Despite its controversial nature, the health benefits of cannabis are irrefutable. After all, many clinical studies have shown evidence supporting its effectiveness in treating various ailments.
However, a cause of concern is that the most popular form of consuming cannabis is through smoking it in blunts, joints, bongs, or pipes. While this method offers immediate effects upon consumption, smoking poses considerable risks as it releases carcinogens and carbon monoxide which cause respiratory problems. Fortunately, cannabis is an incredibly versatile plant that can be safely consumed in numerous ways.
Cannabis For Medical Use
Since time immemorial, cannabis has been revered by ancient civilizations for its therapeutic properties. The Chinese pharmacopeia first introduced this panacea during the third millennium BCE. Marijuana was proven to be an effective anti-inflammatory, anxiolytic, anti-emetic, and anti-tumor among others. Since then, it became a popular and sought-after remedy throughout the world.
However, due to its psychoactive properties that are prone to abuse, there was a public outcry to ban its use. But despite efforts to vilify and stigmatize this herb, its medicinal benefits remain compellingly hard to disregard.
How It Works
Marijuana’s healing properties primarily stem from its cannabinoid and terpene content. Cannabinoids are naturally-occurring compounds that bind and interact with the CB1 and CB2 receptors in the endocannabinoid system (ECS) to trigger various physiological responses. Some of these includes regulation of appetite, mood, pain perception, and immune reactions among others.
There are over a hundred phytocannabinoids from cannabis and hemp plants but among the most notable ones are 9-delta-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). Aside from its medicinal qualities, THC has psychoactive properties that alter a person’s cognition and state of consciousness. On the other hand, CBD is renowned for its therapeutic benefits and the fact that it is non-psychoactive. As such, strains with more CBD and less THC are often preferred when medicating using cannabis.
The medical benefits offered by cannabis range from general pain relief to alleviation of chronic and serious health problems. Such illnesses include but are not limited to:
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Anorexia nervosa
- Appetite loss
- Chronic pain
- Crohn’s disease
- Multiple sclerosis
- Muscle spasms
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Psychosis and schizophrenia
Although people speculate it’s virtually impossible to lethally overdose on cannabis, improper dosing could trigger side effects such as:
- Short-term memory loss
- Anxiety and paranoia
- Hallucinations and delusions
- Psychosis and schizophrenia-like symptoms
- Respiratory problems such as a cough and bronchitis (when smoked regularly)
The said effects of cannabis may vary from one person to another. This is influenced by some factors including:
- Potency and strain of marijuana used
- Method of consumption
- History of cannabis use
- Tolerance level
- Nutrition or diet
7 Best Alternative Consumption Methods
The uncertainty of using medical marijuana arises from the idea of its potential adverse effects. Smoking, for instance, entails inhaling potential irritants such as tar, carbon monoxide, and carcinogens, the risk of incurring lung damage and other respiratory problems is highly possible.
It is, therefore, a relief that with the rise of technological advancements, the cannabis industry introduced new ways to relish the medicinal properties of the herb without necessarily combusting it.
Vaping has become a widely popular way of medicating with cannabis. Akin to smoking, this inhalation technique is fast-acting. Thus, relief can be felt in a matter of seconds and will last for approximately 2 to 4 hours.
Unlike smoking, vaporizers only heat the buds in a much lower temperature – approximately 200°C (392°F), just below the temperature required for combustion. This creates cannabinoid-rich vapors that are free from contaminants and are safe to inhale. Moreover, the vapors contain significant amounts of terpenes that are typically burned off when the herb is combusted. Thus, vaping offers a more sublime experience than smoking weed.
There are two types of vaporizers available in the market:
Vape pens. This is a compact, portable, and battery-powered vaporizer that looks like a pen. It contains a heating element that heats the cannabis to its near-boiling point. After this, the atomizer turns these compounds into a cannabinoid-rich mist. Vape pens come with refillable cartridges that can be filled with e-juice, dried buds or concentrates depending on the model of the product. This type is usually more affordable than its tabletop counterparts because of the limited amount of vapor it could produce.
Tabletop vaporizers. For those who prefer sturdy devices with large mist outputs, a tabletop vaporizer is the best choice. Although bulky and not portable, this type produces higher quality vapors due to its massive and high-grade heating elements. This makes it an excellent choice for medicating patients who want to get the best out of the herb. The only catch is that tabletop vaporizers tend to be costlier than vape pens.
Tinctures are made from extracted cannabinoids, glycerin solution, and coconut oil. When mixed, the resulting solution is dropped or sprayed under the tongue where there are tiny capillaries that can absorb it. This is an easier method of ingestion because it does not include cooking or steeping the cannabis. It could be consumed as it is. It could take effect anywhere between 15 to 30 minutes and last for about 2 to 4 hours.
However, this method is a more expensive option for people who require high dosages of cannabinoids. Additionally, its bitter taste could be off-putting for some. And although its onset is faster than edibles, it is still not as quick as inhalation.
Dabbing includes the use of oil rigs, dabs, and heating tools such as torches or e-nails. Oil rigs are contraptions similar to bongs, but instead of combusting the buds in a bowl, it makes use of torched nails where dabs are heated until vapors emerge from the mouthpiece. Unlike vaping, this particular method uses exceptionally high temperatures to vaporize cannabis extracts.
Instead of combusting dried buds, dabbing makes use of dabs. These are waxy or brittle concentrated cannabis extracts purged using solvents such as butane or carbon dioxide. This form is more potent than buds because of its 60% to 90% concentrated THC content. Hence, it doesn’t take much before its hard-hitting effects can be felt.
Despite its benefits, dabbing comes with considerable drawbacks. For one, using substandard and improperly extracted dabs puts the consumer at risk of inhaling residual solvents along with the cannabinoids. The toxic residue is a serious cause of concern because it could cause health complications such as sudden death, symptoms of frostbite, and problems in the central nervous system. Moreover, the high temperatures used in dabbing can degrade the terpenes into carcinogens. Lastly, the insane potency of the concentrates used in this method makes it easy to overdose. It also quickly increases the tolerance level of the consumer.
Patches come in different formulations and dosages to fit specific needs. It is recommended to apply cannabis-infused patches on a clean, dry and hairless surface of the skin – preferably the inner wrist area, top of the foot or ankle. It is a milder form of medication and is the ideal method for patients who prefer not to inhale or ingest the medicine. However, it is not suitable for patients allergic to adhesives.
5. Edibles And Beverages
Meal and drink infusions are some of the safest ways of consuming medical cannabis. Because cannabinoids are oil-soluble, it can be extracted using oil carriers such as butter, olive or coconut oils. Then, these cannabis-infused oils can be substituted in any recipe that calls for oil or butter. Edibles can take the form of brownies, chocolate bars, cookies, crackers, gummy bears, salads, and many more. At the same time, decarboxylated buds, leaves, and stems could be steeped in beverages such as coffee and tea. It could also be added to fruit smoothies.
Cannabis-laced edibles and drinks provide long-lasting relief of approximately 6 to 8 hours. However, it has a slower onset compared to inhalation methods because the cannabinoid has to be processed in the gastrointestinal tract. Thus, it takes 30 to 60 minutes before the effects kick in. This is precisely why it should be consumed slowly in small amounts. After 30 to 60 minutes have elapsed, only then can the dose be gradually increased. Doing so prevents overdosing.
6. Rectal Suppositories
Cannabis-infused suppositories are inserted in the rectum where it is absorbed through the rectal mucosa in the colon. This method takes around 10 minutes to kick in and can last for up to 4 to 8 hours. Suppositories are excellent alternatives to edibles as it is easier to dose, more accessible to make, faster-acting, and can deliver up to 80% of the plant’s medicinal effect. As a bonus, it has a diminished psychoactive effect even when using high THC strains when medicating. The only catch is that is the difficulty of its application.
Directly applying the cannabinoids on the skin through topicals is a great way to benefit from the medical properties of cannabis without inducing psychoactive effects. Moreover, it allows the user to target specific areas for a more localized pain relief. The only catch is that dosing in this method proves to be difficult.
Cannabis-infused topicals come in different forms – balms, creams, lotions, sprays, ointments, and even lubricants. Anecdotal reports claim that topicals are effective in managing joint pains and skin problems such as eczema, psoriasis, and the likes. However, it is not yet a widely accepted fact as there is a lack of clinical studies that can back up this claim. Hence, the need for more research in this aspect.
Safety Comes First
Consuming medical cannabis has gone a long way from simply lighting up a blunt or joint. With the aid of technological advancements, innovative ways of intake have changed the landscape of medicating with cannabis. Consequently, this paved the way for safer consumption alternatives that does not carry the long-term harmful effects associated with smoking.
Finding out which method best suits one’s needs and lifestyle is a trial-and-error process. Since there is still a lack of credible research on the long-term effects of some means such as topicals and patches, experimenting with the dosage is required at first. But despite the slight inconveniences these intake methods entail, keep in mind that these are small prices to pay in exchange for a risk-free cannabis medication. After all, safety must always come first.