Using Cannabis Effectively
Choosing the method that will best target the ailment you are looking to relieve is as important as choosing your strain. Different methods will have varying onset times, as well as length of effect. Sometimes combining different methods of consumption is the best choice. Here, we will go through the wide variety of consumption methods and what to expect from each.
Depending on the method of inhalation, amount of product inhaled, and the potency of the product, anywhere from 5-20mg of THC will be absorbed through the lungs per inhalation, or ‘hit’. For a new patient, one hit could be plenty, while several hits might be appropriate for a more seasoned patient or someone looking for a stronger dose. Smoking (combustion) has a higher dose per hit than vaporizing in most cases.
Smoking is the most expedient method of consumption, with almost immediate effects and dosage that is easily controlled by the patient. The downside to smoking cannabis, although it has not been linked to lung cancer, is that it can irritate the lungs and cause respiratory problems. Although results from clinical trials have been contradictory, many researchers believe combusted herbal cannabis contains toxins and carcinogens that lead to increased risk of respiratory diseases and cancer and therefore recommend other methods of consumption of medical cannabis besides smoking. Vaporizing is one such option, which is discussed below.
If you do choose to smoke, here are some helpful tips to minimize the health risks:
-Choose organic, fully flushed, carefully grown cannabis from a grower and dispensary you trust.
-Use more potent so less inhalation is necessary to acquire an effective dose.
-Using a pipe allows a more consistent and predictable dosage.
-It is always best to take small hits to begin with and wait 5-10 minutes between hits if new to smoking.
-Use a filter and non-chemical rolling paper if smoking a pre-roll.
-Exhale immediately after inhaling deeply to avoid the tars in the cannabis from coating your lungs. It is a myth that holding your breath will create a stronger dosage or enable more THC to be absorbed.
Use of a vaporizer is the recommended alternative to smoking. A vaporizer is a device that gently heats the product at a lower temperature, often achieved with digital accuracy, releasing the active medicinal components of cannabis while producing fewer harmful byproducts. Without combustion, there is little, if any carbon created, one of the most carcinogenic byproducts of burning plant matter, as well as eliminating the butane fumes that result from using a lighter.
Vaporizers use either convection or conduction to heat the plant matter. Most find vaporizing provides a smoother and more flavorful experience. However, since the plant matter is heating at a lower temperature and slower rate, it takes more puffs to achieve the same dosage as smoking, which uses more heat to combust a greater quantity of plant matter quickly, releasing more of the active components at one time.
The effects of ingested cannabis are much different and often more potent compared to smoking or vaporizing. Ingested cannabis can be the best medicine for many people, but it is also the easiest way to over-medicate, which can be uncomfortable and even scary, although the effects are temporary. Proceed with caution, start low and go slow.
Ingested cannabis is particularly helpful to relieve pain, spasticity and sleep disorders.
Edibles are slower to kick in, slower to wear off and usually give more of a “body” versus “head” high than if smoked or inhaled. Unlike with inhalation, where the effects are felt immediately and one can simply stop once the desired effect is reached, edibles can take up to 2 hours to reach their full effect. The number one reason for edible over dosage is a patient thinking their edibles aren’t working because they haven’t yet taken their effect and consuming more. Choosing the proper dose in the first place is imperative to avoid over-medication, so experimenting with low doses and adding slowly is the best method of determining one’s dose.
Edible administration is complex and must be approached carefully. There are many factors when recommending edibles to a patient: the size/weight of the individual, other medications they are taking, their metabolism, medical history (are they missing any key digestive organs?), tolerance, eating an edible on an empty stomach, etc. Someone with a fast metabolism might experience a quicker and stronger onset than someone with a slower metabolism.
Further complicating the proper dosing of edibles is the accuracy of labeling, the method of extraction (the method in which the cannabinoids were drawn from the plant material) and the method of infusion (the method in which the extracted cannabinoids were infused into the edible product). These are important details to be aware of since each product and company uses a different method. Certain methods of both extraction and infusion will produce a stronger/weaker effect, and what other ingredients are present in the edible can also be a factor. Testing of each batch of medicated material is important for accurate dosing. Finding a company that is producing accurate, consistent edibles can be challenging. Becoming very familiar with each product and/or asking questions about them will help with advising on dosage.
Cannabinoids are extracted in one of two possible ways: Alcohol (liniment) or fat (lipid) extraction. Hash/kief can also be mixed directly into an edible. Cannabis butters and oils can be made by simmering the flowered tops and leaves in butter or vegetable oil for several hours. This process transfers the cannabinoids into the butter or oil, which can then be used in cooking all sorts of food, such as brownies, cookies, candies, as well as liquids, such as soup and sauces. While this method is most common for at-home extractions, it can be very difficult to determine dosage without proper batch testing. In many cases, concentrates are combined with butter or oil in order to obtain an accurate dosage.
Absorption will differ drastically depending on delivery method. Whether the cannabinoids were extracted into fats (as with most baked goods) or mixed directly into a hard candy recipe will greatly effect how quickly onset and potency of an edible will be. When cannabinoids are encapsulated in fat, it takes a longer time to be absorbed. Those with compromised digestive systems or slower metabolisms might not get the most benefit. The medicine must first go through the liver to be fully absorbed when digested in this way. Hard candies, on the other hand, are largely absorbed through the interior of the mouth or directly through the lining of the stomach, bypassing the liver entirely. Candies can be a better choice for those with slower metabolisms or those seeking a quicker onset.
A beginning dose should be no more than 5-10mg. You can think of this as equivalent of one beer. This may be a lot or a little depending on the individual, but it is a great place to start. Patients should always take their edibles after a meal, not vice versa.
TINCTURES AND TONICS
The active compounds in cannabis can be extracted into tinctures and tonics, which are then taken sublingually (under the tongue) or added to foods, drinks, or applied topically. This is done without a solvent or high heat or pressure, and is one of the most easily dosed, easily made, and effective forms of treatment for many patients.
Tinctures are particularly useful when nausea and vomiting are present and edibles are not a good choice, such as when undergoing chemotherapy treatments. Tinctures and tonics are made using a similar method as edibles, but instead of cooking them in butter or oil, the flowered tops and leaves are soaked in alcohol or glycerin. The solids are then finely strained, leaving behind a liquid that contains the cannabinoids that produce the needed medical relief. An added benefit to tinctures is the control of whether the THC-A (a non-psychoactive acid form of THC) has been decarboxylated, or heated to transform it into active THC, the psychoactive form of the compound. If the patient is seeking medicinal relief without the high, they should use raw, non-activated plant matter, while if they wish their tincture to have the psychotropic effects of the THC, it would be advised to first heat the plant matter prior to extraction.
Typical dosage of cannabis tinctures is between 3 drops to 2 full droppers. As with all edibles, it is best to start slow and use only a small portion until the desired relief from symptoms is achieved.
Juicing cannabis has been shown to support health in many ways, from disease prevention to acute symptom relief. Cannabinoids have been shown to possess antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective properties, making them a powerful dietary supplement.
Juicing raw cannabis provides all the cannabinoids in their acid forms, (before decarboxylization) therefore there is no high associated with cannabis juice. Because there is no high, individuals can absorb a much higher dose of the various cannabinoids, especially THC. Many individuals cannot tolerate more than 10mg of decarboxylated THC, while they can ingest hundreds of mg of THCA, increasing the medicinal intake of the compound and many others.
Cannabis juice can be combined with various other fruit and vegetable juices, increasing the nutrition and health-giving qualities of the juice. It is easier to maintain consistent cannabinoids in the system with juice since it can be consumed throughout the day discreetly and without psychoactive side effects. Plus, it gets people juicing, which is a tremendously healthy practice!
For those seeking relief from pain and inflammation without the psychoactive effects of inhaled/ingested cannabis are topical applications. Cannabis topicals, such as balms, salves, lotions, sprays and ointments can be very effective analgesics and anti-inflammatories.
While CBD-only salves are quite effective, THC acts quickly and aids in administering the active components of the salve directly to the muscles, increasing the absorption through the cell walls of the skin.
Topicals provide relief for:
-Certain types of dermatitis, eczema, and psoriasis
-Balm for lips, fever blisters, herpes
-Superficial wounds, cuts, acne, corns, certain nail fungi
-Muscular pains and cramps, sprains and other contusions
-Joint pain and tendinitis
-Minor burns and sunburn
-Cold and sore throat, bronchitis
-Asthmatic problems with breathing
-Migraine, head pains, tension headaches
Cannabis leaves, stems, and buds can be used in making medicinal tea. The process is fairly simple. As with other herb teas, boil water, pour this over the leaves and stems in a small pot or cup, and let steep for at least half an hour. Similar to marijuana edibles and tinctures, adding alcohol, oil or butter is helpful to help dissolve the THC, which is only slightly soluble in boiling water, but fat and alcohol soluble. Recipes often use additional flavoring or medicinal herbs, milk, spices, or hard liquor to make a spiced chai-type tea. Cannabis tea can vary in strength, depending on the types and amounts of ingredients used. Teas have been described by patients to vary from being much like drinking chamomile tea to delivering a high that lasts for hours.
Cannabis suppositories bypass the liver and are absorbed into the bloodstream much more quickly and efficiently by thousands of nerve endings in the colon and rectum walls. Suppositories don’t give you the same euphoria as is experienced when you inhale or eat your cannabis, but they provide hours of relief for physical pain. This makes it an effective delivery method for people who may not be able to eat or inhale cannabis or for those who are suffering from cramping, inflammation, vomiting, body pain, or any number of ailments that happen below the belt. Cancers of the colon, prostate or reproductive organs can benefit specifically from this method of ingestion.
Inhaling cannabis has a 10–25% absorption rate, depending on how much and how frequently you smoke while rectal administration of cannabis is 50–70 percent absorption efficiency rate, and its effects are more predictable from patient to patient and from dose to dose. Inhaled cannabis starts working almost immediately, but it wears off quickly unless you repeat periodically. The effects of edible cannabis might not be felt for up to two hours. Although it can take 10–15 minutes for cannabis suppositories to take effect, they can last up to eight hours.
You want to start with 1-2 grams of cannabis oil per 100 grams (about ½ cup) of your carrier. You can then increase dosage according to how much the patient needs or can tolerate.
Mix your oil into melted coconut oil or cocoa butter. Pour the warm mixture into suppository molds. Let them cool at room temperature and keep refrigerated in a glass container.
The doses needed are as follows:
2g suppositories for adults, 1g suppositories for kids.
Between 0.1 – 0.2 grams of oil per suppository is a good place to start and go up slowly from there.
Concentrates are the result of extracting and concentrating the active cannabinoids from plant material, resulting in a product that is far more concentrated than the original material. Some concentrates can result in 4 to 5 times the potency of flower. For example, flower will generally contain 15-20% THC, while some concentrates can contain up to 90% THC. They must be approached carefully, as they can pack quite a punch.
There are a wide variety of concentrates (and myriad slang terms to describe them) beyond this list, and new methods and products are ever-evolving.
Hashish is made using sieves (wet or dry) to separate the trichomes from the plant. Ice water is a common extraction technique to extract the potent resin. Based on the principle that the resin glands of the plant are denser than water, trichomes break away from their supporting stalks and leaves when plant material becomes brittle at low temperatures. After plant material has been agitated in an icy slush, trichomes are dense enough to sink to the bottom of the ice-water mixture following agitation, while lighter pieces of leaves and stems tend to float.
Kief is collected through a small sieve while trimming, or if the bud is ground or rolled above it. Both the head and stem of the trichome are removed with this method, and sometimes some plant matter remains. If the kief is high quality (mostly trichomes and little to no plant matter), it can have a relatively high THC content. No additional materials or processes are required.
Dry Sift: This is the process of using small micron sieves to further process kief in order to dislodge the heads which contain the highest concentration of cannabinoids in the entire plant, from their stems. This makes the resin glands more pure, potent and melt-able, therefore is more sought after by connoisseurs.
Here is a photo of a trichome head that is still connected to the stem.
Rosin Tech: Using heat and pressure, the potent oils from the plant can be extracted into concentrate without the use of solvents. Small batches can be made with hair straighteners, placing plant material between parchment papers and steaming it, while larger amounts can be processed using a screen printing press.
Unlike pure trichome extractions, solvents retain even more cannabinoids from plant material. Because it has a much higher concentration of cannabinoids than traditional hash, it should be approached with caution and is not for beginners.
Butane Hash Oil (BHO)
BHO is a type of hash that is made by “blasting” a chemical solvent (i.e., butane, propane, CO2) through the plant matter, then “purging” the solvent away using a vacuum oven, leaving behind a honeycomb-like crumble or glasslike shatter. It is important that your BHO is lab-tested for purity from residual solvents, as improperly purged BHO may contain dangerous levels of butane.
One of the cleanest forms of extraction is using supercritical fluid extraction techniques, in which carbon dioxide is used to separate cannabinoids from plant material, leaving thick molasses-like oil behind. Because CO2 is gaseous at room temperature, it evaporates immediately, leaving an essentially solvent-less product behind. The most popular way to consume CO2 oil is in pen cartridges, where it is often mixed with a thinning agent such as polypropylene glycol to be more easily vaporized using a battery-powered heating element. These have become wildly popular give the discreet and portable look of the pen.
Rick Simpson Oil (RSO)
In 2003, Canadian Rick Simpson treated and reportedly cured his skin cancer using a homemade naptha or isopropyl alcohol extraction of cannabis. Also known as Phoenix Tears, this oil has been hailed as one of the most effective cancer-fighting extracts that can be administered both orally and topically. It is relatively simple to make at home given the proper materials, and can be made with both high THC and high CBD strains of cannabis.
WHAT ARE DABS?
Dabbing is simply the quick vaporization of concentrate using a heated nail. A dab rig aids the process by providing a platform, or “nail” on which a “dab” (small amount of material meant to be one strong dose) is touched after heat is applied (usually using a small butane torch). Usually this is inhaled through a water pipe and the vapor produces provides a much larger dose of cannabinoids (4-6 times) than one hit of flower. For beginners, this can result in over-medication and should be approached carefully. For those who are attempting to come off of strong pain medication, those with high tolerances, and those who are suffering from severe pain, this can be the very best form of medicine.
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