To fit the preferences of their patients, local cannabis caregivers have found unlimited ways to infuse medical marijuana into nearly every consumable form. Smoking, eating, drinking and vaporizing all work differently for each patient, but local caregivers have formulated their own general theories on when to recommend which one.
For immediate relief from pain, they say, vaporizing and smoking are the most effective. In both cases, the marijuana gets absorbed into the body much more quickly than it would in edible form.
And from there, the advice breaks down even further.
"Specifically for glaucoma patients, the only way it's effective is if it's smoked," argues Kenny Brock, caregiver at Old World Pharmaceuticals on East Platte Avenue. "I'm not going to tell anyone not to vaporize, but they may not get the effects they're looking for."
The downside is that smoking is tough on the respiratory system, and subjects the body to harmful carcinogens. With a vaporizer, a patient can enjoy the flavors of marijuana, and ingest the beneficial compounds in a carcinogen-free vapor.
"Vaporizing is definitely No. 1 on my list [for most symptoms]," says John Stoner, caregiver at Healing Canna on East Bijou Street. "Even for people who have never smoked before."
Edibles containing cannabis seem to alleviate most symptoms, and your typical local dispensary offers an extensive variety, from candies, sodas and brownies, to gluten-free and sugar-free baked goods. If you're looking for relief in your own home cooking, most dispensaries also offer oils and butters.
Mason Cathey, caregiver, owner and manager of the Skyway area's Emerald City Wellness, suggests edibles to "anybody, especially those with pain and insomnia problems."
"Edibles are good for eating disorders, fibromyalgia and nausea," adds Stoner. "They're a wonderful way to eat, for those people who need to eat something. The medicine allows them to eat and enjoy it."
Plus, the effects can last for up to 12 hours, much longer than effects from smoking or vaporizing, which last a couple hours on average, notes Carrie Carmendy, caregiver and manager at Pikes Peak Alternative Health and Wellness Centers on South Tejon Street.
For patients with a high tolerance to edibles, tinctures are a stronger option for ingesting medical cannabis. These are highly powerful liquid concentrations of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and other cannabinoids that a patient can drop into a cup of tea, a smoothie, salad dressing or anything similar.
"I have a lot of patients who use tincture specifically for nausea relief," says Old World's Brock. "Tinctures absorb at about a 90 percent rate."
Also on the medical market are balms, lotions, lip balms and creams containing THC that are meant to provide topical relief.
"The creams and balms are good for arthritis, gout, headaches and joint pain," Carmendy says. "The relief lasts for hours, and takes 15 minutes or so to kick in."
"Those [creams] really work well," Stoner says. "I'd never tried those, and I'd fallen on my knee — I was amazed at how well it worked. The medical cannabis goes deep into your joints and tissue."
When it comes to medical marijuana, there aren't any peer-reviewed medical research journals yet, so it's hard to find a general consensus on what methods work best for which symptoms. Though some dispensaries keep journals on their patients' treatment successes, virtually all caregivers agree that ultimately, it's up to the patients to decide what treatment they're most comfortable with.