How is Medical Marijuana Taken?: Administering Medicinal Cannabis to Treat Debilitating Conditions
There are over 100 different chemicals found in a marijuana plant, which are called “cannabinoids”. For medicinal purposes, the Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)–which gives the people the “high” typically experienced when cannabis is smoked or consumed in foods prepared with it, and cannabidiol (CBD), are the two prominent chemicals used in medicinal versions of marijuana1.
When taking medical marijuana for relief from some of the symptoms associated with approved and qualifying diseases in Illinois2 patients are relying on the effect of the cannabinoids on their conditions, and research (though limited) has shown that cannabinoids can help minimize anxiety, inflammation in muscles and joints, repress some of the nausea and vomiting that chemotherapy treatments for cancer can cause, slow the growth of tumors and kill cells that cause cancer, relieve the muscle tightness that patients with Multiple Sclerosis endure, and provide some appetite stimulation and assistance in gaining weight for patients with cancer and AIDS3.
Popular and Healthiest Ways to Take Medical Marijuana
If you live in one of the 25 states, or the District of Columbia, where medical marijuana is legal4, your first step toward being able to use marijuana for medicinal purposes is to obtain a recommendation letter for medical marijuana from a doctor. An in-person appointment and screening process may be required to determine if you will benefit from medicinal cannabis treatments.
After you’ve received your approval from a doctor and your medical cannabis registry identification card5, you can visit a local medicinal marijuana dispensary or collective.
Your doctor should suggest the best methods to administer your medicinal marijuana treatments, also known as “medicating”, before you visit a dispensary, as there are numerous ways to receive treatment and benefit from medical cannabis. Keep in mind that each way has its pros and cons, as you’ll see.
Smoking Medicinal Cannabis
One of the most tried and true ways of using marijuana is to smoke it. It’s a fast way to get the most favorable amount of cannabinoids into your body and system. You can obtain this through either a rolled cigarette (or joint), a glass pipe or a water pipe (also known as a bong).
- Delivers instant relief
- Fairly easy to regulate dosage
- Minimally processed
- Multiple options
- Smoke may be harmful to lungs. Studies have reached contradictory conclusions about whether and to what extent cannabis may cause lung damage, but combustion of any substance makes it harder to breathe
- In many cases, not a good option for anyone with pulmonary damage (lung cancer, emphysema) or asthma
- Will make you smell like cannabis smoke
Take a light hit on the joint and inhale the smoke gently. You need not hold the smoke for a long time or hold it in your lungs resulting in irritation. The effects should take a few minutes to take hold8.
“Vaping” or Vaporizing Medicinal Cannabis
To receive the most therapeutic benefit from medicinal cannabis without the unintended toxins that results from smoking, another method of administering medical marijuana is by inhaling it through a vaporizer.
The vegetable component of the marijuana plant is placed in a vaporizer and heated to 180-200 degrees Celcius or 356-392 degrees Farenheit. By this process, the essential oils are dispersed into a pure vapor which can be inhaled. The result is that the vapor is free of tars, hydrocarbons, benzene, carbon monoxide, additional toxic gases and the combustion byproducts9. The key benefit from this process is that respiratory uncertainties are non-existent.
To use a vaporizer for your treatment, first establish the recommended temperature in the vaporizer by preheating it. Then insert a small amount of cannabis that has been dried. When the cannabis is ready to inhale, it will have been heated to a temperature that’s below its point of combustion. The medicinal mixture will be at the optimal temperature to be the most effective.
- Delivers instant relief
- Less harsh on lungs than smoking
- Doesn’t make you smell like cannabis as much as smoking
- Vaping units can be very expensive
- Battery powered units must be recharged
- Need time to warm up device
Edible Medicinal Cannabis Food Products
Medical marijuana in food has come a long way since the days of homemade brownies that contained unknown amounts of THC. The diversity of edible cannabis nowadays includes everything from cookies, popcorn, crackers, nuts, candy, ice cream, chocolate bars, and more!
The best news is that with the evolution of culinary science, you might not even be able to tell the difference between products made with cannabis and those without. For patients who are elderly or children, edible medical marijuana food products are the most popular12.
- Provides long-lasting relief
- A good alternative for people who dislike inhaling
- You can enjoy a delicious treat as you receive treatment
- Dosages can be very precise in measured edibles
- Edible marijuana in foods may take from a half hour to several hours to take effect.
- Foods must be locked up to keep away from children and pets
- A different “high” is more likely to occur than from smoking
Based on the weight, metabolism, level of understanding and other determinations, doctors suggest a small dosage of 2 milligrams or less, plus limiting consumption to an hour at a time15.
Other things to keep in mind is that eating raw cannabis doesn’t provide the full therapeutic benefits of marijuana, and that some varieties of cannabinoids require heat activation. Also, cannabinoids do not dissolve in water. They are only soluble in fats and alcohol, which means they must be dissolved in substances that contain fat like butter or vegetable oil, or extracted via alcohol.16 To cook medical marijuana, it should be prepared by pulverizing it into a powder, or infused into fats and oils producing what is known as Canna Butter17.
Sprays and Solutions with Medical Marijuana
As with some other mainstream medications, medical cannabis can be converted into a tincture or orally administered spray. Cannabinoids that have been extracted are added to alcohol, a solution of glycerin or Medium-Chain Triglyceride (MCT Oil). MCT oil is also referred to as coconut oil. Patients can administer the spray themselves by spraying the solution under the tongue, where it can be absorbed through the mouth’s thin tissue18.
- Doesn’t hurt lungs like inhaling cannabis from a joint or pipe
- It’s easy to achieve a very low dosage and maintain it
- Sprays and tinctures have a milder taste
- It’s a preferred option for children’s treatment
- For patients who require cannabinoids in high dosages, this method might be costly
- Effects are felt faster than with edible forms of medical cannabis, but not as rapid as inhalation from a joint or pipe
Starting with a few drops under the tongue, apply it and wait about ten minutes to see if the medicine has taken effect and is providing relief.
Treatment by Transdermal Patch
Just as there are patches to help people quit smoking, medical cannabis transdermal patches are perfect for patients who don’t wish to smoke and inhale the medicine. The patch method works best when it’s applied to clean, dry and hairless skin surfaces.
- There’s no need to smoke!
- A variety of formulations are available
- Dosages are mild
- Patients who need a high dosage of cannabinoids might find it too costly
- Patches must be applied to clean, dry skin surfaces
- Cannot be applied on areas where excess body hair is present
For precisely measured doses, you can typically find transdermal patches in 10mg doses, but they can also be cut in half for lesser doses.
Choose the Method that’s Best for You
These methods are but a few of the most popular means of medicinal cannabis treatments. Each method will affect each individual differently, but you can be assured that you are not alone, as patients around the world have found medicinal cannabis to be effective alternate treatments when traditional medicines are ineffective. Studies have shown that there are therapeutic properties from cannabis that current prescribed medicines can’t provide—and with less severe side effects23. So ask, research and try different methods to find the one that works best for you and your condition.
Call your nearest location for information/assistance on obtaining your Illinois medical cannabis card.
If you have just received your medical cannabis card, come see us for your new patient consultation.