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Cannabis Consumption

The way cannabis is consumed these days has evolved quite a bit from the stereotypical methods of smoking joints and bongs or eating brownies and cookies (although still common). Advanced techniques for extraction and processing and more knowledge of the chemistry behind cannabis have lead to a variety of new products and different modes of using them. However, there is also a rediscovery and appreciation for the many applications cannabis has been used for throughout history, especially with regard to medicine. This combination of old and new has opened several options for consuming cannabis, as well as allowing people to gauge and personalize desired effects. These effects are largely dependent on strain, dosage, and their interaction with the ECS. The most common methods for utilizing cannabis are smoking, vaporizing, ingesting, and topical application.

Smoking

Smoking is by far the most common method for consuming cannabis. The psychoactive effects of THC9 can be felt almost immediately after cannabis smoke is inhaled because it enters the bloodstream through the lungs; which is then rapidly distributed throughout the brain and nervous system and to organs that hold a lot of blood like the liver, kidneys, heart, and muscle.)(*pb 143) This is beneficial in that a cannabis smoker does not have to wait for a period of time for the effects to occur, whereas when taking other forms of medication, generally ingested, they would have to wait longer. According to an article published by the Journal of the American Medical Association, another positive outcome of smoking cannabis is that moderate cannabis smokers tend to show greater lung capacity than non users.(*)(

Although there are benefits to smoking cannabis, there are also potential health risks involved. When combustion of plant matter occurs through heating, gases and particles including carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, ammonia, acetaldehyde, acetone, and benzene are released and inhaled, and the heat associated with the smoke can also create inflammation.(*pb 153) It is thought that smoking cannabis in more concentrated form, such as hash or oils, significantly decreases levels of exposure to harmful gases and particles given off by smoking plant matter.

It is worth noting that some of the same chemicals produced by combusting plant matter are also found in tobacco smoke, however, according to a twenty year study funded by NIDA and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, smoking tobacco showed high adverse effects on pulmonary function, while occasional and low accumulative use of cannabis showed no effect on pulmonary function.(*) Another major difference between smoking cannabis and tobacco is that nicotine does not allow dying cells to die and break down, which can lead to disease, whereas, cannabis does not have this effect on cells.(*)(PB) This is perhaps one of the reasons we see high numbers of tobacco users developing diseases such as cancer and heart disease, while we do not see these same reports for people solely smoking cannabis. To avoid any potential health risks associated with smoking, many patients these days are switching to more harm reducing methods, such as vaporizing.

Vaporizing

Vaporizing has become a popular alternative to smoking cannabis in recent years because it produces the same effects while eliminating the gases and chemicals associated with smoke. Vaporizers heat cannabis to temperatures that release cannabinoids in a fine mist without creating toxins associated with combustion of plant matter (*)(pb pg 157) People who use vaporizers are less likely to report respiratory symptoms like coughing, wheezing, and increased phlegm (*)(pb158) Different temperature settings will combust chemical compounds at different rates, and while some dispute the best temperatures for vaporizing these compounds, there are many resources outlining guidelines for those new to this method (www.whatsyourvapetemp.com has concise, useful charts).

One of the increasingly common ways to vaporize these days is with vape pens. There are a variety of styles and terms used for vape pens, but basically, they are devices that consist of a mouthpiece, battery, heating element, and chamber for loading material (which can be purchased in the form of a disposable or refillable cartridge). Vape pens can be used to vaporize flower, concentrate, and oils; the quality and compatibility of the pen will dictate how effective they work with specific products. Waxes and oils prove to work best and come in a variety of strains, flavors, and styles.

Another advantage of vape pens is the ability to be more discrete when medicating. Whereas smoking a joint or a pipe in public may draw attention because of the smell, vape pens give off a less noticeable odor that dissipates more quickly. They do not leave lingering smoke and are easy to conceal, making them great options for people who need to medicate but do not want to make it obvious.

Ingestion

Edibles have become a very popular means of consuming cannabis, especially for those who want to receive the benefits from cannabis but prefer not to smoke it. Cannabis that is orally consumed reacts differently than when smoked because of the way it is metabolized in the body. It must be broken down, passing through the liver where it undergoes a chemical process changing THC into Hydroxycarbonate-11. (*)(pb). This chemical change makes the THC more potent, which leads to a more powerful “body high” and lasts significantly longer than smoking cannabis (Hydroxycarbonate-9). Although the exact ratio is not certain, the effects from eating cannabis is thought to be around three to five times stronger than smoking. (*)(pb) Because ingested cannabis must go through a digestive process, it takes longer to enter the bloodstream but also crosses the blood brain barrier easily once it has. This means, on average, the effects of ingesting cannabis are not usually felt until forty to sixty minutes after consumption, generally peaking at one hour and twenty minutes.(*)(pb).

How one person experiences edibles may vary drastically from another. Ingesting cannabis is subjective and depends on personal diet, weight, metabolism, tolerance, location of CB receptors, and dosage. Therefore, some people experience the psychoactive effects of the THC strongly, even at considerably low doses, while others may feel little or no psychoactive effect and require a much higher dosage or decide edibles are not worth taking because of this. Even if the psychoactive response is not felt, the THC is still creating a positive physiological impact.

When eating cannabis, understanding dosage for specific results is important. Many people who are new to eating edibles make the mistake of overdoing it, which may lead them to becoming hesitant or nervous towards trying edibles again. It is important to discover what dosage works best for an individual, and sometimes finding it requires a little experimentation. A good guideline for discovering the right amount of cannabis to ingest is to start with fifteen milligrams average (ten milligrams on the low side, and twenty on the higher side), allowing the appropriate amount of time for effect, and moving up incrementally until reaching an ideal response.

These days, the variety of edibles available is overwhelming. You can find anything from sweets, chocolates, and ice cream, to savory items, tinctures, capsules, teas, sublingual sprays, edible oils, and everything in between. Basically, if it is something that can be eaten or drunk, a cannabis version probably exists, or will. After identifying a guideline for what dosage works best, people can experiment with different kinds of edibles and divide products into corresponding doses. (for a basic guide to making edibles, see www.stonerscookbook.com).

Topicals

Topicals are cannabis-infused lotions, salves, balms, and oils that are absorbed through the skin for localized relief of pain, soreness, and inflammation.(*) Topicals react mostly with CB2 receptors located in or near the skin to help alleviate pain and soreness associated with inflammation. Because many cannabinoids have anti-inflammatory properties, using cannabis (especially in raw acid form) in this fashion is a great way for dealing with ailments involving muscles, ligaments, joints, and skin.

Many topical treatments are made with essential oils from various herbs, plants, flowers, spices, and so on, and blending them with cannabis or cannabis infused oils. Infusing the cannabis into oil or together with fats, such as Coconut oil or Shea butter, helps the topical penetrate more easily. However, even though cannabinoids are absorbed by the skin, there is no psychoactive response since they are not able to permeate through to the bloodstream. One exception is the relatively new application of transdermal patches, which will deliver cannabinoids through the skin and into the bloodstream.

Understanding different methods for consuming cannabis, and the pros and cons as they relate to personal experience helps patients make informed decisions about their medicine and the most suitable way to take it. Once a patient is familiar with dosing and effects, they can apply this knowledge whenever they are selecting medicine.


-Ryan O'Malley, General Manager at Tahoe Wellness Center - 'Notes on Cannabis'

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