As we’ve blogged before, cannabis can be administered in so many different ways.

Whether it’s ingesting with edibles, vaped, rubbed onto your skin with topicals or via suppositories (yes, that’s a thing), cannabis doesn’t have to only be smoked.

No delivery method is becoming as popular as cannabis oil, though.

But with cannabis oil comes a lot of questions, like:

How much do I take?

When should I take it?

How do I cook with it?

The good news is that in this article, we’ll answer all of these questions for you and more — enjoy!

The cannabis you don’t smoke?

Graphic illustration of the cannabis process

Here’s the low-down on cannabis oil:

  • Cannabis oils are just extractions of cannabinoids and terpenes from Cannabis plants
  • Cannabis oil can contain:
    • Cannabidiol (CBD)
    • Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) which is known for a psychoactive and “typical high” feeling
    • Other minor cannabinoids (though in non-detectable quantities)
    • Aromatic compounds (called terpenes)
    • Carrier oils like olive or grapeseed oil

 

Cannabis oils can then either be used directly (under the tongue) or be infused by either the consumer or by a producer into topicals (creams, moisturizers), edibles (cookies, brownies, tacos), juice, or capsules. 

So let’s start low and slow – just like how you’re going to start with cannabis oil.

Using cannabis oil

Graphic illustration of the flower to oil ratio

Because commercial cannabis production is still relatively new – many doctors haven’t figured out how to properly suggest doses for cannabis oil versus dried cannabis. To help them (and as part of the licensing process for producers), Health Canada has created the Equivalency Factor, which applies cannabis to a more familiar context of dosage of medicine.

For example, 1g of dried cannabis = 125 mg of THC and 1 ml of oil = 25 mg of THC.

So, if a doctor prescribed you a dosage of three grams of dried cannabis per day and the equivalency factor was 1:5, you would use 15 ml of cannabis oil per day (but definitely not all at once!). Each licensed producer will have a different equivalency factor and it must be publicly available.

All cannabis oil packaging must also state the percentage of THC and CBD in the oil (so you know how potent and psychotropic it is before you use it). Just like strains of dried cannabis, oils can have stronger concentrations of CBD, THC, or be more balanced, and thus create very different experiences. Not all oils are created equal – so reading the packaging is crucial for your first time. 

THC 5.0mg/mL | CBD 5.0 mg/mL is a completely balanced blend of oil.

THC 30.0mg/mL | CBD <1mg/mL is a THC-rich oil.

THC <1mg/mL | CBD 20.0mg/mL is a CBD-rich oil.

Most oils on the market come with droppers that make it easy to get a standard dose every time, and that can be used to place a few drops under the tongue (sublingual) or in your food (edible).

Some producers will also create capsules and suppositories with cannabis oils. Capsules are excellent ways to control the dosage of the cannabis oil you need. Suppositories allow the effects to bypass your liver, and go straight into your bloodstream through your cell walls – but are obviously a very different experience.

Topicals don’t make it into your bloodstream, just into your cannabinoid receptors, and can be great for localized pain. Under the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations (ACMPR) in Canada, licensed producers of medical cannabis can’t currently manufacture or distribute topicals – but with the distribution of oils, it’s possible for you to make your own (with carrier oils and other bases for creams.)

Cannabis oils in Canada have to be liquid at room temperature (unlike the thick resin you might have seen elsewhere), and there are limits to the amount of THC allowed per millilitre of oil (but no potency limits for CBD since it’s not psychoactive).

Cannabis oils distributed by licensed producers in Canada are already “active,” which means that the cannabinoids within them already produce the desired effects – and thus don’t need to be heated or vaporized. Just ingested.

What cannabis oil tastes like

Graphic Illustration of what cannabis oi tastes like

According to Health Canada, cannabis oil must not contain any added flavour or scent. Its natural flavour can leave an earthy, floral, and sometimes pleasant taste.

Mixing it with honey, yogurt, or peanut butter, or using it in smoothies or juices, will help with the taste but also delay the absorbence of the oil. You’ll digest it as an edible instead of absorbing it directly into the blood vessels under your tongue.

When to take cannabis oil

"Start low, go slow"

Because oils are slow-acting and long-lasting, it’s recommended that you start low, and go slow when experimenting with oils. They’re a much more concentrated version of flowers and buds and can have some unpleasant side effects like nausea, dizziness, thirst, and a drop in blood sugar levels if you go too quickly. Taking the oil with food in your stomach has been known to minimize nausea.

Tip: if you over-consume, ginger tea is a good way to ground your anxiety.

Using oils under the tongue (holding it there for a minute to let them sink in) will provide the quickest effects, but most will still only kick in from 1-2 hours from the time you take it – and can last for as long as 6-10 hours in some cases. The initial onset and duration of cannabis oil is much longer than vaping or smoking because it’s absorbed through the digestive system and bloodstream, and it’s not recommended to take a second dose (whether edible or sublingual) until 4 solid hours have gone by.

Some people take their daily dose of oils all at one time (before bed), but others spread it out throughout the day depending on their other responsibilities. Depending on the concentration of CBD and THC in the oil, you’ll want to experience the oil in small doses and figure out what works for you. 

Effects of cannabis oil

Graphic illustration of the effects of cannabis oil

If you’ve experimented with other forms of cannabis before, your sensitivity to THC is a key factor in what kind of oil to choose. If you enjoy the typical “high”, picking a THC-rich oil would kick that up a notch, whereas oils with higher concentrations of CBD often have reduced THC values and therefore feel more toned down. It’s recommended that most people start with a CBD-rich oil or an evenly balanced CBD-THC oil, observe, and then gradually increase the amount of THC. 

In general, cannabis oil has different effects than dried flower — oil takes longer for your body to process when ingested and the experience can last much longer.  Oils can be helpful for long-lasting relief for things like insomnia or chronic pain. The sensations of using oils can include the same ones you feel when smoking or vaping cannabis.

Measurement for oils

The Equivalency Factor helps physicians to prescribe in one format (dried cannabis – grams) and you to receive it in whichever format suits you best (dried cannabis, capsules, or oils) – but it’s NOT a dosing guide. 

Most oils come in bottles with small pipettes or syringes with measurements on them. Remember that it takes as long as 1-2 hours for effects to kick in, and by taking another dose before the height of the first effects, you’re risking some side effects. If the oils are in capsule format, measurement is much easier as you just take the recommended amount of capsules throughout your day.

Dosage

Graphic illustration of cannabis oil dosage

When first starting out with cannabis oil, most people take a small droplet about the size of a single grain of rice. Sit, wait at least 4 hours, and see how it affects you. Despite suggestions and guides – everybody’s biochemistry, endocannabinoid systems, and reactions are different. 

A standard dose of a CBD-rich oil begins at 10 mg – or 1ml (depending on the equivalency). However, it’s also possible to microdose at 2.5 to 5 milligrams daily. For more severe conditions, a much higher dose may be needed – and some patients are known to go up to 1 gram per day. However, a daily gram of cannabis oil is a very large amount and the attention of a cannabis-savvy doctor is always best. 

For THC-rich oils, it’s not recommended to start with anything greater than 1-5mg or ~0.2 ml. Be sure to increase dose amounts in small increments. 

Cannabis oils sold online in Canada will all have the ratio of THC/CBD per mg/mL listed directly on the packaging or on the brand’s website. Because the potency and strains are all so different, reach out directly to the company and read up on the specific oils you’re ordering. 

Remember: the effects of cannabis oils are drawn out and stronger – but they still provide the same medicinal effects as vaping. You’re simply getting it into your body and to your endocannabinoid receptors in a different way instead of breathing it in.

CBD:THC

Effect

0:1 Strong psychotropic effect with anxiety as  a possible side effect
1:2 Relatively strong psychotropic effect with mild anxiety as a possible side effect
1:1 Relaxation, light psychotropic effect, minimal side effects
2:1 Mild sedation, few or no psychotropic effects, few side effects
1:0 No psychotropic effects at all, very high potential for therapeutic use (i.e. anti-psychotic benefits, treatment for epilepsy, etc)

 

How to use when cooking and/or with edibles

Graphic illustration of cannabis edibles

Regulated cannabis oils can be ingested or eaten when added to dressings, milkshakes, and smoothies and other foods (tacos, anyone?). Foods with a higher fat content will help cannabis oil be distributed properly and help your body absorb the ingredients. 

But most cannabis oils distributed by licensed producers in Canada are already “active,” which means that the cannabinoids within them would already produce the desired effects – and thus don’t need to be, and shouldn’t be, heated or vaporized. lt’s best to keep the regulated oils in a dark, cool location.

When the regulated cannabis oils are heated, some of the cannabinoids (THC especially) may react and become stronger – something you want to avoid when you’re trying to dose regularly or consistently. 

However, some people cook with cannabis at home and create their own cannabis oil by heating buds and flowers with a base oil like grapeseed or other cooking oils. Cannabinoids like THC and CBD are fat-soluble, hydrophobic oils, meaning they dissolve in oils, butters, fats and alcohol, but not water. To be effective, cannabis and its extracts or concentrates must be heated in order to convert the cannabinoid THCA into active THC.

That being said, when you’re making the cooking oil at home, it’s much harder to correctly calculate the dosage since controlling temperature and potency can be difficult and takes trial and error. This means that you won’t be able to determine how much is too much like you’d be able to with the oils you buy from a regulated source. 

In many states in the US, a single dose of an edible is 10 mg of either THC or CBD – but some medical cannabis products can contain over 100mg of THC. As always, the stronger concentrations are better to work up to slowly, and to work in collaboration with a cannabis-savvy doctor. After testing out a single dose, most medical cannabis patients are recommended to increase in increments of 5 mg until they achieve the desired effects.

Reminder: do NOT increase your doses before a full 4 hours have passed and you’ve allowed the effects to sink in. Edibles and oils can be some of the strongest ways to consume the herb, but it can be easy to overdo. You won’t overdose – but it’s a surefire way to have a bad time.

Topicals: cannabis salves and creams

Graphic Illustration of a cannabis balm or salve

Cannabis oils can also be mixed with butters or other oils to create creams or salves – called topicals. Topicals do not get you “high” – as opposed to inhaling and ingesting methods – and are not yet regulated by Health Canada.

  • Salve: cannabinoids heated into coconut oil and combined with beeswax and cooled. 
  • Cream: cannabinoids heated into shea butter and combined with other ingredients and cooled. 

Topicals enter the skin and body tissues and allow for direct application and relief of affected areas for allergic skin reactions, muscle strain, inflammation, swelling, etc. Both THC and CBD have been found to provide pain relief and reduce inflammation – but do your research on your particular condition to find out what would work best for you – and, as always, experiment slowly.

Some conditions that topicals have been found to help include:

  • Certain types of dermatitis (including atopic) and psoriasis
  • Superficial wounds, cuts, acne pimples, furuncles, corns, certain nail fungus
  • Rheumatism and arthritic pains (up to the 2nd degree of arthritis)
  • Torticollis, back pains, muscular pains and cramps, sprains and other contusions
  • Hemorrhoids
  • Menstruation pains
  • Cold and sore throat, bronchitis
  • Asthmatic problems with breathing
  • Migraine, head pains, tension headaches

Recommendations and reminders 

The most important part of experimenting with oils is start low, and go slow.

  1. Find a comfortable, safe environment for your first time trying cannabis oils. 
  2. Cannabis oils are slow-acting and long-lastingWait at least 4 hours before taking another dose.
  3. Sublingual (under the tongue) is quicker than eating but still slower than smoking or vaping.
  4. Oils are safer and gentler – they don’t expose your lungs to heat, tar, or other effects such as smoke smell, taste, dry mouth, or throat irritation. 
  5. Cannabis oils are the most precise dosage of cannabis you can find.
  6. All producers of oils must display their Equivalency Factor – how many grams of each cannabinoid (THC and CBD) are in every millilitre of oil. 
  7. You cannot overdose – but you can have negative side effects.
  8. All cannabis oils have different concentrations of THC and CBD, just like dried flowers and buds: you should experiment slowly and see what’s right for your body.
  9. Most doctors recommend starting with as close to a one-to-one ratio of THC to CBD as possible – they work well together and enhance each others’ medicinal effects and CBD tames THC’s psychoactive effects.

Remember: cannabis oil shouldn’t be smoked or vaped and should not be used in that manner as it will change the compounds and potency of the cannabinoids.