There are many ways to consume medical cannabis; it’s a process of finding out what works best for you. Each method varies in onset and duration of effect and every patient will have their own unique experience based on their constitution and the context. Below are general guidelines that can be helpful as you navigate your choices. We recommend that you keep a journal to track your own results. You can also print this chart that organizes the different onsets and durations of effect per method of consumption into an easily digestible visual aid.
Smoking and vaping cannabis products have the quickest onset of effect because cannabinoids can reach the bloodstream almost instantaneously through absorption in the lungs. It can be a great method of consumption to manage breakthrough symptoms such as pain or anxiety. While it has the quickest onset of effect, it has the shortest window of effect, generally 1-3 hours. Repeated consumption may be necessary to maintain desired comfort levels. Products in this category include Flower and Concentrates.
Inhaling smoke of any kind can lead to irritation in the respiratory system. While vaping is considered by some to be safer than smoking, there is no long term safety data on the repeated, long term use of cannabis extracts (inhaled as vapor), the excipients sometimes used in formulation with these extracts, and the technology that accompanies them. We recommend that patients speak with their Healthcare Professional about the potential risks of smoking or vaping in relationship to their qualifying condition.
Onset: up to 5 minutes
Duration: 1-3 hours
When cannabinoids are ingested within food and beverages, they first pass through your digestive system, your gut and liver, before they enter your bloodstream. This is referred to as “first pass” metabolism. More research needs to be done to fully understand how cannabinoids are metabolized through this pathway, but generally it is understood that cannabinoids can be “lost” along the way through degradation by digestive processes and/or converted into other compounds/molecules through chemical reactions in the organ systems, especially the liver. This can lead to lower bioavailability and possibly increased potency which results in a slower onset of effect with a longer duration of effect. Until you have gained experience with ingestible products, it is wise to start with low doses and increase gradually over time so that you can determine your minimum effective dose, that which gives you relief without adverse effect. Cannabinoids are fat soluble and their absorption rate can be greater when consumed along with fats such as butter, olive or coconut oil.
Onset: 30-120 minutes
Duration: 4-8 hours
This designation refers to products that are administered and absorbed in the mouth. Products in this category include tinctures, infused oils, glycerites and lozenges. Absorption effectiveness varies depending on the product and its ingredients. Tinctures, which by definition are solutions in which alcohol is the solvent, have better oral-mucosal absorption because alcohol has the ability to carry active ingredients transdermally through the lining of the mouth, directly into the bloodstream. This potentially results in a more effective dose and a shorter onset of effect. Infused oils, glycerites and lozenges generally have lower transdermal activity and some or all of the products may be swallowed and absorbed through the digestive system, also known as “first pass” metabolism. Products that are absorbed through this pathway generally have lower bioavailability and a longer onset of effect. Sublingual products can be administered directly on or under the tongue depending on preference. It is important to note that alcohol can be irritating to the lining of the mouth when used consistently over time. To avoid any possible discomfort, tinctures can be diluted in a small amount of water.
Tinctures and infused oils are commonly available in both dropper and spray applications. Droppers offer the most control of your dose because you can administer the product drop by drop. Utilize the graduated dropper to manage your dose. Sprays, while offering convenience, can have less consistency from dose to dose based on the spray mechanism.
Onset: 15-60 minutes
Duration: 2-6 hours
Using topicals such as lotions and salves, targets relief to a specific area. The skin absorbs the topical so that it can interact with cannabinoid receptors nearby to potentially relieve skin, joint or muscle discomfort. Topical products are not generally absorbed into the bloodstream and hence do not contribute to a systemic effect, i.e., a broader interaction with the nervous system. Topical products will not affect a person’s mood or contribute to a feeling of being high, even with the presence of THC. The inclusion of essential oils or terpenes may increase the penetrability of the product, but care should be taken to limit essential oil and terpene use to what is tolerable as these are very powerful compounds and can be irritating to the skin.
Onset: Within 30 minutes
Duration: 1-4 hours
Transdermal formulations are designed to penetrate through all layers of the skin and into the bloodstream. This allows for a systemic, whole body effect. Generally, transdermal products such as patches and gel pens, do not cause intoxication, or a feeling of being “high”, but this can vary from person to person. To improve absorption, administer these products onto an area of the body with thin skin and venous exposure. Applying after a hot bath or shower when blood capillaries are closer to the surface, can also potentially improve effectiveness.
Transdermal patches are discreet, convenient and reliable, offering a slow release mechanism that can offer up to 12 hours of symptom relief. Many consumers find success with transdermal patches as part of a night time routine to assist with healthy sleep patterns.
Onset: Generally within 30 minutes
Duration: 4-12 hours
Suppositories can offer a variety of unique benefits for medical cannabis patients, but are generally underused due to a lack of familiarity (and sometimes comfort) with the application method. They have been used medicinally for centuries, and herbalists and naturopaths often recommend them due to the high level of bioavailability of the active ingredients. Suppositories can be administered rectally or vaginally. Because there are numerous cannabinoid receptors in the GI tract and female reproductive system, they are ideal places to direct products. In general, suppositories have a faster onset, higher bioavailability, shorter peak and shorter duration than oral administration. This is largely due to the fact that suppositories bypass roughly two thirds of “first-pass” metabolism that occurs during digestion. Suppositories may provide systemic, non-intoxicating effects and are usually well-tolerated with minimal side effects.
Onset: Generally within 30 minutes
Duration: 2-6 hours
The statements made regarding these products have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or ailment. The efficacy of these products have not been confirmed by the FDA. We recommend consulting with a qualified medical doctor or physician when preparing a treatment plan for any and all diseases or ailments. It is especially important for those who are pregnant, nursing, chronically ill, elderly or parents who have children under the age of 18 to discuss the use of these products with a physician prior to consuming. The information on our website is intended to provide general information and education regarding our products and is not to be construed as medical advice or instruction. The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act requires this notice.