The process by which the body absorbs compounds of medical cannabis is dependent on the route and type of administration of medical cannabis. These processes of administration may likely affect the magnitude of exposure to medical cannabis, which may ultimately affect the treatment regime of the patients1. Some of the commonly used ways to consume medical cannabis are as follows:
Smoking medical cannabis
Smoking is the most commonly used of uptaking medical cannabis. The dried leaves or buds of the cannabis plant are used for smoking. Smoking medical cannabis acts fast as a result of which and the effects can be felt immediately. However, we do not recommend smoking medical cannabis because it is not purified and may contain various other toxic compounds. It may also cause smoking-associated comorbidities among seriously ill patients. Moreover, the amount of dosage through smoking is not quantifiable, and it cannot be regulated among patients1.
Medical cannabis concentrates and extracts
Most people use the flower of cannabis for smoking, while many individuals are reported to smoke concentrated THC, also referred to as shatter. These concentrates are typically extracted by using a solvent like CO2 or butane to strip the THC and other cannabinoids off the plant; the solvent is then cooked off to get a wax, an oil or a hard product.
However, we do not recommend the use of such concentrates because the preparation of such concentrates can be dangerous. The solvents used for preparation are flammable, and any incorrect procedure of preparation can lead to severe burns or explosions2.
Oral products: Edibles, capsules, beverages, and tinctures
When THC is consumed, it passes through the digestive system and liver before getting absorbed into the bloodstream. As a result of this, it might take a considerable amount of time for the patients to feel the effect of THC post-consumption. The effects of edibles reach the peak only after 2 hours of consumption, and the effect may last up to 12 hours.
When THC reaches the liver, it breaks down into a similar but stronger molecule called 11-hydroxy-THC. The human liver depends on how strong the THC food is and how long it takes to break down the drug.
It’s too easy to eat or swallow too much THC in a way that causes anxiety, heart palpitations, and even nervousness. Most people accidentally consume too much because it takes so long to feel the effects. They feel like they haven’t taken enough, so they take more before the first dose appears. It is important to wait 2-3 hours before taking THC again.
Often tinctures, or oral cannabis solutions, are kept under the tongue. Some cannabis experts recommend holding the tincture under the tongue for a minute or two to allow the THC and CBD to be absorbed by the body. Essentially, most tinctures are swallowed and act immediately, but in many cases, they act after 2 hours2.
The oral bioavailability of cannabinoids is approximately 6% (much lower than smoked/vape use), possibly due to gastric breakdown and significant hepatic metabolism. Although not directly studied, oral use may reduce the risk of problematic cannabis use. Research shows that oral administration, such as gulping or swallowing, is preferred because it may reduce the risk of subjective (and neurologic) effects associated with abuse1.
Topical and transdermal products: Creams, Lotions, and patches
Both CBD-rich hemp and THC-rich hemp are used to manufacture products for the skin, and some experts believe this is the best use of cannabis. Some skin products work instantly and can last for hours, while others may not have a noticeable effect.
Both topical and transdermal preparations are used externally. The difference is that topical formulations work where they are normally used, whereas transdermal products are specially formulated to penetrate the skin and reach deeper tissues.
Some topical cannabis products may contain THC and other ingredients that promote CBD penetration into the skin and brain. So, if one is using topical THC for the first time,one should be prepared for the possibility of a psychotic impairment.
Transdermal cannabis patches are generally used to deliver cannabinoids into the bloodstream so that they can be felt throughout the body. These products have not been adequately studied in humans, and results may vary from product to product and from person to person2.
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- 1.Schlag AK, Hindocha C, Zafar R, Nutt DJ, Curran HV. Cannabis based medicines and cannabis dependence: A critical review of issues and evidence. J Psychopharmacol. Published online February 17, 2021:773-785. doi:10.1177/0269881120986393
- 2.Kay A. Different Ways to Consume Medical Cannabis. Investigating News. Published 2018. Accessed March 2022. https://investingnews.com/daily/cannabis-investing/different-ways-to-consume-medical-cannabis/