So Many Ways to Take Your Medicine
Every year, there are new ways to take cannabis medicine. Here are the latest…
If you’ve been around cannabis long enough, you’ve probably heard of all of these: oil, shatter, resin, wax, hash. Whatever happened to just smoking some buds? What are these things, and why should you, as a cannabis patient, care about how you get your medicine?
Let’s start with the most familiar method of consuming cannabis: the flowers. Flowers, also known as “buds” or “nugs,” are exactly that; they’re the flowers produced by the cannabis plant. Like all flowers, they feature petals, generate pollen, and produce seeds. Flowers also contain crystalline, resinous sacs called trichomes (when on the bud) or kief (when sifted off the bud). Trichomes are loaded with cannabinoids like THC and CBD as well as terpenes that give cannabis its characteristic moods, scents, and flavors.
For many cannabis patients, simply smoking cured flower is enough medicine to instantly relieve symptoms. Other patients, however, may not want to smoke their cannabis for a variety of reasons. Although smoking cannabis does not appear to damage the lungs, it does produce a powerful smell that some may find offensive. Smoking flower can also cause undesirable highs (anxiety or lethargy) in patients who are sensitive to certain terpenes or cannabinoids.
Flowers can be inhaled without ever burning them. Vaporizers are machines that heat flowers at variable temperatures, essentially boiling off the cannabinoids and terpenes into a smokeless vapor. Vapor doesn’t have the free radicals or particulates created by smoking, which make this an ideal method for patients with respiratory issues.
Hash comes in many forms, but it’s usually a sticky substance that’s either brown or green in color. Pressed or rolled hash is made by scooping up kief and pressing it together. Hash can be smoked, vaporized, or even eaten for therapeutic effects. Ice-water hash is made by knocking trichomes off the buds with cold water or dry ice.
Phoenix Tears/Raw Oil
The most potent of all cannabis concentrates, Phoenix Tears is made by cooking cannabis flower in an isomerizer with ethanol (everclear). The product is a thick, black oil that can be thinned for easy bottling/administration. Phoenix Tears are usually given to patients with severe medical ailments, such as AIDS, cancer, or seizure disorders. This is some serious medicine! A single gram can contain as much as 1000mg THC – compare that to the average commercial edible, which only contains 10mg THC.
If hydrocarbon solvents (butane, propane) are pushed through ground up cannabis flower, a potent (but toxic and flammable) oil is produced. The oil can be cleaned up with purging (heat and vacuum ovens), resulting in wax (a.k.a. budder).
Wax is incredibly potent, and lab analysis shows it typically contains some of the highest amounts of cannabinoids and terpenes of all cannabis products. The most efficient way to consume wax is to dab it – touching it to a hot surface (a nail) and inhaling it through a water pipe (a rig). Wax can also be capped onto bowls or woven into a joint, although burning/smoking wax is an inefficient way to consume. Wax is a powerful medicine due to the high cannabinoid and terpene content.
Shatter is purified wax that looks like broken glass – hence its name. To create shatter, simply take wax and winterize it, a process that uses ethanol (read: booze) and freezing to filter out fats and plant matter from the wax. Shatter typically contains higher percentages of THC, but lower amounts of other cannabinoids and terpenes due to loss during the winterization process.
Shatter, like wax, can be rolled into joints or capped on bowls, but it’s best to dab or vaporize it.
Live resin is another cannabis concentrate made by extraction of a flash-frozen plant immediately after its harvest. This preserves many of the terpenes that can be lost to evaporation during the curing process. Live resin is made much like shatter, except its been purified to the point that THC aggregates into tiny crystals, and these crystals are slathered in terpene oil or “terp juice.” The terpene content tends to distinguish live resin from other concentrates.
Sauce is similar to live resin: it’s a mix of pure THC crystals soaked in terpene oils. Because of the volatility of the high terpene content, you should dab live resin or sauce at low temps. Smoking live resin or sauce is not only inefficient but will also degrade most of the terpenes before they ever reach your lungs.
As we get purer forms of cannabis concentrates, eventually we end up with pure THC or CBD. These come as isolates or distillates. Isolates tend to be solid flakes or powders, whereas distillates are usually liquid or oily. Regardless, they should be dabbed or vaporized, although they can be mixed with buds for smoking.
One of the most popular ways to ingest cannabis is through edibles. Edibles are food products – candies, cookies, gummies, or drinks – infused with cannabis extracts. Edibles can be made with infused butter or cooking oils, although newer edibles utilize water-soluble THC powders for faster onset.
Edibles made with oil-based infusions must pass through the digestive tract before generating a high. This process can take anywhere from 90 minutes to several hours, and the high can last for 3 to 8 hours. Water-soluble edibles, however, can kick in as little as 5 to 10 minutes, although water-soluble THC’s high only lasts about 90 minutes.
Edibles are highly portable and don’t generate smells like smoking buds, which makes them ideal medicine for patients who prefer to remain discreet.
Tinctures, made from soaking cannabis in alcohol for weeks or months, could also be considered edibles. Dropped under the tongue, tinctures rarely get patients elevated, although some tinctures contain activated cannabinoids, which can get someone high.
Topicals are one of the best ways to introduce skeptics or rookies to cannabis products. Salves, creams, and lotions may contain cannabinoids and terpenes, which absorb through the skin and into muscles, tendons, and even bone, but not blood. Because topicals rarely get into the bloodstream, they won’t get anyone high, but may still provide relief from pain, tension, soreness, or inflammation.
Choose One, Or Try Them All
For new patients, the key to pinpointing the best cannabinoid therapy for you is to try all of them. If topicals don’t work, try edibles. If edibles don’t work, try dabbing. Combining methods may also work better than one method alone. Some medicinal formats may work wonders; others may not work at all for you. Everyone is different, so try not to compare your preferred methods to others’ approaches. You will find your perfect medicine from experimenting.
Additionally, dosage is entirely dependent on you, the individual. Although there may be a recommended dose, always remember you’re the final arbiter regarding what works best for you. If you need more, take more. If you need less, feel comfortable taking less. In the end, only you can titrate your ideal dose, and only you can take control of your health.