While the medical efficacy of cannabis is undeniable, it is important to use the delivery system that is the best fit for you and your condition. Each consumption method produces different effects at different durations. Therefore, certain methods of consumption will be better than others in the treatment of each condition. There are four main medical cannabis delivery systems — inhalation, ingestion, oral absorption, and topical. Scroll down to learn the differences among each method to help decide which one is right for you.
There are two different methods of inhalation — smoking and vaporizing — both of which provide a rapid onset and similar effects. While both involve heating cannabis so that cannabinoids are absorbed directly into the bloodstream through the lungs, they are two very different methods. Smoking cannabis involves lighting dried cannabis flowers with fire in a method known as combustion – this includes using pipes, and joints. The healthier delivery system, vaporizing, uses a stream of heated air to vaporize the active ingredients in cannabis without combustion. Unlike smoking, both cannabis concentrates and dried flowers can be vaporized.
Ingesting cannabis produces much stronger and more psychoactive effects than other delivery systems. When digested, cannabinoids are broken down in the gastrointestinal tract and then passed through the liver before entering the bloodstream. As a result of this process, the cannabinoids pass through the blood-brain barrier more effectively, thereby increasing potency by making them more likely to bind with the endocannabinoid receptors throughout the body. It may take 30 minutes to two hours to feel the full effects from ingested cannabis. Edible cannabis affects everyone a little bit differently, depending on body size, metabolism, and experience. Many people associate edible cannabis with the traditional ‘pot brownie’, but that hardly gives this method the credit it deserves. Truly medicinal cannabis is grounded in ingest-able applications of cannabis — like most traditional medical applications, specific cannabinoids can now be reduced to pill form, capsules, tablets and liquid form. These new forms allow for very controlled and repeatable dosing events — like traditional pharmaceutical medicines, you can now take a pill that contains precisely 5 mg of THC or CBD and so on.
Cannabinoids can be absorbed directly into the bloodstream from three different areas inside the mouth — under the tongue (sublingual), on the tongue, and all other mucosal tissues lining inside the entire mouth. The full effects from using this delivery system will be felt more quickly than by ingesting, but less quickly than with inhalation. The cannabinoids will be absorbed most quickly when held under the tongue. Most commonly, cannabis is consumed orally with infused mints, lozenges, and breath strips. In this method of delivery, the effects will be felt within 10 to 60 minutes.
Topical medical cannabis products come in a variety of forms including lotions, balms, creams, salves and patches. Topical medical marijuana products are applied to the outside of the skin, and can provide localized relief from inflammation, pain, skin irritations and more. In all forms of topical application other than patches, cannabinoids react with receptors under the skin, but they do not reach the bloodstream. As a result, most topical medical cannabis products do not provide psychoactive effects. Some transdermal patches, however, are able to transfer cannabinoids into the bloodstream.