Every cannabis user – recreational or therapeutic – has their own preferred consumption method. Most will enjoy experimenting with the various ways of getting THC and CBD into the body. But most will also instinctively go back to one tried, tested and trusted method on a day-to-day basis.

Of the dozens of different ways of getting cannabinoids into the body, the overwhelming majority fall within two basic categories:

Inhalation and ingestion. 

For some, the joy of cannabis consumption lies in getting creative in the kitchen. From brownies to bagels to bacon to barbecue, there’s no shortage of weird and wonderful ways to ingest quality cannabis. For others, inhalation really is the only way to go. Whether it’s the ceremony of rolling blunts or using the latest desktop vaporizers, millions of cannabis users are all about inhalation.

The debate as to which consumption method is ‘best’ is both unnecessary and nonsensical. Just as long as it gets the job done and you enjoy the experience, no consumption method is better or worse than any other. But it’s not to say that there aren’t significant differences between cannabis ingestion and cannabis inhalation. Both can get you high – or deliver the therapeutic effects you need – but inhaling cannabis and ingesting it through edibles are two very different things.

Here are the five major ways in which cannabis ingestion and cannabis inhalation are surprisingly dissimilar:

1. The THC Is Absorbed Differently

For most, cannabis consumption is all about the effective and efficient absorption of THC – the psychoactive cannabinoid that gets you high. When you smoke or vaporize cannabis, the THC is transferred into your bloodstream through your lungs. A process which is surprisingly fast and efficient, which is why the effects of a heavy hit can be felt almost instantaneously.

When THC is ingested by way of edibles, the liver is responsible for metabolising the THC and converting it into 1-hydroxy-THC. As such, the THC never makes it anywhere near your lungs and instead enters the body in an entirely different way. This is also why the high associated with smoking or vaporizing cannabis doesn’t last nearly as long as the effects of an edible of similar quality and potency.

2. A Slower Onset

Anyone who’s ever overdone it with edibles will gladly agree with this. The number-one rule when it comes to cannabis ingestion is to take things slow.  Whereas inhalation delivers a near-immediate high when the THC hits the lungs, it takes considerably longer for the liver to metabolise THC. This is why it often takes anything from half an hour to more than 2 hours for the effects of a cannabis edible to kick in. It’s also why the high associated with edibles can last for several hours. Whereas with a similar inhalation high, it may dissipate within an hour or two.

Interestingly, however, cannabis edibles deliver a significantly lower concentration of THC and CBD into the bloodstream. This is because the liver isn’t nearly as efficient in the processing of cannabinoids as the lungs. Whereas approximately 10% to 20% of the THC in an edible will find its way into your bloodstream, it can be as high as 50 per cent or 60% with inhalation. The immediate impact of inhalation is therefore more potent, though begins to fade far faster than with edibles.

3. Edibles Can Be Very Tricky to Dose

Despite being the preferred consumption method for millions of medical cannabis users, it can be surprisingly difficult to accurately dose edibles. For one thing, the gradual onset of the effects can make it tricky to know whether you’ve ingested enough. In addition, commercially available cannabis edibles tend to be anything but consistent in their cannabinoid content.

For example, just because a 200g bar of a chocolate contains 100mg of THC doesn’t mean that each of the 20 chunks it’s divided into contains precisely 10mg of THC. Some could contain 30mg or more, while others might not contain any THC at all. Particularly where therapeutic cannabis is concerned, therefore, physicians advise patients to approach more potent cannabis edibles with caution. If in doubt, follow the golden rule – start slow and only increase your dosage if absolutely necessary.

4.  There Are Disparities in Advertised Potency

Sticking with the inconsistency issue, the only way of knowing for sure what’s in your cannabis edibles is to make your own. This is because extensive laboratory testing processes in the United States have highlighted enormous disparities in advertised potency levels from one product to the next.

Though it’s hardly an ideal solution, experts generally advise buyers to interpret advertised potency levels as a basic guideline only. It’s not uncommon to buy the same product from the same store two days in a row, only to find that one blows your head off and the other has next to no impact. Higher-quality edibles from established manufacturers tend to be more consistent and reliable. Those from smaller producers you’ve probably never heard of are a little difficult to gauge by way of advertised potency alone.

5. Edibles Are Better for Your Health than Smoking

Last but not least, it’s been confirmed on multiple occasions that smoking cannabis isn’t remotely as hazardous to your health as smoking tobacco.  Nevertheless, inhaling any kind of smoke whatsoever has the tendency to irritate the linings of your lungs and your airways. Hence, from a strictly medical perspective, any consumption method that bypasses the inhalation process is a preferable consumption method.

This is why medical cannabis physicians almost always recommend or prescribe edibles, rather than cannabis flowers or concentrates. Ingestion may not offer the same immediate relief as inhalation and THC absorption may be less efficient. Nonetheless, it is significantly kinder to your lungs and airways. This is also why some North American states permit the sale and consumption of medical cannabis exclusively by way of ingestion – patients being forbidden by law from smoking cannabis flowers.