Smoking marijuana is a lot more complicated that it used to be. The crackling old joints of yesteryear are but a footnote in the sprawling slate of intoxicating methods at the disposal of any seasoned pothead, not to mention newbies just beginning their journeys with cannabis.
Nowadays, shopping for weed at any larger legal dispensary is like walking into an Apple store teeming with hip employees eager to sell you on the merits of their devices. And sure, you can look to a budtender for advice, but if you’d like to conduct your own research—being the maverick stoner that you are—it’s best to start with a primer on the many ways you can get high in 2021.
Here’s our advice on how to determine which method is best for you—whether that means firing up a vape pen, chowing down on some THC gummies, dabbing a little wax, using a liquid tincture, or sticking with a tried and true method involving rolling papers or a water pipe.
If you like smoking (and don’t mind the smell), opt for pipes, bongs, and joints
Some people really enjoy the physical act of smoking. It can feel soothing to take in a drag of smoke from some rich-tasting buds, hold it in your chest as long as possible, then let out a cumulous ream of smoke. If you like tasting weed—and believe me, weed tasting is a field of study in itself—then you probably want to opt for a pipe or a joint. Of course, you’ll have to contend with the harshness of unsoftened smoke.
For something less harsh, you can opt for a water pipe like a bong or bubbler, which will filter the smoke through a pool of water so your lungs and throat won’t be quite as ravaged as when taking an unfiltered drag—at least in theory; you’re still taking smoke into your lungs, which is still going to make you cough a lot until you get the hang of it. Just keep in mind that bubblers and bongs vary in size and their ultimate power, so you could theoretically be drawing a helluva lot of smoke from one of these pieces, which could get you a lot higher than planned if you don’t know how to moderate your intake.
Speaking of which, if you’re a beginner and you want to smoke flower—the conventional name for the leafy, dried form of the cannabis plant—study up on the differences between the two major strains: indica and sativa.
As Weed Maps explains, the differences vary in terms of the mental and physical buzz one garners, but ultimately it’s the smoker’s cerebral and physical reaction that really determines how either strain affects you:
Sativas are often described as cerebral, heady, uplifting, and energizing while indicas are described as relaxing, sedating, full-bodied, and stoney. However, this does not mean flower labeled as sativa is guaranteed to leave you feeling energized and uplifted.
The high you’ll experience from smoking is usually a pretty quick one, says Nicole Lundsford, who owns a vape shop that specializes in CBD products and paraphernalia. She elaborates on why in an email to Lifehacker:
This is what I would recommend if you want to get high as quickly as possible and want a more heightened experience. I’d also recommend this for people who suffer from acute problems like panic attacks or muscle spasms, since it kicks in quickly to give instant relief.
Don’t expect to find the perfect weed right off the bat, though. Lundsford notes that “every strain has a different effect and finding the right one for you is a matter of trial and error.”
Vapes are for mellow vibes
Unlike rolling a joint or navigating a bong, both of which require a fair amount of practice to become proficient, vapes are engineered for convenience, which no stoner can argue against. Though they are pretty ubiquitous these days, here’s what a vape pen does, in short: Basically, a smoker purchases a preloaded cart (similar to a tobacco vape) or adds concentrated THC oil or ground flower into a cartridge, which is then attached to a heat source (usually a vape pen) that, when turned on, will unleash the cannabinoids within, turning them into a faintly odorous, inhale-able vapor.
Vape pens and their desktop counterparts offer a low-key kind of high, and might not get you quite as stoned as ripping a massive bong or waffling down a hearty edible. Especially when you are dealing with pre-laoded carts, a lot will depend on what’s in them. Lundsford notes, “a lot of people who are starting out tend to think the best product is the one with the highest concentration of THC, but that’s not necessarily true.” In its natural state, the cannabis plant includes more than 100 cannabinoids that work in concert with one another, and some people prefer the “full spectrum” effect granted by taking them all in together to the effects of simply cramming as much THC into their brains as possible.
There is a difference, however, in vaping dry flower versus vaping various oils. You can vape dry flowers with a table top vaporizer, which usually entails inhaling smoke from a tube or a mouthpiece. There are also handheld vape units in which you can burn flower. Both allow for a mellow high and smoother, gentler smoke, similar to vaping oil, though the original taste of your buds will probably be easier to decipher and you’ll benefit from the full spectrum of cannabinoids in your particular strain, since you’ll be smoking the actual plant.
If you want a longer trip, try edibles
You’ll get high quicker if you smoke weed; edibles can entail playing quite the waiting game. According to a 2016 study published in the International Journal of Drug Policy, edibles take anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes to kick in on average, while “peak blood levels of THC occur approximately three hours later… and the effects can last over six hours.”
That said, knowing your dosage, relative to your weight and general weed tolerance, is probably the best protocol for consuming gummies, brownies, or any other delicious weed confections.
Luckily, for anyone wary of having an anxiety attack, you can try out weaker edibles that contain a far less potent dosage of THC. The national marijuana dispensary Med Men recommends trying a 10mg gummy when you start out, and even splitting that in half you fear it will be too strong.
According to Lunsford, ingesting weed usually means, “a more immersive, full-body high, because the marijuana is being absorbed through your digestive track and distributed through your entire system.”
Under the tongue
Some of the same general rules apply to things like tinctures and lozenges, which have a longer route into your blood stream than anything you smoke. Tinctures, like edibles, are better for a longer high that might provide a bit more intensity, since you’re literally dropping a liquid full of THC and cannabinoids directly onto your tongue, but you’ll generally feel the effects more quickly, within about 15 minutes. If you need help sleeping, or otherwise relaxing, this is definitely the way to go.
A little dab could do you
Another hifalutin way to smoke weed involves using highly concentrated wax, named as such due to its thick, malleable texture and golden hue. It’s can be a kind of embellishment, in that it’s possible to just add a bit of wax to a joint or bowl, but it’s also possible to smoke it all on its own, using pretty specific tools. Weed Maps explains all the various options, starting with dab rigs—basically big glass pipes that kind of look like bubblers, but need heated glass “nails” that stab the wax to burn it down to a smokable form. Then there are nectar collectors, which are similar to dab rigs and also require stabbing a ball of wax with a high- temperature nail (see more on nectar collectors if you’re interested in further study).
You can also vape with wax just as you would vape with flower (though vaping with wax might be more ideal, considering it’s more amenable to high temperatures). Be careful with wax though—the extremely concentrated substance is, “at least twice as potent as dried marijuana leaf,” the American Addiction Centers maintain, advising that wax, “can cause nearly instant highs, hallucinations, extreme changes to behavior, and even overdoses.” (Not that you can really “overdose” on cannabis, but you can definitely overdo it.)
It’s a journey
The greatest lesson is that finding the ideal weed-smoking regimen for you is a journey, and one that you should try to enjoy. “Decide what kind of experience you want,” Lunsford advises, and then try to make it happen. There is something out there for basically anyone who wants to try smoking or consuming pot, and your preferred method will hinge on what gets you turnt in the right direction.