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Ways of Using Medical Marijuana

There are three ways marijuana can be used as medicine: by eating it, by breathing it in, or by rubbing it on the skin.


Ingesting Medical Cannabis

Edible cannabis can take many forms. It may be baked into a treat like a cookie or brownie, infused in a drink like soda, or prepared as a pill like the drugs described in the previous slide. When medical marijuana is made as a food or drink, it is sometimes referred to as an “edible.”

When ingested, the effects of medical marijuana are delayed. Typically the effects take about 30 to 60 minutes to initiate. These effects typically peak after two to three hours. Because the effects take much longer to begin and peak much later when medical marijuana is consumed, a patient cannot control the dosage as easily. For this reason, patients often consume more than they had intended. The effects also last much longer when medical marijuana is ingested, sometimes lasting as long as 10 hours.

Because it can be mixed into butter or oil, THC edibles can take many forms, including cookies, cupcakes, hard candy, chocolate, jerky, salads, and burgers.

Since these foods often resemble food without cannabinoids, medical users should be careful to keep them away from children, pets, and unsuspecting others.

Breathing Medical Cannabis

Perhaps the most common method of taking cannabis is to smoke it, either in a rolled paper cigarette (sometimes called a “joint,”), in a pipe, or through a water-filtering bong.

Smoking cannabis presents many of the same dangers as smoking cigarettes. Regular marijuana smokers may experience more frequent upper respiratory infections, excess mucus, and a daily cough. Marijuana smoke contains some of the same cancer-causing chemicals as tobacco smoke, though several studies have failed to demonstrate a higher risk of lung cancer in marijuana smokers.

Although marijuana smoke is often held much longer in the lungs than tobacco smoke (often for 10-15 seconds), this practice is not useful and could be harmful. One study found no difference between a study group that held marijuana smoke for 20 seconds, another that held smoke for 10 seconds, and a third group that did not hold the smoke in their lungs at all.

Another, more recent, form of breathing cannabis is through vaporizers. Vaporizing (“vaping”) marijuana has been shown in some studies to reduce potentially harmful tars and cause fewer respiratory symptoms than typical cannabis smoking. However another study showed that vaporizing marijuana created more harmful levels of toxic ammonia, which can bring on asthma and irritate lungs.

Applying Marijuana Topically

Probably the least common method of using medical marijuana is as a topical patch, salve, or ointment. Topical cannabis has certain advantages over other methods of use. It is released via the skin directly into the bloodstream, meaning the stomach does not break it down, making it more efficient. Using cannabis topically also eliminates the harm caused by inhalation.

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