Most people have heard of smoking weed, but did you know you can also vaporize, eat, or apply it in a cream? There are dozens of ways to enjoy medical cannabis these days— it is not just joints and brownies. The sheer number of choices, literally thousands of products, can be overwhelming if you have never dabbled with cannabis before.
If you are beginning to explore the world of cannabis or want to familiarize yourself with the methods of consumption, this article is a great starting point. This article will cover the various delivery methods of medical cannabis, and some of the most popular products.
The Main Therapeutic Compounds in Cannabis
The first question most people have is, “What is THC?” And “What about CBD?”
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) are both cannabinoids. They are responsible for the effects you experience when you consume cannabis.
The “high” many people associate with cannabis is caused by THC stimulating receptors in your brain. This same high is not associated with CBD, which though psychoactive, does not bind with the same neurological receptors as THC. That means CBD products will not produce a “high,” as you will experience with a THC product. In fact, in well-balanced cannabis products, containing both THC and CBD, the CBD helps reduce the intoxicating effects of the THC.
You can think of THC as more of a cerebral, heady experience and CBD as a mellow, relaxing one. If you are seeking a psychedelic trip with powerful benefits, then a THC-dominant cannabis product will fulfill that desire. For those with no experience with THC-rich products, take it slow and steady. Too much, too fast, and the experience can be overwhelming.
For this reason, many first-timers or those with a low tolerance should try CBD-rich strains, or those with lower levels of THC (in flower, look for at least 50 percent CBD, or under ten percent THC).
How to Consume Medical Cannabis: Edibles
Of the methods people use to consume cannabis, many patients enjoy an edible experience to reduce the problematic effects of smoking. Cannabis edibles are available in both CBD and THC varieties, and they come in all types of delicious formats.
For the CBD-lovers, there is cannabutter, CBD honey, cookies, and brownies. Gummies and candies of all varieties, also come packed with CBD infused profiles. The same is true for THC. If you’re looking for intense relief, THC-based edibles pack quite a punch. Every food you can imagine has the potential to become a potent therapeutic edible.
Remember, if you choose THC-infused edibles, the intoxicating effects can last six or more. Smoking, as a comparison, lasts for roughly four. If you aren’t in for such a long experience, smoking or vaping is the way to go.
Many patients prefer edibles over smokables because they are simple to dose, discreet, and pre-made. Just open the package, check the dosage, and eat it. If it’s a strong edible, you may want to split it in half before consumption.
Another Way to Consume Medical Cannabis: Vaping
Another way to consume cannabis is by vaporizing (vaping). Vaporizing cannabis is different from smoking because the temperature is much lower, and it doesn’t burn the flower. Instead, the temperature vaporizes the valuable essential oils and cannabinoids within the plant. As such, it is perceived by some to be less damaging than smoking medical cannabis.
According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, “Most cannabis vapourizers require that users draw heated air across plant material. Other devices blow the air past the plant material independently so that the cannabinoid-rich vapour can fill a container, eliminating the user’s exposure to the heat source. The majority of studies suggest that vapourizers adequately reduce risk of pulmonary [relating to the lungs] symptoms, although complete safety may require a regulated source of plant material, rather than ‘street’ samples, which produce ammonia.” 
So vaping seems to be less damaging to the respiratory tract than smoking. If you’re currently smoking and beginning to find that it doesn’t work for your lifestyle or medical condition, it’s possible that switching to vaping will deliver the same medicinal value, but without the respiratory issues.
A Powerful Medicinal Ally: Concentrates
Cannabis concentrates come in a variety of forms, colors, and potencies. Its what you’ll find in most vape-pens or used within dab rigs. These ultra-high potency products are not for the faint of heart if they are of the THC-variety. Much like a shot compared to a can of beer, a dab contains significantly more cannabinoids per measure than flower will.
According to Marijuana Break:
- A 0.5 gram of 70 percent THC concentrate contains, on average, 235 mg of THC.
- A joint rolled from 20 percent THC strain of flower contains 120 mg of THC.
- A bowl of flower, with 18 percent THC, is only 45 mg of THC.
Still the Most Popular Option: Smoking Cannabis
Even with the hundreds of new and exciting products on the market today, a majority of patients continue to enjoy smoking their medicine. Most patient surveys (to date) report patients prefer smoking medical cannabis above all else (although some of the most recent surveys suggest vaporizing might be becoming more popular among patients).
Flower (cannabis buds) and hash are the most commonly smoked cannabis products, although it’s also possible to smoke concentrates like rosin, wax, budders, and shatters. To smoke cannabis, you’ll need a pipe, bubbler or bong, or rolling papers for a joint or blunt. The onset of effects by smoking is usually immediate, and the effects may last upwards of four to six hours, depending on the dose and potency.
For a long time, the assumption was that cannabis smoke was just as harmful as cigarette smoke – but this is now largely believed to be untrue. Despite quite a bit of scientific attention, researchers haven’t been able to find much evidence that cannabis smoke has long term harmful effects. As per a massive federally funded literature review, the only concerns for respiratory health are with chronic (heavy, daily) use, and will likely disappear with reduced consumption.
The National Academies Press concluded:
- Smoking cannabis on a regular basis is associated with chronic cough and phlegm production.
- Quitting cannabis smoking is likely to reduce chronic cough and phlegm production.
- It is unclear whether cannabis use is associated with chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, asthma, or worsened lung function.
For short term or mild to moderate use, smoking cannabis is likely a safe consumption method. Patients with respiratory issues, however, may want to avoid any additional respiratory irritation at all. But with edibles and vape products widely available, there are several effective alternatives.
Choosing the Right Type of Medical Cannabis for You
Depending on the reason you’re using cannabis, whether it’s for enjoyment or medicine, there are dozens of options available today. If you are looking for high-THC psychedelic experiences or substantial therapeutic relief, then concentrated forms of THC are most likely going to work for you. But, if you are seeking day-time benefits or have no experience with cannabis, perhaps a lower-concentrate strain or a CBD strain would be ideal.
Regardless of where you are in your cannabis journey, there is a product out there with the potency, format, and profile perfect for you. Believe it or not, data collected from patient surveys tell us that many patients dabble with several different types of medical cannabis to treat a variety of conditions. That might mean different strains depending on the time of day or different products for multiple conditions.
Just remember for the new patients reading this: follow the golden rule! Start low and go slow. But don’t be afraid to experiment with strain, dose, and format to find the perfect therapeutic option for your condition.