D69: Routes of Administration for Medical Cannabis

Routes of Administration for Medical Cannabis


Medical cannabis,has caught the eye of researchers and clinicians for its potential therapeutic effects across a broad spectrum of health conditions. Interacting with the human body’s endocannabinoid system, cannabis compounds help maintain biological balance, or homeostasis[^1^]. The focus here is to explore different methods of administering these compounds to maximize medical benefits while being mindful of each method’s pros and cons.

Inhalation: Quick and Effective

Inhalation, mainly through smoking or vaporization, is a popular method of cannabis administration. This approach allows for rapid absorption of cannabinoids into the bloodstream via the lungs, yielding fast-acting relief. Vaporization, compared to smoking, has the added benefit of avoiding harmful combustion byproducts[^2^]. This method is particularly effective for conditions needing immediate intervention, like acute pain and nausea.

Oral Ingestion: Slow Release, Long Duration

Oral ingestion offers a slower, yet long-lasting, alternative. When consumed in forms like oils, capsules, or edibles, cannabinoids are absorbed through the digestive tract and processed by the liver. This mechanism prolongs the effects, making it a suitable option for conditions requiring continuous relief, such as chronic pain or sleep disorders[^3^].

Sublingual: Direct and Efficient

Placing cannabis tinctures or extracts under the tongue results in direct absorption through the sublingual mucosa. This bypasses the digestive system and liver metabolism, delivering cannabinoids into the bloodstream rapidly. Sublingual administration is ideal for conditions requiring fast-acting relief, like acute seizures or anxiety attacks[^4^].

Topical: Localized Treatment

Topical cannabis applications, like creams or lotions, work directly on localized areas by interacting with cannabinoid receptors in the skin, muscles, and joints. Since this method doesn’t involve systemic circulation, it has no psychoactive effects. It is useful for localized conditions like muscle pain or skin issues such as psoriasis.

Rectal: A Specialized Alternative

Though less commonly adopted, rectal administration provides another route for efficient cannabinoid absorption. Due to the rich vascularization of rectal tissue, this method allows for rapid and highly bioavailable delivery. It is frequently employed in treating conditions like Crohn’s disease, rectal or prostate cancer, or severe nausea.


Different administration routes offer a variety of advantages based on the medical condition in focus. It is crucial to consult healthcare providers for a tailored approach to cannabis treatment. This is particularly important given the evolving legal landscape and ongoing research into cannabis’ medical utility.

Special Considerations

Individuals with liver diseases, pregnant or nursing mothers, and those with compromised immune systems should exercise caution with cannabinoids. For expert guidance tailored to your specific health condition, consult Dr. Caplan at CED Clinic.


  1. Mechoulam, R., & Parker, L. A. (2013). Journal of Clinical Pharmacology: The endocannabinoid system and the brain.
  2. Gieringer, D., St. Laurent, J., & Goodrich, S. (2004). Journal of Cannabis Therapeutics: Cannabis Vaporizer Combines Efficient Delivery of THC with Effective Suppression of Pyrolytic Compounds.
  3. Zajicek, J., et al. (2012). Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry: Cannabinoids in multiple sclerosis (CAMS) study.
  4. Karschner, E. L., et al. (2011). Drug and Alcohol Dependence: Do Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol concentrations indicate recent use in chronic cannabis users?

Comparison Table: Pharmacokinetics of Various Cannabis Administration Routes

Route of AdministrationOnset of ActionTime to Peak EffectExpected Duration of ActionTime to Complete EvacuationFactors That May Affect Impact
Oral30-90 mins[5]2-4 hrs[5]6-8 hrs[5]Up to 24 hrs[6]Food in stomach, metabolism, liver function
InhalationSeconds-3 mins[7]15-30 mins[7]2-4 hrs[7]Up to 3 days[8]Exercise, lung function, environment
Topical20-40 mins[9]45-90 mins[9]4-6 hrs[9]N/ASkin permeability, presence of skin conditions
Sublingual15-45 mins[10]30-90 mins[10]4-6 hrs[10]Up to 3 days[8]Oral health, sublingual mucosa condition, food in mouth


  • Oral: Consuming with food, especially fatty foods, can extend the time to onset and duration due to slower gastric emptying and increased cannabinoid absorption[5].
  • Inhalation: Exercise and lung function can significantly affect absorption rates. Environmental factors like air quality may also impact effectiveness[7].
  • Topical: Skin permeability and the presence of skin conditions like psoriasis could affect the rate of absorption and effectiveness[9].
  • Sublingual: The condition of the oral mucosa and whether food or drink is in the mouth can influence the rate of absorption[10].


  1. Ohlsson, A., et al. (1986). Pharmacokinetics of delta-1-tetrahydrocannabinol in man. Eur J Clin Pharmacol.
  2. Huestis, M. A. (2007). Human cannabinoid pharmacokinetics. Chem Biodivers.
  3. Spindle, T. R., et al. (2019). Pharmacokinetics of inhaled and intravenous Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol in healthy adults. J Clin Psychopharmacol.
  4. Schwope, D. M., et al. (2011). Cannabinoids and metabolites in expectorated oral fluid after 8 days of controlled around-the-clock oral THC administration. Anal Bioanal Chem.
  5. Stinchcomb, A. L., et al. (2004). Human skin permeation of Delta8-tetrahydrocannabinol, cannabidiol and cannabinol. J Pharm Pharmacol.
  6. Zgair, A., et al. (2016). Dietary fats and pharmaceutical lipid excipients increase systemic exposure to orally administered cannabis and cannabis-based medicines. Am J Transl Res.

📗 Note: If the diagram’s a snapshot, then the book is a cinematic universe. Get your tickets here 📗

Cover of The Doctor-Approved Cannabis Handbook featuring a green medical plus symbol
Unlock the world of medical cannabis with The Doctor-Approved Cannabis Handbook.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *