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Among the variety of ways cannabis is consumed, forms of smoking or oral consumption are most common. Cannabis is a unique drug due to its capacity to deliver psychoactive effects that can include or be any combination of hallucinogenic, stimulant and depressant qualities. Each method leads to subtly different psychoactive effects due to the THC and other chemicals being activated, and then consumed through different administration routes. It is generally considered that smoking, which includes combustion toxins, produces a somewhat more relaxing ("stoned") effect, while eating delays the onset of effect but the duration of effect is typically longer. A 2007 report from San Francisco, US researchers stated that the use of a vaporizer provides the user with the usual biological effect, but without the toxins.
Cannabis can be vaporized or smoked with implements such as bongs and pipes —if needed, a makeshift pipe can be created out of an apple (or any other suitable fruit or vegetable) or soda can— or by rolling a cigarette-like joint or cigar-like blunt.
Local methods have differed by the preparation of the cannabis plant before use, the parts of the cannabis plant which are used, and the treatment of the smoke before inhalation. In early times, as in some parts of Africa today, a pile of cannabis was simply laid on a fire and the smoke inhaled.
There have been many studies and reports conducted that suggest there are much more risks (such as cancer or respiratory diseases) that are associated with smoking more than other methods of consumption.
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A vaporizer heats herbal cannabis to 185–210 degrees Celsius (365–410 °F), which causes the active ingredients to evaporate into a gas without burning any plant material (the boiling point of THC is 157 °C (315 °F). A lower proportion of carbon monoxide and other toxic chemicals is released than by smoking, although this may vary depending on the design of the vaporizer and the temperature at which it is set. A MAPS-NORML study using a Volcano vaporizer reported 95% THC and no toxins delivered in the vapor. An older study using less sophisticated vaporizers found some toxins.
A pocket-sized form of vaporizer is available as of September 2013—one particular model uses a rechargeable battery, is constructed from wood, and features a removable cover. Typically, portable vaporizers can only be used for liquids, feature pre-soaked wicks, and require the user to operate a cartridge. As of September 2013, a design is available that is electronic, does not require a cartridge, and can be used to smoke any form of cannabis.
As an alternative to smoking, cannabis may be consumed orally. However, herbal cannabis must be sufficiently heated or dehydrated to cause decarboxylation of its most abundant cannabinoid, tetrahydrocannabinolic acid, into psychoactive THC.
Although hashish is sometimes eaten raw or mixed with water, THC and other cannabinoids are more efficiently absorbed into the bloodstream when combined with butter and other lipids or, less so, dissolved in ethanol. The time to onset of effects depends strongly on stomach content, but is usually 1 to 2 hours, and may continue for a considerable length of time, whereas the effects of smoking or vaporizing cannabis are almost immediate, lasting a shorter length of time.
Smoking cannabis results in a significant loss of THC and other cannabinoids through exhaled or non-inhaled smoke. In contrast, all of the active constituents enter the body when cannabis is consumed orally. It has been shown that the primary active component of cannabis, Δ9-THC, is converted to the more psychoactive 11-hydroxy-THC by the liver. Titration to the desired effect by ingestion is more difficult than through inhalation, due to the long onset time for the effects.(citation needed)
Cannabis can also be consumed as a cannabis tea. Although THC is lipophilic and only slightly water soluble (with a solubility of 2.8 mg per liter), enough THC can be dissolved to make a mildly psychoactive tea. However, water-based infusions are generally considered to be an inefficient use of the herb. However, bhang, a decoction of cannabis and spices in milk, averts the issue, as milk contains the fat in which the THC is soluble.
To kill potentially dangerous Aspergillus and other microorganisms, researchers "Levitz and Diamond (1991) suggested baking marijuana in home ovens at 150 °C (302 °F), for five minutes before smoking. Oven treatment killed conidia of A. fumigatus, A. flavus, and did not degrade the active component of marijuana, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)." However neither this nor some other suggested sterilization methods degrade microbial antigens or decompose the microbial toxins. Note that many cannabinoids evaporate below 150 °C (302 °F). in particular the more volatile aromatic oils and terpenes, which give cannabis its distinctive flavors and odors.
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