Inhaling Cannabis: A Guide to Smoking, Vaping & Dabbing

Before legalization, consumption methods like joints, pipes and bongs were a common way for folks to consume cannabis. These days, we’ve added a few other inhalable options including, desktop vaporizers, portable vape pens and for those consumers looking for something with an extra kick—dabbing.

Inhalables are still popular choice among cannabis consumers. Once you take cannabis smoke or vapor in through your lungs, it’s able to enter directly into your bloodstream, leading to almost immediate effects that can last up to three hours. Cannabis’s bioavailability, or the amount of cannabinoids that are available for the body to use, via the inhalable method is also high: around 56%.


When consuming cannabis via inhalables, you start with cannabis flower or a cannabis extract that’s been made from flower via various extraction methods. We’ve put together a reference guide that you can use when deciding which type of inhalation method is best for your needs.

Smoking Cannabis via Joints & Pipes

Smoking cannabis via a joint or pipe is a classic way to consume cannabis.

What Are Joints & Pipes?

A joint is basically a marijuana cigarette. Cannabis is finely grounded and then rolled into a thin piece of paper. The joint is then lit on one end, and cannabis smoke is inhaled through the other end.

Meanwhile, pipes consist of a bowl where ground cannabis is burned. This bowl is connected to a neck that smoke travels through to reach the consumer.

Why Do People Like to Smoke Cannabis via Joints & Pipes?

Joints and pipes are a simple and cheap way to consume cannabis, because they don’t require lots of other equipment. For some folks, this method affects them differently than other methods do, and thus it’s their preferred way to medicate.

What Are Some Downsides to Joints & Pipes?

In terms of downsides, the smoke that’s produced and consumed via joints or pipes can irritate the lungs and trigger allergies. Smoke from cannabis also contains carcinogens, though the jury’s still out on whether this smoke actually leads to higher incidences of lung cancer.

If you have a sensitive respiratory system and can consume cannabis in another fashion, most cannabis experts would likely advise that you avoid consuming cannabis with a joint or pipe. But if you’re one of the many who enjoys the process of rolling a joint or packing a bowl, there’s no shame in partaking in this method.

Smoking Cannabis via Bubblers & Bongs

Another tried-and-true method of smoking cannabis is via water pipes like bubblers and bongs.

What are Bubblers & Bongs?

Bubblers are shaped similarly to pipes except they contain a small chamber that holds water. Bongs on the other hand are often shaped more-or-less like a vase, with water sitting at the bottom.

Why Do People Like to Smoke Cannabis via Bubblers & Bongs?

These pieces filter smoke through the chamber that’s filled with water, which then helps remove some tar and ash from the smoke. These pieces also cool the smoke before it hits your lungs, resulting in a smoother draw.

What Are Some Downsides to Bubblers & Bongs?

There’s some controversy about what substances in cannabis smoke a bong or bubbler can filter out. A study in the 1990s found that bongs filter more cannabinoids out of the water than they do tar and other particulates, meaning that with a bong or bubbler, it’s possible that you’d need more cannabis to achieve a certain high than you would with another method of inhalation.

Others disagree with these findings, because like most studies involving cannabis, there were flaws, and the study hasn’t been replicated since. Furthermore, some folks say that since water isn’t good at dissolving cannabinoids, the amount that would get filtered through the water should be negligible.

If you want to smoke cannabis, but find that the smoke sometimes irritates your lungs, investing in a bong or bubbler could be the way to go.

Vaping Cannabis via Portable Vape Pens

Portable vape pens are an increasingly popular way to consume cannabis concentrates and flower.

What Are Portable Vape Pens?

Portable vape pens rely on heating up cannabis flower or concentrate to the point where they turn into vapor, but stop short of combusting and creating smoke. Most vape pens that you see today consist of a battery and a cartridge that’s prefilled with cannabis oil. There are also portable dry flower vape pens that require you to load a chamber with flower for consumption.

Why Do People Like to Consume Cannabis via Portable Vape Pens?

Because you’re inhaling vapor instead of smoke, it’s thought that vaping is better for you overall than smoking is. However, because vaping is relatively new, we don’t have any studies that can solidly back up this belief. What we do know is that vaping may help reduce smoke-related symptoms such as coughing and phlegm.

Both dry flower and concentrate vape pens are popular among consumers, because they’re portable, easy of use and discreet. Disposable vape pens and prefilled vape cartridges that attach to batteries are especially convenient and require very little effort from the consumer.

What Are Some Downsides to Portable Vape Pens?

The technology for vape pens is still developing, so oftentimes batteries will die, and cartridges can leak or get clogged. Devices for vaping concentrate often don’t have temperature control settings, which for some consumers can be a negative.

There have also been incidences in California of some prefilled vape cartridges testing positive for low levels of lead, though actions to remedy this are underway. Additionally, sometimes companies put additives in their vape pens to achieve a desired consistency. However, the impact these additives have on our respiratory systems is still largely unknown.

If you’re environmentally conscious, think carefully about whether vaping is a good fit for you. Some companies have recycling programs for disposable vape pens. But as of right now we don’t have a good way to recycle prefilled vape cartridges, so they often end up in the trash.

Vaping Cannabis via Desktop Vaporizers

Desktop vaporizers are usually favored by those who medicate with large amounts of cannabis at home.

What Are Desktop Vaporizers?

Like vape pens, desktop vaporizers heat up cannabis flower or concentrate at a low temperature, so that vapor instead of smoke is produced. These vaporizers have much more powerful machinery than that of a portable vape pen, so they need to be plugged in to a power source.

Why Do People Like to Consume Cannabis via a Desktop Vaporizer?

Desktop vaporizers are known to produce a potent, dense and flavorful vapor, along with having temperature controls that consumers can adjust to their liking. Desktop vapes also tend to heat cannabis more efficiently, meaning in the long run they could save you money.

What Are Some Downsides to Desktop Vapes?

The obvious con of a desktop vaporizer is its size: These devices must be plugged in. And they can be heavy and often have multiple pieces that are needed for a session. Desktop vaporizers often need a few minutes to heat up, so they’re not a good fit for someone looking for a quick and easy way to consume cannabis.

Dabbing Cannabis

Dabbing is best suited to experienced consumers who are looking to take in large doses of cannabinoids.

What Is Dabbing?

Dabbing is done using a dab rig, which looks a lot like a bong. But instead of placing flower in a glass bowl, dab rigs have “nails” that are made out of metal or quartz. This nail is heated and a dab of concentrate is placed onto the nail. If the temperature setting on the dab rig is low, vapor is created, and if it’s high enough, that vapor will instead become smoke.

Why Do People Like to Dab Cannabis?

Dabbing delivers a potent dose of cannabinoids to the system. This is great for medical marijuana patients who need high doses of cannabis. Dabbing is an option that’s quicker and more efficient in terms of getting a higher dose without having to inhale as much of the nonmedicinal elements of the plant.

What Are Some Downsides to Dabbing Cannabis?

Besides being too potent for many consumers, dabbing can often expose consumers to butane. To heat the nail, some dabbers use a mini blowtorch, which can occasionally leak butane on top of being a fire hazard. Nails are also often made of low-quality materials that can give off toxins when heated.

Additionally, concentrates often used in dabbing are made using butane as a solvent. Butane not only poses health risks to humans when inhaled, but can also lead to explosions during the manufacturing process.

Fortunately, it’s easy to avoid butane in the dabbing process by heating nails electronically and choosing concentrates that don’t contain butane.

Photo credit: Frau Cosmic/

If you’re new to cannabis and want to learn more, take a look at our Cannabis 101 index of articles. And if you have questions about cannabis, ask them and our community will answer.


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