Medical cannabis today comes in many forms, but you’re likely most familiar with the dried flower. Cannabis flower is usually consumed via inhalation and many medical cannabis patients are most familiar with this long-standing method of cannabis consumption.
Whole cannabis flower is rich in Cannabis sativa’s entire spectrum of cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids and consuming it via vaporisation allows for fast symptom relief. There’s also a wide range of medical flower strains available for prescription, all of which are specially grown to help manage certain health conditions.
To get the most out of your cannabis flower, it’s helpful to know the ins and outs of cannabis vaporisers, which are easy to use but require a bit of guidance for first-time users. It can also be useful to know what’s in cannabis flower and why you’re being prescribed certain strains with certain effects.
What Is Cannabis Flower?
Cannabis flower refers to the reproductive structure of the female cannabis plant. This part of the plant is often sticky to touch, due to an increased concentration of trichomes present in cannabis flowers, compared to the rest of the plant. Trichomes form a sticky, crystal-like covering over the flowers surface and secrete tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA), cannabidiolic acid (CBDA) along with several terpenes and flavonoids.
Terpenes are the aromatic compounds found in all plants that determine how they smell and taste. Terpenes may have their own therapeutic benefits and may increase the effectiveness of other cannabis compounds through what's known as the entourage effect. When people talk about ‘whole plant’ treatment, they’re referring to the hundreds of cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids that make up the cannabis plant. The ratio of these compounds are carefully balanced in different cannabis strains, but generally cannabis flower contains the major cannabinoids – tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), cannabidiol (CBD) – and other minor cannabinoids such as cannabigerol (CBG) and cannabinol (CBN).
The Different Strains Of Cannabis Flower
When it comes to cannabis strains, you may already be familiar with the terms sativa, indica & hybrid. However, this terminology is likely incorrect due to the plants ability to self-pollinate and long history of interbreeding and domestication. The modern cannabis strains available today are technically all hybrids. Although the terms ‘indica & sativa’ are no longer used to discuss the genetic lineage of cannabis, they are still often used colloquially to describe the perceived effects.
Sativas are often described as having an energising effect that promotes creativity, while indicas are more sedating and suited to nighttime use. While there is some truth to these statements, the best way to predict the effects of a cannabis strain is by analysing its cannabinoid and terpene content.
Indicas are typically higher in THC, the psychoactive cannabinoid in cannabis that causes a high and the sedation that indicas are known for. Sativas, while still containing THC, tend to have more CBD. CBD can temper THC’s psychoactive effects and reduce some of its potential side effects such as anxiety and drowsiness. This is why sativa strains are popular for daytime use – the CBD can allow for a more alert and focused experience.
Medical cannabis is grown with careful attention to the cannabinoid and terpene content, meaning that whatever a doctor prescribes you will be tailored to have the best chance at helping manage your condition. For instance, people with anxiety disorders are often prescribed high CBD strains because of CBD’s potential anti-anxiety effect and because CBD can modulate the sometimes intense effects of THC. Terpenes that may also be considered include strains with higher linalool or myrcene content, due to their proposed anxiolytic effects.
On the other hand, if you experience chronic pain, a THC-focused strain might suit you best, since THC’s pain-relieving properties is one of its most widely researched benefits.
How Do I Consume Cannabis Flower?
When you buy cannabis flower, it will arrive dried and cured. This delicate process causes cannabinoids and other medicinal compounds to flourish and stay preserved in the dried plant material. This process also improves and maintains the cannabis flower’s taste and smell. Other parts of the cannabis plant, such as the leaves and stem, are discarded since the flower contains the vast majority of the plant’s medicinal compounds.
Cannabis needs to be heated to activate the therapeutic compounds, which is why vaping is the second most common way medical cannabis is consumed (after oils). If you’re prescribed cannabis flower, you can consume it with a cannabis vaporiser. In Australia, only two vaporisers have been approved for medical use by the TGA: the Mighty Medic or the Volcano Medic 2.
With a vaporiser, the dried cannabis flower is ground up, added to the filling chamber and gently heated until the cannabinoids and terpenes begin to evaporate and produce a breathable vapour. After inhalation, the active compounds quickly pass into your bloodstream and then on to your brain.
Inhaled cannabis is fast-acting. You can expect to feel the effects 30 to 90 seconds after inhalation, and they will usually peak within 10 to 30 minutes and last for 4 to 6 hours. The length and intensity of effects can vary depending on your level of experience with cannabis, metabolism and the amount of cannabis used.
What Are The Advantages Of Using Cannabis Flower?
Cannabis flower contains the full spectrum of cannabis compounds, meaning it has an array of potential effects and medical applications.
Some medical cannabis patients prefer full-spectrum medical cannabis products because of the potential benefits of the entourage effect, which is a theory that cannabinoids and terpenes work together to achieve a greater therapeutic benefit. The fast-acting nature of inhaled cannabis flower also makes it a popular option for relief from anxiety attacks or bouts of acute pain.
Cannabis flower is most often prescribed for pain, anxiety and sleep disorders. Research for the benefits of medical cannabis is promising but still in its early stages.
Some of the most compelling studies support its use to manage nausea and vomiting, particularly in patients who are undergoing chemotherapy and seeking relief from the side effects. A systematic review by Cochrane concluded that cannabinoid compounds might have promise in treating nausea in chemotherapy patients. In Australia, the TGA has also assessed that medical cannabis could be beneficial in the prevention and management of nausea, but further research is required.
Inflammation and pain are two other symptoms that cannabis flower could help manage. A 2022 study showed that several phytocannabinoids exhibited activity against inflammation, potentially by binding to endocannabinoids and/or other receptors to activate signalling pathways, while a 2018 review found that cannabis was effective in controlling “neuropathic pain, allodynia, medication-rebound headache, and chronic noncancer pain”.
Depression is another condition showing promise in early research. A 2020 study showed that “the vast majority of patients that use cannabis experience antidepressant effects,” though it also notes that symptom relief did not differ by labelled plant phenotypes (i.e strains).
How Do I Store My Cannabis Flower?
If you’re prescribed cannabis flower, it’s important to store it properly to maintain its effectiveness and overall quality.
Make sure to keep your flower in an airtight container, such as the one it comes in. Try to keep the container closed as often as possible, to minimise the amount of air and moisture that might enter and degrade your flower. It’s also useful to record when your medical cannabis flower arrived, so that you can keep track of its freshness and be mindful of the printed expiry date.
It’s recommended that you store your flower in a cool, dark place, ideally with a temperature between 15–21C. Extreme temperature changes can degrade the cannabis, so make sure the temperature will stay consistent in your chosen storage place. It goes without saying, but make sure your storage place is out of reach of children and pets. Childproof containers might help with this.
Would I Benefit From Cannabis Flower?
Inhalation of flower via vaporisation allows you to utilise the plant’s entire therapeutic spectrum and its fast-acting effects make cannabis flower a great option if you need rapid relief.
If you’re interested in cannabis flower or any cannabis based treatment and have found conventional treatments to be ineffective for you, speak with your doctor or a dedicated cannabis clinic about prescription options. Medical cannabis is a promising frontier of medicine and may help manage a wide variety of difficult conditions.