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How to Use Cannabis: Different Methods of Consumption

Today, nearly one-fifth of the way into the 21st century, patients and lifestyle users have more options for consuming the kind herb than at any time in the more than 10,000 year history of cannabis use by humans. From smoking and vaporizing to tinctures, concentrates, and even topicals, there’s an avenue of consumption for every person, even those who must maintain a high level of discretion due to prohibitionist laws or unapproving co-workers, housemates, or landlords.

From very sick patients with respiratory ailments to children with seizures to recreational users seeking psychoactive effects, some form of cannabis consumed in one of many different ways is sure to be attractive and conducive to their lifestyle. Those in legal states have considerably more options than users where cannabis is illegal and safe access via dispensaries and trained budtenders is unavailable. Desperate tokers acclimated to using a soda or beer can to smoke their herb are encouraged to find a nice glass spoon or roll a joint due to the heavy metals that may be inhaled from the heated aluminum and deposited in the brain. This is the role played by head shops, after all.

A Brief American History

The period of 1837 to 1937 has been described by some historians as the golden age of medicinal cannabis, largely because the herb was part of the American Pharmacopoeia and resided in most home medicine cabinets in the form of a liquid tincture administered from an eyedropper or spoon. In 1854, cannabis was listed in the United States Dispensatory, an unofficial listing of drugs, and commercial remedies based on cannabis from major companies at the time, like Park-Davis, were readily available in drugstores and pharmacies in every community in the country.


It wasn’t until the 1920s and ’30s that a combination of the availability of Bayer aspirin in pill form (it was sold as only a powder from 1900 to about 1915) and the Reefer Madness campaign that led to cannabis prohibition had largely supplanted the herb as a medicine in the minds of most consumers in the United States.

This is also why prohibitionists like Harry Anslinger and William Randolph Hearst labeled the natural herb marijuana, not cannabis. “Marijuana” was a term borrowed from the Mexican Spanish term for the plant, “marihuana,” which was either purposefully or accidentally misspelled. Cannabis was a familiar, benign tincture medicine to most people, forcing the racist, monopolistic campaign that led to its prohibition in 1937 to adopt a term that was unfamiliar to most citizens.

At about this same time, cannabis began gaining popularity as a non-medicinal euphoriant that was smoked, typically in hand-rolled joints. Smoking cannabis was especially popular with jazz musicians of the period such as Louis Armstrong, who sometimes stealthily described smoking pot in his songs by referring to it as a popular slang label at the time, muggles.

For decades, consumption of cannabis as a euphoriant was a very underground activity associated with musicians, artists, and other bohemians, especially those in large cities that eventually lead to popularity among the urban beatniks of the 1950s and early ’60s. During the psychedelic era of the late 1960s, in which American youth, especially college students, were protesting the Vietnam War and social injustice, cannabis gained a solid foothold in the coming-of-age saga of American teenagers that has pervaded to this day.

Cannabis Goes Mainstream

In the 1960s through 2000s, most cannabis in the United States was consumed in joints or pipes made of glass, wood, or metal (and sometimes carved from apples or gourds). Everything from high-end decorative bongs from celebrity glass blowers to homebrew contraptions involving relatively unsafe and hot-to-the-touch plumbing parts were employed in the pursuit of supplementing one’s endocannabinoid system with a few cannabinoids and terpenes.


During the 1990s, vaporization emerged as a viable means of inhaling the cannabinoids and terpenes that offer all of the medical or psychoactive effect of cannabis. Affordable consumer desktop models became available that allowed patients to medicate in a manner that is considered safer than smoking because of the lack of combustion that leads to the consumption of known carcinogens. Vaporizers in the $60-500 range became commonly available at head shops, dispensaries, and online. Because they can be used to vaporize other herbs and medicines, such devices are legal in most areas of the U.S.

Legalization Spawns New Forms of Consumption

Legalized states like Washington, California, Oregon, and Colorado, which encourage semi or fully open markets and entrepreneurial efforts to better serve patients and lifestyle consumers, have resulted in a wealth of new types of cannabis concentrates and edibles. Many startups and companies now specialize in low-THC products that enable patients to maintain a busy lifestyle and not get couchlock while they medicate, while others produce high-potency concentrates and edibles designed to provide robust relief to those suffering pain and nausea, especially those who have built up a tolerance.

  • Smoke: The act of smoking is fairly straightforward and is defined as the application of a flame to the raw nugs or ground flowers of a dried and cured cannabis plant or a concentrate. Cannabis can be smoked using bongs (including water bongs, gravity bongs, and other specialized types), pipes (such as one hitters and the most popular form, spoons), water pipes, and the ages-old and ubiquitous joint.
  • Vapor: Vaporization involves passing a stream of heated air over a sample of ground cannabis…

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