Medicinal Cannabis Delivery and Formulation Options: Pros and Cons

Recent years have seen a large shift in the acceptance and legalisation of medicinal cannabis products in many regions worldwide. There are more formulations and options now available to those eligible for medicinal cannabis treatments.

With such a range, it can assist in supporting the best fit for individual needs; it can also pose a challenge to patients, doctors and healthcare providers alike in determining which product is most suited. By understanding more about the kinds of formulations and delivery methods available, you are better equipped to understand medicinal cannabis and its appropriate treatment uses.

Is medicinal cannabis an appropriate treatment?

Cannabis has demonstrated efficacy across a range of different medical conditions, including anxiety, chronic pain, arthritis, insomnia, and chemotherapy-induced nausea. While treatment outcomes aren’t guaranteed, and results vary from patient to patient, there is increasing interest in this natural alternative to conventional medicines.

The right choice of formulation and delivery method are dependent on the condition and individual, as what’s effective for one person may not result in the same outcome for the next. 

Topical cannabis formulations

Topical cannabis formulations come in the form of creams and balms, and are most suitable for targeting localised pain and inflammation.

These products are designed for direct application to the skin. One of the major pros of topical formulations is their potential ability to provide targeted relief to a very specific area.

Topical formulations work by interacting with cannabinoid receptors in the skin, leading to a reduction in inflammation and the alleviation of pain. This form of medicinal cannabis is most commonly used for conditions such as arthritis, muscle soreness, and skin irritations.

Another benefit of topical cannabis formulations is that they’re non-intoxicating. This means they don’t produce the ‘high’ that’s often associated with other cannabis products and forms of use, removing all risks of psychoactive effects.

However, topical cannabis formulations have a number of downsides. They may not be as effective as other formulations, as the active compounds must first pass through the skin before they’re able to exert their effects in the bloodstream. For some medical conditions, only formulations which provide systemic delivery of the active compounds to the bloodstream can provide the highest potential for relief.

Topical formulations can also be slower to act, taking up to an hour or more for their effects to be felt. For patients requiring immediate relief, this can be a barrier to use. It’s also important for patients to test for any adverse skin reactions before applying a topical formulation more widely.

Oil-dropper cannabis products

Oil-dropper cannabis products are one of the most ubiquitous forms of medicinal cannabis products. Consisting of a liquid cannabis extract in a dropper bottle, this product is designed for easy administration via oral consumption. When the cannabis is placed under the tongue, it’s then absorbed into the bloodstream.

One of the primary benefits of oil-dropper cannabis products is the way they allow for dose titration, meaning patients can start with a small dose before gradually increasing the amount to the optimal treatment level (as per their treatment plan and prescription). For patients who are new to medicinal cannabis, this can be an effective way of monitoring their personal reaction to this treatment.

Oil-dropper cannabis products are also easy to use, offering discreet use. This is an attractive option for those who require a prescribed product they can use during the day without attracting attention.

Capsule cannabis doses

Like an oil-dropper cannabis product, capsule cannabis doses are a convenient and discreet option for patients requiring consistent, accurate doses of medicinal cannabis. A gelatin or vegetable-based shell contains the cannabis extract, much like other capsules you may be used to taking.

This is an ideal option for patients who require a fixed dose of medication, as well as patients who need prolonged medical effects. Certain capsule formulations can provide extended-release, slowly delivering active compounds over a longer period of time than other formulations. 

As with each type of medicinal cannabis formulation, capsule cannabis also has several downsides. They can often be more expensive than other formulations, requiring more processing and preparation, often making them cost-prohibitive to some patients.

They also may be unsuitable for patients who struggle to swallow pills or capsules. This is particularly relevant for patients who may be at risk of choking, in which case alternative formulations may be a more appropriate fit.  

Capsule cannabis can also have a slower onset of action when compared to other formulations. As the capsule needs to be broken down and digested by the body before the active compounds can enter the bloodstream, this can take anywhere from 30 minutes to several hours before its effects are felt.

Inhaler cannabis formulations

Inhaler cannabis formulations, like vaporisers, are a common option for patients in need of fast-acting relief. These products work by heating the cannabis extract to a temperature that allows for it to be vaporised. It’s then inhaled, where it’s absorbed into the bloodstream via the lungs.

This formulation can offer a rapid onset of action, offering a faster impact when compared to other treatment options. Inhaler cannabis formulations may be the best option for patients with liver issues, as they bypass the liver to deliver medication directly to the bloodstream –  particularly important for patients with liver disease or damage.

In contrast, inhaler cannabis formulations may not be suitable for patients with medical conditions like lung diseases or asthma. They’re not as discreet as other formulations and can be limiting in where a patient chooses to inhale the vapour as a result. They can also be more cost-prohibitive than other forms of medicinal cannabis.

The importance of appropriate formulations

It’s important for medical professionals to consider the individual needs and preferences of each patient when prescribing medicinal cannabis. As each patient may respond differently based on their unique factors, drawing on the pros and cons of available cannabis formulations can equip patients and healthcare professionals alike as they make informed decisions about the best course of treatment for their needs. 

If you’re looking to learn more about medicinal cannabis in Australia, contact GreenHeart Medical.

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