Cannabis 101: Routes of Administration
Updated: Jan 21
One of the ways Point7 provides support to our Clients in emerging markets is by explaining the different routes of administration for products, and which methods will best suit their business model while staying in compliance with regulations. New products and innovative delivery methods are emerging and evolving constantly. Some states place limitations on the types of products a cannabis business can produce or sell. Furthermore, it is essential to understand the local market and the patient/consumer demand for each type of product.
Cannabis products have come a long way as legalization spreads across the United States. Consumption is not necessarily about smoking a bowl, rolling a joint, or making “magic brownies.” Scientists and product manufacturers have developed a myriad of ways to consume cannabis, both in a recreational and medicinal capacity. Below, we’ve summarized the basic categories of consumption methods.
Inhalation: Smoking, Vaporizing and Dabbing
When cannabis flower from the female plant is heated, the cannabinoids that are present when the plant is in its raw form are converted through a process called decarboxylation. This process activates many of the psychoactive components of cannabis that cause consumers to experience a “high” feeling. Each user can experience different effects from smoking, but this route of administration will typically result in a quick activation time. Smoking can be a fairly inexpensive and approachable way to consume your favorite variety of cannabis, but be sure to consider the impact on your respiratory and overall health.
Most often consumed via a vape pen or cartridge, vaporizing is another method of inhaling decarboxylated cannabis through the heating of dried flower or oil. Some perceive vaping as a healthier alternative to smoking, but more research needs to be done to better understand the health impacts. Vaping oil, for example, can potentially cause users to inhale concentrated solvents, binding agents, or residual pesticides and other contaminants.
“Dabbing” is a relatively new inhalation method of cannabis which requires some specialized equipment, but can deliver the effects of cannabis concentrates quickly and with great potency. Often compared to taking a shot of alcohol vs. drinking a pint of beer, dabbing should be approached with caution, especially for less experienced users. A typical dab rig resembles a glass bong, but instead of placing flower into a bowl and a slide, and heating with a lighter, a metal or ceramic ‘nail’ will be heated to high temperatures using a butane torch, the wax, shatter, or other concentrate will be ‘dabbed’ on the nail, and the vapors are inhaled.
Oral Administration: Edibles and Sublinguals
Edible products that are currently available in regulated markets can vary greatly in terms of form and potency. From brownies and gummies to gourmet chocolates, sodas, and infused cooking oils, edible cannabis products can pose an approachable alternative to inhalation methods. Activation time for edibles can be much longer, with the duration of effects being very unique to the ingester.
Typically seen in product form as a spray, mist, tablet, or tincture, sublingual administration allows cannabinoids to first be absorbed under the tongue, then later absorbed through the digestive tract as the product works through the consumer’s system. Effects expected from sublinguals can typically first be felt within 30-60 minutes of administration, with full effects peaking within 1-2 hours and total effects lasting between 4-8 hours. The benefits of sublingual administration are extensive. Most notably, sublingual administration presents a viable option for those who have trouble swallowing pills, such as pediatric and geriatric patients.
Topical/Transdermal Administration: Salves, Creams and Patches
Infused topicals affect the body’s endogenous cannabinoid system via transdermal administration. Application of topicals may relieve neuropathic and arthritic pain, itchiness, and other ailments, as the cannabinoids bind to special CB2 receptors in the skin. Topicals are desirable for patients seeking pain relief without experiencing psychoactive effects. Topicals should be administered to the skin locally with a specified concentration of cannabinoids, and careful consideration should be placed on following instructions for application. Natural and proven therapeutic essential oils are often added to enhance aroma and provide additional beneficial treatment for conditions.
In summary, there are a multitude of ways to administer and enjoy your recreational or medicinal cannabis products. A few not mentioned in this blog post include nasal sprays, suppositories, pills, and capsules. New methods are sure to arise as new markets continue to emerge, legalization becomes more widespread, and research progresses. Regardless of how you choose to consume or distribute, continue to educate yourself on the pros and cons of each of these products; chances are there is one (or a few) that fit your needs exceptionally well.