Healthier Alternatives to Smoking Medical Marijuana
Angela Morrow, RN, BSN, CHPN, is a certified hospice and palliative care nurse.
Anita Chandrasekaran, MD, MPH, is board-certified in internal medicine and currently works as a clinical fellow in the Department of Rheumatology, Allergy & Immunology at Yale University.
The medicinal use of marijuana is legal in a growing number of U.S. states, and other states might eventually join this list. Some patients, however, might be unable to smoke medical marijuana because of their illness, disease, symptoms, treatments and/or other factors. This article explores the alternatives to smoking marijuana that might prove healthier or more viable for patients who’ve received a prescription for medical marijuana.
Marijuana Use for Medicinal Purposes
Requiring a doctor’s “recommendation” or referral and secured from legal vendors, medical marijuana can help relieve numerous symptoms, such as pain, glaucoma, migraine headaches, nausea, and weight loss.
While there are various pros and cons of using medical marijuana, it’s important to understand that the use of marijuana is not without potential side effects. For example, conventional or “street” marijuana might contain harmful fungus and/or pesticides, which can prove especially dangerous for patients with a compromised immune system.
Moreover, the fact that marijuana is usually smoked—either in cigarette form or through the use of tobacco or water pipes—introduces additional concerns. Patients who have never smoked before, or those receiving other treatments that can interfere with their ability to smoke, might find smoking marijuana difficult or simply impossible.
I found that to be a case with a patient with lung cancer and COPD. He suffered from chronic bone pain, nausea, and severe weight loss. He asked his doctor about medical marijuana and received the necessary prescription. When I came to see him, he held a joint but didn’t know how to use it. It was immediately clear that because of his inexperience and because he was using oxygen and was already suffering from a forceful cough, smoking a marijuana cigarette would not be the best method for him.
It’s important to again stress that medical marijuana is a physician-referred treatment and should only be used according to a doctor’s instructions. If you or someone you care for receives a prescription for medical marijuana use but cannot smoke marijuana, non-smoking options might include:
Edible Marijuana: Medical cannabis can be heated and made into oils, butters, and tinctures. Many “cannabis clubs” sell pre-made cookies, brownies, lollipops, and teas. Savvy patients—those willing to take the time to empower themselves through research and knowledge—can also find recipes to make their own marijuana tincture, oil, or butter.
Eating or drinking marijuana’s main or active ingredient tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is certainly preferable for many patients rather than smoking it, but these alternative methods can also create problems. When consumed via food or drink, THC does not absorb into the bloodstream as quickly as when it is smoked. This can make it more difficult to control the effectiveness of the drug or how much is consumed. In addition, patients who suffer from decreased appetite or nausea might not tolerate eating or drinking marijuana.
Vaporizers: Another option is to inhale marijuana using a vaporizer. This method involves heating the marijuana to a high enough temperature to vaporize the THC but not burn the plant. Patients can then breathe in the vapor from a bag without inhaling the harsh and potentially toxic smoke.
Vaping as it is commonly known, can cause serious lung injury. In 2019, a series of outbreaks across the country of what is called product use associated lung injury (EVALI), have resulted in over 2,291 hospitalizations and caused a reported 48 deaths (as of December 3, 2019). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are conducting studies to analyze the components of the TCH from the vaping products. They recommend that people do not use THC vaporizers and to watch carefully for any symptoms if they continue to vape.
Finding the Solution That Works for You
Ultimately, it is possible to find healthier or more suitable alternatives to smoking marijuana, as my aforementioned patient did. He experimented with edible marijuana and found that he enjoyed the marijuana brownies he was able to get at a cannabis club, but as his appetite waned, he found it difficult to stomach the rich chocolate taste. He didn’t want to invest in a vaporizer because his life expectancy was short. However, through the people he met at the cannabis club, he was able to strike a deal with another medical marijuana patient and split the cost of a vaporizer—with the agreement that the other patient would inherit the device after his death. It was an unusual arrangement, to be sure, but it allowed him to continue using medical marijuana for several more weeks.
The alternatives to smoking marijuana that might prove healthier or more viable for patients who've received a prescription for medical marijuana.
3 Alternatives to Smoking Weed (and 2 reasons to put down the bong)
I’m going to start this out by saying that I have nothing philosophically against smoking cannabis every now and again.
I still use my hitter box and smoke the occasional beautifully blended joint from Sacred Smoke.
And I used to smoke a lot more. I mean a LOT more.
Let me tell you a story.
Once upon a time, I had a bong, and that bong had a name.
That bong’s name was Edna.
I smoked a ton of weed out of that bong.
When I got my first one-hitter, I realized that small amounts worked better for my chronic pain than big old Edna did.
Plus, weed was very expensive back then and smoking a one hitter saved me money (as much as 80% of my money actually… see reason #2 below).
Over the course of many years, I eventually learned about edibles and tinctures, CBD and CBG, microdosing and topicals.
I started crafting oils and infusing alcohol and became a kitchen witch.
Now I make remedies for my friends and family and I do experiments and teach people what I know for a living.
I still smoke a little weed now and again, but I said goodbye to the bong.
Other methods are more fun and interesting to me and they feel much better.
I think it’s a pretty good story, but I realize it’s not what everyone’s going for.
Your story may sound like this.
I smoked weed forever. It was good. The end.
And that’s awesome!
I say, if you find something that works for you, do your thing.
But lately, I’ve heard from so many people who want to quit smoking altogether or cut back as much as possible.
And I’m also going to say that the journey to exploring cannabis for health and wellness is really fulfilling.
The more you understand about how magical this plant is and how it interacts with the human body, the more fun it gets.
Plus, it’s the type of learning that could have a real impact on your life.
If you could figure out how to use cannabis in a way that consistently makes you feel better and better (and better), wouldn’t that be great?
If you could use it in a way that not only expanded your consciousness, but also made your body more relaxed and less prone to pain, without giving you the munchies or ALWAYS making you forget where your keys are, wouldn’t that be awesome?
If you could adapt it to different situations and issues when they come up and use this one plant medicine for whatever comes your way in this life, wouldn’t that be dope?
I’m not saying that smoking is bad… mm’kay.
I’m just saying that there are other, really interesting things you can do with this plant.
There are ways to use it that could take you beyond what you thought was possible for yourself.
That’s why today, I want to share 3 different options to explore outside of the pipe.
When I talk to complete strangers about cannabis, topicals usually cause the most confusion.
They’ve heard of smoking and maybe edibles, but topicals?
And do they really work or is someone just trying to make a buck on the cannabis boom?
A topical is just an infused oil, salve or lotion applied to the skin.
The simplest of all cannabis ingestion methods, topicals are non-intoxicating (even when they are jam packed with THC) and it’s impossible to have an overdose experience… unless you go licking your arm.
While we have limited research (welcome to cannabis!), people have been using cannabis topically for years with great success.
So the reason I like topicals – and this is the big one – they work for so many people for so many things.
They’re non-intoxicating, versatile (from arthritis relieving pain salve to the mind-blowing experience of Weed Lube), and they’re easy to make.
You can find out more about topicals here.
Tinctures are typically made with alcohol, but you can also use oil based infusions (like MCT oil “tincture”) under the tongue to get similar effects.
So why would you?
Outside of smoking, tinctures are the easiest to dose.
The effects come on quickly and don’t last as long as edibles but last longer than smoking, so it’s easy to find a dose that works for you. Great for beginners or for anyone wanting to explore more controlled dosing.
This is especially helpful when using THC dominant tinctures.
With non-intoxicating cannabinoids like CBD and CBG effects are less noticeable, but I’ve found that taking smaller doses of those cannabinoids in tincture form throughout the day seems to work better than taking a lot all at once.
You can read more about the benefits of cannabis tinctures here.
Now, obviously I’m biased, but even though I don’t use that much THC anymore, I still infuse a lot of my food with cannabis.
Just yesterday, a student at the Cannabis Coaching Institute said in our mentorship call, “If my food doesn’t taste like it has some CBD in it now, I don’t trust it.”
Obviously she was kidding, but edibles have come so far and are also excellent delivery method for all of the cannabinoids.
We’ve gone beyond the brownie and the space cake and are entering a new era where we cook with this powerful plant medicine in a variety of ways.
If you’d like to know more about the benefits of edibles, you can check out that post here.
4. Reason #1 – Get Healthier Than Ever
Like I said before, smoking cannabis occasionally isn’t bad mm’kay. I’m a moderate in every sense of the word.
But it all really depends on your health goals and where you’re at on your journey.
When I started using other ingestion methods and other cannabinoids, a whole new world opened up to me. My life and my health continues to improve. I’ve seen it with clients and students again and again.
It’s not just about quitting smoking, it’s about starting a new exploration and journey with health and cannabis.
And it’s worth it.
5. Reason #2 – The big one: Save Money
They don’t say things go “up in smoke” by accident. That’s literally what happens to your cash when you light your cannabis on fire.
Researchers have found that when you smoke a joint, as little as 20% of the cannabinoids make their way into your bloodstream.
40-50% are lost in side stream smoke and the other 30% are completely destroyed by the heat.
So for every $200 ounce you buy, you really might as well set $160 on fire.
Smoking small amounts out of a one-hitter can help with the smoke loss, but the real way to save is by infusing those cannabinoids into something else.
I know that making the transition from smoking as your main ingestion method can be a challenge, but I want to invite you to see it as an opportunity.
An opportunity to save money, get healthier than ever and to truly learn how incredible this plant medicine can be.
If you’re ready to take the journey, you can grab my ecookbook Dazed + Infused and I’ll guide you through the process and teach you a ton of cool stuff along the way.
Questions, comments? Fire em away below.
While we can’t answer every question individually, we put them on the docket for future blog posts and publish them so other community members can help.
If you're looking to cut back or quit smoking cannabis, and want to explore more medicinal and healthy ways to use this powerful plant, this post is for you…