Kimberly DelMonico  contributor


Cannabis can be a highly effective therapeutic treatment for many medical conditions.  It is used to treat conditions such as: Alzheimer’s disease, appetite loss, cancer, Crohn’s disease, eating disorders, epilepsy, glaucoma, mental health conditions, multiple sclerosis, muscle spasms, nausea and pain.

But how does it work?  And how do you know if you’re taking it correctly?

How Does Medical Cannabis Work?

Cannabinoids are the active chemicals in medical cannabis.  Cannabinoids are similar to chemicals that the body naturally produces that are involved in memory, movement, appetite, and pain.  Some research suggests that cannabinoids may reduce anxiety, reduce inflammation and relieve pain, relax tight muscles in people with multiple sclerosis, control nausea and vomiting, and stimulate appetite and improve weight gain for people with cancer and AIDS.

How Do You Obtain Medical Cannabis?

Medical cannabis is legal in 33 states and the District of Columbia.  Eleven additional states allow some form of restricted use.  To obtain medical cannabis, you must have a qualifying medical condition and must obtain a written recommendation from a licensed doctor in a state where it is legal.  Your state may also require that you get a medical marijuana card.  Once you have done all of these things, you will be allowed to purchase medical cannabis at a dispensary.

Each state has different procedures for obtaining a medical marijuana card.  For example, in Ohio, obtaining medical marijuana through Ohio’s Medical Marijuana Control Program (OMMCP) involves three basic steps:

  • Visit a certified physician who can confirm that you have one of the medical conditions that qualify for medical marijuana and have the physician create your profile in the Patient & Caregiver Registry.
  • Confirm and complete your registration for the program through the OMMCP Patient & Caregiver Registry.
  • Purchase medical marijuana from an approved dispensary in Ohio.

How Do You Take Medical Cannabis?

To take medical cannabis, you can: smoke it, vaporize it, eat it, take suppositories, or place drops under your tongue.

Smoking – SMOKING IN ANY FORM IS NOT ALLOWED IN OHIO. In other states, Smoking is the most popular way to consume cannabis.  When cannabis is inhaled, the gases enter the lungs before absorbing into the bloodstream.  Cannabis smokers can use pipes, rolling papers, hookahs, and one-time use devices.  Each method affects the grade of smoke inhaled.  As stated earlier in the paragraph Ohio does not allow you to use cannabis by combustion, so you need to use one of the other methods available if you’re an Ohio resident.

Vaporizing – Vaporizing heats herbs to a temperature that is high enough to extract cannabinoids, but too low to release any potentially harmful toxins.  Vaporizing also causes less of an odor than smoking.

Consuming – Eating and drinking cannabis has significantly different effects from methods that immediately enter the bloodstream, such as smoking or vaping.  Edible cannabis products tend to have longer onsets and cause powerful full-body psychoactive effects.

Suppositories – Cannabis suppositories are made from cannabis oil.  When cannabis suppositories are placed in the rectal mucosa, they spread healing quickly through nearby organs and into the bloodstream.  This is an effective way to diminish the psychoactive effects of THC.

Tinctures – Tinctures are a topical application that is administered through the mouth under the tongue.  They are useful for consumers who are looking to control their dosage with fast-acting effects and who do not want the health risks associated with smoking.  Generally three or four drops are placed under the tongue and absorbing into the body through the bloodstream.

How Will Medical Cannabis Affect Me?

When taking cannabis for medicinal purposes, there are a lot of factors will impact the effect that it has on you.  You will be affected by: the amount you consume, the strain of cannabis, the method of consumption, your biochemistry, your mood or mindset, your nutrition or diet, the environment or setting, and your experience and history of cannabis use.

There is no standard dosage that is right for everyone, but there are some things that you can keep in mind as you search for the correct strain and dosage for your condition.  It is important to understand the difference between the different cannabinoids and exactly which cannabinoids are in the cannabis that you consume.

The Importance Of Cannabinoids

A cannabis plant contains more than 100 different chemicals called cannabinoids.  Each one has a different effect on the body.  The most common cannabinoids used in medicine are Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).

THC provides pain relief, eases nausea and vomiting, protects brain cells, helps treat PTSD, promotes brain growth, increases appetite, enhances senses, is antibacterial, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory.  It is also a muscle relaxant and anticonvulsant.

Cannabidiol (CBD) relieves convulsions, inflammation, anxiety and nausea.  It offers many of the same therapeutic qualities as THC but without psychoactive effects.  CBD can actually lessen or neutralize the THC high, depending on how much of each cannabinoid is present in a particular product. It is the main cannabinoid in low-THC cannabis strains. Recently cannabis breeders have been developing strains with greater CBD content for medical use.

Cannabinol (CBN) is mildly psychoactive, decreases intraocular pressure, and seizure occurrence.  It has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory effects.

Cannabichromene (CBC) promotes the analgesic effects (pain relief) of THC and has sedative (calming) effects.  CBC may be a powerful cancer fighter.  It has been shown to be effective in inhibiting inflammation and tumor growth.

Cannabigerol (CBG) has sedative effects and antimicrobial properties, as well as lowering intraocular pressure.  CBG also relieves pain and reduces seizures and convulsions.  It can also stimulate the growth of new brain cells.

Tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV) has appetite suppressing effects and aids in the regulation of blood sugar levels.  This cannabinoid shows promise for Type 2 diabetes and related metabolic disorders.

You should choose the strain of cannabis based on the cannabinoids that it contains.

How Do You Figure Out The Optimal Dosage?

Figuring out the optimal dose of cannabis for you may involve some trial and error.  One method to figure out the optimal dose for you is to keep a cannabis log that tracks your cannabis consumption.  

To keep a cannabis log, you should keep it a consistent as possible.  Try to record:

  • Date and time of consumption
  • Amount of consumption 
  • Strain or variety of cannabis consumed
  • Type of strain: indica, sativa, sativa-dominant hybrid or indica-dominant hybrid
  • Form of cannabis consumed: dried flower, concentrate, edibles, topicals
  • Cannabinoid content: percentage of cannabinoids such as THC, CBD, and CBN
  • Method: smoke, vaporize, eat, spray, topical
  • What prompted the use of the cannabis
  • Environment
  • Therapeutic effects experienced
  • Negative side effects experienced
  • How did you feel after consuming the cannabis?

Once you have collected this information over a period of time you will have a set of data to review with your medical professional.  The log will help you better understand the symptoms of your condition, your treatment behaviors, and how you respond to various types of cannabis.  It will also help you adjust your dosage appropriately.

You should also consult with your doctor and the budtender at your local dispensary for advice about the best strains and dosage amounts for your medical condition.

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