Applied Evidence

Medical Cannabis: A guide to the clinical and legal landscapes

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Overconsumption of edibles. Cannabis edibles (ie, food products infused with Cannabis extract) are distinct from inhaled Cannabis in regard to onset, duration, and potential for adverse effects. Cannabis edibles might be more popular than inhaled products among older medical Cannabis users.28

Edible Cannabis has a reported onset of 1 to 3 hours (compared to 5-10 minutes with inhaled Cannabis) and a duration of effect of 6 to 8 hours (compared with 2-4 hours for inhaled products).29 These qualities might render Cannabis edibles preferable to inhaled formulations for controlling chronic symptoms and conditions. However, delayed onset of edible products and wide variation in the concentration of THC also increase the risk of overconsumption, which can lead to overdose and self-limited Cannabis-induced psychosis. We recommend providing patient education about the effects of the physiologically active therapeutic compounds tetrahydrocannabinol and cannabidiol, to prevent overconsumption of high-THC products.30


Mr. S returns to your office after a trial of Cannabis as vaporized oil and reports some relief of nausea and a mild increase in appetite, but no weight gain. He is concerned about overconsumption or overdose, and asks you what the risks of these problems are.

How should you counsel Mr. S? Explain that ingestion of Cannabis has a prolonged onset of action; vaporization has a more rapid onset of action; therefore, he could more easily self-regulate ingestion with the vehicle he has chosen. In states where edible Cannabis products are legal, education is necessary so that patients know how much of the edible to consume and how long they will wait to feel the full impact of the effects of THC.30

Cannabis use disorder in the context of medical marijuana

Cannabis use disorder (CUD) incorporates general diagnostic features of a substance use disorder, including behavioral, cognitive, and physiologic symptoms such as cravings, tolerance, and withdrawal, in the setting of persistent use despite significant substance-related problems.31 Features of Cannabis withdrawal syndrome include irritability, anger or aggression, anxiety, depressed mood, restlessness, sleep difficulty, and decreased appetite or weight loss.31 Cannabis use disorder can develop in people who use medical Cannabis; however, physiologic symptoms of tolerance and withdrawal can also develop in the setting of appropriate medical use and do not, in isolation, represent CUD.

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