Medical Marijuana Primer

What Is Medical Marijuana?

The term Medical Marijuana refers to using the whole, unprocessed marijuana plant, or its basic extracts to treat symptoms of illness and other conditions. Research shows that Medical Marijuana gets its medicinal properties from the combination of cannabinoids and terpenes found within it.

What Are Cannabinoids And How Do They Work?

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Cannabinoids are the chemical compounds found in the Medical Marijuana plant that aid in the management of pain and mental health treatment. To date, 104 cannabinoids have been formally identified. The two most abundant cannabinoids in Medical Marijuana are delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). THC is the primary psychoactive in the Medical Marijuana plant, and it is commonly used as a treatment for anxiety, insomnia, and other health conditions. CBD shares neuroprotective effects with THC; however, it does not induce psychoactive effects.

The Endocannabinoid System

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The Endocannabinoid System (ECS) is a neuromodulatory system that is made up of cannabinoid receptors and cannabinoids themselves. When cannabinoids from the Medical Marijuana plant are consumed, they bind to the cannabinoid receptors in the body, and from there, the enzymes within the ECS are responsible for the synthesis of the cannabinoids, which produces the effects of Medical Marijuana.

The ECS is a vital component of the body’s central nervous system and immune system. It directly enables the body to maintain homeostasis by regulating certain functions such as sleep, inflammation, pain, memory, mood, and appetite. 

There are two primary types of cannabinoid receptors within the ECS: CB1 & CB2. The CB1 receptors are located throughout the brain,  and spinal cord (the central nervous system) and are known to interact directly with the cannabinoid THC. CB2 receptors are located in the organs and tissues of the immune system, such as tonsils, thymus, lymph nodes, spleen, and white-blood-cell-making bone marrow.

Where Is It Legal To Consume Medical Marijuana?

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On April 17, 2016, The Pennsylvania General Assembly passed the Medical Marijuana Act (Act 16), legalizing the possession, sale, and consumption of Medical Marijuana. Under this law, only patients and caregivers who are Pennsylvania residents can purchase Medical Marijuana from dispensaries in the state under Pennsylvania marijuana laws. Because Pennsylvania only has a Medical Marijuana program, recreational use is prohibited. To obtain Medical Marijuana in Pennsylvania, patients and caregivers must be added to the state’s registry and obtain a medical marijuana identification card.

To date, there are a total of 34 states in the U.S with a legal, Medical Marijuana program. Those states are made up of 23 states where only Medical Marijuana consumption is legal in addition to the 11 states with both a Medical Marijuana program and publicly available adult-use program. Adult-use is the common term used to describe the recreational use of the plant by people over the age of 21. Washington, D.C also has both medical use and recreational use programs. 

Although the use of Medical Marijuana is legal in many states, the laws surrounding exactly where you can consume the plant vary between them. Act 16 does not stipulate where cannabis consumption is allowed in Pennsylvania; however, cannabis consumption should take place in private due to existing federal laws. 

In the United States, the federal government still classifies marijuana as a schedule I controlled substance. This means that traveling over state lines with your medical marijuana is a federal crime. 

The Forms Of Consumption

There are various ways to consume Medical Marijuana, which is available in different forms. Each form has its own distinct set of benefits and effects for treating specific health ailments.

Flower

Flower is the dry form of Medical Marijuana. Under Pennsylvania state law, flower must be consumed through vaporization.

Concentrates

When flower is pressed at high pressures, the concentrated elements within the plants can be extracted. The resulting concentrate can take on a variety of forms, all of which are consumed through vaporization. 

  • Oil - A thick, sticky liquid that can contain varying levels of THC 
  • Shatter - A smooth, solid, and transparent concentrate that typically shows higher THC levels.
  • Wax - An opaque, soft extracts that typically show lower THC levels
  • Budder - A creamy, butter-like concentrate that typically shows higher THC levels
  • Resin - A dark, gooey concentrate that typically shows higher THC levels

Topicals

Topical forms of Medical Marijuana are used to treat localized, chronic pain. Topical applications come in a variety of forms. Medical Marijuana can be used in balms, lotions, and patches and applied directly to the skin for treatment.

Oral

Oral forms of Medical Marijuana can come as capsules, tinctures, and sprays. These forms are ideal for patients in need of quick and discrete treatment. 

  • Capsules - Also known as pills, contain oil from Medical Marijuana and are swallowed for consumption
  • Tinctures - Tinctures are Medical Marijuana in its liquid form and is typically applied under the tongue with a syringe 
  • Sprays - Tinctures are also made to spray on the tongue

The Entourage Effect

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When Medical Marijuana is consumed, the body’s endocannabinoid system processes hundreds of botanical compounds, the primary two being cannabinoids and terpenes. On their own, each of these two compounds has its own distinct set of therapeutic benefits as well as physical effects and mental effects. 

Together, terpenes and cannabinoids work synergistically to maximize the benefits of one another.  This relationship is known as the Entourage Effect, the theory that Medical Marijuana’s compounds work better together rather than in isolation.

What Other Variables Can Affect Your Experience With Medical Marijuana?

Medical Marijuana’s effects on a person depend on several factors, including the person’s environment during consumption, the method of consumption, the dose consumed, and how often one is consuming.

Setting/Environment

Your surroundings play a significant role in the effects of your consumption. Consider your comfort level and be mindful of your surroundings, so you can determine what is most effective for you.

Method Of Consumption

There are many different ways to consume Medical Marijuana, and depending on your condition, some methods are better than others for treatment. In Pennsylvania, dry flower products can only be consumed through vaporization. Medical Marijuana is also available for oral consumption through capsules (pills), tinctures, and sprays. Patients in Pennsylvania also have access to topical applications that come in the form of balms, lotions, and patches and are applied directly to the skin for treatment.

Dose

In terms of dosing, you should always consult a Vytal Options pharmacist about your Medical Marijuana prescription. When trying a new consumption method or a new form of Medical Marijuana, starting low and going slow is the best way to understand what dosage is most impactful and beneficial for your treatment.

Tolerance

Your tolerance will also change the way Medical Marijuana affects you. If you frequently expose the brain to THC and other cannabinoids over a couple of days or weeks, the brain will begin to minimize the activity of the CB1 receptor. Over time, this degradation process weakens the impact cannabinoids will have on your body. 

How to Purchase Medical Marijuana

Eligibility to purchase Medical Marijuana in Pennsylvania involves a few steps. First, a prospective patient must register for the program through the Medical Marijuana Registry

Next, an approved physician must certify that you suffer from one of the following medical conditions: 

  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
  • Anxiety disorders.
  • Autism.
  • Cancer, including remission therapy.
  • Crohn’s disease.
  • Damage to the nervous tissue of the central nervous system (brain-spinal cord) an with objective neurological indication of intractable spasticity, and other associated neuropathies.
  • Dyskinetic and spastic movement disorders.
  • Epilepsy.
  • Glaucoma.
  • HIV / AIDS.
  • Huntington’s disease.
  • Inflammatory bowel disease.
  • Intractable seizures.
  • Multiple sclerosis.
  • Neurodegenerative diseases.
  • Neuropathies.
  • Opioid use disorder for which conventional therapeutic interventions are contraindicated or ineffective, or for which adjunctive therapy is indicated in combination with primary therapeutic interventions.
  • Parkinson’s disease.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • Severe chronic or intractable pain of neuropathic origin or severe chronic or intractable pain.
  • Sickle cell anemia.
  • Terminal illness.
  • Tourette syndrome.

Finally, prospective patients must purchase a Medical Marijuana ID card, and only then can one obtain Medical Marijuana from an approved dispensary in Pennsylvania.

How To Properly Store Your Medical Marijuana Products To Maintain Quality

Avoid Direct Sunlight

The biggest threat to the deterioration of your Medical Marijuana is sunlight, specifically ultraviolet (UV) light. UV rays break down organic materials and activate a dehydration process on Medical Marijuana if it is exposed to sunlight for extended periods of time. With that said, always store your Medical Marijuana out of direct sunlight. This storage method will also allow you to monitor the temperature of the product, another important quality maintenance variable.

Monitor Temperature

Ideally, you should store your Medical Marijuana around room temperature (72 degrees Fahrenheit). Temperatures that are lower than this will have adverse effects on your product, and higher temperatures can be dangerous to your health. 

High temperatures lead to mold and mildew growth. Mold growth is most active between 70 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit. High temperatures will also dry out your Medical Marijuana and destroy its terpenes, resulting in a harsher taste.

Lower temperatures don’t pose a health concern, but they will reduce the potency of your Medical Marijuana. When stored at temperatures below 72 degrees, the trichomes become fragile and end up falling off the product. You don’t want to lose your trichomes because they harbor a majority of the THC a plant contains.

Limit Oxygen Exposure

Similarly to light and temperature, when Medical Marijuana is overexposed to oxygen, essential cannabinoids and terpenes will oxidize, changing the overall composition of the product from hydrated and potent to dry and weak. In order to reduce the amount of oxygen that reaches your Medical Marijuana, store the product in an airtight container.