Using medicinal cannabis can be as simple and discreet as taking your daily multivitamin.
The versatility of the cannabis plant means it can be developed into a variety of forms, including dried flower, oil, creams and balms, pills and tinctures.
You can use medicinal cannabis in a way that’s comfortable for you and compatible with your lifestyle.
If you’re thinking about using medicinal cannabis, it’s helpful to know the different ways you can consume it — including how quickly the effects kick in and last.
This simple guide to the different ways of using medicinal cannabis will help you to decide the consumption method that’s right for you.
As always, it’s important to talk to your doctor before using any cannabis-based medicines.
Topical: Cannabis creams, salves and balms
You can get medicinal cannabis creams, balms, and salves that you can apply directly to your skin for targeted relief.
Medicinal cannabis extract is typically blended with other ingredients to create a consistency similar to a moisturiser or lip balm. You can also use cannabis oil or CBD oil topically.
Creams and balms can contain varying amounts of cannabinoids (CBD, THC) and are often infused with other essential oils for additional relief.
Topical medicinal cannabis can be used for muscle and joint pain, skin conditions such as psoriasis, and inflammatory conditions such as arthritis.
Medicinal cannabis topicals are non-intoxicating, which makes them popular with people who want the therapeutic effects without the “high”.
They tend to be fast-acting (within 10-30 minutes) and the effects typically last for 2-3 hours.
You can get a prescription for CBD topicals for any health condition in New Zealand.
Smoking and vaporising: Dried cannabis plant material
Smoking is the most common way that people use cannabis recreationally.
However, New Zealand’s Medicinal Cannabis Scheme prohibits the supply of cannabis for smoking.
This is part of the government’s Smoke-free Aotearoa 2025 goal, which Ora Pharm supports.
The scheme does allow patients to use dried cannabis flower, providing they vaporise it using an approved medical device.
Vaporisers work by using heat to convert dried cannabis plant into a vapour that’s inhaled.
You can also vaporise cannabis oil or “vape juice” in the same way.
Dried cannabis flower and oil come in a wide range of blends and dosages.
It’s essential to talk with your doctor to determine which is most suitable for your needs
There are also health risks associated with vaping to be aware of, however, it is generally considered less harmful than smoking.
Vaping cannabis containing THC may have intoxicating effects, which can include feelings of euphoria, dizziness, drowsiness and more.
The main benefit of vaporising cannabis is that it’s fast-acting. The effects can sometimes be felt immediately (usually within 20-30 minutes) and typically last for 1-3 hours.
Oral, edible: Cannabis oil, butter, tablets, capsules
In countries where cannabis is legal, you can get a huge range of edible products, including cookies, brownie, ice cream, and chocolate.
However, the Medicinal Cannabis Scheme in New Zealand currently prohibits cannabis products that are represented as food. That includes things like cannabis gummies and butter.
There are other options when it comes to consuming cannabis orally, such as tablets and capsules.
Tablets and capsules can contain botanical extracts of the cannabis plant or synthetic cannabinoids.
The medicine is dispersed via the digestive system, which takes longer than most other consumption methods (30-90 minutes or more).
However, the effects can last for much longer (6-8 hours).
This method presents several advantages over the others, primarily in increasing the duration of the therapeutic effect and lowering the occurrence of side effects.
Pills that contain THC can make you feel “high” so you won’t be able to drive or work while taking them.
Your doctor will be able to advise you on the effects and benefits of various medicinal cannabis blends and dosages.
Oral, sublingual: Cannabis tinctures, spray, oil
The other way to consume cannabis orally is with sublingual tinctures and oils.
Sublingual means applied under the tongue and a tincture is an alcohol-based cannabis extract.
Cannabis oil and CBD oil can also be applied in the same way.
Consuming medicinal cannabis sublingually allows for rapid absorption into the bloodstream.
Effects can be felt within 15 minutes, however, they typically only last for up to 2 hours.
This is a popular option for patients who want fast, short-term relief from symptoms, rather than the day-long effects of edibles.
Once again, talk to your doctor about the blend and dosage that’s right for you.
Choosing the right medicine for you
Cannabis is a wonderfully complex plant that can be used in many different ways.
As the medicinal cannabis industry evolves, patients will likely have greater access to a wider range of medicines.
It will become increasingly important to understand the different consumption methods and to work with your doctor to determine the best option for you.