EducationUnderstanding the different types of medical cannabis

Understanding the different types of medical cannabis

5 min read

Lucy MacKinnon

Understanding the different types of medical cannabis
We understand that starting your journey with medical cannabis can be daunting. With so many different types of medical cannabis products, medical cannabis strains and a variety of administration or consumption methods, it can be hard to know where to start.


We’ve put together this guide to help you get your head around the different medical cannabis types. Here, you can find out how various types of medical cannabis products are made, as well as how they are administered and how they may help with reducing the symptoms of certain health issues.

Due to recent advancements in cultivation technology, there are now countless medical cannabis strains that have been specially cultivated to help alleviate symptoms associated with certain health conditions.

These medical cannabis strains can either be administered in their raw flower form through a vaporiser, or their cannabinoids and other useful compounds can be extracted. These can then be taken (or applied) as components in various types of medical cannabis products such as oils, edibles and topicals.

Find out more about the different types of medical cannabis products available to eligible patients below.

Cannabis flower

Produced by female cannabis plants, cannabis flowers are often prescribed to eligible medical cannabis patients. In their raw form, these flowers, or buds, are ground up into granulates which can then be added to a dry herb vaporiser.

Once placed into the vaporising chamber, the medical cannabis is decarboxylated, which is a chemical reaction that occurs when cannabis is heated, activating its cannabinoids for the patient to directly inhale. Unlike smoking, vaping does not involve combustion, which removes many of the related health concerns that patients may have relating to inhalation as a cannabinoid delivery method.  

Some prefer to take medical cannabis in its raw form because cannabis flowers contain the entire plant's profile. This means that every natural cannabinoid, flavonoid, and terpene is present, which is theorised to maximise the results and potential health benefits of medical cannabis – this theory is known as the entourage effect.

Others prefer to inhale medical cannabis because of its speed of effect onset. When inhaled, cannabinoids, flavonoids, and other cannabis compounds enter the lungs and then travel directly to the brain through the bloodstream, allowing patients to feel its effects within a matter of minutes.

Cannabis oils

Cannabis compounds like cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids are extracted from the cannabis plant to create cannabis oil. This can happen in a variety of ways, but the two most popular methods involve either liquid solvents or carbon dioxide.

These extracted compounds can then be developed into cannabis oils, which are classified depending on their contents. Full-spectrum products contain all the cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids found in the cannabis plant they have been extracted from, whilst broad-spectrum products do not contain everything the plant has to offer, minus the THC content.

A small section of the cannabis oils that are now available to medicinal cannabis patients are designed to be vaporised, but the majority of medical cannabis oils are designed to be administered sublingually and come in tincture form. This means they are held under the tongue for a few minutes, allowing cannabinoids to pass through the blood vessels that line the mouth and then into the bloodstream.

Tinctures are sometimes preferred over edibles because they bypass the digestive system, and they are a popular choice for medical cannabis patients who may be averse to vaping (inhalation).

Cannabis edibles

From brownies to gummies, medical cannabis edibles may be made using decarboxylated cannabinoids, which means that they have already been ‘activated’ before becoming a baking ingredient. They can also be made with raw cannabis products, which can decarboxylate during the cooking process. 

When ingested, cannabinoids and other cannabis compounds pass through the digestive system, firstly into the stomach and then into the liver, followed by the bloodstream and eventually into the brain.

It is reported that it can take anywhere between 30 minutes to two hours after ingestion to feel the effects of medical cannabis. But, the advantage of this consumption method is that effects may be observed for a longer period than when inhaled.

Cannabis topicals

Recently, the cannabis compound CBD has boomed in the beauty industry, becoming a common component in skincare and makeup products around the globe because of its anti-inflammatory properties.

Along with CBD, other cannabinoids and terpenes that could have therapeutic potential can be extracted from cannabis plants in manufacturing laboratories. The isolate, or cannabis concentrates, are then mixed with other ingredients, or excipients, to produce topical products such as ointments, creams, and lotions.

When applied topically, CBD permeates the skin and is absorbed layer by layer transdermally until it reaches the bloodstream. Here CBD can travel around the body activating different cannabinoid receptors, which in turn may trigger different responses.

To summarise

Whether ingested or inhaled, applied topically or administered sublingually, medical cannabis has the possible potential to benefit the treatment of a large variety of health conditions.

All the different forms of medicinal cannabis products now available to patients offer a range of reasons they may be more or less suitable for certain individuals. For those looking for a longer-lasting treatment, edibles may be the best option as they pass through the digestive tract before entering the bloodstream. This allows for a much slower and steadier onset of effects, with an extended duration of action in comparison to inhalation.

Lastly, topical applications may be the preferred choice for those looking for skin solutions.

The form of medical cannabis that you choose ultimately depends on your individual needs, as well as what works best for you. Keep in mind that you will have to speak with your healthcare provider throughout this process, and only take medicinal cannabis under their supervision. Medicinal cannabis can only be prescribed by a qualified, registered doctor in the UK currently.

Releaf understands that medical cannabis can be life-changing for many people. That's why we offer tailored monthly packages based on your cannabis prescription, specialist consultations for medical cannabis, and a unique medical cannabis card for protection. 

It is important to seek medical advice before starting any new treatments. The patient advisors at Releaf are available to provide expert advice and support. Alternatively, click here to book a consultation with one of our specialist doctors.

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With five years of journalism and healthcare content creation under her belt, Lucy strives to improve medical cannabis awareness and access in the UK by producing high quality, credible content.

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