When your doctor prescribes medical cannabis to you, it will most likely come in two forms: flower and oil.
Cannabis flower is the dried bud of the cannabis plant and the thing you most likely think about when you think about marijuana. Cannabis flower comes in at least 770 varieties (known as strains or cultivars), each of which has been grown to produce a certain flavour and effect.
Cannabis oils are a more recent innovation and involve the oils of the cannabis plant being distilled and concentrated, sometimes with a focus on particular cannabinoids. Cannabis oils typically come as a straight oil that patients consume with the aid of a dropper, but can also be prescribed as capsules or lozenges, or applied topically in cannabis creams.
So, why would a doctor prescribe both flower and oil, and how can you get the most out of a combination treatment plan?
How Are Cannabis Flower & Oil Different?
Beyond the obvious physical differences, flower and oil also act on the body in different ways.
Cannabis flower is inhaled using a vaporiser (or vape). The dried buds are gently heated until the cannabinoids and terpenes in the plant begin to evaporate, producing a breathable vapour. When you inhale this vapour, the active compounds quickly pass into your bloodstream and then on to your brain. (The same effect is achieved with vape cartridges.)
Inhaled cannabis is fast-acting and patients will typically feel the effect 30–90 seconds after use. Effects will generally peak within 10–30 minutes and last for 4–6 hours. Effects may last longer in some people and are dependent on the quantity used, your metabolism and your previous cannabis experience.
Cannabis oils, on the other hand, have a slower onset but the effects tend to last much longer than cannabis flower. When you drop cannabis oil under your tongue (sublingual administration), the compounds in the oil make their way directly into your bloodstream. If you swallow the oil, either directly or in a capsule/lozenge, the oil is processed by your digestive system first, before entering the bloodstream.
While each method produces similar effects, swallowing the oil will make the onset even slower. Oils or capsules can take between 30-90 minutes to take effect. The effects can last from 12–24 hours, although most of the effects will generally start to wear off after about 8 hours.
Do Flower & Oil Contain Different Cannabinoids?
Flowers and oils can also have different therapeutic profiles. Cannabis flower is a “whole plant” treatment, meaning that you have access to the hundreds of cannabinoids, flavonoids and terpenes that make up the cannabis plant, in the ratios delivered by a particular strain. This plays to what’s known as the entourage effect, a theory that the medical effects of cannabis may not be a result of THC or CBD specifically, but rather because of the way these varied compounds all interact with one another.
Cannabis oils have the capacity to be more targeted. Broadly, cannabis oils come in three types: isolate, broad-spectrum and full-spectrum. Isolate, as the name suggests, contains either CBD or THC at a greater than 98% concentration. Broad-spectrum oils are usually CBD-dominant, but also include a range of other cannabinoids and terpenes, although usually with the THC removed. Full-spectrum oils more closely mirror the cannabis plant’s chemical composition, however they are tailored to create specific balances and concentrations of THC and CBD.
How Do You Use Flower & Oil Together?
If your doctor has prescribed you both cannabis flower and oil, you may be wondering how to get the most out of your treatment plan.
Much of this will depend on what conditions you’re being treated for, but as a general rule inhaled formats are more effective for short-term symptom relief thanks to their fast onset.
So you may turn to cannabis flower or vape carts if looking for help with pain flare-ups or anxiety attacks.
Oils may be better for conditions that would benefit from longer-term, sustained treatment, such as if you’re struggling with chronic ongoing pain, depression or stress.
There are times when using the two in conjunction makes sense. For instance, if you’re having trouble sleeping, you may use flower for its immediate sedative effects, while an oil might help you stay asleep for longer.
As always, if you are unsure about how to get the most out of your combination treatment plan, talk to your doctor.
How To Use Cannabis Flower
It’s also important that you use your medicines properly in order to obtain the best effect.
Cannabis flower should be consumed using a dried flower vaporiser, such as the Mighty Medic. These devices are simple to use, less harmful to the lungs and ensure you’re getting the maximum therapeutic benefit from your medication.
While many people still smoke their medical cannabis, this produces harmful byproducts, inflames the lungs, destroys many of the therapeutic cannabinoids and wastes up to 40% of the flower.
Here’s how to use your vaporiser in 5 easy steps.
Perform a quick burn-off to disinfect the chamber. Turn the device on, turn the temperature up to the maximum and leave it to heat and automatically turn off.
Grind your flower to a fine consistency. Pack the chamber so that it’s full but still loose.
Turn the device on and set the desired temperature. A good place to start is 160C – that’s when the THC and CBD begin to evaporate.
When the temperature has been reached, place the nozzle in your mouth and take a deep, gentle breath. Hold the vapour in your lungs for three seconds and then release.
Wait for 15 minutes to see if the desired therapeutic effect has been achieved. Once you’re done, turn the device off, wait for it to cool down and clean the mouthpiece and chamber.
For more detailed instructions, check out our comprehensive guide to vaping.
How To Use Cannabis Vape Carts
A vape cartridge is a disposable vial that contains cannabis concentrate, a heating coil and all of the inhaling components. Vape cartridges are administered using a 510-thread vape battery intended for cannabis use. Batteries are typically reusable and rechargeable.
Insert vape cartridge into the vape battery. Each device is different, so follow the vape battery instructions for use.
Recommended voltage is 3.5–4.5V. Voltage should never exceed 12V.
Take the cartridge out of the battery when not in use to prevent leaking. Store upright.
You can find more information on cannabis vapes here.
How To Use Cannabis Oil
If you’re using cannabis oil from a dropper, it’s generally recommended that you take it sublingually – under the tongue. Rather than swallowing it, use the dropper to place the required dose on the bottom of your mouth and leave it there to absorb. This will help the cannabinoids and terpenes enter the bloodstream faster and prevent any loss of potency during the digestive process.
Here’s how to take your cannabis oil.
Depress the plunger so that there’s no air in the syringe. Insert the syringe into the stopper, and then turn the bottle upside down.
Pull back on the plunger to draw up the required dose into the syringe.
Turn the bottle back up the right way and remove the syringe from the stopper.
Hold the end of the syringe under your tongue and depress the plunger until all the oil is released.
Wash your syringe with soap and water.
Your doctor will have given you a dosing schedule. It’s important to only increase the dose if necessary. There’s no need to keep increasing your dose once you’ve found a level that works for you. If you experience unpleasant side effects, reduce your next dose to a better tolerated amount – this will help you determine your minimum effective dose.