Cannabis consumption methods:

There are three primary categories of cannabis consumption methods — via inhalation, oral, and topical — but within those categories are many more types of products. Each has different characteristics and even varying effects.

Inhalation, for instance, has the quickest onset but is often frowned upon by medical professionals because of the potentially harmful effects of smoking and vaping, along with issues with ensuring accurate dosing.

Edibles and other oral consumption methods are much easier to dose and are useful for relieving symptoms over longer periods of time, but they do not have the greatest bioavailability — the amount of the active ingredient that makes it into the bloodstream.

Topicals are easy to use and best suited for localized treatment, but scientific data about how effective they are is lacking.

Inhalation: Smoking and vaping

Inhalation is traditionally the most common form of cannabis consumption. There are several ways to inhale cannabis and cannabinoid products, but the two major ones are combustion and vaporization.

Oral consumption: Edibles, tinctures, oils

Any way of consuming cannabis that goes through your mouth is considered oral consumption. Oral delivery can include edibles like brownies and other infused foods, pills and tablets, ingestible oils, tinctures, and powders.


The number of topical cannabis products on the market seems to be growing by the day. From creams and balms to patches and salves, topical cannabis products are being used for a range of sy

symptoms and conditions.

Dermal vs transdermal

Topical cannabis products fall primarily into one of two categories — dermal and transdermal. 

Transdermal products, on the other hand, are absorbed through the skin, enter the bloodstream, and can have systemic effects throughout the body.8

Because cannabinoids are hydrophobic, or repelled by water, it is difficult for them to penetrate and be absorbed by the skin, however. While various technologies can enhance cannabinoids’ permeability, there is very little data about their efficacy.9

Onset and duration

There is very little clinical data available about dermal and transdermal THC and CBD. Most of the data we have is either extrapolated from research into topical uses of other substances or from animal studies.

That said, the onset of dermal products is generally believed to be quick, and the benefits often do not last beyond a few hours.10

Transdermal delivery is generally slower, which is what makes patches and other transdermal products great for slow release over longer periods of time. They can take hours to start and stop working and last for over 12 hours depending on the product, dose, and formulation.

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Pros and cons of topical cannabis

While dermal and transdermal cannabis products are very different, they share at least one of the reasons why they might be more attractive to some users: creams and patches can be far less intimidating than a joint or vaporizer.

From there, the differences are quite distinct. For instance, a dermal cannabis product might be more attractive to someone looking for local relief of symptoms.

Likewise, dermal cannabis products will not lead to a positive drug test, which gives them a huge advantage for some users.11 For the same reasons, if a patient is taking other medications that could negatively interact with THC or other cannabinoids, dermal cannabis products can still be safely used.

Conditions that might benefit from both dermal and transdermal cannabis products include various arthritic conditions, localized muscle pain, or any local pain for that matter, and psoriatic and other inflammatory skin conditions.

Other consumption methods

While the above are by far the most common methods for consuming cannabis, they are by no means the only ones.

Rectal suppositories are often used when smoking or swallowing cannabis products is not feasible. Because suppositories do not pass through the digestive tract, they also avoid first pass metabolism and therefore can deliver higher doses more effectively than oral delivery.12

Vaginal suppositories are often used to treat symptoms like menstrual cramps, vaginal pain, pelvic discomfort, and research is being done into their use for the treatment of endometriosis. Some vaginal suppositories are also marketed as intimacy products, with reported benefits in easing pain and discomfort and relieving tension and inflammation.

Nasal cannabis sprays are very similar to oromucosal products in that they are designed to be absorbed through the mucous membranes in the nose.

Eye drops, or ophthalmic cannabis products are being studied for their potential use in relieving glaucoma.

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Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services

In an emergency, always call 911. For 24/7 help finding treatment,
please contact 1-844-REACHNJ (1-844-732-2465).

Information provided by Mountain View Farmacy, LLC