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The Onset and Duration of Cannabis

Onset and duration are two words that are thrown around when talking about a drug’s pharmacological effects. One of my earliest Seedsman articles was about Set and Setting – it explored how the midset of a drug user and environment of the drug user can predict the trajectory of the drug user’s drug experience. This piece aims to explore how onset and duration need to be briefly understood in order for set and setting to bare true.

If a new user had no knowledge of cannabis and they were planning on consuming it, I would stress these two factors first.

Some medications – like anti-convulsant, and anti-psychotic medication are designed to have a very fast onset. Things like “smelling salts” and clove oil were prized for their fast-acting medicinal properties. The ability to wake up a fainting victim, or instantly num a gum while extracting a tooth gained momentum.

This is onset, mainly fast onset. What this refers to is how quickly the effects from the medication are seen. One way to frame this concept is thinking of drugs that have a fast onset, and picturing how useless they would be if their onset were modified. Slow release cyanide would defeat the entire purpose of having a suicide spy-pill.

Unless we are talking about smoking or vaporizing cannabis, in my experience the effects of cannabis have a slow onset. A baked edible can take ninety minutes to take effect, some will argue as much as two hours. I know that drinks and candies have a faster onset, this is because their sugary base or liquid structure require much less “breaking down” by the stomach and gut before processing into the blood stream. Still, with a medicated candy or soda taking thirty to forty-five minutes to take effect, the user is left with a good amount of time before their medication begins to work. A full episode of a television sitcom could be an eternity for somebody in the midst of an anxiety attack or a series of seizures.

The sad truth is that cannabis’ fastest acting form is the least socially acceptable. Imagine the faces of onlookers if Charlotte’s parents fired up an electronic cigarette full of CBD oil and gave their little one a puff. This could look horrible for a few reasons. Charlotte is smoking. Charolotte’s parents now appear to show wanton disregard for community health and law codes.

At the end of the day, this (Charlotte’s parents administering an unknown vapor) should be a scene that we as astute cannabis users and advocates see as as disruptive as a mother breastfeeding or somebody with a food allergy using an epi-pen. This is not the case in 2014.

What I challenge all of us to do this week is to talk about cannabis from a completely medical administrative lens. How can cannabis be used medically in public that would 1. Not impair bystanders and 2. Dramatically improve the medical issue at hand by utilizing fast onset.

I am not saying cannabis is going to be the next ibuprofen. What I am saying is “getting high” and “recreational use” aside, we will definitely see a huge increase in medical applications for fast-acting cannabis in the coming year.

Duration is the conversation that needs to be had parallel to the conversation about onset. Just as responsible people like to learn how quickly the effects of something will be noticed, another way people can be responsible is planning on how long those effects will take place.

Cannabis usually lasts 6-8hrs. That is just my experience over the last ten years; some people will say they “don’t stay high for that long” or “a little bit knocks me out for the whole day.” Regardless, my research has showed me that vast majorities of people that use cannabis feel its effects for a few hours.

Check out the duration of a cannabis high online. There should be a classic little graph that indicates why (and when) people claim to be “peaking”.

Duration is a big conversation that people glaze over. “Yeah yeah I’m going to be out of it for a few hours – later I have a thing to do, but I’m sure I’ll be good by then.”

Duration is where all of the prior planning helps the novice cannabis user. Knowing that the side effect of getting hungry (the “munchies”) comes later, so shopping ahead can be a great way to save money because the stoned mind is less inclined to be frugal than the sober mind. Knowing that an Indica edible will be more sedating than a sativa edible can mean the difference between falling asleep at the movie theater and seeing the double feature.

If you’re a regular consumer of cannabis you definitely know that it takes more to get you high than it once did. This is the classic notion of “chasing the dragon”. Heroin, a drug known for its close ED/LD ratio popularized this aforementioned colloquialism. What this means is that each sequential time a user gets high from a drug, in this case heroin, they are going to need a little bit more. Heroin has the notoriety it does because the effective dose (the threshold amount to get half of the users in a clinical setting high) and the lethal dose (the dose that kills half of users in a clinical setting) are extremely close. What this means is the malnourished, poorly rested heroin user shooting up in the loud bathroom only has to miscalculate their “load” by a miniscule amount to overdose and consume a lethal amount of the drug.

One line that underscores this is notion is; “you’ve never seen two stoners rolling a joint, while the more experienced of the two warns the novice to be careful with how much pot they’re rolling up unless it was in regards to being conservative and preserving some cannabis for later use.”

Cannabis isn’t a drug that needs to be dosed carefully to prevent death. Cannabis is a drug that needs to be dosed carefully to prevent unpleasant experiences.

This is why I think it’s most effective to learn limits, and know where they are. In Germany, I have heard it is a cultural right of passage for an older brother to take a younger brother out for his sixteenth birthday and get them completely annihilated. This is so the younger brother is shown how “bad” a bad night of drinking can be and so the older brother can laugh at the younger brother’s inebriated state.

Cultural contexts aside, I think everyone should learn their limits with their drug of choice, so they can best plan on its duration. Whether that’s canned bread, coffee or cannabis, know your limits and plan your durations.

by Maxwell Bradford

Cultivation information, and media is given for those of our clients who live in countries where cannabis cultivation is decriminalised or legal, or to those that operate within a licensed model. We encourage all readers to be aware of their local laws and to ensure they do not break them.


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