Cannabis Basics 101
What is Cannabis ?
Cannabis is a flowering annual plant native to Central and Southeastern Asia, with a rich global tradition of medicinal, spiritual, culinary, and civil use. Despite its historical applications as a valuable herbal remedy and source of phytochemicals and plant fiber, cannabis has been broadly illegal for the past century. This illegality has hindered clinical research and limited the scope of scientific inquiry; still, determined medical practitioners, patient activists, caretakers, and allies have fought to bring the medical potential of cannabinoid therapy to the forefront, with increasing interest in and research of the subject in recent years.
We now know Cannabis to be a panoply of 113+ Cannabinoids and 31+ Terpenes, synergistic chemical compounds with a wealth of potential medical uses and health benefits. As we currently understand it, these compounds together create the unique therapeutic potentials of different strains, or genetic varietals. This genetic and chemical diversity is what allows cannabis to help alleviate the symptoms of many conditions, and what makes the plant a promising pharmaceutical cornucopia. Your first step for safely consuming cannabis is a free in-person consultation with a physician.
How to Safely Consume Cannabis
As a non-standardized medicine, the most effective way to dose cannabis is dose titration, or “titrating to effect.” Titrating to effect refers to increasing the dose in small, measured increments, waiting between doses, and repeating until you feel comfortably medicated.
Vaporizing is typically the easiest way to titrate, as it allow you to take small, measured puffs, which onset quickly. Smoking isn’t recommended as a first-line option for medical patients; combustion produces harmful byproducts that may be especially unhealthy for patients with compromised respiratory or immune systems.
Edible cannabis products (“edibles”) are also generally not recommended to those who are trying cannabis for the first time. Edibles are more variable vis a vis onset and duration of effects (depending on what you’ve eaten that day, your metabolic rate, recent physical activity, etc).
Standardized extracts, sublingual administration (under the tongue), and measured, low-dose capsules can mitigate these risks and provide a more straightforward path for those who’d prefer not to inhale cannabis. These products are offered by an increasing number of licensed producers.
When vaporizing for the first time, It’s ideal to start with a strain that has a lower THC content (~5-10% at most). Finely grind your cannabis, pack your vaporizer, and let it heat up. Start on a lower temperature setting – lower temperatures tend to leave one more alert and are less irritating to the airways. Take one slow inhale, hold it for 3-5 seconds if possible, and exhale. Effects should be felt within 15 minutes, after which you can evaluate if you want to continue dosing. Repeat, waiting between doses, until you feel comfortably medicated.
Sublingual administration should begin at 2.5-5mg THC (e.g. 0.25-0.5ml of 10mg/ml cannabis oil). It’s recommended to hold the oil under your tongue for 45-60 seconds. Effects will typically be felt within thirty minutes, peak within 2 hours, and dissipate within 6 hours.
Wait at least 2 hours before dosing again, and increase your dose if necessary. The effects of sublingual administration are more mild in comparison to edibles, as sublingual administration bypasses the liver, which converts THC into a more potent form. This can intensify the effects, meaning edible products may last up to 8 hours, and are felt more intensely throughout the body.
In almost all cases, edibles will onset within 45 minutes-2 hours. Wait at least 3 hours before taking another dose.
Obtaining Medicinal Cannabis in Canada
The supreme court of Canada ruled in 1997 that criminalizing possession of cannabis violated the liberties of those who were using the plant for medical purposes, and in 2001 granted patients with a prescription guaranteed legal access to medicinal cannabis.
In our current system, there are 90 producers licensed to cultivate cannabis, with 37 licensed to sell. These licensed producers (“LPs”) may sell dried cannabis flower, oils, and oil-filled capsules. Patients may also apply to grow their own supply, for which an LP may provide starting materials.
To purchase medical cannabis in Canada, you must first get a prescription from a qualified healthcare professional. After doing so, you may register with an LP, split your prescription between multiple, or apply to grow for yourself. If you opt to order from an LP, you should be registered and able to purchase within a week, though processing times vary. Many LPs offer a compassionate pricing discount for low-income individuals, and free shipping above a certain price point. If you apply for a license to grow, you may receive starting materials (seeds or live plants) and an interim supply of cannabis from an LP.
Side Effects and Considerations
It’s always recommended to explore treatment options in consultation with a medical professional, who can answer questions about, offer advice on, and evaluate the efficacy of your treatment plan. Although Cannabis is a safe treatment, it can present side-effects. Dose titration aims to achieve the maximum therapeutic potential while minimizing any of these possible side effects of cannabis.
Some common side-effects include:
- Dizziness; Drowsiness; Headache
- Impaired memory and concentration
- Disorientation; Intoxication
- Suspicious, Anxious, or Paranoid thinking
- Altered perception, motor skills
- Rapid heartbeat
This is not an exhaustive list – a full document (Consumer Information – Cannabis) is available on the Canada.ca government website.
It’s recommended to keep a journal cataloguing strains you’ve tried, their cannabinoid levels, and effects. Doing so will improve your relationship with and understanding of cannabis, as well as a better understanding of and control over your health.