Why edibles are the best way to consume cannabis right now, according to a medical marijuana doctor

Crystal Cox/Business Insider
  • Cannabis sales have spiked during the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Some doctors are worried about patients' lung health if they continue to consume combustible or aerosolized cannabis.
  • Edible cannabis in the form of food, drink, and tinctures is a safer alternative to smoking or vaping the substance because it doesn't cause lung damage.
  • Different types of edible products are better for insomnia or anxiety, depending on their CBD and THC concentrations and the forms they come in.
  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

Legal cannabis sales have spiked during the coronavirus pandemic.

Since COVID-19 is a respiratory illness that affects the lungs, experts are concerned that people who inhale cannabis through a vape, joint, pipe, or bong could be at a heightened risk for severe symptoms like pneumonia, as Insider previously reported.

But for those who can't part with their cannabis habit because of its ability to relieve anxiety, insomnia, or chronic pain, consuming edible products rather inhaling the substance is the safest way to use cannabis right now, Dr. Rachna Patel, a medical marijuana physician, told Insider.Advertisement

"It can be assumed to be safe to consume cannabis products in the form of edibles, in the form of tinctures, in the form topicals, given the risk and exposure that we have currently to COVID-19," Patel said, because there is no evidence that suggests cannabis itself messes with a person's immune or respiratory system.

Rather, it's combustible and aerosolized cannabis people should worry about, because those two methods introduce carcinogens to the lungs.

Data suggests that people with underlying lung conditions, such as smokers, have a higher risk of COVID-19

Although research specific to cannabis use and COVID-19 risk is non-existent, lung health experts say they don't need coronavirus-specific data to warn people that marijuana vapes, e-cigarettes, and other forms of smoking aren't a good idea right now.
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"From China and Italy, we see people who developed COVID-19 and had underlying lung disease, [they] have more complications and die more often," Dr. Barry J. Make, a pulmonologist at National Jewish Health, previously told Insider. "So this is the perfect time to stop smoking." Preliminary CDC data has found that chronic lung diseases including asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and emphysema, are common underlying conditions in patients hospitalized with COVID-19 in the US.Advertisement

These types of lung-related pre-existing conditions are common among longtime smokers, Make said.

But food and drinks that are infused with cannabis, and tinctures, which are concentrated liquid extracts you dispense on your tongue, don't produce smoke or aerosols and therefore remove the risk of lung disease.

If you want anxiety relief, look for a CBD-rich edible or tincture

If a person decides to replace their smoking or vaping with edible cannabis, Patel said that different concentrations of THC and CBD, the two main compounds in marijuana, have different benefits.Advertisement

She said that strains with high concentrations of CBD, which doesn't cause psychoactive effects, and low in psychoactive THC, offer relief from anxiety.

"You want to use a high-CBD product as opposed to a high-THC product because high amounts of THC can induce anxiety to the point where someone can feel paranoid," Patel said.

For anxiety relief, Patel said choosing hemp-derived products, which come from hemp plants that are naturally higher in CBD than THC, are a better option than marijuana-derived tinctures and edibles that tend to have more THC than CBD.Advertisement

Edibles higher in THC than CBD are best for people who have loss of appetite, nausea, or severe nerve pain, Patel said.

Edibles are better than tinctures for insomnia

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For people who struggle with insomnia, the form of cannabis used is an important factor.Advertisement

"For those who have trouble staying asleep, edibles are preferred over the sublingual use of tinctures because when you ingest some form of cannabis ... it lasts longer in your system, like six to eight hours," Patel said.

Tinctures, on the other hand, wear off after two to four hours.

When deciding your dosage, start small

Edible cannabis products come in a variety of forms and concentrations, and people react to dosages differently, so finding the right amount can be difficult.Advertisement

According to Patel, edible novices should start with about 4.25 milligrams of CBD, and use even less if they need an edible high in THC.

"You want to be even more careful [with THC] because now you're running the risk of the psychoactive effects and other side effects, physiological side effects, which are far more uncomfortable than the side effects of CBD," Patel said.

Those side effects include anxiety, paranoia, heart palpitations, dizziness, hallucinations, nausea, and vomiting. Advertisement

Patel said the proper dose depends on a person's medical history, their reason for using cannabis, and their previous experience with the substance. People who have had gastric bypass surgery, for example, need higher doses to feel the effects.

Since dosing is so individualized, starting with a small amount, seeing how it makes you feel, and adjusting from there is the best way to gauge what you need.

Patel said if you wake up feeling groggy or lethargic, feeling fatigued, or have diarrhea or headaches after using a cannabis edible, it means you should decrease your dose.Advertisement

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