How Is Marijuana Used?

Man smoking with a vape pen
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February 2020 UPDATE: Recent illnesses have been associated with the use of e-cigarettes (vaping). Since the specific causes of these sometimes fatal lung injury cases are not yet known, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends refraining from all vaping products.

Marijuana can be used in more ways than simply smoking it as a cigarette. The delivery methods are important considerations for medical marijuana users as well as those who are using it recreationally, whether legally or not. Learn about the variety of methods available.

Smoking

A common method of using marijuana is to roll it into a cigarette (or joint) using tobacco rolling papers and then smoking it. It can also be smoked in a pipe or a bong (which is a filtration device that uses water). Marijuana can also be smoked in a blunt, which is a cigar that has been hollowed out to replace the tobacco with marijuana or a mixture of tobacco and marijuana.

As of December 20, 2019, the new legal age limit is 21 years old for purchasing cigarettes, cigars, or any other tobacco products in the U.S.

Some smoke marijuana in bubblers, which are mini-bongs about the size of a pipe. And, of course, one of the oldest methods of smoking marijuana—as well as hash, tobacco, and other substances—is with a hookah.

However, marijuana users are known for their creativity and ingenuity, especially when they run out of rolling papers. They can fashion bongs and pipes out of soda bottles or cans, corn cobs, and even pieces of fruit.

Marijuana smoke is carcinogenic; therefore, the American Lung Association recommends continued research to study the effects of marijuana use on lung health.

Gravity Bongs

Another way to smoke marijuana using common household items is a gravity bong, sometimes called a bucket bong or waterfall bong. These can be made from plastic bottles, milk jugs, buckets, and two-liter soda bottles. The homemade gravity bongs use gravity to pull the smoke into the chamber using water, or sometimes beer or wine.

Vaping

A relatively new method of consuming marijuana is by vaporization. Vaporizers heat the marijuana to a point just below the point of combustion. The active ingredients can be inhaled as a vapor, rather than as more harmful smoke.

Vaporizers are used for several reasons:

  • Some claim they get a better high when they "vape."
  • Vaporizers produce less marijuana smell than smoking.
  • Vaporizers are usually small and easy to conceal.

In order to deter minors, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration enacted a rule to require e-cigarette companies to cease manufacturing and selling fruit flavored vaping products by the end of January 2020.

Dabbing

This method of using marijuana is somewhat similar to vaping, but it uses tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) resins extracted from the marijuana plant. (THC is the ingredient in marijuana that produces a high.) It may be in oil form (hash oil or honey oil), a soft solid form (wax or budder), or a hard solid (shatter).

A glass pipe or bong is heated with a blowtorch. When the resin extract is placed into the pipe, it creates vapor almost immediately. Dabbing is thought to produce a greater high than smoking marijuana.

Because a butane lighter is needed to bring the resins to the right smoking temperature, users are regularly exposed to high levels of methacrolein, benzene, and other toxic substances, according to research from Portland State University.

Oral Ingestion

Home-baked marijuana brownies have been around for decades, but now marijuana is being baked or added to many types of food. Marijuana edibles are being produced and marketed now that medical marijuana is legal in many states and recreational marijuana use is legal in some.

Oils extracted from marijuana plants can be used in cooking, baking, or simply mixing with food to create a variety of products that can be ingested orally or taken in capsule form. Vendors in states where recreational marijuana is legal are selling cakes, cookies, gummy bears, cereal, granola bars, and even chewing gum containing marijuana.

Marijuana oil can also be added to common beverages. It is sold in teas, sodas, and even beer. Using marijuana leaves to make tea has been done for many years. Today, however, the tea is much more potent.

While many people perceive marijuana ingestion to be less harmful than smoking, the delayed onset of marijuana effects associated with edibles, such as baked treats, is often the cause of frequent overdose.

Sprays

Another relatively new method of using marijuana involves infusing liquids with THC or cannabinol (CBD) to make sprays that users can spray under the tongue. This method is typically used by medical marijuana users who want to avoid the harmful effects of smoke.

Sprays are also used in areas where marijuana is still illegal because they are difficult to detect. Some use sprays in conjunction with smoking marijuana, by spraying the differently flavored spray on joints and blunts.

Marijuana Tinctures

Tinctures are liquids extracted from marijuana plants that are infused with a solution of alcohol or alcohol and water. The user places a few drops of the solution under the tongue and it is quickly absorbed into the bloodstream. Because this form of marijuana is highly concentrated, highly potent, and fast-acting, it is generally used for medical purposes, but because it produces an intense high, it is often abused.

Topical Methods

Topical oils are extracts from the marijuana plant that is thicker than the oils used in edible products. The oils are placed on the skin and are absorbed to relieve muscle pain and soreness. Because marijuana topicals do not produce a high, they are usually used for medicinal purposes only.

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  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Outbreak of lung injury associated with the use of e-cigarette, or vaping, products. Updated Fenruary 25, 2020.

  3. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Selling tobacco products in retail stores. December 20, 2019.

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Hookahs. Updated January 10, 2020.

  5. American Lung Association. Marijuana and lung health. Updated February 19, 2020.

  6. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. FDA finalizes enforcement policy on unauthorized flavored cartridge-based e-cigarettes that appeal to children, including fruit and mint. January 2, 2020.

  7. National Institute on Drug Abuse. What is marijuana? Updated December 2019.

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  9. American Addiction Centers. The real dangers of consuming marijuana edibles. Updated December 23, 2019.