A user’s guide to the many forms of cannabis

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While experimenting with various forms of cannabis can be an exciting and educational experience, it is important to understand the differences in their preparation, dosing, and application. Walking into a shop can be daunting for new consumers, so here are a few things to know about a selection of common products both available through legal retailers and expected to hit the market this year.

Legal

On October 17, 2018, the Cannabis Act federally legalized the purchase of five classes of cannabis: fresh cannabis, dried flower, infused oil, seeds, and plants. Any individual over the provincial legal age of consumption can possess 30 grams of dried cannabis (or its equivalent in non-dried form) in public without documentation. 

There are currently three privately-owned  in Vancouver allowed to distribute these products. Another brick and mortar retailer in B.C. is —a provincial store owned by the Liquor Distribution Branch. Consumers can also browse a selection of legal products online via the . These retailers only carry cannabis cultivated by federally licensed producers (LP). To secure and maintain their licenses, these companies follow strict guidelines on product preparation, distribution, and packaging.

Dried flower

 is the most commonly recognized cannabis product. It’s the green bud harvested from the plant, then dried and cured in preparation for consumption or to be turned into various other products. The standard method of consumption is flame combustion, in which a consumer packs a small amount of dried flower into the bowl of a bong or pipe, or rolls it into a joint and burns it to inhale the smoke.

If a consumer prefers a smoke-free alternative, there are portable vaporizers developed for flower. These are easy-to-use devices with chambers designed to heat a small amount of ground bud. Some LPs also offer milled (pre-ground) flower that can then be rolled, easily packed into a bowl, or vaped. 

Pre-rolls 

 is also referred to as a joint. It consists of ground cannabis wrapped in a producer’s selection of rolling paper—often made from unbleached or organic hemp. Pre-rolls are ideal for consumers who prefer smoking cannabis but may not have the capacity or tools to hand roll. They are convenient alternatives to carrying around loose bud, a grinder, papers, and a rolling tray.

The province  an average cost for a “good” pre-roll at $6–$7 per gram, while a “premium” product in that category retails for up to $14 per gram.

Tinctures and oils

Historically, tinctures are one of the most chronicled methods of consuming the plant for therapeutic purposes, often used before prohibition in the mid-1900s to treat medical ailments. A tincture is a cannabis extract, commonly using ethanol.

Cannabis oil products are available in child-resistant, dose-controlled delivery methods, like droppers, soft gels or . The three most common formulations are high tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), high cannabidiol (CBD), and a 1:1 ratio of both cannabinoids.

Tinctures and oils are considered one of the more discrete forms of consumption. While some prefer the neutral and slightly herbal flavour of plain cannabis oil combined with a carrier oil, other products have citrus or mint to ease ingestion.

Soon to be legalized

The federal government decided last year that it would begin by regulating five classes of cannabis products. Shortly on the heels of the Cannabis Act, however, Health Canada announced the impending inclusion of three new product categories: topicals, extracts, and edibles. 

Health Canada just finished a public consultation to obtain feedback ahead of the drafting of the amendment. These products are expected to be available by October of this year. 

Topicals

Popularized for their role in everything from trendy beauty treatments to managing uncomfortable skin conditions, cannabis-infused topical products are the buzz of the North American wellness industry. These products come in the form of balms, moisturizers, and serums and are meant to be applied to the skin. They encompass everything from lip balms to lubricants.

Topicals are commonly preferred by users looking for localized treatment with minimal to no psychoactive effects. While anecdotally it is often claimed these products won’t cross the blood-brain barrier, they can be formulated to pass through membranes and readily enter the bloodstream. This means cannabinoids, when applied topically, could potentially be detectable in toxicology tests like other forms of ingestion.

Concentrates

There are two main methods of creating cannabis concentrates: solvent-based and solventless extraction.

Solventless extraction requires various combinations of pressure and temperature to separate resin glands carrying terpenes and cannabinoid from the flower. Solvent-based extraction uses compounds like propane, butane, water, and carbon dioxide, which is then purged post-extraction. 

The various forms of concentrates generally look like they sound. For example, shatter looks like shards of amber glass, wax has a waxy consistency, and budder is soft like butter. The consistency and appearance of each concentrate depends on the extraction method.

These products can then be vaporized, combusted, or used as an ingredient in other products. Concentrates are generally preferred for their higher potency and flavour profile.

Edibles 

Unlike the widespread imagery of baked goods and gummy bears, cannabis edibles have developed into . Chefs are learning more and more about responsible dosing, safe preparation, and the effects of edible cannabis to infuse high-end dinners and catering services. 

But just as chefs are innovating in the edible category, so, too, are LPs researching and developing dose-controlled, ingestible products set to hit the market later this year. While the exact regulations are not yet published, the proposed framework suggests cannabis edibles be limited to a maximum dose of 10 milligrams of THC per unit per package—a widely-accepted “standard” dose for new and curious consumers.

Currently available through legal channels, however, are ready-made products, like , that can be used as an ingredient in making infused edibles.

Cannabis edibles do often have a slower onset time and a longer duration, offering a unique, smoke-free high to that of combustion.

A consumer’s consumption preferences depend on a variety of factors. For example, tenants living in smoke-free buildings may choose an edible because of its discretion, while cannabis connoisseurs may prefer an extract because of its complex flavour and aroma profile. It can take time to figure out which form fits best with a consumer’s lifestyle and needs—experiment responsibly, do your research, and don’t be afraid to ask questions.