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 rheumatology and currently works as a rheumatologist at Hartford Healthcare Medical Group in Connecticut.
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.
Healthy Alternatives to Smoking Weed
Cannabis consumers don’t fit into a single mold.
Some of us love smoking pot. Others enjoy getting high, but would rather not smoke weed to get there.
Some of us love infused gummies and cookies. Others are looking for something a little less sugary… a little healthier.
I fit firmly into the “chubby stoner” category. Give me a sugar-laden infused treat and I’ll end up smiling like a puppy getting its belly rubbed.
But I also live in Boulder, one of the fittest, most active cities in the nation. So I set out to find a few healthy alternatives to smoking weed (or eating THC-infused chocolates).
If you’re looking for a healthy way to get high, read on. And if you’re a creature of habit, like me, read on anyway. You just might find a new favorite way to get high.
Enjoy Smoking? Try Vaping
Vaping has become so popular and common, it’s hard to believe any cannabis consumer hasn’t tried it.
Maybe you tried vaping years ago, but you didn’t like the experience. Or you might like trying different strains and it just doesn’t seem like vaping gives you the same range of options.
I felt the same way. And for a long time I resisted vaping. I just loved the flavor and aroma when smoking marijuana flower.
Then I tried vaping again.
And it was a completely different experience than I remembered.
Modern vape pens work better and hit smoother. They aren’t as complicated or messy or hard to refill.
The extraction process for concentrates has also improved, allowing the aromatic terpenes to come through with every draw. This offers a flavor profile that you don’t get–or don’t get to the same degree–with most weed.
And with a wide variety of strain-specific concentrates available at recreational and medical dispensaries, you can keep trying new products the same way you would when smoking marijuana flower.
Vaping also means you aren’t inhaling burnt plant matter as you would with traditional bud (especially if you grind full nugs, stems and all).
If you stick to clean, CO2 extracted hash oil extracted from cannabis grown without the use of pesticides or chemicals, you’re getting an even cleaner, purer high.
So the next time you’re looking for a healthier alternative to smoking weed but still want the experience of “smoking,” try picking up clean-extracted THC or CBD oil.
You just might find you enjoy it more than your last bowl or joint.
Healthier Edibles Aren’t a Myth
If you don’t like desserts, you don’t like edibles… right?
The days of the sugar-infused THC treat aren’t gone (and sugar-lovers like me are grateful), but the era of the healthy edible has come.
Here are just a few healthier edibles you can find at your local dispensary. So sit back, grab a snack, and get ready to feel good about yourself.
- Dark Chocolate Coated Coffee Beans. If you love chocolate but hate how unhealthy milk chocolate can be, why not turn to a dark chocolate coated alternative?
- Recovery Bars. Gluten-free, dairy free, and 17 grams of protein make cannabis-infused recovery bars a popular option for the active cannabis connoisseur.
- Infused Tea. Natural herbs and spices infused with THC deliver a soothing high that warms the body. Get it in your favorite styles: black tea, green tea, mint tea.
- Ripple Dissolvable THC & CBD. Odorless, flavorless packets of dissolvable cannabinoids make it easy to create your own infused drinks. Add it to coffee, juice, or a glass of cold water to get your kicks without the extra sugar or calories. Available in THC, 1:1 CBD/THC, or 20:1 CBD/THC.
- Tinctures. Like edibles, tinctures are consumed orally. Unlike your average edible, they’re fast-acting and easy to add to a beverage or dish of your choice. They’re a guilt-free way to get high.
- Cannabis Capsules or Tablets. Cannabis capsules offer the high of an edible in a healthier, more discreet package. Some are loaded with pure cannabis, while others up their game by adding vitamins and minerals the body needs.
Transdermals: Topicals That Get You High
Most topicals you find on the market aren’t psychoactive. For some consumers, that’s exactly what the doctor ordered. But if you like cannabis for its psychoactive effects, you may not have thought topicals were worth trying.
Cannabis patches deliver cannabinoids directly into the bloodstream, so you can enjoy the effects of cannabis without smoking.
While transdermal patches can get you high, they won’t deliver the immediate rush or euphoria you typically get after smoking flower or doing a dab. That’s because transdermals are designed to deliver a steady dose of cannabinoids over a longer period of time.
If you use cannabis to treat pain, inflammation or stress, transdermal patches offer a pure, healthy way to enjoy the effects of THC or CBD (or both) without smoking.
A Healthier High
If you’ve been avoiding cannabis out of health concerns–or if you’re just looking for an edible with less sugar–it’s time to take a trip to your local dispensary.
And make sure you stop by Karing Kind in North Boulder for clean CO2-extracted cannabis oil, healthy edibles, potent transdermal patches, and marijuana flower grown using organic methods.
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Looking for a healthier way to get high than smoking or eating sugary edibles? We look at some healthy alternatives to smoking weed.