By Old Hippie BeyondChronic.com
While this article is entitled Cannabis for Seniors, its intent is to inform and reassure new patients of any age or background who have no history or experience of using cannabis, and who will have a great many questions.
Also, with many jurisdictions now considering medical marijuana programs, there will be many doctors and other health professionals with questions as well.
So You Want to Use Medical Marijuana?
Congratulations! With all the hype, outright lies, and disinformation about this simple plant concocted by governments and spread by the mainstream media, you deserve a great deal of credit for being able to think and make decisions for yourself. Even though that sounds easy, many people never really progress to that point.
Cannabis, properly used, will alleviate or even out-right cure many conditions… hopefully including yours.
But – there are a few basic things you should know before you get started:
- It’s not a dangerous drug. Cannabis is actually one of the safest substances in the world. Fewer people have died from using cannabis than from drinking too much clean water. This is a safe statement to make, because nobody has ever died from it.
- You won’t become a drug addict. Cannabis itself is less physically addictive — if at all — than common drinks like coffee and tea. The only reason you might become habituated, or used to using cannabis, is that you would prefer to live with less pain, depression, anxiety, nausea, or whatever medical reason you’ll be using it for.
- The goal is not to get high. So please don’t pay attention to the dosage and delivery advice given by (general-ly well-meaning) people who smoke marijuana for fun, or what we call recreational users. Depending on your particular physical condition, following some of that advice could lead to an uncomfortable experience. As a new patient, you’ll want to start slowly, and too much too soon might give you the entirely wrong idea about cannabis as medicine.
- You don’t even have to smoke cannabis. As you no doubt know, smoking cigarettes is very bad for your health. Most of that is because tobacco smoke contains over a dozen known carcinogens, many unique to tobacco itself. However, some of these — as well as other unhealthy compounds, such as carbon monoxide — may be found when any organic substance is smoked, even cannabis. So smoking cannabis is not recommended for long-term use, although it still has a place in cannabis medicine, because inhaling is the fastest method of delivery.
How to Take Your First Doses Carefully.
Whether your first time ends up being a few puffs on a joint or a few bites of a magic brownie, the most important concept is “few”…and the other one is “slowly.”
Because cannabis doesn’t work quite the way many other drugs do, only experience will, in the end, teach you how much you should take, and what method works best for you. Some people can’t inhale smoke, or even vapor, without excessive coughing or lung irritation. Some peo-ple have problems eating anything, even cookies or brownies. Fortunately, cannabis works well using a num-ber of different delivery systems, which I’ll cover in more detail later. In any case, this section will teach you how to get your experience as carefully as possible.
If you have no experience with cannabis whatsoever, and no way of knowing if it will work for you or not, then the safest, easiest way of trying it is to inhale it (assum-ing your medical condition so permits).
This does not necessarily mean smoking it, however, because in recent years products called vaporizers have been developed. Vaporizers heat the cannabis up to just the right temperature so that the beneficial substances turn to vapor — rather than burning them until they turn to smoke — and the result is far healthier and easier on your lungs than smoking. Vaporizers also are very effi-cient and frugal in the amount of cannabis they use.
Vaporizers are expensive, though, so you won’t want to buy one until you find out for sure whether inhaling cannabis will work for you. Some compassion centers, dispensaries, and collectives have vaporizers available for patients to use, and that would be an ideal way to try before you buy.
If you do end up smoking, there’s a safest way there too, and that’s to use a simple glass pipe, which lets you see exactly what you’re putting in and doesn’t add any of its own chemicals to the mix. Joints and blunts (which are often made using tobacco) are the last resorts, as are bongs, which are favored by recreational users for the same reason they’re bad for medical users: they get you too high too fast. These will also make you cough your head off (well, not literally, but it’s not pleasant either). So let’s assume you’re trying a glass pipe or vaporizer. It will help if a more experienced user shows you how to do things like grind the cannabis, heat and hold the device, and so on. But the first thing to remember is, don’t fill up the whole bowl! Following this rule helps you avoid tak-ing too much accidentally, or wasting it, for that matter. A large pinch (perhaps 0.1 gram) is plenty.
Much has been said about the proper way to inhale, but the most effective way is to inhale slowly, in such a way that it feels like the vapor or smoke is going deep into your belly. That will ensure that it actually gets into your lungs. Take one good inhalation, hold it for a count of five seconds, and then release it.
And now you’ll have to wait a bit, because although the molecules are already working in your body, you will not feel the full effects of that inhalation for ten minutes or so. Some of the smoke or vapor is also absorbed by the inside of your mouth and nose, and it takes longer to feel that portion of it.
After the ten minutes have passed, see how you feel. Now stand up and see if you feel any differently. Standing up will lower your blood pressure a bit, and if you’re approaching too high, that will be the best way to find out. If you don’t feel too high or dizzy, and the effects of the cannabis have not helped you sufficiently, then it’s time for another inhalation. Repeat as desired, but remember to wait the ten minutes between inhala-tions, at least the first few times.
Basically, that’s all there is to it. At some point, you may well feel high, dizzy, giddy, or even a bit silly, but depending on your medical condition, odds are that first you’ll feel some relief. And that’s what you’re looking for. Inhaling your medicine gives you very quick results, and it’s easy to learn when you’ve had just enough.
When Inhaling Just Won’t Do
Generally, people who can’t inhale cannabis use edibles, tinctures, or capsules (all of which you can learn to make yourself). The main thing to remember about these oral methods of delivery is that they take a lot longer to take effect, but they generally last a lot longer too. A tincture is sometimes called an extract… and yes, it’s exactly like vanilla extract. All it means is that the herb in question — in this case, cannabis — is soaked in alco-hol until the active compounds dissolve; then the mix-ture is filtered to remove the solids.
If tinctures are made properly, you’ll only need a dropperful or two to
feel the effects. There are two ways of using these. If you
need fast relief, you can squirt the dropper right
under your tongue, hold it there as long as you can
stand the burning sensation, and then swallow.
This will take effect in five to ten minutes. You can also
add it to virtually any drink (coffee usually works well for
this, at least as far as taste is con cerned) and discreetly take your medication in almost any social situation.
Because tinctures are made with alcohol, they can cause problems for alcoholics or people who refuse to use alcohol for moral or religious reasons. They can also cause problems for otherwise legal patients who may not be impaired from their cannabis medicine, but could potentially be charged for driving with detectable alcohol on their breath! For these reasons, some people use glycerin-based tinctures, although these have to be made carefully if they’re going to work well.
The active compounds in cannabis can be extracted directly into alcohol (as above) or any food substance with a high fat or oil content, and then used for cooking or baking. In theory, this means that any dish made from whole milk, cream, butter, cheese, lard, or oil could be made to work. In practice, it takes some experience and imagination to come up with foods that actually taste good with cannabis in them. Some that seem to be perennial favorites include brownies, cookies, cake, and even ice cream and pizza!
Edibles that are available in dispensaries or compassion clubs are made by a wide variety of suppliers. Until some kind of consistent labeling is introduced, the actual amount of a dose used by one baker may be two, three, or five times as much as that used by another. It’s espe-cially important for you to take it slowly with edibles, since there’s a variable time delay between when you take it and when you start feeling it. So you can easily ingest too much without realizing it.
The safest way, unless you’ve eaten exactly the same thing before, is to try an eighth of a serving and wait a minimum of two hours before trying more. This assumes you’re not eating on an empty stomach; if you happen to take too small of a piece with no other food, there may be a longer delay than usual before your body completes the digestive process. I learned of this effect when I took a cannabis capsule by itself and nothing happened for four hours, when suddenly it all hit me at once and I couldn’t stand up for another 45 minutes.
If you feel nothing after two hours, it’s safe to take another piece the same size, wait two hours, and so on. But as soon as you feel anything, you should stop taking more, because the full effects might take another 45 minutes or so from there.
While the effects of inhaled cannabis might last two to three hours, ingested cannabis often lasts from four to eight hours, and sometimes
more. That’s another good reason not to eat too much too quickly; if you eat too much, it won’t kill you, but you may be surprised to learn that you can easily ingest enough to get you to the level of an LSD trip. Some friends of mine baked cookies that do that if I eat more than one-quarter of a cookie… and remember, you will be up there for at least six hours, so please be careful. If you do take too much, the best thing is to lie down and
try to go to sleep.
Repeatable Doses, Repeatable Results
By now, you’re probably wondering if there’s any con-sistent way of using cannabis at all! Certainly, although it makes a lot of sense to go through the process of try-ing different delivery methods, types of cannabis, and finding the right dosage range for you, because everyone is different. This is how pharmacies worked in the old days, where your physician and pharmacist would dis-cuss the correct medication and dosage for you, and the pharmacist would make exactly what you required.
You should consider keeping a log of your cannabis intake, including things like dosage, type, time of day, how you felt before and after, how long it took to feel effects, and so on. All this information can help you or your caregiver figure out how you’re responding to the medication. When you’re more or less settled on what actually works for you, it’s time to think about stan-dardizing on a true medical dosage.
There are several factors involved in a medical dose of cannabis. There’s the exact nature of the medication; the actual amount and delivery method of the dose; and the patient’s physical and mental state when receiving the dose. Let’s discuss these one by one.
By exact nature of the medication, I’m referring to the fact that there are various strengths and species of cannabis available, and literally hundreds of different strains — even different parts of the plant have different qualities. There’s also a large variation in quality and concentration, from Mexican ditch weed to primo BC Bud, and from leaves to flowers to hash (concentrated resin)… far more than can be covered in this article.
Instead of being bewildered by all this, simply decide to look at it as an opportunity: you will always have an alternative choice of medication, if necessary. But once you find some medicine that works well for you, you should take steps to get a good supply of that exact kind… the same strain from the same supplier, harvested at the same time, and cured in the same way, if possible. That way, you won’t be forced into constantly experimenting just get the same relief you had with great stuff, that one time.”
We’ve discussed determining the amount and delivery method already in general, but there are more details you should know. If you’ll be smoking or vaporizing, remember that three inhalations (or whatever yourdose is) will only give you the same amount of medicine every time if you actually take the size breaths the same way every time, all othert hings being equal.
This is why health-are professionals teach people with asthma to use inhalers consistently.
When it comes to baked goods, unfortunately, there’s no real consistency. Even if you make brownies in identical molds, or cut things exactly, the mixture itself is never perfectly homogeneous, so one piece can be much stronger than a seemingly identical piece next to it.
The best way to work with edibles is to remember that liquids can always be measured. So when you want to repeat doses exactly, things like tinctures, cannabis-infused cooking oil, and butter can be your best friends. The ultimate in convenience and repeatability is taking your medicine in the form of capsules. These can be made from either activated dry cannabis, or cannabis-infused coconut oil.
It’s important to remember that cannabis can affect you in a number of ways, especially when some days are worse than others. Once you’re with its effects, you’ll see that on when you have more pain or symptoms, you’ll need more medicine to deal with the problem.
Your own experience will tell you when to stop, if you have to do something that requires that you not get temporarily from taking too much. Similarly, sometimes you feel you won’t need it, and it’s perfectly all right to skip.
Being more aware of how your body and mind feel is the first step toward feeling better, and feeling better yourself too!