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How to Use Medical Cannabis

Start low and go slow.

Medical cannabis can offer significant benefits for patients, but the effects of cannabis aren’t always immediately felt. Everyone responds differently. Finding effective products and doses may take time, as it does for many types of treatment for illness. Methods of using cannabis can be discussed with a Verilife patient care representative to find a method that will manage your symptoms while working with a method of delivery that is comfortable for you to use. Finding a balanced ratio of CBD and THC that creates the right combination of both compounds is the goal. The basic principle for dosing medical cannabis is “start low and go slow.”

Cannabis has a wide margin of safety and there is a limited risk of overdose. However, caution is warranted until you fully understand the effect that the cannabis may have. Dosage varies greatly among individuals, even when treating the same condition.

There are many factors that impact the effect, including:

Amount used (dosage)

Attaining desired results relies on using the correct dosing. Using cannabis in excess of an individual’s ideal dose can lead to diminishing returns and adverse outcomes.

Strain used

A strain is the variety of plant within a species. Strains define a specific cannabinoid profile—the mixture of THC, CBD, etc. within it. Each strain has its own physical characteristics, or phenotype, such as height, leaf structure and color. Depending on the strain and its corresponding cannabinoid profile, the plant will deliver varying effects and possible benefits. See a list of strains and possible effects. 

Method of consumption

It is important to choose a delivery method that works best for you and your condition. Absorption rates vary based on your chosen method of consumption.


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Inhalation Overview

Inhaling through the lungs through:

Hand- or machine-rolled cigarette
Pipe or water pipe (bong)

Vapor inhalation
Battery-powered handheld vaporizer
Disposable handheld vaporizer with replacement cartridge options
Electronic vaporizing device

Effects are felt almost immediately, within minutes.

Effects peak in 10–30 minutes, tapering off after approximately 2–4 hours, lasting about 4–12 hours in total.

With inhalation, dosage is easily adjusted for maximum benefit.
Smoking vs. Vaporization:

With smoking, some of the available cannabinoids (chemicals found in cannabis) may be completely burned up or lost in side-stream smoke, and thus are not biologically available (able to enter the body and have a therapeutic effect).

With vaporization, the temperature needs to be high enough to extract THC, CBD, and other cannabinoids but not too high to release the potentially harmful toxins that occur during smoking.

Vaporization is claimed to reduce some of the health risks associated with smoking.

Flower: The actual flower of the cannabis plant. This is the part of the plant that is harvested and used for medical purposes as it contains the highest concentrations of active cannabinoids.

Oil: Cannabis oil is a thick substance made up of cannabinoids extracted from the cannabis plant. It is obtained by separating the resins from cannabis flowers using a solvent extraction process. Oil can be administered through a vape.

Shatter: Shatter is a cannabis concentrate and has a reputation for being the purest and cleanest type of extract. It is extremely potent and is only recommended for the experienced cannabis user.

Wax: Wax is a cannabis concentrate that refers to softer, opaque oils that have lost their transparency after extraction. Wax offers patients a way to consume very high-potency cannabis with rapid onset and can be paired with flower, a vaporizer or dabbed.


Oral Overview

Taking cannabis in through the mouth under your tongue, absorbs via the digestive system or blood vessels in the mucous membranes in the mouth.

Offers a faster onset than edibles but much slower absorption than inhalation, with 15-40 minutes before effects are felt.

Patients see lower, more delayed peak THC levels with oral administration, with effects lasting approximately 45 minutes - 2 hours.

Many patients are more comfortable with oral administration of medical cannabis.

Tinctures or oils: are concentrated forms of medical cannabis that are taken under the tongue (sublingually) or by mouth.

Spray: A spray is also a cannabis oil extract that is absorbed directly under the tongue (sublingual) and into the mouth.

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Ingestion Overview

When taking cannabis in through the mouth, it enters the bloodstream after being digested or broken down in the stomach and absorbed into the digestive system.

Ingestion takes the longest to take effect, with onset at 30 minutes - 2 hours.

Patients see effects lasting between 5-8 hours on average.

Many patients are more comfortable with edible medical cannabis. Edibles have a longer-lasting effect than other oral products.

Capsules: Medical cannabis in a pill allows chemicals to enter the bloodstream through the digestive system to provide potent treatment. Taking medical cannabis in pills instead of smoking produces a stronger and longer lasting effect.

Beverages: Beverages with medical cannabis can produce a stronger psychoactive effect because as the body processes a liquid form of medical cannabis, it changes the structure of the THC, one of the chemicals in cannabis.

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Topicals Overview

A topical medicine is applied to the skin directly ‘on top’ of the place where it is needed.

Topical forms act very quickly.

Transdermal patches will take at least 1 hour. 

Topicals can last 1-2 hours. 

Transdermal patches can last up to 12 hours.

Topical medical cannabis works by being absorbed directly into the skin; it does not enter your bloodstream or have psychoactive effects. Some people prefer this method so they get the benefits of medical cannabis without it affecting their mind or mood. 

It comes in a variety of forms, such as ointments, lotions, balms, or transdermal patches. 

Ointment/Lotion: Medical cannabis can be used in ointments, lotions, and creams for symptoms like rashes or joint pain. These forms are not absorbed into the bloodstream and do not have any psychoactive effects.

Transdermal Patches: Many medicines are delivered transdermally, or through the skin, like pain medications or nicotine replacement. Medical cannabis delivered this way will eventually be absorbed into your bloodstream, and have psychoactive effects. 

Balms: Medical cannabis can be used in a balm—for example, to topically treat headaches or muscle pain. Medical cannabis in a balm is not absorbed into your bloodstream and doesn’t have any psychoactive effects.


Have Questions? We’ve Got Answers.

No matter your level of comfort or knowledge with medical cannabis, we can help answer your questions. Our friendly patient care representatives are happy to talk.

Our hours are 9 a.m. - 5:30 p.m. EST.



This website contains medical cannabis information and is restricted to individuals 21 years of age or older. Please confirm your age and state:

  • IL
  • MD
  • MA
  • NY
  • OH
  • PA

Did you know that most medical marijuana information is state-specific? We have dispensaries in each of the above states, along with state-specific resources for patients. For the best experience, please select a state.