Wednesday 9 March 2016

Cannabis Extract and Edibles? Why?

Alex Fraser - Event Director - United Patients Alliance

Cannabis extracts, sometimes known as concentrates are exactly that: concentrated cannabis. As with many legal medicines often it isn’t feasible to ingest enough of the active ingredients when in their natural form. Extracts also provide a much wider scope for methods of ingestion. Oil can be put into caps to be eaten or in suppositories. It is also possible to create a THC-rich form of oil especially for inhaled vaporisation which is proving to be one of the safest and most effective ways to ingest cannabis, as well as the fastest acting, and most effective pain relief available from the plant. All of this is essential to take into account for a medical cannabis patient. 

Eating oil takes up to an hour to take effect. This means it’s impractical for those in need of immediate pain relief (such as myself). Caps are, however, very effective as a course of treatment for the underlying condition and to reduce symptoms over time. There is also the benefit that, when eaten, the effect can last for many hours. For those using it to keep themselves asleep when pain might resurface throughout the night this is very useful. With caps it is also possible to provide a level of pain relief or sedation throughout the day (depending on whether you’re using Indica or Sativa oils). For people who cannot inhale cannabis in any form (due to lung problems) or who cannot ingest via bi-lingual sprays (there are a multitude of medicinal reasons why this might not be possible). Oil caps are going to be the only possible course of medicine for them to get relief without having to bake their medicine into brownies or other foods (an endeavour that costs time, energy and money).

For those who don’t want to experience the “high” from cannabis, suppositories are the only option and again, it must be oil rather than herb that is used. We expect a great deal of medical cannabis use to be done by the over 60’s once legalised (as is the case in many states in the USA that have legal medical cannabis). Many of these people don’t want the heady highs that go with this kind of medication and this can be avoided. Leaving oil illegal will simply mean that this “high-free” option isn’t possible for those that want or need it. Try going to work on high doses of cannabis, it doesn’t work. Suppositories mean one can go about their day, ingest a very high quantity of cannabis but not be seriously inebriated. For those who have cancer but still have to work, putting a canna-cap up their bum before work is a possibly life-saving reality.

One of  other main reasons concentrates are useful is that, for serious conditions and severe pain, cannabis can often not be strong enough in herbal form with people often combining it with opiates. This has meant a reduction in opiate overdoses in states where cannabis has been legalised but with concentrates, a patient’s dependency on opiates can be reduced further still. 

I’ve personally smoked more than a gram of cannabis in a single “joint” and it’s not come close to easing my pain, no vaporisers cater for that size of dose. No vaporiser can fit more than half a gram of cannabis in at one time (to my knowledge). Vaporisable cannabis oil however, can be vaporised in tiny amounts that contain large doses. I have a Dabstorm; an E-cigarette type device that I can use discretely in public. It’s very similar to portable herbal vaporisers I’ve used except that I can fit a tiny amount of herb in a portable vape (about 0.3g at most) whereas my Dabstorm can hold enough oil to keep me pain free for hours, sometimes days, whilst out and about. When at home I can take a very high dose of THC in the form of vaporised oil that would mean smoking or vaporising for at least half an hour solidly. It’s efficient and it’s effective.

Last, but not least, cannabis concentrates aren't identical to cannabis. In two ways:

Firstly, there is some difference in effect. To me a Sativa dab (a single dose of vaporised inhaled cannabis oil made from the bud of a Sativa plant) has a very different effect to any other form of cannabis I've tried. Let’s imagine I’m getting up to get to work, my pain is the worst at this time, I need something with high THC but that doesn’t make me feel lethargic or lazy, that’s going to keep me on my feet as I shower and dress and go about my day. The Sativa dab does this perfectly. Any form of smoked herb makes me lethargic, vaporised herb doesn’t ease the pain enough and if I try to eat any cannabis it will take an hour to take effect. Do you think, if we legalised only herb, that I would revert back to using it? Rather than this particular oil that does exactly what I need, when I need and is available in the UK despite the fact that it’s unregulated and the price is extortionate? Do you think I put a price on being able to get up and get out to work? 

Secondly, Some cannabis extracts are produced using solvents and need expensive, professional vacuum ovens to remove all residual solvents to make these products safe. Here, far more so than with herbal cannabis, a regulated supply is needed. Patients ARE going to use concentrates, it’s a fact. I know very few pain patients who haven’t made the move onto vaporised oils (dabs) and most that haven’t can’t merely due to lack of supply or due to cost. We have a duty to improve these peoples quality of medicines by legalising them all, not just some forms.

Those who have cancer are not going to hesitate to make the RSO or Full Extract oil that they believe will treat them, providing them with safe access is another obligation. These are people trying to find peace in their final hours or prevent a painful death. I’m sure I don’t need to explain how desperation leads to bad decision making. These are the people who are being scammed most commonly, sold oil for ridiculous prices or sold oil that is simply not the product they had thought they were buying. This issue is at the emotional heart of the campaign to legalise medicinal cannabis and desperately needs addressing. Speak to Jeff Ditchfield if you need any more convincing.

At the end of the day, concentrates are cannabis. The two things are the same thing in different forms in the same sense as olive oil is made from olives or butter from milk. If we can provide a wide array of potencies and methods of ingestion with safe, regulated, affordable cannabis concentrates why would we not do so? Why would we limit patients ability to medicate using just one form that works in just one way when we already have multiple forms with many features that make them far more suitable medicines for specific patients, symptoms or scenarios. Why would we not strive to develop regulated outlets for these medicines that patients are ALREADY USING. 

We must be very clear about what we are actually trying to do here: We’re not creating a marketplace, we’re not introducing “new medicines” to the UK. These medicines already exist, there are people making high quality extracts of all kinds in the UK, there are many established brands making edible cannabis in various forms, all illegally. We’re not creating “medical cannabis in the UK”, it already exists, we’re just legalising it, regulating it, and hopefully improving on it. Why would we be happy with anything other than an improvement?