Cannabis Delivery Methods For The Newbie

In my role as a cannabis care nurse, I am responsible for supporting my patients’ safe and effective use of cannabinoid therapeutics. I am also responsible for helping my patients understand that they have an endoCannabinoid System (eCS), and that utilizing plant-based medicine is only one aspect of improving and enhancing the functioning of this system. More on that later. I work primarily with patients who have been certified for medical cannabis by a qualified health provider and are registered in the state-based medical use of cannabis program. I also work with adults who choose to access cannabis through adult use dispensaries, and in some cases, I help people who grow their own cannabis learn how to make simple extractions, topicals, and edibles with their cannabis flower. My patients’ experiences range from being completely cannabis naive to experienced users who are interested in relieving symptoms with the use of products that are new to them.

Cannabis as a therapeutic is different from conventional medicines in that it often requires a willingness to learn and explore to find the therapeutic range that works best for an individual. The therapeutic range of cannabis is massive. One individual with XYZ condition may require a very small amount of cannabis to improve their symptoms, while another individual with a similar condition may require much larger amounts to meet their health goals. With an ever-evolving body of evidence to support the use of cannabis to improve medical conditions, a long list of delivery methods, a wide-variety of product offerings, and a plethora of less than stellar information available on the Interwebs and social media, it’s no surprise that the C in cannabis also stands for CONFUSING according to one of my patients. I can’t say I disagree.

Adding to this confusion, many of my patients are struggling; they’ve often exhausted all other therapeutic options from the conventional medical field. They’ve turned to cannabis in hopes that there is something available to them that will finally improve their symptoms and ultimately, improve their quality of life. But it is confusing. Struggling with significant, unrelenting symptoms is not an empowering position, so trying something new that requires time, effort, and self-exploration can be a frustrating process without proper guidance. It can also be quite expensive, so I do recommend that anyone who is seeking consistent symptom relief work with a cannabis-literate health professional to help them achieve their health goals in a timely manner that doesn’t break the bank.

But first things first! Did you know you have an endoCannabinoid System (ECS)?
Yes! You do!  Everyone has an endoCannabinoid System, a network of receptors found in the cell membranes throughout the body that interact with cannabinoids. Cannabinoids can be thought of as keys and the cannabinoid (CB) receptors can be thought of as locks. There are two primary cannabinoid (CB) receptors – CB1 and CB2. When the cannabinoid keys open the CB receptor locks, chemical messages are sent along the neurons, or nerve cells in the body. Communication happens between neurons, and functional changes happen to promote homeostasis – a stable internal environment despite fluctuations in the external environment. The full expanse of the ECS function is still being discovered, but we do know that it helps to regulate sleep, appetite, mood, and memory. It is thought that deficiencies in the tone of the ECS results in disease. This is where cannabis-based products can come into play.

Cannabis delivery methods for the newbie
Tinctures, edibles, flower, vape, grams, ounces – the list goes on. To the uninitiated lay person, these terms have the propensity to catapult anyone seeking relief from chronic symptoms into a stressed state. Thankfully, a little cannabis has the propensity to help to relieve that stress. But first, which products would help with that? How should one take said product? Here you’ll find a quick guide to understanding different cannabis product offerings, what one could expect to experience in each category, and some tips for experiencing symptom relief with less trial and error and more conscious self-exploration.

 

Delivery Method Product Offerings Onset –
How long till effects are experienced?
Duration –
How long will effects last?
Benefits  Disadvantages
Topical Creams, salves, bath bombs, sprays Varies Varies  Discreet, localized, non psychoactive effect May have short duration or take an extended time to work
Inhalation – Smoking/
Vaporization
Flower, vape pens 1-15 minutes  2-6 hours  Provides quick to immediate feedback, easy to increase for desired effect.  Short duration, greater potential for abuse or misuse.

Easy to take too much resulting in negative side effects such as paranoia and tachycardia

May not be discreet due to scent

Increased risk for irritation to sinuses, throats, lungs from inhaling combusted plant material via smoking.

Increased risk for toxin-exposure – cannabis oil in vape cartridges may be combined with chemical thinning agents (PG, VG, PEG) that can be carcinogenic when heated

Ingestion/

Oral

Edibles – gummies, capsules 1-2 hours 6-12 hours  Discreet, ideal for extended relief of symptoms Easy to take too much resulting in negative side effects such as paranoia and tachycardia
Sublingual Tinctures, sprays, dissolvable strips 10-45 minutes  2-8 hours Discreet, ideal for extended relief of symptoms Easy to take too much resulting in negative side effects such as paranoia and tachycardia
Transdermal Patches, gel pens 15 minutes to 1 hour 4-8 hours  Discreet, full body effect May take an extended time to work; may irritate skin
Suppositories Vaginal, rectal  Varies Varies  Discreet, potential for use for individuals who cannot consume via mouth, potential for localized effects Potential for poor absorption resulting in limited to no effect

Chart:  Clark, C. S. (2021). Cannabis: A handbook for nurses. Philadelphia, PA: Wolters Kluwer.

Strategies for more symptom relief and less negative effects – Start low and go slow
To improve symptoms effectively, it’s essential to try a dosing strategy that starts with a low dose of cannabis and includes small dose increases over a few days until symptoms are better controlled. Start low and go slow is a concept that should be applied to the use of all cannabis products, especially when it’s new to you, even if you are a very experienced user.

A cannabis journal or tracking app may be helpful to naive and experienced users alike – you can keep track of the products you are using, the doses, when you need to increase, and most importantly, you’ll see how cannabis is helping you. Or if your plan needs to be modified.

Finally, it’s important to understand that cannabis is only one tool in the self-care toolkit. For best results, it’s essential to consume a whole-foods diet, stay adequately hydrated, move your body most days of the week for a minimum of 30 minutes, take care of your mind with meditation or other mindfulness practices, and get adequate rest. The coolest thing ever is that all of these activities help to improve the tone and functioning of the ECS on their own! So you might as well engage in these health-improvement and maintenance activities which will help you not only improve the functioning of your own, unique ECS, your cannabis experience will likely be a little more fun too. If that’s what you’re going for!

Remember to discuss any health concerns with a medical provider. This article is intended for educational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, provide medical advice, or otherwise replace consultation with a qualified medical or health provider.

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