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3 Medical Marijuana Delivery Methods & Which One is Right for You

Between strains, dosage, brand, and terpenes, medical marijuana cardholders have a lot of decisions regarding what they use to treat their health conditions. However, just as important as dosing, strain, and other variables is the delivery method you choose to administer cannabis. 

There are a multitude of ways people use marijuana, including ingestion, topicals, sublinguals, vaporization, and more. We’re going to break down each method one by one and explain which method is best for specific ailments and conditions. 

But, before we get into the specifics, let’s have a mini refresher on the way our bodies process cannabis, so you can understand the full picture. 

The Endocannabinoid System (ECS), Pharmacokinetics, & Bioavailability

Lots of big, scientific words here. Let’s break these down. 

As you may or may not know (connoisseurs and amateurs are both welcome here), cannabis is processed by our body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS) which subsequently produces psychoactive effects. The ECS plays various roles in our bodies regulatory processes, such as appetite, mood, memory, and pain sensation. When cannabis enters our bloodstream through one way or another, it binds to the ECS receptors and creates the high. 

How cannabis moves through the body and what it does to our systems is referred to as pharmacokinetics. Different delivery methods will produce different bodily results due to bioavailability—basically, how fast and effective a substance is—and metabolism. Scientists measure bioavailability from 0-100%. 

To demonstrate, smoking cannabis (burning cannabis is illegal in PA, but often used and cited in research given it’s quick on-set of effects) yields a bioavailability between 10-25%. An individual smoking marijuana will have 50% of THC delivered through the smoke itself and exhale the other half. However, 60% of the smoke that is absorbed will be metabolized. 

In short, how you consume or administer marijuana has a direct effect on how it affects you and the condition you’re seeking to treat. 

Now, let’s break down the methods. 

Ingestibles: Edibles, Tinctures, Tonics, and Capsules

Ingestibles are, hands down, one of the absolute best ways to treat chronic pain. Though the onset of symptoms can be much slower than inhalation, consuming cannabis orally offers increased dosing precision and longer lasting effects given the rate at which the body metabolizes the substance. 

When delivered orally, the liver metabolizes the cannabis into a much stronger chemical with stronger effects. If you want to try ingesting cannabis but are turned off by waiting for the effects to kick in, try consuming cannabis sublingually, or under the tongue. The effects of sublingual cannabis can be felt within 5 to 15 minutes, though it will not have as long-lasting effects as other ingestible methods. 

Additionally, please note that edibles are currently unavailable and illegal to purchase or sell in Pennsylvania. With that said, it is perfectly legal to make your own edibles. If you sign up to become a Greener Institute Member, you will have exclusive access to recipes and cooking with cannabis classes. Register here!

Topicals: Ointments, Balms, Lotions, Patches, Sprays, and Alcohol Rubs

If you suffer from arthritis, skin irritations, inflammation, or muscle spasms, the topical use of cannabis may just be your best bet. In fact, some experts and product developers are hearing that topicals may also help with migraines and headaches.

By applying products infused with marijuana directly to the source of your pain or discomfort, you can get instant, long-lasting, and localized relief. Topicals are especially great for those of us who may want to experience the benefits of THC without the psychoactive effects, though transdermal patches will cause a sense of euphoria since they deliver THC to the bloodstream. 

Inhalation: Vaporization

As stated previously, smoking marijuana by burning flower is currently illegal in our home state of PA, so we will not be discussing this method in depth. However, vaporization is one of the fastest and most effective ways of delivering THC into our bloodstream. Vaporization is often favored for its ease of use and the quick onset of psychoactive effects which happen almost immediately. 

What’s more, vaporized medical marijuana will contain a higher amount of cannabinoids than smoked cannabis (see above for a breakdown). It also does not create any toxic byproducts and is the preferred method of consumption for those who need instant results but possess compromised lungs or immune systems. 

All in all, just as with strains and dosage, figuring out the best way to consume marijuana is a greatly personal endeavour dependent on many factors, including your metabolism, condition, and how your body specifically reacts to the substance. Figuring out the best method for your needs can help make your medical marijuana treatment all the more effective and enjoyable.