Marijuana 101: A Q-and-A for those who’ve never inhaled

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With medical marijuana coming to Oklahoma after the passage of State Question 788, a lot of people with no cannabis experience are wondering about the basics.

This Q-and-A offers an easy-to-consume introduction for those wanting to learn more about marijuana.

Important to note: It will be a slow process implementing medical marijuana in Oklahoma as the state health department would not have the necessary protocols in place until, at the earliest, July 27. Those granted commercial licenses for medical marijuana will likely work to build inventory for dispensaries quickly, but the processes (acquiring seeds, cultivating plants, harvesting and processing) cannot be rushed.

What is marijuana?

Plants whose flowers have a high concentration of natural chemicals called cannabinoids, including THC, a compound that produces a “high,” and cannabidiol, a compound that has zero intoxicating effect.

Jae C. Hong/AP file

How is marijuana medicine?

The body has a complex system for receiving and processing cannabinoids, and delivery of THC or CBD is believed to affect the endocannabinoid system in such a way as to alleviate symptoms including pain. The ECS is key to physical and cognitive processes including fertility/pregnancy, appetite, mood and memory.

Alastair Grant/AP file

What kinds of conditions are treated with marijuana?

Because it is still federally recognized as a schedule 1 controlled substance, studies proving efficacy of marijuana for most ailments are few. But patients have reported relief from symptoms stemming from: chronic pain, PTSD, epilepsy, glaucoma, Chron’s disease, Alzheimer’s, cancer, migraines, MS, ALS, lupus, RA, traumatic brain injury, HIV/AIDS, and fibromyalgia. Though Oklahoma’s law currently states no qualifying conditions for a marijuana treatment recommendation, each one of the listed ailments is in at least one other state’s medical marijuana law.

Rick Bowmer/AP file

How does a plant become consumable marijuana?

Female marijuana plants are grown from seed and allowed to flower outside of the presence of fertilizing male plants, ensuring the plant devotes its energy prior to harvest into growing the high-THC-content flowers. At harvest time, the pretty-but-worthless leaves are trimmed away from the flowers that grow from each stem. The stems are then dried in a process that cures the flowers and turns them into buds, which are then trimmed from the stems. Additional processing of buds can create concentrated marijuana (by removing the THC, leaving the buds impotent). The application of pressure and heat on buds produces a waxy substance known as dabs or wax. Applying a solvent (such as butane) and agitation to buds produces a sap-like substance known as shatter. Other more liquid concentrates are known as oil and honey.

Brennan Linsley/AP file

How much does a dose of medical marijuana cost?

A patient should probably expect to pay about $40-$50 for one-eighth of an ounce (about 3.5 grams) of buds, which for some patients could last as long as a week. Others with the most severe conditions can use up to one-quarter ounce per day. One gram of concentrates, which may provide as many as 10 doses, can cost about $30 or more. In edible form, a dose would be considered 5-10mg THC and could cost $10 or more. A 7 percent state excise tax likely would be included in the price, but dispensaries would also collect the local sales tax.

Mathew Sumner/AP file

How does a patient consume marijuana?

Flower: The buds are ground into loose material that can be rolled like a cigarette or smoked in any of the many varieties of pipes designed for delivering an inhalable smoke. Smoking is not typically considered an appropriate delivery method for medical marijuana as the smoke itself can have some harmful effects. Flower also may be used in specially manufactured vapor devices, like smoking without the smoke.

Concentrates: Most are inhaled as vapor (vaporizers can be large, boxy devices or as small as pens) without direct exposure to an open flame. Some oils can be consumed with food or alone by oral delivery.

Edibles: “Weed brownies” contain no actual flower. Most are created by infusing fat (oil or butter to be used in baked goods) with activated THC, known as “cannabudder.” Some states allow concentrates to be made into edible candies such as lollipops and gummies. Oklahoma would likely not permit this.

MIKE SIMONS/Tulsa World file

So what’s the difference?

Smoking marijuana typically produces a stronger immediate intoxication compared to edibles. Vaporizing concentrates also provides an intoxicating high, but the variety of options and delivery devices can make consistent dosing a challenge, so beginners or those using a new vaporizer should take it slowly.

Edibles are more known for a “body high” but can be challenging to dose because of how long it takes to feel any effects. Those eating an edible should try to dose no more than 5mg at first and wait at least two hours before (possibly) dosing another 5mg. Patients with a higher THC tolerance may find 10mg to be an insufficient dose, however. The lack of an immediate high from edibles can increase the risk of excessive intoxication, sometimes called a “marijuana overdose.” By trying to feel a quicker effect, a patient can introduce so much THC in such a short time that the body heightens some of the natural physical responses to marijuana intoxication, mainly anxiety and paranoia.

  1. Solomon Banda/AP file

Can marijuana expire?

No, properly cured buds stored in a cool, dry place can last years. Buds that have been exposed to moisture after the curing process should be discarded because of the likelihood of mold growth and the damage mold can do when inhaled.

Reed Saxon/AP file

What can I do if I get too high?

Adding a dose of CBD has been shown to help ease paranoia/anxiety, which is the only tangible negative symptom of excessive THC intoxication. Most other physical responses to excessive intoxication can be mitigated with controlled breathing, mindfulness or a few jumping jacks.

Tulsa World file

Can you drive after consuming THC?

Just like with other controlled drugs and alcohol, it’s not legal to drive while intoxicated. But unlike alcohol, THC does not break down in consistent way among different users, and therefore there is no legal measurement for what counts as “impaired.” For most patients, the intoxicating feeling and most severe cognitive effects wear off within about an hour after having smoked marijuana. Most patients should avoid operating a vehicle or boat for at least two to three hours after consuming THC. Enforcement of impaired driving in Oklahoma will be complicated by the state’s zero-tolerance law for THC metabolites in the blood, which can linger for weeks after a patient consumes THC. Pictured is a roadside saliva drug test.

Rich Pedroncelli/AP file

Are there different kinds of marijuana?

Marijuana is often grown from seeds that typically have a known lineage and genetics. The different kinds are known as strains, and each strain has unique combinations of cannabinoids. These diverse strains mean a patient can zero in on the marijuana that produces the specific chemical compounds that should be most effective at relieving their symptoms. Plants of specific strains can also be cloned to create new plants with the same chemical properties. Marijuana has two subspecies: sativa (generally known more for uplifting cerebral effects) and indica (known for a more sedating “body high”). Most strains comprise some combination of sativa and indica in various ratios.

Jeff Chiu/AP file

How long does it take marijuana to grow?

If starting from seed, it can be as fast as 8½ weeks or as long as five months before the plants reach maturity with harvestable flowers. The flowering stage alone for marijuana plants can last five to 10 weeks depending on the strain. It can shave some time to clone a plant by feeding it specific nutrients before cutting from parts of the plant and employing methods that foster new root growth.

Oklahoma patients should not expect to be able to walk into a dispensary soon and purchase marijuana. In addition to the delay in growing and processing, the licensing process also will take at least a couple of months.

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