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The Ultra-Basics of Using Marijuana as Medicine

What to do and what not to do when considering cannabis as medicine.

Testing + other strain information is important to know when buying medical cannabis

So. You want to try using medical marijuana, but don't know where to start? Neither did I. Don't worry, we will cover all the basics you need to know before your first visit to the dispensary. You'll be a marijuana champ before you know it.

Before you jump right on in and head down to your local weed shop, let's talk a little about who can benefit from using medical marijuana, and if it is the best option for you. 

Who can benefit from marijuana as medicine?

To start off, medical marijuana is meant to help those who are ill in a variety of ways. It can help patients with cancer, chronic illnesses, acute diseases, and psychiatric conditions. While there are hundreds, if not potentially thousands, of specific conditions medical marijuana is known help, it is still best to ask for advice from your doctor. But be warned, there are some doctors who still do not accept the legitimacy of medical marijuana, and another option can be to talk to others with your condition about their experiences.

If you know you have a condition that requires a specific drug to maintain control over your symptoms, such as epilepsy or MS, using medical marijuana exclusively instead of your prescribed pharmaceuticals may not be a good idea, as MMJ is not a cure all especially for genetic or neurological conditions. However, many patients with these kind of conditions can benefit from using marijuana in addition to their daily prescription.

Most states in the US have legalized medical marijuana by now, but that doesn't mean you can always waltz right up to a bud tender and request your first gram. Before that, you need to make sure medical or recreational marijuana is legal in your place of residence, and in most states obtain a legal doctors recommendation. Some states like California have hundreds of dedicated doctors who essentially only write recommendations for medical patients, but other states have much stricter laws, so make sure to check your local laws and with your doctor! Even if you are in a state with recreational laws, it may still be a good idea to confirm with a doctor before using marijuana as medicine.

How does it work?

Now, you might be reading this article because your doctor has already told you that medical marijuana will help you, and has prescribed you a medical recommendation for personal use. Let's get into how marijuana works and the basics of its medicinal qualities.

The two most notable components of weed, that you may have already heard of, are THC and CBD. There are a bunch of others, like CBN or THC-V, but these THC and CBD are going to be your testing BBF's (best buds forever) when you start picking up at the shop.

THC, short for Tetrahydrocannabinol, is the main factor for the stress and anxiety relieving effects of marijuana, and is the most sought after in the shops. THC is basically the thing causing that 'high' feeling most people describe when smoking, and is the compound that most recreational and medical users care about. It is what is considered psychoactive, meaning it makes your brain feel all sorts of cool ways. This is why it is extremely useful in treating anxiety and depression, as well as other psychiatric conditions. Contrary to some myths, it does provide other medical benefits as well, such as assisting in cancer prevention and as an anti-inflammatory. A basic rule of thumb is this: the more THC in your product, the more 'high' you will feel. But BE WARNED, more is not always better! Most first time users will only take one hit, or one small piece of an edible, before beginning to feel the effects. When experimenting on the proper THC level for you, always start low and work your way up; and that goes double for edibles!

CBD, on the other hand, is responsible for a large portion of the known healing effects popularly associated with marijuana. This is the hero of cancer and seizures, and one of the parts that makes medical marijuana so useful, for so many people. It is as close to the aforementioned 'cure-all' as you might get, treating the widest range of symptoms and conditions. CBD also is non-psychoactive, so it doesn't give you that high feeling, but it also isn't as useful in treating stress and anxiety. CBD, which stands for Cannabidiol, only has one lil' atom that is different from the structure of the THC molecule, but this causes a huge change in its effects. For this compound, you can consider that more is usually better. For many medical patients, looking for products with high levels of CBD is a common route. 

Getting Medicated

Now you're ready to get medicated! Medical marijuana can be taken in a number of ways, including smoking, edibles, topical lotions and oils, and tinctures. It is typically refereed to under the umbrella term as 'medicating', and should be considered different from recreational use. If you can successfully use one of the treatment methods, there likely is a medical marijuana product out there for you!

The two most popular ways to get medical marijuana into your system, and that's smoking and eating medicated food items, also known as edibles. You can also use topical's and tinctures, but these are usually very specialized and expensive products, and can often be hard to find. Most patients can medicate smoking traditional buds or eating edibles with no negative issues, but for those with lung or gastrointestinal issues topical's or tinctures may be the way to go.

If you are smoking, make sure you are taking proper care of your lungs and only smoking out of designated rigs. A rig is something that is used as a tool, so in this case a pipe, bong or bubbler would be the proper tool to use. You can also roll disposable joints; or most dispensaries carry some form of pre-rolled joint, if you want to really make it easy. Keeping your rig and tools clean is also of utmost importance. In the case of a pipe or bong, the glass or water will act as a filter for unwanted particles that get into the smoke and keeping it will help to ensure proper filtering. Using bongs or other water accessories is not recommended for first time users, as they require a large/deep inhale to use properly. Smoking out of a small pipe or joint is usually the best way to begin, as you can take in very small amounts, and can cater the amount of smoke to your preference. You might (will) cough at first, but that's ok. It will likely dissipate, and having something like juice or iced tea and honey might help more than water, similar to when you have a cold. If you feel that the coughing is excessive and are having trouble breathing without any relief, edibles may be a better option for you. When smoking, you will likely begin to feel the effects right away, with the peak effect between 10-minutes to an hour after smoking.

Edibles, a term for any medicated product which can be eaten, are a lot different from smoking. These products do not cause any immediate effect, and one of the most common mistakes made by medical users is ingesting too much too quickly. Starting small and working up to eating more is always the best way to consume edibles, even if you are an experienced marijuana connoisseur. After eating an edible, you will likely begin to feel the effects 20-30 minutes after ingesting, and will not feel the full effects for up to two hours after. Depending on the product, it may be sectioned out into precise portions, but even if it is not, the smaller the better. With edibles you should remember, you can always eat more, but you can never eat less. 

It's all in the numbers!

Now, you've already heard me talk a bit about levels, so now let's get more into what all those numbers and testing percentages mean. When you first go to a shop, you might notice that as they show you the different products, they have numbers printed on them. This number is telling you how much of an effect to expect from the given product. This number changes from product to product and even from crop to crop, and helps to inform you on how the product will effect you. The higher the number, the stronger the effects will be per dose. A dose may be a hit from a pipe or a bite of an edible, but no matter what it is, the printed level will help you determine how it will effect you before you even leave the shop. There are two main types of 'levels' one might see in a shop; one is for the actual cannabis plant, and the other will be for marijuana that has been converted into another form for use.

If you are smoking, you will probably be buying a regular gram of weed, and in this case you might see a THC or CBD percentage(%) number as part of the testing information. This number might be anywhere from 10%- to a whopping 30% for THC and .5-30% for CBD, and will tell you what percentage of the plant material the cannabis compounds make up. Extractions and vape pens, recently becoming more and more popular, will have the same type of testing, but you should expect to see percentages of 60% and higher, since these products have extracted all of the THC and CBD out of the plant matter and have turned it into oil. Don't be alarmed by these higher percentages, as extractions are typically formulated to provide a smooth and clean hit so probably you wont cough much more at first (but don't come back to yell at me if you do..). So, for example, a strain that has been tested to have 17.8% THC and .9% CBD is alright, but won't have as strong of an effect as a strain that tests at 23% THC and 8% CBD.

Edibles are an entirely different story (unfortunately). For these yummy guys you will see product labels by MG, or milligram. This is done so that you know how much pot they are putting in your brownie. Each product will be labeled with a mg level anywhere from 5mg all the way to 1000mg. There is a huge difference here, and the most typical levels you might find in a shop are 100mg and 200mg products. There are hundreds of edible companies that specialize in making products that range from 5mg mints or strips of gum to giant 1000mg cookies, so try out a few different products and don't be scared to try new reputable brands! Another warning, in states where weed is recreational, like Washington, there may be limits to how many milligrams an edible product can have.

When you first begin using medical marijuana, in any form, it is always a good idea to start at a low level or percentage, and work your way up. Trying to do too much too fast will end up in disaster, or maybe you might just leave your phone in the freezer, but either way it probably won't be the pleasant experience you were hoping for. Getting started can be a rocky process, but it can also help you get a very good sense for what you like and don't like. The great thing about trying out weed is that it's not going to actually hurt you, at the very worst it just gives you a feeling you don't enjoy!

There are tons of resources about strains, growing, and medicating out there. Countless magazines and online pages post blogs about new ideas every day, and there is always new information to learn. Getting to know the basics will help you get a hold on where to start, and how best to venture into the cannabis world! Good luck! 

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