As the cannabis market matures and cannabis consumption enters the mainstream, more diverse methods of cannabis delivery are proliferating. Two of the more common, and most popular delivery methods these days are the consumption of cannabis edibles, commonly referred to as just edibles, and the use of vaporizers.
Vaporizers can describe any number of products -- such as dry herb vaporizers, vape pens, and wax/oil vapes -- that are used as a more efficient means of imbibing cannabis rather than rolled joints or pipes and bongs. Edibles are food products -- often times cookies, lollipops, brownies, butters, drinks, and even breath mints -- that are infused with varied amounts of cannabis.
While the two delivery methods are used to achieve the same ultimate objective, edibles consumption and vaping have many differences: they may each offer wildly different highs, they have different ways of impacting the health of the user, and each present different considerations to those who may not be experienced in using cannabis. So what’s a cannabis lover to do?
Because vaporizers and edibles offer fundamentally different ways of consuming cannabis, the body has different ways of reacting to them -- ways that affect how much time it takes to feel the substance’s effects and that determine what effects may be felt at all.
The psychoactive component of cannabis is Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). When cannabis is smoked -- or, for our purposes, vaped -- THC accesses small parts of our lungs called alveoli, responsible for providing oxygen to the bloodstream. Because of the quickness of the process by which THC enters the blood, smoking cannabis results in the smoker being able to feel the effects of cannabis almost instantly, with the full effect being felt in around 15 minutes. However, this also means that the effects are often times more potent and do not last very long.
Though the process of actual smoking may be harmful to health -- because of the possible inhalation of toxins and the presence of such health risks as bronchitis and emphysema -- at least one study has found that using a vaporizer or vape pen is unlikely to present the same risks. This is because, unlike a traditional joint or pipe, vaporizers do not burn the cannabis; instead, they simply heat it up, allowing the user to heat up the cannabis’ components, thus enabling the user to avoid the more harmful substances associated with traditional smoking.
The consumption of edibles, on the other hand, involves a completely different process. Through edibles, THC is delivered first through the stomach and then through the liver. The entire process means that the body takes significantly longer to feel the effects of THC than does smoking, with users taking anywhere from 45-90 minutes before feeling the full effects.
However, while the time it takes to feel the full effects of edibles is longer than that of smoking or vaping and the potency is usually less strong, the psychoactive effects usually last much longer: those who consume edibles typically feel the high for anywhere from 4-6 hours.
While the use of vaporizers and the consumption of edibles are believed to be two of the safest methods of cannabis delivery, there are nonetheless considerations that cannabis users should take into account before deciding which method they prefer.
One of the most common problems faced by those who typically use edibles is that they do are not able to determine how much cannabis is actually contained within the substance that they are eating. While vaporizers offer no ambiguity on the matter -- since, especially with dry herb vaporizers, the user packs it himself or herself -- edibles may be misleading in terms of how much THC is actually contained within.
Another common issue that arises with edibles is impatience on the part of the user, particularly those who are not already familiar with edibles consumption. A common phenomenon is users consuming edibles and waiting only 20-30 minutes before determining that the substance that they consumed was a dud; they will then consume one or two more edibles, and wind up with a great deal of physiological and psychological discomfort.
This phenomenon has played out in recent years in such states as Washington and Colorado, both of which have legalized cannabis for recreational consumption and now offer a wide variety of edibles. Colorado in particular has seen a spike in ER visits: doctors attribute the increased numbers to “cannabis tourists,” people from out-of-state who are unfamiliar with proper dosing methods and who accidentally consume far greater doses of edibles than is advisable.
Vaporizers, on the other hand, offer far fewer risks for those looking to consume cannabis, particularly those using dry herb vaporizers. Because users must pack the vaporizers themselves, they are more likely to know the level of THC that they are consuming, and must not wait very long before feeling the substance’s effects.
It should be mentioned that both edibles and vaporizers are both good delivery methods for those looking to consume cannabis discreetly: neither method produces the aroma associated with more common ways of cannabis consumption, such as joints or pipes.
Because of the relative dearth of data and studies regarding the use of cannabis, we have few guides as to the relative safety of different cannabis delivery methods. However, there has been some research that may serve as guides.
On the one hand, edibles have been found to be extremely beneficial to those suffering from such medical conditions as Crohn’s Disease, cancer, and those forced to use supplemental oxygen. However, cannabis edibles, especially among those who are unfamiliar with their use, are found in many people to increase senses of paranoia and anxiety.
Vaporizers, however, are believed to present few if any health risks. Because the process of vaporization cuts out the harms that are commonly associated with smoking, vaping is thus believed to likely be the safest way to imbibe cannabis.
This viewpoint was echoed by Dr. Sanjay Gupta, a renowned neurosurgeon and journalist, when asked in a recent interview about the safest method of consuming cannabis.
“It is probably vaporizing,” he said. “I think smoking creates a lot of byproducts that we don’t know about. I think eating it leads to very uneven absorption. Vaporizing seems to activate the medicine without burning it.”
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