Smoking vs Edibles


So you have your medical marijuana card, you arrive at the dispensary and, suddenly, you are presented with a very common dilemma. Is smoking or are edibles more appropriate for treating my condition? This is a question that we receive quite often. As a medical marijuana doctor in California, patients come to us with a variety of questions regarding their medical marijuana use and this is definitely one of the most common. Most people have only consumed marijuana by smoking. Occasionally we will have patients that have tried edibles but only those made by their friends or other medical marijuana users. Hopefully this blog will help you decide whether smoking or edibles are better for you.

Medicinal marijuana is most commonly consumed by smoking. The biggest benefit of smoking marijuana is its immediate effect. When using medicinal marijuana to treat anxiety while in public, acute pain, migraines, and cachexia (just to name a few), patients may benefit from the quick onset of smoking marijuana. Another benefit is that the effects are short acting, from 1-4 hours on average. This is ideal for conditions that only require temporary relief. However, there are also several negative aspects of smoking medical marijuana. The first and foremost being the risk of obstructive lung disease, ie COPD or emphysema, and/or lung cancer, which have specifically been outlined by the California medical association. Although recent research in the California medical association journal suggests that cannabis smoking by itself probably does not lead to COPD, smoking cannabis and tobacco is associated with a greater risk of COPD than smoking only tobacco.   Lung cancer may also be more of a theoretical risk with cannabis smoking. A recent study at the University of California Los Angeles, concluded that the association of pharyngeal and pulmonary cancers with cannabis, even in heavy smokers, is not strong and may be below detectable limits. However, even with this research, as a medical marijuana doctor, I do counsel all patients that smoking of any kind has the risk of leading to reactive airway disease, obstructive pulmonary disease, and/or lung cancer.

So that brings us to our next question, are edibles potentially better because they may mitigate these risks. Just with smoking medical marijuana, there are several benefits, but also several risks of consuming medical marijuana orally through edibles or pills. The biggest risk is that there is no standardized method of measuring THC content in the state of California. This essentially means that your new chocolate brownie may contain much more or less THC than advertised on the packaging. If it contains less THC then it may not provide you the relief you are looking for from your medication. However, if it contains more THC then you may be predisposing yourself to increase cognitive side effects such as impairment in memory, sense of time, sensory perception, attention span, problem solving, verbal fluency, reaction time, and psychomotor control. The effect of edibles lasts much longer as well. This may be ideal for some conditions such as arthritis, chronic pain, depression, cachexia, anorexia, and glaucoma that require long lasting relief, but it also predisposes you to the above-mentioned side effects for a longer period of time. The medicinal properties of edibles also take much longer to take effect so individuals who need immediate relief may benefit more from smoking.

As a medical marijuana doctor, this is one of the most common questions that we receive from patients and we hope this blog will provide you some guidance on which is more appropriate, edibles or smoking, when consuming medical marijuana. As always, please consult your medical marijuana doctor with any additional questions and, remember, the consumption of medicinal marijuana is only for patients with a valid medical marijuana card.