into the lungs and then into the bloodstream. This method is one of the fastest acting ways to consume cannabis and can usually be felt within minutes. Two types of inhalation may include smoking and vaporizing.

When smoking cannabis, the flower is burned by a high heat source creating combustion. This method may include the inhalation of joints, blunts, bongs and more. Usually, the cannabis is lit by a lighter and the smoke is inhaled.


  • Smoking can be convenient and fast acting
  • The effects usually last 1 to 3 hours


  • Smoke from combustion can be irritating to the lungs
  • Rolling joints can be difficult for a beginner


  • Look for thin, high quality rolling paper (like hemp or rice) for a slow and clean burn
  • Consider using a hemp wick to light up, rather than butane or other chemicals
  • If you’re a beginner, you might consider buying pre-rolled joints

When vaporizing cannabis, it is generally through a device that heats the cannabis flower or concentrate without combustion. The cannabis flower is heated just enough to release vapour which is then inhaled.


  • Vapes range in sizes from desktop to a discreet pocket size
  • Vaporizing allows you to avoid smoke combustion
  • You can use less flower and can control temperature and odour
  • The effects may last anywhere from 45 minutes to 3 hours


  • For some, the effects may be weaker than smoking
  • Some products require batteries or are disposable, making it less eco friendly


  • Read the vaporizer care instructions to familiarize yourself with any upkeep such as cleaning and recharging
  • If the vape pen requires an oil cartridge, look for one that is high quality and without potentially irritating chemical solvents 

2. Oral

Oral consumption of cannabis generally falls under two categories: edible and sublingual. In Canada, it is currently only legal to sell cannabis oils, fresh cannabis, dried cannabis, cannabis plant seeds, and cannabis plants. It is expected that edibles may be permitted in the following year after legalization.

Cannabis edibles are digested in the stomach, absorbed through the intestines and processed by the liver. This digestive process is lengthy and is the reason why edibles can take a long time to take effect. There is a lot of interest in edibles, however, they are currently not legal to sell in Canada.

Sublingual cannabis (also referred to as “under the tongue”) can come in the form of oil drops and sprays. When applied under the tongue, cannabis oils are absorbed directly into the bloodstream.


  • Cannabis oil and sprays are often a rapid, discreet and accurate dosing method
  • It bypasses the digestive system and you may absorb more cannabis while needing less
  • It’s a great option for someone who has a hard time swallowing
  • The effects are usually felt within 20 minutes and may last anywhere from 2 to 8 hours


  • There may be a learning curve to personal dosing (i.e., a dose may be stronger than you expect at first)
  • Product labels can be confusing when it comes to titration (dosing)
  • Some may not like the taste of cannabis oils and it may irritate any open sores in the mouth


  • Hold the drops under the tongue for 90 seconds to encourage optimal absorption from the mucous membrane

If you’re a beginner, always start low and go slow. This means start at the lowest dose and gradually increase if necessary until you’ve reached the desired effect. It will take some time and experimentation to learn your own tolerance. Oil drops are a great way to ensure a controlled dose. Wait up to 2 hours before gradually increasing until you feel the desired effects. If adding to food, try incorporating it into healthy foods like dips, homemade sauces or vegetable juices.

3. Topicals

Topicals come in many forms such as lotions, oils, balms, and lubricants and they are applied on the body to be absorbed by our largest organ, the skin. Localized effects can usually be felt within 5 minutes to 2 hours.


  • Topicals can be used for a variety of purposes
  • This method typically does not reach the bloodstream
  • Topicals come in a variety of forms and are discreet


  • Review product label for ingredients that may irritate your skin
  • If you experience any relief from using a topical, it will be temporary


  • As with using any new skin care product first do a patch test to avoid any adverse reactions
  • Once comfortable, try pairing your product with therapeutic ingredients such as essential oils

When trying a new method of cannabis consumption, always start low and go slow. Everyone can be affected by cannabis differently and this is even truer when it comes to methods of consumption.

DISCLAIMER: I am not a doctor, psychiatrist or mental health professional. I am sharing my experiences and research as a medical cannabis consumer and a holistic nutritionist. Please discuss with your primary health care provider first before experimenting with cannabis.


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