CANNABIS CULTURE – Many people ask, “What’s the safest and most effective way of using cannabis, and at what dosage?” Now, here’s the thing: nobody necessarily knows for definite what the best method of ingesting cannabis is, and nobody knows what the ideal dosage is for everyone. For now, the best piece of advice anyone can give is “Try a little bit of everything at a slow pace.” Different people with different conditions – all of whom have their own individual endocannabinoid system (ECS) – will react to different dosages in different ways.
Those looking to find specific doses of cannabinoids and terpenoids for their condition ought to check out companies like Aunt Zelda’s, who book appointments between patients and medical cannabis experts in order to find the right product/s and dose for each individual patient. For those looking for highly tailored solutions, which is more than likely for those suffering from serious conditions like cancer, epilepsy and so on, these sorts of services are invaluable.
Finding the right product and the correct dosing is of utmost importance for medical marijuana patients. This will improve the therapeutic effects cannabis can give them, as well as ensuring that using medical marijuana is not clashing with any other medications. For example, those using benzodiazepines and/or barbiturates (for sleep problems, spasms etc.) may want to be careful with cannabidiol (CBD), as the two may interact negatively due to the fact that they all interact with the liver enzyme cytochrome P450.
So, is any one particular method of using cannabis any better than another? Let’s take a look …
We’ll include joints/spliffs/blunts, bongs, hot knives and pipes in this section, as they all require decarboxylation of raw cannabis flower with a naked flame and then inhaling the resultant smoke. This is the classic, “old school” method of ingesting cannabis, and is still preferred by many people.
However, it is arguable that smoking cannabis is perhaps the unhealthiest way of consuming it, especially if it is mixed with tobacco (including blunt wraps). Though smoking cannabis on its own is not necessarily as carcinogenic as smoking tobacco on its own, it still makes sense intuitively that inhaling smoking burning matter is perhaps not the best way of using cannabis.
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) – an umbrella term that includes non-reversible asthma, emphysema, chronic bronchitis and some forms of bronchiectasis – may also be an issue. Many of the therapeutic cannabinoids and terpenoids may also be lost by burning them away. Those with compromised immune systems may also want to be careful smoking cannabis.
However, with all that said and done, many patients still prefer smoking cannabis. This may be because, when smoked, the effects of the cannabis usually take place almost immediately, as the cannabinoids are passed from the lungs and through to the brain. For anyone looking for immediate relief, smoking cannabis may be one of the best ways of using it. Bongs, which usually use water or ice to help cool the smoke before inhalation, may help ease some of the irritation smoking a joint does. Bongs are not necessarily any “safer” than any other method of smoking cannabis, though.
There are also some people who find that smoking cannabis is the only way they get any therapeutic effect from it! This could be something to do with the smell and taste of raw cannabis, with the terpenoids and cannabinoids being allowed to take full effect almost immediately. However, it is not known precisely why smoking cannabis may be most suitable for some people (other than that some people simply enjoy it more due to the social and tactile aspects). Smoking cannabis may also be one of the easiest, least overwhelming ways to dose it – you can simply stop smoking once you feel you’ve had enough.
Vaporizing, or “vaping”, refers to heating cannabis without burning it, and then inhaling the vapor produced. Vaporizing has many of the advantages of smoking cannabis (easy to take small amounts, immediate effects, easy to carry a vape pen), with the added advantage of a lack of smoke inhalation, not as much loss of cannabinoids and terpenoids, and the fact that you don’t have to spend time rolling up. Vaporizing is also usually more discreet.
There are a few major disadvantages are that vaporizers need to have their batteries charged and some of the best vaporizers (e.g. volcanoes) aren’t easily transportable. Some people also feel that vaporizing lacks any effect, but it is not known precisely why. Others may feel that a vaporizer may lack the “ritual” and “social” aspects that smoking can provide, and it
Vaporizing cannabis is also quite different from vaporizing nicotine, which is suspended in propylene glycol. When you are vaporizing cannabis, you are usually vaping raw cannabis flower or concentrate (cannabis oil in a cartridge). When it comes to concentrates, cannabinoids are suspended in a solution of propylene glycol, but many manufacturers use vegetable glycerine or medium chain triglycerides due to the toxicity concerns of propylene glycol. There are many who are also turning to different thinning agents like terpenoid solutions or even distilling cannabis oil until it is thin enough to vaporize.
So, is vaporizing overall better than smoking? Whilst vaporizing is not necessarily completely non-toxic, it makes sense that it would be. However, there has been no long-term study on the effects of vaporizing cannabis. Another concern is the quality of the vaporizer itself – you don’t want to vaporize burning plastic and/or metals from a badly-made vaporizer or disposable vape pen, after all.
Before vaporizers came along, edibles were the go-to smokeless method of cannabis ingestion for many health-conscious consumers. Sure, most of them were sugary treats, but the occasional pot brownie is generally far better for physical health than smoking cannabis is. Edibles also have longer-lasting effects, so for those looking for long-lasting pain relief and/or a more economic way of utilizing their cannabis, then edibles are the way to go.
Yet, for all the advantages of edibles, there are some quite severe drawbacks as well. Eating a 1,000 mg THC medicated brownie in one sitting will likely lead even the most seasoned of veterans down a pretty negative path. For beginners, ingesting too high an amount of THC may well put them off using cannabis as medicine for a long time, if not for the rest of their lives, even if small, controlled doses might actually still help them. This is compounded by the fact that the labeled dosages on edible packets are often inaccurate.
So, why is eating cannabis so much stronger than smoking or vaporizing it? Quite simply, it’s because, when delta-9 THC is eaten, it goes through the liver first and metabolizes into 11-hydroxy-THC. This form of THC passes through the blood-brain barrier a lot more easily than delta-9 THC, which goes straight from the lungs, into the blood and through to the brain. Also, as the THC is eaten, it takes time to digest and so takes longer to take effect. However, when it does, the THC seeps through the body slowly, as it binds to the body’s fats and releases over a course of time.
The best way to do edibles is by microdosing small amounts every hour or so- around 5 mg or less, whether it’s THC, CBD or any other cannabinoid – and seeing how it affects you. You can find your “threshold” more easily this way. You can microdose by splitting a medicated chocolate bar, brownie or whatever other edible it’s possible to split into smaller chunks or sections, or you can buy edibles (usually sweets or cookies) that have been infused with small amounts of cannabinoids specifically for the purpose of microdosing. For first-timers, though, it is perhaps best to build some tolerance with other ingestion methods before going for edibles, which can ultimately prove too overwhelming for many.
Juicing raw cannabis plants will most likely not produce any psychoactive effects, as cannabinoids are not being decarboxylated. This means that tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) remains tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCa), and cannabidiol (CBD) remains cannabidiolic acid (CBDa). Now, even though CBDa and THCa aren’t being “activated” and turned into CBD and THC via the application of heat, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t medical benefits to these cannabinoids in their “raw” form.
Both THCa and CBDa have anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective, anti-emetic and anti-proliferative properties. This means that they have medical uses all of their own, and could prove to be useful for conditions like autism, insomnia, muscle spasms associated with neurological conditions like Parkinson’s disease (PD) or multiple sclerosis (MS), and chronic pain. There may be interesting ways of combining these non-decarboxylated cannabinoids with decarboxylated, “active” cannabinoids for different ranges of therapeutic effects.
Now, there isn’t necessarily any problem with juicing raw cannabis in and of itself (although many will not likely enjoy the taste), and in fact it could be as healthy as any other fruit, as it is full of antioxidants. As with hemp, cannabis plants will also have protein and omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.
However, the cannabis plant is a “super sucker” of whatever’s in the soil and air at the time of growing. This means that, if the plant was grown using nasty pesticides, herbicides or any other chemical, it’ll end up in the final product. Therefore, if you want to juice your cannabis, it is best to use tested, organically-grown cannabis plants. The other problem with juicing is that quite a lot of raw product is needed to make a juice and have any therapeutic effect. Juicing is perhaps the most expensive method of ingestion, considering how much an individual cannabis plant costs.
We mentioned combining non-decarboxylated cannabinoids with decarboxylated cannabinoids above under “juicing”. However, unless you’re drinking raw juice and smoking/eating/vaping decarboxylated cannabis at the same time, it is unlikely you will get the benefits of both in one method. This is where tinctures come in.
For medical patients, tinctures are probably the best method of ingestion overall. Tinctures are smokeless, easy to titrate (dose), have long-lasting effects, can be made into different (and highly specific) cannabinoid and terpenoid blends, ratios and concentrations, are reasonably well-priced, often use healthy oils (most often coconut) as the solution in which the cannabinoids are carried, and are often made using whole plant extracts without the need for harmful solvents. The effects of tinctures usually kick in a bit quicker than edibles as well – usually from 15 minutes to 1 hour.
Overall, it seems tinctures are the best and most accessible way of consuming cannabis for medical purposes. Moreover, it’s very discrete, and there is pretty much no smell unless you’re quite literally sniffing an open bottle up-close. You can also put small amounts in your tea, coffee or even water for when you’re out-and-about in public.
As topicals and salves don’t usually penetrate past the first few layers of skin, it is unlikely applying a canna-infused topical or salve will produce any psychoactive effect. Of course, not everyone’s looking for a psychoactive effect, and topicals or salves could be great for those with psoriasis, eczema and arthritis. Topicals or salves may also be used for localized pain, swelling and inflammation, as well as acne.
These are usually plaster-like products infused with cannabinoids (usually THC and/or CBD) that you can stick onto your skin. Canna-infused transdermal patches work in a similar way to nicotine patches and, as such, will produce psychoactive effects. This is because, unlike topicals/salves, patches penetrate all the layers of skin and enter the bloodstream. Patches provide for controlled, slow-release of cannabinoids over a course of several hours or longer.
Transdermal patches are great for all types of conditions, and can be especially effective for those suffering from chronic pain and/or are intolerant to other methods of ingestion. However, for those who like to spend the day running around and sweating, transdermal patches may fall off. Showering and bathing can also prove to be a problem when wearing transdermal patches. Also, to get the most out of transdermal patches, they must be put onto clean, hairless skin.
Cannabis suppositories are exactly what they state on the tin. They are small, round or cone-shaped objects that you insert into your body, usually in the rectum, but also vaginally. Once inside, the suppository dissolves and releases its medication. Suppositories are usually used for those suffering from chronic pain (nerve, muscle or otherwise), multiple sclerosis (MS), inflammatory bowel diseases (IBDs), menstrual cramps and cancers of the digestive system(e.g. Rectal or liver cancer).
Suppositories allow for a long, slow release of cannabinoids into the body and, as they are not being passed from the liver to the brain straightaway. Cannabis applied rectally takes some time to get to the brain, and so many people may not experience anything more than mild psychoactive effects – depending on how much is used, of course. This method of using cannabis is arguably also the most efficient, as fewer cannabinoids are wasted and more of the plant medicine is entering the body. Suppositories also tend to get to work faster, taking around 15 – 30 minutes to start taking effect.
Suppositories, of course, aren’t necessarily the most comfortable to wear over the course of the day. Applying them can also be difficult and uncomfortable for many. This method of ingestion is perhaps best for those who can’t take cannabis in any other way, or for those with specific conditions that require long-lasting relief, usually ones that affect the digestive system and/or cause painful spasms, cramps and inflammation. Some people may also need the euphoric effects for greater pain relief.
So, is there any one way of using cannabis that’s better than another? Not really, as different people respond to different ingestion methods in different ways, and there is not enough research as of yet proving one way or another what the safest and best way of using cannabis is. Yet, if you were to twist my arm and choose one method over any of the others, for now it’ll probably be tinctures due to their ease of use and titration. This could change in future, and of course it also depend on the condition suffered from, but a well-made tincture from a reliable company that tests their products is perhaps best for general use.
Featured image appears courtesy Chicago Tribune.