The Many Faces of Cannabis

May 28, 2017 by

The Many Faces of Cannabis

You can have me read this article to you instead of reading it yourself…



Or you can read it the old-fashioned way below…


We already talked about all of the different terms that are used to refer to marijuana – now we have to talk about all of the different forms of marijuana!  It seems like every time I turn around I am hearing about a new way to use this drug, or a new form that was just created.

Understanding the terms and types means that we can wrap our brains around the many faces of cannabis and the many options available.  Then we can finally venture into the world of marijuana-as-medication in our next article.

Au Natural or Fully Synthetic?

As research progresses with this drug, there are more types and forms becoming available.  For the past few thousand years, the only marijuana consumed was the natural from, directly from the dried leaves and flowers of the plant.  This natural form contained all of the components of marijuana, including CBD, THC, and a variety of other chemicals (the first article in this series talks about the differences between these).

However, we are now able to produce synthetic forms of the drug.  This means that we can recreate the chemicals that are found in marijuana through a sterile process in a lab.

This gives us access to pure CBD or THC, in whatever concentration we desire.  In fact, many of you are likely aware that there are a couple of approved medications on the market that come from marijuana.  Each of these medications is made from pure, synthetic THC or CBD.

Why does this matter?  Well…some people flinch a bit when they hear that they are using a synthetic product instead of a natural product.  But the truth is that when it comes to treatments, this is often safer and more effective.  Synthetic versions allow us to focus in on the part of the plant that takes care of our symptoms and avoids many of the side effects.  I have an entire article on this concept (unrelated to marijuana) here, if you are interested.

Taken as Prescribed: Approved Forms of Marijuana

Speaking of those prescription medications made from synthetic THC and CBD!  I hear a lot of questions about these products, so let’s cover them briefly.

Approved in the US and many other countries

  • Dronabinol [Marinol]: Approved to treat nausea and vomiting from chemotherapy
    • A capsule that contains synthetic THC
  • Nabilone [Cesamet]: Very similar to dronabinol, with the same approved use

Approved in many countries, but NOT the United States

  • Nabiximols [Sativex]: Approved to treat chronic neuropathic pain and spasticity with multiple sclerosis
    • This medication is an oral/sublingual spray that is 50% CBD and 50% THC (synthetic)
    • It is currently undergoing studies in the United States for diabetic neuropathic pain and nausea and vomiting from chemotherapy

Currently being studied in trials

  • Cannabidiol [Epidiolex]: Currently being studied for use in various pediatric seizure disorders
    • This is a liquid product that contains 100% synthetic CBD

Surprisingly, it appears that the products that contain only THC (Marinol and Cesamet) have so many side effects that they are rarely used.  These side effects include drowsiness, unsteadiness, dizziness, inability to focus, confusion, mood changes, delusions, and hallucinations.  Another important point is that when THC is used for pain, it produces the same psychiatric effects as from smoked marijuana.

All of this taken together – there is reason to believe that THC alone is problematic (unless all you’re looking for is the high).  The other main chemical, CBD, seems to play an important role  – making marijuana more tolerable and also providing many of its touted benefits.

How would you like your marijuana, sir?  On the Rocks?  Well Done?

We’re all aware that marijuana can be smoked and eaten.  But what is the difference between the two?  How long does it take for it to kick in?  How long does it last?  And what about some of the other ways that people have been talking about, like vaping and spraying?

Well you need not worry anymore.  Here is a crash course in the many different options for using marijuana and how each effects your body.  I know – what a relief right?!  I’ll try not to be too pharmacist-y and nerdy with this one and keep it brief.


Smoking is obviously the most popular and discussed method of consuming marijuana, and for good reason.  It rapidly makes its way to the brain and kicks in within about 10 minutes.  But just as quickly as it hits, it begins to wear off.  Within 30 minutes of that high, it has dropped off to only 20% of what was there before.  Each person responds differently, so what may be a lot for one person may hardly affect another.

Downsides: There are of course hazards to the lungs from inhaling smoke, and there are some chemicals in the marijuana plant that may be harmful to the lungs when burned.


The next most popular way to consume marijuana is to bake it into food and eat it (or suck on a sucker, etc, etc).  This allows for the drug to kick in on delay because it must first be absorbed from the gut.  It takes anywhere from 1-6 hours for a typical person to experience its full effects after eating.  But an important point – the effect is only 1/10th of what would be obtained from smoking.  That’s why you have to bake with so much more than what you would smoke.  Overall, the effects last for about 4-6 hours.

Downsides: It is difficult to predict the effect of marijuana that is consumed from food – both when and how it will impact a person.  Another consideration is that for those with GI conditions like gastroparesis and IBD, absorption can be altered a lot from what would be seen in a typical gut.


Vaporizing, as far as effect is concerned, works exactly the same way as smoking marijuana.  It kicks in just as quickly and just as much, and wears off at the same rate.  But because it involves heating the marijuana below the point at which it burns, it leaves out some of the toxins that might be harmful to the lungs.

Downsides: It is not completely risk free, as carbon monoxide is still produced with the heating process.


Oral sprays are a relatively new option for consuming marijuana.  They are provided in a spray device that delivers a measured dose of some combination of THC and CBD (so advanced!).  Unlike many of the other forms of marijuana, that are an ‘approximate amount’ of the drug, this one lets you know the exact dose you are getting each time.  This might be helpful, depending on why you are using it.

It usually takes about 1-2 hours to kick in when it is sprayed under the tongue, and 2-3 hours to kick in when it is sprayed inside of the cheek.  It can last for about 1-2 hours, but then wears off.  In comparison to inhalation, the same dose would result in a lower effect, much like with eating.

Downsides:  It is difficult to know what dose will work until you have tried it and slowly increased it on your own.  It is also important not to spray down the throat (where it won’t work) and never to spray into the nose (where it is not safe).


Applying marijuana substances to the skin is a practice that has been around for quite some time.  It has never been shown to actually work, however, and there is no reason to believe that it is absorbed through the skin.  It is possible that when placed under a wrap or bandage in the right conditions, it might have a local effect, but that is likely the most that can be expected with this option, if anything at all.

Now What?

And with that, we have covered the major forms and methods of ‘taking’ marijuana.  I imagine I have missed a few, and that as soon as this article is published, it will be outdated.  Feel free to drop me a line and let me know what else you would’ve liked to learn about.  I’m always looking to learn, too.

Next up…


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