What Are Some of the Pros and Cons Between Smoked and Non-smoked Medical Marijuana?


  Method / Description Pros Cons
1. Smoking - Full Plant
Burning the flowering tops and sometimes the leaves, and inhaling it into the lungs.
Relief from symptoms is usually obtained in less than a minute because the smoke enters the bloodstream directly from the lungs. Marijuana smokers have been shown to suffer an increased incidence of bronchitis and respiratory infections. There could be a greater risk of cancer of the throat and respiratory tract.

Results will often fade after an hour or two.
2. Smoking - Plant Particles
Patients manipulate the flowered tops (and sometimes leaves) of the plant to make a product that is comprised mainly of the trichomes of the plant...cannabinoid crystals without additional plant material. It is changed into substances, depending upon the process, known as hashish, kief, bubble hash, and others. It is then burned in a pipe or joint, and inhaled. Some people may bake it into foods.
Relief from symptoms is usually obtained in less than a minute because the smoke enters the bloodstream directly from the lungs. Smoking anything can cause severe medical problems, although less of the harmful materials are consumed in this method.

Results will often fade after an hour or two.
3. Vaporization
Heating marijuana to a point where it produces a vapor (a fine mist), then inhaling the vapor into the lungs. The vapor consists of the plant's cannabinoids, and is mostly free of contaminants.

A vaporizer machine is usually used for this purpose.
Some people feel a greater affect than by smoking, and some patients use less product in this method than by smoking.

Because the cannabinoids enter the blood stream directly from the lungs, relief from symptoms is usually obtained in less than a minute (without the harmful toxins in the smoke).

Some people do not feel that same beneficial effects as they do from smoking; others say it uses more cannabis material than is economically feasible (for them).

The vaporizer needed for this is too expensive for some patients. (Prices range from about $30 up to hundreds of dollars for high-tech versions. The marijuana plant material must be heated to a certain temperature to be effective, too high and the health benefits are negated.)

Results will often fade after an hour or two.
4. Oil
Cannabis flowered tops and leaves are filtered into its oils by a method using butane gas. Some patients may create a weaker oil using a "supercritical carbon dioxide extraction." The oil can then be inhaled using a pipe or vaporizer, directly added to foods or liquids, or for some conditions applied directly to the skin.
The primary benefit of this method is to convert leaf or inferior cannabis buds into a form that is safer to inhale or consume, without the tars and other plant materials inhaled when smoking.

Inhalation methods (smoking or vaporization) usually take effect in less than a minute.

The extraction method uses highly flammable gases (such as butane) and can be dangerous, as well as too complicated for some people.

The oil, some say, is messy and difficult to work with.

Non-inhaling (eating or drinking it) often takes 30-90 minutes for the full effects to be realized.

This method can be expensive to purchase or produce -- technicians say they produce "less than a gram of oil from each ounce of leaf and between 1 and 3 grams of oil from each ounce of...bud."

5. Tincture
Cannabis flowered tops and leaves are soaked in an alcohol solution, transferring the THC and other cannabinoids to the liquid. The tincture is then used in various ways; added to foods and liquids, applied to the skin, or the patient consumes directly by drinking a small quantity or placing a few drops under the tongue (sublingual).
This method is used mostly by pain patients, who say the tinctures dull the pain without the strong psychoactive effects of other methods, because the tinctures are generally weaker in potency. This method often takes 20-30 minutes for the full effects to be realized.

Many conditions do not find adequate relief from this product as it is too weak to produce some of the desired effects.

The alcohol consumed in this method is undesirable to some.

6. Butter
Cannabis flowered tops and leaves are simmered in butter (or vegetable oil) for several hours, transferring the THC and other cannabinoids to the butter. The solid plant material is then discarded. The butter, now a dark shade of green, is then used in baking such items as brownies and cakes, or added to such foods as spaghetti sauce or soup. The oily base of the butter is needed for the cannabinoids to properly adhere.
This method can create a product that delivers long results, lasting several hours.

Patients can modulate the results by eating smaller or larger portions, and can carry their medicine with them in public without being noticed.

Pain patients claim this method relieves their symptoms the longest, and many patients use this method mostly in the evenings to assist with sleep.

This method often takes 30-90 minutes for the full effects to be realized.

Proper doses are difficult to determine, and patients often don't realize until too late that their portion is too strong or too weak.

Eating too much can cause vomiting and loss of consciousness.



(Prepared by Medical Marijuana ProCon.org. Specials thanks to Dale Gieringer of California NORML and Jay Cavanaugh, PhD of the American Alliance For Medical Cannabis for their input.)