Medical cannabis refers to the use of the whole cannabis flower or its chemical compounds, which are called “cannabinoids,” for medical treatment. Many states, including Massachusetts, have legalized marijuana for medical and/or recreational purposes. While most people associate marijuana with hand-rolled cigarettes commonly referred to as “joints,” there are other, healthier ways to use medical cannabis besides smoking. We’ve covered just a few of them in this article.
Why Should You Try to Avoid Smoking Your Medical Marijuana?
Medical cannabis is intended to promote good health. By smoking marijuana through a cigarette, the user burns the cannabis, a process called “combustion.” Unfortunately, there are two problems with combustion:
- Combustion can cause irritation to the throat and lungs, particularly in patients who are already suffering from respiratory ailments.
- The process of combustion produces harmful byproducts which are otherwise absent when cannabinoids, such as THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol), are vaporized.
There has been some research, such as this study, which show smoking cannabis does NOT produce the lung disease we associate with smoking tobacco. However, the data are not yet conclusive and most responsible physicians find it difficult to rationalize why cannabis smoke should be different from tobacco smoke and feel that this risk can be and should be avoided.
After all, the use of medical cannabis should not take a toll on your body – especially when all you are trying to do is improve your health and promote recovery. Fortunately, the development of newer and healthier ways to use medical cannabis has opened the door to possibilities for people who wish to reap all the benefits, without exposing themselves to unnecessary harm.
What are the Options for Using Medical Marijuana?
You may be wondering what options you have other than smoking medical marijuana. The good news is that there are several health-conscious options when it comes to using medical cannabis. The bad news is that some of these “healthy alternatives” are ineffective at best and detrimental at worst. By knowing which are which – and consulting with a medical marijuana doctor about matters like size and frequency of dose – you can give yourself the healthiest possible therapeutic experience.
Options to Try
- Vaporizing – Vaporizing has become a popular method among people who want to try something other than the traditional marijuana cigarette. This has become a healthier way to use medical cannabis because it allows users to heat marijuana without actually reaching the point of combustion, thus avoiding the pitfalls described above. Using vaporizers can reduce risk to the lungs and throat commonly caused by burning the plant with a lighter when traditionally smoked. While oil-based vaporizer pens are attractive to users because of their ease-of-use, they too are not clearly safe. The added ingredients, whether glycols like PEG or PG, or terpenes from cannabis or elsewhere, can convert when heated into nasty chemicals. Using the whole cannabis flower, just as you would in a “joint,” is the safest and most recommended option for your vaporizer.
- Edibles – Edibles are useful but should not be thought of an alternative to smoking or vaporizing. Edible have unpredictable time to onset and then work for much longer. This means they’re great for constant unremitting pain, but not so good for episodic, acute problems when you need immediate, predictable relief.
You should always keep in mind that the use of medical cannabis is intended to promote good health. Therefore, you should always be mindful of the kinds of foods you choose containing medical cannabis. For instance, high-sugar options are best avoided by people using marijuana for weight loss, such as diabetes patients.
Options to Avoid
- Tinctures – Tinctures are essentially herbal extracts. These extracts are typically obtained by combining plant material with alcohol to make a liquid. Since pure alcohol is very unpleasant to take, these extracts are typically diluted or transferred to an oil like olive oil or others. Unfortunately, this leads to rather a poor absorption in the gut compared with normal edibles. Further, there is a common understanding that holding the tincture under your tongue for a few minutes will lead to absorption through the mouth. This has been shown to be false, except in true pharmaceutical preparations that use some chemical magic that dispensary products simply don’t have.
- Tea – Infusing your favorite tea with cannabis seems like a healthy and gentle way to get the medical benefits without smoke. However, cannabinoids don’t mix well with water and tea, or coffee is almost all water! This leads the cannabinoids do not really mix into the water, but float around and stick to the sides of the mug. Now, you have no idea how much you got and how much is stuck to the cup. Not a great way to dose.
- Topicals – Topical means anything you can put on your skin like creams, lotions, balms, salves, or patches. The problem with these products is that they simply don’t work for non-dermatologic illness. We have very good evidence at this point that cannabinoids simple don’t penetrate the skin. Sure, we can do some fancy pharmaceutical magic to make it works, but 1) why bother when there are more effective options (see above), 2) this leads to rashes and other complications seen with conventional medication patches, 3) it’s unlikely that any cannabis products, at present, take this truly pharmaceutical approach.
The article is written by Dr. Jordan Tishler, the CEO of inhaleMD, a cannabis medicine clinic in Massachusetts. The article first appeared on inhaleMD’s website. Through his training in Internal Medicine and years of practice as an Emergency Physician, Dr. Tishler brings his knowledge, reason, and care to patients at inhaleMD, and through his advocacy work at the local and national levels.