Oral intake of cannabis as medicine: an alternative and effective form of application

by Henrik Aulbach08.08.2023Knowledge

Oral consumption of cannabis is particularly known through cannabis products such as oils, teas, or cannabis-infused butter. The absorption of the active ingredients takes place through the gastrointestinal tract and the mucous membranes in the mouth and throat. Typical forms of administration include cannabis oils (such as CBD oil), drops, full-spectrum extracts, or similar products. Let's take a look at the advantages of oral consumption of cannabis.

What exactly is oral consumption of cannabis?

Oral consumption of cannabis or THC refers to the intake of active ingredients through the oral mucous membranes and digestion, rather than through the lungs (inhalation). The intake through the oral mucous membranes is sometimes referred to as sublingual consumption, as it is commonly known with CBD oils. All these methods have significant advantages over smoking or vaporizing cannabis flowers.

The following forms of administration are suitable for oral consumption of cannabinoids:

  • Cannabis oils
  • Cannabis drops
  • Tinctures
  • Edibles
  • Capsules
  • Beverages
  • Mouth sprays
  • Lozenges
  • Syrups
  • Chewing gums
  • Candies
  • Sublingual strips
  • Jellies
  • Patches
  • Nasal sprays

Each form of administration may have its own advantages and disadvantages. With edibles, for example, the onset of effects may be delayed, but the duration of action is prolonged. With tinctures, lozenges, or cannabis oils, sublingual absorption can occur, leading to a rapid activation of cannabinoids in the bloodstream. When taking capsules, beverages, or edibles, delta-9-THC is metabolized by the liver into 11-hydroxy-THC, which in turn affects the effects of cannabis.

Ideally, as a medical cannabis patient, you should consult with your treating physician to determine the most suitable form of administration. For many patients, smoking a joint may be appropriate for relieving acute symptoms. For other (chronic) conditions, maintaining a constant high level of THC in the blood may be more helpful. In individual cases, only a conversation with a doctor can provide guidance.

Advantages of oral consumption of THC

Oral consumption is particularly beneficial when using cannabis as medicine. The following points stand out:

  • Dosage: It is challenging to achieve precise dosing when smoking cannabis flowers. The problem lies in the fact that individual parts of the flower may contain varying amounts of active ingredients. However, with tablets, drops, or sprays, you can accurately determine the dosage. Capsules must specify the exact dosage in milligrams by the manufacturer.
  • Onset of effects: The effects of smoking a joint are felt within minutes. With oral consumption, it takes longer, typically around 45 minutes. Sublingual consumption generally leads to faster onset of effects compared to digestion.
  • Duration of action: Continuous release of cannabinoids into the bloodstream through digestion significantly extends the duration of action. When taking cannabis orally, expect psychoactive effects to last for 6-12 hours. The peak effect is reached after approximately 3 hours.
  • Control: Oral preparations need to be consistently manufactured and accurately dosed. These standardized norms provide assurance that the desired effects can be achieved with a consistent dosage. Consequently, users can better control side effects.
  • 11-hydroxy-THC: When cannabis is absorbed through digestion, the liver metabolizes delta-9-THC into 11-hydroxy-THC. This cannabinoid has different effects and is medically interesting. It is therefore expected that the effects of digested THC will differ from regular THC, with 11-hydroxy-THC potentially exerting stronger psychoactive effects.
  • Increased bioavailability: It is believed that a significant amount of cannabis is destroyed when smoking it in a joint. On the contrary, more cannabinoids are preserved and ultimately become bioactive when they are incorporated into food and absorbed through digestion.

Optimizing systemic bioavailability

Studies have shown that bioavailability can be dramatically increased through specific factors when using oral consumption. If you have been taking cannabis orally for some time, you may already know that consuming high amounts of fat simultaneously can enhance the effects. Several studies have now shown that bioavailability can increase up to fourfold when the appropriate conditions are met. This is referred to as systemic bioavailability.

This is particularly convenient as the costs of cannabis therapy decrease when fewer plant flowers need to be consumed. Imagine a daily requirement of one gram of cannabis flowers. Assuming an average price of €20 per gram, this therapy would cost €600 per month. Doubling the bioavailability would result in a monthly savings of €300.

Here's how you can optimize systemic bioavailability:

  • Proper decarboxylation: In this process, you convert the THCA present in the flowers into THC. CO₂ is released, making the cannabinoid approximately 10% lighter. If you take preparations such as Sativex or Dronabinol, the THC has already been decarboxylated. Before decarboxylation, grind your flowers moderately fine; they should not be ground too finely or into a powder. Then, loosely wrap the herb in aluminum foil before placing it in a preheated oven. You can follow these time and temperature guidelines:
  • Min. 60 minutes at 100 °C
  • 2 min. 30 minutes at 110 °C
  • Min. 9 minutes at 130 °C
  • Min. 6 minutes at 145 °C
  • Adding fat: Hemp extracts and cannabinoids are fat-soluble, not water-soluble. Therefore, teas, for example, are hardly effective unless they contain a significant amount of cream or milk. A British study from 2018 found that oral consumption together with a high-fat breakfast could increase the bioavailability of CBD by up to four times. This observation was confirmed in Canada in 2019, with maximum bioavailability doubling, albeit for THC.

To ensure that the moisture is completely removed from the flowers, you can extend the decarboxylation process for a few more minutes. Please note that THC vaporizes at around 157 °C, so the temperature should always be significantly lower during cooking, baking, and decarboxylation.

Smoking Cannabis: Why Vaporizers Are Better

In some cases, vaping or smoking cannabis may be more appropriate than oral consumption, particularly in acute situations where relief is needed within minutes.

Fortunately, you no longer have to risk lung damage to inhale cannabinoids. Vaporizers heat the flower material at low temperatures, significantly reducing irritation to the lungs. Compared to smoking a joint, fewer cannabinoids are destroyed, resulting in further cost reduction for your treatment.

In addition to the enjoyable taste when vaporizing, vaporizers offer precise dosing accuracy. You can determine the number of inhalations and adjust the temperature according to your preference. Different components from the flowers vaporize at different temperatures, allowing you to achieve various therapeutic effects for specific symptoms.


Written by Henrik Aulbach

Henrik Aulbach is a published cannabis specialist author with a passion for medicine, chemistry, and cannabinoids. Through Weed!.de, he contributes to breaking stigmas and myths surrounding the green gold and increasing the availability of cannabis medications for patients.


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