Forms of Marijuana

Traditionally, marijuana was categorized in three forms: herbal, hashish or hash oil. Today, other types of marijuana concentrates, edibles and topicals are also common. These forms vary in strength and can be consumed in a variety of ways.
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Marijuana doesn’t only refer to the flowers, seeds and stems of the cannabis plant. While dried cannabis flower is the traditional and most common form of marijuana, edibles, concentrates and other forms are becoming more prevalent. Street names for marijuana, such as weed and pot, may be used to refer to several forms of the drug.

Online marijuana retailers sell pot-infused brownies, cereal bars and juices. They also offer lotions, patches, oils and other concentrates containing THC — the psychoactive chemical in marijuana.

Each of these forms of marijuana is made from one of three cannabis species: cannabis sativa, cannabis indica or cannabis ruderalis. The latter plant is rarely used in the United States because of its low potency. Sativa, indica and hybrid strains of the two are the most popular types of marijuana.

The different forms of marijuana vary in potency and cause different effects depending on the strain they are made from. These effects also vary by delivery method. Some methods of use may be less likely to cause marijuana addiction than others, but all forms of marijuana can cause addiction and other mental health issues.

Traditional Marijuana

Traditional marijuana comes in the form of dried flowers of the cannabis plant. Most people smoke this form in bongs, cigar wraps, hand-rolled cigarettes or pipes. It can be vaporized using specialized electronic devices, or it can be used to make edibles.

In the 1990s, the potency of marijuana on the street was about 3.74 percent. By 2013, the average potency increased to nearly 10 percent. In some states, legal marijuana can contain 20 percent THC or more. In general, traditional marijuana is less potent than other forms of weed.

It can contain other impurities or be laced with other substances. Most people who buy weed on the street don’t know what’s in the drug that they’re purchasing. Even legal marijuana can contain impurities or contaminants because some states don’t require testing before it’s sold.


Hashish, also called hash, is made from cannabis resin. The resin is extracted from the cannabis plant and then dried and compressed. It can be compressed into a variety of forms, including blocks, balls and sheets.

Hash is much stronger than traditional marijuana, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. It can be mixed with tobacco or smoked on its own. It’s sometimes mixed with food and swallowed. When hash or another form of marijuana is mixed with food, the final product is called an edible.

Smoking any form of marijuana can damage the lungs. It’s also the quickest way to get the drug to the brain. The faster a drug reaches the brain, the more likely it is to cause addiction and other health issues.

Smoking marijuana is addictive and can lead to the development of a substance use disorder. Some people do not become addicted. But they can become dependent and experience marijuana withdrawal when they quit using the drug. This risk for addiction is higher when people use more potent forms of pot.

Marijuana Concentrates: Hash Oil, Wax and Shatter

Hash oil and other types of marijuana concentrates, or extracts, are among the most potent forms of weed. They’re made by extracting THC from the cannabis plant with butane, carbon dioxide or other solvents. This extraction process is dangerous and has led to fires and explosions.

These forms of marijuana are sometimes called THC oil, marijuana oil or butane hash oil. Marijuana extracts can be between three and five time stronger than traditional marijuana, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Concentrates and other high-THC products have the highest risk of causing mental health issues such as hallucinations and extreme paranoia.

Oils are sometimes mixed with alcohol. People combine them to get high and drunk at the same time — a feeling sometimes called crossfaded. Oils also come in capsules or edibles.

People can smoke or vape concentrates from bongs, pipes, vape pens or other electronic devices. Inhaling any form of marijuana extract is sometimes referred to as “dabbing.” But most people only use the term dabbing to describe freebasing oil concentrates. This usually requires a “dab rig” or “oil rig,” two terms for a specialized bong that is designed for smoking concentrates.

Wax and Shatter

Wax and shatter are two forms of marijuana concentrate that differ in appearance. Marijuana wax is sometimes called “budder” because it looks like yellow, sticky earwax or melted, pasty butter.

Shatter is a hard, solid form of marijuana. It resembles amber — fossilized tree resin. Like oils, wax and shatter are made by extracting THC from cannabis using a solvent.

These highly potent forms of marijuana are usually smoked, vaporized or dabbed. It’s easy to overdose on wax or shatter because they contain extremely high levels of THC. Marijuana overdoses aren’t fatal, but they can cause serious side effects, such as anxiety, paranoia and panic attacks.

Concentrates also share similar risks to smoking laced weed. It’s impossible to know what’s in the oils, waxes or other resins that you buy on the street. They may be contaminated with butane or other chemicals that can cause health problems.


The term edible can refer to any form of marijuana that’s mixed with food or drinks. Brownies, crispy treats and other baked goods are popular types of edibles. As more states have legalized recreational and medicinal marijuana use, more types of edibles have become easily available.

Common marijuana edibles include:

  • Candy bars
  • Cereal
  • Chips
  • Cookies
  • Gummies
  • Honey
  • Jelly
  • Popsicles
  • Shots
  • Syrups

THC can also be infused into fruit, tea and other natural foods. Edibles that are sold in stores or dispensaries should come in clearly labeled packaging. It can be difficult to tell if homemade edibles contain marijuana.

Unlike smoking or dabbing, the effects of swallowing marijuana products aren’t felt instantaneously. It can take between 30 and 60 minutes to feel the effects of marijuana edibles. Marijuana stays in the system for a longer period of time when it’s eaten compared to when it’s smoked.


Topicals are one of the only forms of marijuana containing THC that aren’t commonly used to get high. They’re also a common form of medicinal marijuana. Topicals are used to treat skin conditions, spasms, arthritis, muscle aches and other ailments.

Most topicals don’t reach the blood. The THC must travel through the blood to the brain to get you high. Using topicals won’t cause you to fail a drug test if THC doesn’t reach the blood.

Popular marijuana topicals include:

  • Balms
  • Creams
  • Lotions
  • Sprays
  • Patches

Patches are the only transdermal — through the skin — method of marijuana use that may reach the bloodstream and cause you to fail a drug test. These patches can be used to get high.

Some medicinal benefits of marijuana have been well researched, but many claims about the benefits of the drug are unproven. With the exception of some topicals, any form of weed containing THC can be addictive and lead to mental health problems associated with marijuana. In general, delivery methods that cause rapid, intense highs are the most likely to cause health problems.

Medical Disclaimer: aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

Chris Elkins, MA
Senior Content Writer,
Chris Elkins worked as a journalist for three years and was published by multiple newspapers and online publications. Since 2015, he’s written about health-related topics, interviewed addiction experts and authored stories of recovery. Chris has a master’s degree in strategic communication and a graduate certificate in health communication.

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