How do People Use Marijuana as Medicine?
Listed below is some general information regarding the most common ways medical marijuana patients use and administer medical cannabis for relief of their various conditions. The following is for informational purposes only. If you have specific questions regarding use of medical marijuana be sure to discuss them with your trusted healthcare provider.
Smoking cannabis is the most common form of consumption. This is likely what most people think of when they imagine marijuana use. Whatever you may think of, smoking marijuana has been the easiest and most common form of consumption. Marijuana that is inhaled via smoking has an almost immediate effect which allows for better control over how much is used. This means that the desired effects are felt quickly and can be well controlled by the user. There is less likelihood of smoking too much. The effect has a quicker onset and is also shorter lived lasting up to an hour or two.
Smoking is achieved through the use of dried plant material that is burned and the resulting smoke is inhaled into the lungs. There are several ways to smoke cannabis. Joints are made by rolling dried and ground cannabis in smoking paper. This creates an unfiltered cigarette like item that is burned at one end and inhaled through the other. Smoking through a pipe achieves the same inhalation effects as smoking a joint, the difference being that less combustion byproducts are inhaled because paper is not being burned. Pipes can be made from all sorts of materials; glass, carved wood, metal, and stone often becoming pieces of artwork. Lastly are the water pipes commonly known as bongs. These are more complex than a simple pipe but the mechanics are essentially the same. Dried cannabis is burned on one end and smoke is inhaled through the other. Bongs include a volume of water that the smoke passes through, in the form of bubbles, before it is inhaled by the user. The addition of the water cools the smoke thus reducing heat as a source of irritation in the mouth or airways.
It has been said that often times as little as 1 puff is needed, especially for new users.
Vaporization is another method of consuming cannabis that is gaining more and more popularity. This method does not rely on fire to heat the plant material, but rather small chambers within the vaporizer that rapidly heated by electricity. This heat literally vaporizes the cannabinoids from the oils in the plant. This vapor is inhaled at a much lower temperature than smoke and does not contain any combustion by-products the way burning cannabis does. Vaporizers of the past were large and somewhat clunky. Now the technology has been reduced to the size of a pen in some models.
Consuming cannabis by mouth in the form of foods is another smokeless way to gain the therapeutic benefits from cannabis. Because cannabinoids are fat soluble and activated by heat they can be easily be incorporated into foods. Consuming cannabis infused foods has advantages and disadvantages. Advantages include: inhaling smoke or vapor is not required and the therapeutic effect lasts longer (hours). Disadvantages include: longer onset of therapeutic effects which can make finding the right dose challenging, especially for new patients. Depending on the GI health and absorption rates of the consumer it can take a much longer time for therapeutic effects to kick in and a common error is not waiting long enough for the onset of effect. This can lead to eating more which can easily create adverse effects that can last for hours potentially causing distress.
Tinctures are a traditional way of preparing plant based medicines. This method can be used to extract cannabinoids from marijuana plant material. Extraction is a time consuming process but yields another smokeless way to use medical marijuana. Tinctures also need to rely on heat to activate cannabinoids in order to utilize their medical properties. Some tincture preparations are absorbed into the bloodstream through capillaries under the tongue, while other tinctures can be added to things like hot tea. Dosing and timing variability can make this method a bit problematic at first for the same reasons that eating foods with medical marijuana in it.
Lastly would be topical applications. Because cannabinoids are fat soluble they can be suspended into topical ointments or creams. These can be applied directly to painful joints and muscles for a more localized and targeted treatment. Differences in preparation and how well the medicine is absorbed through the skin create variability in effectiveness.
Dr J's Notes: I have had many patients find benefit and relief of their ailments by using medical marijuana responsibly and correctly. These are the most common routes of administration but not all of them. New applications usually are variations of what is described above. Always ask if you are uncertain as to what might be best for you.