An Introduction to Medical Cannabis
Cultivated in various regions around the globe, evidence suggests that cannabis has been used for over 4000 years therapeutically, recreationally and spiritually. Cannabis has been recognized as an alternative natural medicine for a variety of ailments, including pain, nausea, epilepsy, and glaucoma for many years.
Cannabis is available in many different strains and varieties. The characteristics of each strain, including cannabinoids and terpenes, are believed to influence the overall effects experienced.
What are Cannabinoids?
Cannabinoids are chemical compounds that naturally occur in cannabis. The two most common cannabinoids found in cannabis include THC and CBD.
This cannabinoid has intoxicating effects and has been noted to have the potential to improve symptoms of pain, nausea, mood problems, and insomnia.
This cannabinoid has non-intoxicating effects and has been noted to have the potential to improve symptoms of anxiety, inflammation, cramping and spasticity. CBD also has the ability to reduce side effects of THC.
Cannabinoids interact with receptors found in the human body’s endocannabinoid system to produce certain effects.
The Endocannabinoid System
The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a biological system found in mammals and is believed to have important regulatory functions in health and disease.
The endocannabinoid system consists of two main receptors, the CB1 and CB2 receptors, which are found in the brain, nervous system, peripheral organs, and tissues.
Similar to a key fitting inside a lock, cannabinoids interact directly with the endocannabinoid receptors in the body to produce specific effects.
Terpenes – The Connection Between Scent and Effect
Terpenes are responsible for a variety of aromas and flavours found in many plants, foods, and herbs. Over 200 terpenes have been identified in cannabis alone.
The effects in cannabis may be determined by the cannabinoid and terpene profile. For instance, high amounts of the terpene myrcene may give off a sedative effect, whereas the terpene limonene may be mood enhancing.
Terpenes have also been shown to have their own therapeutic potentials such as acting as a bronchodilator, muscle relaxant, anti-inflammatory, and analgesic.
The onset time and duration of cannabis products vary from person to person and can often be influenced by the intake method recommended for a patient’s treatment. These can include:
Quick onset (10 sec. to 1 min.), shorter duration (1-3 hrs.)
Vaporization is achieved through a device that heats cannabis enough to release the cannabinoids but not burn the actual plant matter.
Research suggests that vaping is associated with fewer respiratory problems and can be less harmful to one’s health compared to smoking.
Vaporization is ideal for quick onset but the effects do not typically last as long.
Ingestion (Cannabis Oils)
Slow onset (60-90 min.), extended duration (6-8 hrs.)
Cannabis oil is created by decarboxylating or ‘activating’ cannabis and infusing it with a fatty- oil, allowing the body to better absorb the cannabinoids. Once ingested, cannabis is metabolized by the liver and results in a slower onset time and longer duration of effects.
Patients need to be cautious when ingesting cannabis as one can accidentally ingest a dose that is larger than desired. Always remember to start low and go slow.
|Inhalation (Vaporization)||Ingestion (Oils)|
|Onset||10 seconds - 1 minute||60 - 90 minutes|
|Peak||Approx. 30 minutes||1 - 2 hours|
|Duration||1 - 3 hours||6 - 8 hours|
|Bioavailability||2% - 56%||10% - 20%|
Medical Cannabis Effects
The effects experienced when using cannabis can vary from patient to patient, and product to product. Thus, many patients may require a short period of trial and error to identify the most effective product, method, and dosage for their needs.
Patients could potentially experience any of the following:
- Heightened sensory experiences
- Increased appetite
- Loss of inhibitions
- Increased heart rate
- Dry mouth
- Increased anxiety/paranoia
- Impaired short-term memory
- Decreased blood pressure