Medical cannabis has come a long way from the simple days of the “marijuana cigarette”. With the industry expanding and diversifying in order to meet the needs of consumers, it’s not just the strains that are becoming increasingly diverse. Consumers and industry professionals are constantly seeking newer, cleaner and more specialized ways to consume medical cannabis. The heaps of options may seem overwhelming at first, but we’re here to help guide you through some of the best.

1. EAT (OR DRINK) YOUR DOSE:

Not everyone is into the whole smoking thing. Smoking is relatively wasteful, indiscreet, and some patients have respiratory issues and find that smoking is just not a viable option for taking their medicine. Edibles are among the simplest alternatives—indeed, cannabis-infused food and drink have been prepared and consumed in India and Southeast Asia for thousands of years. Cannabinoids (the medically-relevant chemical compounds in cannabis) are soluble in heated oil, such as olive oil or coconut oil. Once cannabinoids have been extracted through heating, plant material is often strained out, and this cannabis-infused oil can be included in virtually any food or drink recipe. When consumed, cannabinoids are absorbed through the liver. Compared to smoking, the effects of edibles take somewhat longer to become apparent, but are generally stronger and longer-lasting.

Baked goods are the most popular form of edible, due largely to the ease with which cannabis oil can be integrated into their recipes, but also due to history and culture (“pot brownie” is almost always the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of edibles). As the industry develops, however, we are seeing increasingly diverse offerings, ranging from chocolates and taffies to soda pop.

2. VAPORIZE FLOWER: 

For those looking for a faster-acting method, vaporizing might be the answer. Vaporizing is similar to smoking in that cannabinoids are stimulated with heat, but instead of burning, vaporizing simply involves heating plant material to temperatures where medicinal effects can be achieved without combustion. This results in a much smoother and softer inhalation, without the harshness and pain sometimes attributed to inhaling burned organic material. Vaporizing may feel gentler on the lungs, but there is actually little scientific evidence confirming that smoking marijuana flower is inherently unhealthy per se. The “healthy” reputation of vaporizing has been established by consumers who, having experienced this milder method, reasonably assume that it is a healthier alternative. In all likelihood, they’re probably right.

Vaporizers come in all shapes and sizes. Older models (such as the pyramid) are bulky, costly, and generally not very portable. Recent years have seen considerable shrinking of the technology, resulting in smaller devices, such as vape pens. These new vaporizers allow consumers to vaporize their cannabis on-the-go, with a contraption that doesn’t require much more pocket space than a joint and Bic lighter.

3. RUB-ON MEDICAL CANNABIS?:

A very interesting application of cannabis is through topical creams. Unlike the overwhelming majority of consumption methods, topical creams are applied externally, to the outside of the body. This provides a uniquely focused effect, with the consumer being able to target as small or large an area as desired, without the full-body effects that result from most other methods.

It is also worth noting that most topical products primarily feature cannabidiol (CBD) as opposed to THC. CBD is not psychoactive like THC, meaning that its medicinal qualities can be enjoyed without the high typically associated with cannabis. Topical creams containing CBD are particularly effective in treating localized pain and inflammation, but their non-psychoactive properties make them well-suited for treating a variety of symptoms in patients who suffer from anxiety, paranoia, or who simply wish to maintain a clear head.

4. DRIP AND DISSOLVE:

Perhaps nothing represents the future of cannabis better than tinctures. Tinctures are basically just liquid concentrations of cannabis, and—despite their seemingly futuristic simplicity—were the most popular method of consumption before twentieth century prohibition. Tinctures are created by dissolving cannabis extracts in a liquid medium, such as ethanol, olive, canola, grape seed or MCT oil. Consumption doesn’t get much easier than tinctures: simply drop the desired amount on or under your tongue, let it dissolve, and wait for the magic to happen. Tinctures are fast-acting and droppers allow for accurate dosage. This is a reliable method in terms of both potency and dosage. Tinctures are discreet and fast-acting. They might not have the “fun” of a weed brownie or joint, but tinctures are medicine, pure and simple.

Read More: Health Canada’s cannabis proposals: Health warnings, dosage limits, & packaging rules

5. JUST SMOKE IT, MAN:

Despite of all these developments, many consumers still stand by smoking. Even this practice has seen improvements, with increasingly complex pipes and bongs being produced each year. Still, no discussion of cannabis would be complete without making at least passing mention of the great, time-tested, traditional joint.

This is how many of us were introduced to cannabis, and for good reason. The joint is simple, cheap (what does a single rolling paper cost, $0.001?), and effective. Perhaps most importantly, joints are social, and easily enjoyed with friends. If we envision tinctures metaphorically as rubbing alcohol, a joint is a bottle of wine. From the rolling ritual to the eternal circle of tokers, joints have long defined the cannabis experience. Sure, smoking flower may be a little harsh, and it may be relatively wasteful, but it’s fun, and in many ways the joint is still the defining symbol of medical cannabis.

Choose Your Own Way

These diverse methods are still just only scratching the surface of what is available to consumers of medical cannabis today. Each method has its own advantages, and a given consumer’s choice depends on their desires. Do you mind waiting a while for the stronger, longer-lasting high of edibles, or are you looking for the quick results of inhalation? Do you want clearheaded relief from localized symptoms, or the full-body sedation of the full range of cannabinoids? Perhaps the most valuable advancement in medical cannabis is freedom of choice. Try them out, and find what works best for you!