How To Use Medical Cannabis

The marijuana plant contains more than 100 different chemicals called cannabinoids. Each one has a different effect on the body. Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) are the main chemicals used in medicine. THC also produces the “high” people feel when they smoke marijuana or eat foods containing it. To get medical marijuana, you need a written recommendation from a licensed doctor in states where that is legal. (Not every doctor is willing to recommend medical marijuana for their patients.) You must have a condition that qualifies for medical marijuana use. Each state has its own list of qualifying conditions. Your state may also require you to get a medical marijuana ID card. Once you have that card, you can buy medical marijuana at a store called a dispensary.

Cannabis has a wide margin of safety and there is limited risk of overdose. However, caution is warranted until a patient fully understands the effect that the cannabis may have. Dosage varies greatly among patients, even when treating the same condition.

There are many factors that impact the effect, including:

  • Amount used (dosage)
  • Strain used and method of consumption
  • Environment/setting
  • Experience and history of cannabis use
  • Biochemistry
  • Mindset or mood
  • Nutrition or diet

Start Low and Go Slow!

The basic principal for dosing medical marijuana is to start with a low dose and to go slow in taking more until the effect of the first dose is fully realized, because the effects of cannabis are not always immediately felt. Starting low and going slow allows patients to accommodate for the different experiences they may have.

As with most other medications, the goal with marijuana is to find the lowest effective dose for your condition. By taking as little cannabis as necessary to address your needs, you’ll reduce the impact of side effects or interactions, and also likely save money. Start your new or altered regimen at a time and place where you can safely wait to gauge the impacts. It is especially important to keep a detailed log during the first week or two of using a new or changed medication; but an ongoing log is even better. With medical marijuana or any other medication, information is power. When it comes to medication logs of any type, there is no such thing as “too detailed.” For a cannabis log, keep track of details like the date and time of use; amount used; strain, type, and cannabinoid content (if known to you); therapeutic and side effects; your feelings before and after; and so on (perhaps employing a dozen or more categories).

Take it upon yourself to know your rights and responsibilities. Study the current laws and regulations where you live by checking the website of or contacting your health department.

How do you take it?

1. Inhalation

Inhalation has the primary advantage of allowing a patient to adjust the dosage easily for maximum benefit because the onset of action is almost immediate. The medical marijuana is taken into the lungs and quickly absorbed through the capillaries into the bloodstream. Effects from inhaling cannabis products are felt within minutes and reach their peak in 10–30 minutes. Typical inhalers experience an effect that tapers off after approximately 2–4 hours, and lasts about 4–12 hours.

  • Smoking is also a very user-friendly method, especially for those used to smoking tobacco or recreational marijuana. Depending upon the availability of marijuana where you live, you may also have a near-endless variety of strains and strengths available to you at reasonable prices.Yes, smoking marijuana — whether in a joint, a pipe, or a bong — delivers the desired chemical compounds to your body quickly. However, the effects also tend to wear off quickly, often on the shorter end of one-and-a-half to four hours.Smoking marijuana also creates the telltale odor that tends to linger on clothing, hair, furniture, and just about everything else within range. Most importantly, while the comparative damage vis-as-vis smoking tobacco products is not entirely clear, it is obvious that inhaling smoke is detrimental to your lungs. So, unless you already have a terminal illness, you may want to consider alternate methods.

  • Vaping — inhaling dried cannabis that has been placed in a vaporizer — offers the quick-release benefits of smoking without the same risk for lung damage or overwhelming odors. Vaping may also be a more manageable inhalation method for patients with breathing problems.[3]
    On the negative side, vaping shares the same limited effectiveness period as traditional smoking. Also, unlike rolling a joint or filling a pipe, you have to make sure the battery on your vaporizer is charged (unless it’s a plug-in model) and wait for it to heat up. And, marijuana vaporizers tend to be fairly expensive, even without factoring in the cost of the marijuana that goes inside.

2.  Oral Administration

Many patients are more comfortable with oral administration of medical marijuana. Patients should consider, however, that absorption is slower when medical marijuana is taken orally, with lower, more delayed peak THC levels and reduced bioavailability of THC and CBD due to extensive metabolism in the digestive tract. Far beyond the humble homemade “pot brownie,” there is actually an extensive range of packaged foods (from popcorn to lollipops and beyond) laced with measured doses of medical cannabis. Depending upon where you live and the medical marijuana laws there, you may find these products at your chosen dispensary.
While pre-packaged foods may be convenient, you can certainly still whip up your own marijuana-laced foods, which gives you total control over the contents. A simple internet search will unearth a bevy of recipes. Using food eliminates the odor and reduces the possible stigma a patient may experience from using marijuana; the effects tend to linger for longer than when smoking or vaping as well. That said, the medicinal impact may take an hour or more to kick in, so food may not be the best choice for surges of pain that need quick relief. Also, some patients may have conditions that cause nausea or a loss of appetite, making food an unattractive choice.

3. Apply it to your skin in a lotion, spray, oil, or cream

  • Medical marijuana comes in various topical application forms, including sprays, salves, lotions, and ointments. Skin application of cannabis causes no psychoactive effects (which may be a positive or negative, depending upon your circumstances), and is best suited to skin conditions, arthritis, soreness, etc.
    Topical applications, however, are very “hit-or-miss.” Some patients swear by them, while others say they do nothing. They won’t be effective for pain caused by cancer, glaucoma, or other conditions for which medical marijuana in other forms is often used.
    Also, the products tend to be greasy upon application and may cause skin irritation in some patients.
  • Transdermal patches offer a discreet, low-effort delivery method for medical marijuana. If you suffer from nausea or loss of appetite, or otherwise can’t or don’t want to inhale or consume cannabis, patches may be your best bet for relief. Dosages vary, and patches can be cut in half to reduce dosages. People seeking low-dose relief may find patches particularly appealing.

4. Place a Few Drops Of a Liquid Under Your Tongue

Tinctures of medical cannabis and alcohol (or another solution) can be sprayed under the tongue for relatively fast effect (faster than eating, slower than inhaling). The sprays come in small, discreet bottles, produce no odor and have a mild taste, are usually low-dose, and may be a good choice for children.

5. Cannabis Suppositories

The mere mention of inserting any type of medication into the rectum may be enough to turn off some patients. There is also some debate as to the relative effectiveness of cannabis extract suppositories. However, they also seem to offer fast, long-lasting relief to many patients.

As with most other medications, the goal with marijuana is to find the lowest effective dose for your condition. By taking as little cannabis as necessary to address your needs, you’ll reduce the impact of side effects or interactions, and also likely save money. Start your new or altered regimen at a time and place where you can safely wait to gauge the impacts. It is especially important to keep a detailed log during the first week or two of using a new or changed medication; but an ongoing log is even better. With medical marijuana or any other medication, information is power. When it comes to medication logs of any type, there is no such thing as “too detailed.” For a cannabis log, keep track of details like the date and time of use; amount used; strain, type, and cannabinoid content (if known to you); therapeutic and side effects; your feelings before and after; and so on (perhaps employing a dozen or more categories).

Take it upon yourself to know your rights and responsibilities. Study the current laws and regulations where you live by checking the website of or contacting your health department.