Inhalation vs. Edibles for Terminally Ill Patients

Updated on December 11, 2018.  Medical content reviewed by Dr. Joseph Rosado, MD, M.B.A, Chief Medical Officer

Inhalation vs. Edibles for Terminally Ill Patients

Fear, anger and grief are just a few of the emotions patients and their loved ones experience when confronted with the diagnosis of a terminal illness. The time remaining for that patient is precious and shouldn’t be wasted. However, a terminal diagnosis is often the result of a debilitating disease, like cancer or AIDS. These conditions are accompanied by many painful symptoms. On top of that, patients confronting the end are often plagued by psychological trauma and depression.

Those remaining moments shouldn’t be spent suffering or worrying, so most doctors prescribe medications like prescription opiates and anti-depressants. These treatments, however, are accompanied by many crippling side effects. They can also make patients so out of it that they can’t enjoy their time with family and friends.

Medical marijuana is now available in many states for patients diagnosed with a terminal illness. Not only can it help manage painful symptoms, but it also addresses the psychological component of dealing with their condition. Cannabis is known to improve the mood of users, helping them manage depression and anxiety.

But what is the best method to ingest medical marijuana treatments? The two main ways to take cannabis medication are by inhaling, either by smoking or using a vaporization apparatus, and by eating cannabis-infused edibles. Both methods have certain advantages, but there may be one way that’s better for your circumstances.

Medical Marijuana vs. Mainstream Treatments

The primary goal of end-of-life treatments is to help the patient manage the symptoms associated with their terminal illness. Not only is there a bevy of physical symptoms, but they also deal with the emotional impact that this diagnosis causes. Some of the most common symptoms include:

  • Chronic pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Difficulty eating
  • Weight loss
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Insomnia
  • Fatigue
  • Anger
  • Anxiety
  • Depression

Doctors usually prescribe treatments that alleviate pain, improve strength, increase appetite and manage depression. However, this requires multiple medications, making the risk of adverse side effects compounded.

Many of the symptoms associated with terminal illnesses can be addressed with medical marijuana treatments. Cannabis is comprised of cannabinoids, special compounds that have medical benefits. Our body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a series of receptors throughout major bodily systems which affect our digestion, neurological processes and more.

Cannabinoids in marijuana react with our ECS to influence how our body deals with pain, nausea, depression and other debilitating symptoms. This makes cannabis treatments perfect for those with terminal illness because it addresses multiple side effects of their condition, not just one or two like mainstream medications.

Which Ingestion Method is Best?

If you’re looking to use medical marijuana in conjunction with your doctor prescribed treatments, you may be wondering what the best method to take cannabis medications is. There are many options — however, the most common for patients with terminal illnesses are:

  • Inhalation: The two ways to inhale medical marijuana are smoking or vaporization. Rolling a joint or smoking a bong allows patients to feel the effects of the medication quickly. This is perfect for patients experiencing painful symptoms who need relief immediately. However, the smoke produced by burning weed can aggravate lung function in patients who are already having difficulties breathing.

Vaporization, either using a vape pen or vaporizer, is a safer method because it doesn’t burn the cannabis plant. It also brings quick relief to symptoms, but this approach still has the risk of affecting a patient’s breathing.

  • Edibles: The oil diffused from the cannabis plant can be used to create all manner of edible medications. Common edibles include brownies and other baked goods, gummies and even beverages and teas. This delivery method may take up to an hour for a patient to feel the effects. However, once it kicks in, the relief it brings will last longer than inhaling the medication.

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This method is perfect for those who need long-lasting relief, but may not be good for those who need to feel the effects of the plant quickly. Also, if patients are nauseated, they may find it difficult to ingest the edibles. Smoking is more beneficial for patients struggling with nausea and vomiting.

This advice shouldn’t replace that of a qualified professional. You should always speak with a doctor or a dispensary budtender who can consider your individual circumstances.

Additional Terminal Illness & Cannabis Resources

For more information about how cannabis can be used to treat Terminal Illness, check out our resources: