The Chemistry of Cannabis: Different Forms of Ingestion (Part 2)

*This blog post is purely for educational purposes. We do not support the production, distribution, or consumption of Cannabis.

Hello again, the Internet! If you’ve been following these posts, then you’ve been waiting anxiously for that second post on the different forms of ingestion of Cannabis. If you haven’t been following these posts, well, why not? But we know its been a while, so lets start with a little refresher. The rate at which the effects of THC are felt varies depending on the form in which it is ingested because both the percentage of THC and how quickly it gets into the bloodstream are affected by form. For this post, we’ll be discussing some of the less common forms by which Cannabis is ingested: pills, nasal and oral sprays, tinctures, oils, and lotions (yes, we are aware that one does not ingest lotion or oil, so it not a form of ingestion, but “Different Forms of Ingestion” is a lot nicer of a title that “DifferentWays Cannabis Can Enter the Bloodstream”, don’t you agree?).


When Cannabis is ingested for medical purposes, it is by a pill. The effects of ingesting a pill is similar to those experienced when eating or drinking Cannabis in that the effects take a while to kick in, but last relatively long. However, the main difference here is that the pills contain a synthetic cannabinoid as opposed to THC.

For example, the name-brand pill Marinol® contains a substance called dronabinol, which is a synthetic THC compound. The chemical formula of dronabinol is the same as that of THC, but it has a different chemical structure. The two are isomers. They are similar enough in structure that they can bind to the same receptors, and thus stimulate the brain in the same way.

When ingested, the capsule is almost completely absorbed (90-95%), and only a minute amount actually reaches circulation (10-20%). This accounts for the different experiences between takingCannabis through food/drink and pills. Since only a small amount of the synthetic cannabinoid reaches the bloodstream, the pills don’t deliver the complete effects of THC.

Nasal and Oral Sprays

For medical uses Cannabis can also be ingested through nasal sprays. A benefit of this form is the deliverance of a consistent dose per spray. Sprays are formed by forcing liquids through a small opening, causing the droplets to disperse. The droplets stay whole because of surface tension, which is caused by intermolecular forces between the water molecules. The cannabinoids in Cannabis are generally larger non-polar molecules or only small slightly polar molecules, so the majority of their intermolecular interactions come from the london dispersion forces, which dominates for large molecules, and some dipole-dipole interaction between the polar ends and the water. The droplets, when sprayed into the nose, evenly disperseonto the mucous membrane and diffuse through micropores into the capillaries. The same process occurs when taking oral sprays because the mouth is also lined with a mucous membrane.


In this case, a tincture is solution of Cannabis extract and ethanol. It is made by leaving the plant in a container of ethanol, and letting it sit for a few weeks. Ethanol has a polar region and a nonpolar region, just like many of the cannabinoids in Cannabis. The Cannabis extract is soluble in ethanol because both the solute and solvent are slightly polar, thus the two are soluble and do form a solution. This is one of the applications of the principle “like dissolves like”, which means that substances of one polarity are soluble in other substances of the same polarity. In this case, it is the polar ends of the two substances that allowed them to have significant intermolecular forces. These forces are what allow the tincture solution to form. Officially, a tincture is at least 25% ethanol by volume,which means that there are 25 g of ethanol for each milliliter of solvent.


In some cases, oil is the preferred form of ingesting Cannabis. It comes as a resin-like substance (organic substance which insoluble in water) that contains cannabinoids extracted from the Cannabis plant. The THC content of oils typically lies above 60%, and it is the most potent of the major forms. A recent article talked about a girl whose seizures were suppressed with cannabinoids extracted into oil. The strain used was bred specifically to be high in CBD (cannabidiol) and low in THC. Cannabidiol, which you can see to the right, is similar both structurally and chemically to THCa, and is known to be beneficial medically and has no psychoactive effects.


Another form that Cannabis takes is topical lotion. It provides more targeted pain relief than the other forms of Cannabis offer. To see several research articles on the topical use of Cannabis, click here. The way the lotion works is that the cannabinoids within the lotion are absorbed into the skin and bind with the CB2 receptors in the body, activating the body’s system for reducing inflammation and pain. How are the cannabinoids effectively dissolved into the lotion? Cannabis is lipophilic, meaning that it can be dissolved into fats or lipids, i.e. the lotion, then it can consequently easily diffuse across cell membranes in your body.

That concludes our discussion on the various forms through which Cannabis can reach the bloodstream. Next time: new ways that are being employed to find Cannabis farms.


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