Depending on where you live in Canada, you might find yourself in a bit of a cannabis-twilight zone. On the medical side, you have the choice to medicate with oil (tincture) products and cannabis flower (dried). On the black-market side, you'll see even more selection, from edibles to isolates, to potent concentrates. Is there a reason why some types of cannabis products are legal, and others are not?
Truthfully, it's all a matter of timing. The primary concern the government had with the first round of legalization was safety. The easiest way to keep consumers safe was to test a small number of products (dried flower, and oils), before launching any others. Of particular importance was legalizing less potent forms before allowing for stronger concentrations. But this is about to change. Soon, Canadians will see new products available through their medicinal suppliers, each with unique therapeutic applications and user benefits.
It's valuable to understand what choices are legal today for medical patients, and also to prepare for the options available in the future. From traditional uses of dried flower to the new possibilities of an isolate, each has a unique place within therapeutic cannabis.
Last fall the federal government allowed for legal sales of a select number of cannabis products under the Cannabis Act. Restricting the initial product line up helped lawmakers craft careful legislation and test the waters before going all out with products you might have seen in California or Colorado. You may also have seen these products popping up throughout the black-market as well.
The first products legalized include cannabis oil, fresh cannabis, dried cannabis, cannabis plant seeds, and cannabis plants (some provinces do not allow for home-growing). Generally speaking, cannabis oil and dried flower are the most readily available cannabis products under the Cannabis Act. The majority of Canadian patients use cannabis oils and flower, instead of seedlings, seeds, and fresh products.
The most popular format you'll see at the clinic is dried flower or bud. The flower of the cannabis plant is what all other products are derived from, although it is just as beneficial without any additional processing. Rolled into joints, packed into bubblers, or tucked into a vaporizer, dried flower is a familiar format for many Canadians.
With a little more effort, you can use the dried flower as a base ingredient in other products as well. Although you can't buy edibles, you can still make them in the comfort of your own home. The same goes for concentrates and topicals.
The terminology around cannabis oils gets a little bit confusing, especially if you are familiar with extracts and other concentrated forms of cannabis. Under the current laws in Canada, cannabis oil is an oil infused with cannabis flower with under three percent THC. If you have heard of other products like butane honey oil, or Rick Simpson oil, these are very different. Concentrates have much higher potencies and currently remain illegal.
Cannabis oil may contain a spectrum of cannabinoids and terpenes, or a selection - depending on patient preference. Most patients use it as a sublingual dropper or oral spray. Keep in mind, because it contains the terpenes and other organic material, it has a profoundly earthy taste. Some oils come with natural flavors like orange or mint to help mask it. The dropper allows for consistent and measured doses.
With the first round of legalization, it was clear the government was testing the process to ensure their carefully crafted laws worked before allowing other options to flood the space. As per the Cannabis Act of 2018, the Canadian government must outline and structure laws governing the sale of extracts, topicals, and edibles no later than October 17, 2019. In the fall, Canadian patients will have access to a much broader range of goods then what you see today.
To hold a pinch of cannabis isolate in your hand, it's hard to believe it comes from a plant. It looks and smells nothing like the sticky, green flowers you may be familiar with. Cannabis isolates are flavorless white crystals derived from cannabis through an extensive extraction process. While a cannabis flower may contain dozens of different cannabinoids and terpenes, an isolate is a single compound with upwards of 99 percent purity.
Why would anyone want to remove the unique profile of a flower you ask? Isolates are useful due to their potency and neutral flavor. They are one of the purest options available, which makes it straightforward to take higher doses.
With the terpenes and other organic material removed in the extraction process, isolates are both flavorless and odorless. They are perfect for mixing into smoothies, juices, or sprinkle on your plate without compromising the taste. As a bonus, isolates are naturally more compact than the original flower, which means much more affordable to ship.
Not to be confused with cannabis oils or tinctures,, concentrates typically contain much higher potencies than what could be achieved in an infused oil. Using chemical extractions methods (butane, ethanol, or
CO2), producers have created extracts with a potency level of 80 percent or more. We won't know the max strength allowed under Canadian laws for a few months, but you can expect higher potencies than what's out there now in cannabis oil infusions.
Cannabis concentrates come in many different formats, consistencies, and colors. The common denominator is their potency. Concentrates are the product behind the “dabbing” trend, but they can also be smoked, vaped, or ingested as an edible. There are shatters, budders, waxes, sugars, honey oils, Rick Simpson Oil, and more.
Concentrates also contain a broader spectrum of cannabinoids and terpenes than an isolate, although fewer than a dried flower product as some are lost to heat during extraction. For those patients seeking a full-spectrum cannabinoid profile, concentrates will make an excellent choice as they are an extremely versatile format for therapeutic applications.
Many Canadians are excited to see edibles hit the shelves in October. Edibles are food products which contain cannabis. If you've traveled to California and Colorado, you'll know cannabis edibles come in just about every imaginable snack you can think of including gummies, baked goods, ice creams, drinks, sauces, condiments, and more. Canadians can probably expect a similar line of products, but with variations on the packaging and maximum potency per package size.
Edibles are a discreet, mess-free, and portable option for on the go dosing. Very likely, we can expect to see legal edibles with careful portion control. Clearly labeled dose size is helpful to maintain a consistent and repeatable experience each time you break off a piece. Many patients prefer edibles because they avoid concerns about inhaling smoke and vapor.
Another exciting product coming to a store near you in October are cannabis infused topicals. Topicals are a non-intoxicating and comfortable way to reap the benefits of cannabis. For anyone nervous about trying medicinal cannabis for the first time, topicals are an excellent product to start with because they are so safe and do not cause a high, even if they contain THC. Many patients already make their own salves as a way to relieve muscle soreness and inflammation.
Preliminary studies have found topical THC helps reduce the pain and inflammation related to arthritis in animal models. Other research has looked at topicals for use with painful skin ulcers. Cannabis-infused creams often incorporate other medicinal herbs for added benefit.
Today, Canadian patients have access to dried and fresh flowers, as well as seeds and seedlings (depending on the province). We have only a few more months to wait for the full range of cannabis products to become available including concentrates, edibles, isolates, and topicals.
With more options, patients will find more ways to incorporate cannabis as a more holistic approach to medicine. Although the final regulations are still in the works, these new products will make dosing more discreet and more consistent for patients across the country.