Today’s medical dispensaries have many different medical marijuana products. From inhalation, oral, edible, and more there is something for every patient. There’s a pro and con to each route and understanding them is important for successful medical marijuana treatment. We take a few factors into consideration when creating treatment plans for patients. Aside from medical history, the biggest factors are onset of action (how long does it take to feel therapeutic relief), duration of action (how long does that relief last), and patients comfort and ability to use these medications.
Inhalation routes of administration are medical marijuana products such as smoking cannabis flower or using the vape cartridges. Cannabis flower, better known as marijuana, is what we are all familiar with. Roll a joint or pack a bowl, this is by far the most popular way to use cannabis. Inhalation vape cartridges are filled with a distilled oil that is primarily pure THC and CBD cannabinoids with trace amounts of additional cannabinoid such as CBN or CBG.
Benefits of Smoking Marijuana and Inhalational Vape Cartridges
The greatest benefit for either route when inhaling cannabis is the immediate onset of action. As soon as you draw marijuana into your lungs, the therapeutic benefits are immediate. Pain starts to ease, nerves start to relax. This makes inhalation routes also easy to dose as you can always take another draw if necessary.
Marijuana flower is considered a full spectrum product. While most people are familiar with THC and CBD, marijuana has hundreds of active cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids, and other compounds that all have therapeutic benefits. These compounds interact with and enhance each other for better relief. This phenomenon is known as the entourage effect. This is the main reason why the best strain of cannabis for an ailment isn’t necessarily the one with the highest THC content.
Inhalation vape cartridges, unlike marijauana flower, are distilled oils of pure cannabinoids, mostly THC and CBD. THC and CBD are best understood as the primary driver of medical benefits so getting a large dose of these cannabinoids in the shortest period of time is great for relief. Because vape cartridges are so potent, patients oftentimes need to inhale less oil for the same relief as flower. Additionally, vape cartridges are considered cleaner than smoking, faint of odor, easier to use, and more discrete to use as well. For patients apprehensive to smoking, vape cartridges are a great inhalation option.
Cons of Smoking Marijuana and Inhalational Vape Cartridges
The cons of smoking marijuana are obvious to those apprehensive to its use. Some patients are uncomfortable smoking and for various reasons, such as the smell of smoking, prefer not to. Smoke, whether it’s from a campfire or smoking a joint, isn’t great for long term lung health either.
From a medical standpoint, the biggest drawdown to using inhalation routes is the short duration of action. While the cannabinoids are absorbed immediately, the effects of inhalation wear off in roughly an hour to two hours. This can lead to using a lot more inhalation product to maintain relief throughout the day.
Edibles are foods infused with cannabis, most commonly a chocolate, baked good, or gummy.
Benefits of Edibles
Edibles are effective because they are the most comfortable medical marijuana product available. A lot of successful treatment, especially for new patients, starts by breaking down the negative stigma of cannabis use. Edibles allow patients to comfortably take these medications.
From a medical standpoint, the biggest benefit of edibles is they have the longest duration of action. Depending on a patient’s tolerance, metabolism, and the dosage eaten, edibles can last for well over eight hours. Edibles also tend to have a more sedative effect and are excellent for insomniacs and those in chronic pain.
Cons of Edibles
There are two major cons that we discuss with patients when they consider using edibles for treatment.
The first negative is that edibles have the longest onset of action. Edibles can take anywhere from 60-90 minutes to kick in to start feeling therapeutic effects. For those looking for more immediate relief, an hour is not a good route of administration. Many patients can also be impatient or not sure if the edibles are working so they’ll take additional doses within the hour. This additional dose can create high levels of psychoactivity (high) and can greatly increase anxiety levels in patients.
The second negative is that edibles are difficult to dose. Everybody is different and some patients absorb edibles more effectively or have a higher tolerance than others. We often discuss with patients starting slow and low and creating a baseline for themselves when using edibles for treatment.
The last thing we want any patient to do is take too large of a dose and experience those high levels of psychoactivity and anxiety. Additionally, taking a large dose of edibles can result in durations of action that are difficult to pinpoint. In some cases, too much of an edible can last well over 24 hours.
Oral and Sublinguals
Liquid tinctures and syringe concentrates are the best known oral and sublingual medications
Pros of Oral and Sublinguals
Oral and sublingual routes are a great middle ground between inhalation and edible routes of administration. The onset of action from these routes is about 20-30 minutes and can last roughly three to six hours. Duration of action is primarily dependent on tolerance and dosage.
They are also highly effective for caregivers to give patients that can’t use these medications on their own. Oral and sublinguals are highly versatile as they can be taken straight up or mixed with food or drinks.
They can also be used with inhalation routes to provide both immediate and long lasting relief throughout the day without the need to consistently inhale cannabis. However, consult with your physician before doing so.
Cons of Oral and Sublinguals.
The biggest con against sublinguals is really the difficulty in dosing the distillate syringes. Furthermore, some patients are put off by the taste of the oral and sublingual routes. Lastly, some patients don’t effectively absorb from these routes and have reported feeling little to no effects.
The variety of products available at dispensaries can be overwhelming to new patients, but there is something for everyone to use. Working with your physician to discuss your ailments, comforts, and concerns is important in helping create the right treatment plan for you. Having a working knowledge of these various routes of administration and how to implement them is important for a successful, long term treatment plan.