So you have a medical cannabis patient card. Now what? Even long-time cannabis veterans, when faced with all of the new options that legalization and technology have produced, could be flustered when considering how to consume their medicine. Do you go the tried-and-true route and smoke dry flower? Do you vape (and what is vaping, by the way?) Do you use a tincture or edible? Here are a few of your options when it comes to consuming medical cannabis.
This is what most people think of when they think of cannabis consumption: burning the dried cannabis flower to release the chemicals, and then breathing in that smoke.
If smoking is your method of choice you have many options, whether rolled like a cigarette, or packed into a pipe or bowl. Enthusiasts have also come up with many high-volume consumption methods like bongs or power hitters.
The upside here is that there are not a lot of prep or technology requirements involved, and the effects of the medicine come on quickly. There are no electronics, like there are in vaping, and the medicine activates within about 5 minutes of consumption and lasts for 1-3 hours.
The downside is that smoked cannabis comes with the side effects of smoke inhalation. You are inhaling tar and burned carbon like you would from a grill or a bonfire or a cigarette. Unlike cigarettes, however, medical cannabis does not contain chemical additives, and no study has found conclusive evidence that cannabis smoke increases likelihood of cancer. Instead, several recent studies have found that the active ingredients of cannabis have inhibited tumor growth in mice.
Vaporizing, or vaping, is similar to smoking in that you are inhaling the medicine, but it comes without having to inhale smoke. There are a few different ways to vape and they generally rely on electronic equipment. Vaporized cannabis also takes effect in about five minutes, and lasts for 1-3 hours.
It is possible to vaporize dry cannabis. Instead of burning the medicine the vaporizer pen heats a chamber to around 360-400 degrees which toasts the cannabis, releasing the active ingredients which are then inhaled by the patient. Vape pens provide a portable and discreet method to vaporize dry cannabis, however some of the lower quality models have been known to get too hot and actually burn the medicine, creating smoke instead of vapor.
Other vape pens exist that vaporize extracted cannabis concentrates like oil or wax. These pens can be incredibly discreet, and there is no worry of the pen combusting the oil. Concentrates are also stronger than dry flower so they require less to achieve the same effect.
Cannabis taken orally behaves much differently than inhaled. It takes effect in 30-120 minutes and can last for 8 hours or more. Additionally, the effects of cannabis can be much stronger, and because it is metabolized through the digestive system the properties of the cannabinoids can change.
When taking cannabis orally it’s important to start slowly, with small doses, to understand how your body will react. If you do not feel the effects immediately, be patient and DO NOT immediately take more. It’s important to pace yourself with edibles.
Though the previous methods are the most common ways to consume cannabis, tinctures are growing in popularity. These are liquids in which cannabis is suspended in alcohol*. Drops of the solution can be added to coffee or tea, but for the best effect, drops should be placed underneath the tongue for more direct absorption into the body. When taken this way cannabis sets in much like it was inhaled, without the variance of edibles.
Each of these ways to consume cannabis has its own positives and negatives, and each has even more variations than the basics outlined here. Consult with your budtender to find the method that you are most comfortable with.
*Cannabinoids cannot be dissolved into water, so oral consumption usually involves infusing a fat – like butter for cooking – or alcohol.