Safe, convenient and less stigma-inducing, cannabis capsules seem to have it all. Encouraging, but like everything else cannabis-related, there’s a downside
Earlier this year, three major cannabis producers introduced another innovative product to the market: cannabis capsules.
MedReleaf Corp. and CanniMed by Aurora received Health Canada approval to sell cannabis oil soft-gel capsules, and CannTrust Holdings Inc. announced a range of new cannabis oil, vegan-based, hard-shell capsules—Tilray had introduced the product in Canada last year.
Considering the involvement of some of the biggest LPs in the country, do cannabis capsules have real staying power or are they simply the product of the moment?
“Capsules offer an element of simplicity, allowing healthcare practitioners to prescribe an exact milligram amount to a patient,” explains Dr. Kishan Mahabir, a nephrologist, internal medicine specialist, medical cannabis expert and medical advisor for CB2 Insights, a Toronto-based cannabis data company.
One of the main benefits of capsules is that they include a pre-measured dose and are a viable option for cannabis consumers who are opposed to using syringes to measure their dose. “Based on third-party research conducted by Cannabis Evidence, an online resource in the field of medical cannabis research, three in four patients out of 709 screened preferred alternative formulations to smoking cannabis. The majority of these patients prefer a capsule/tablet over other oral dosage forms like oils,” reports Kaivan Talachian, Pharm.D. and R.Ph, vice-president of professional services at CannTrust.
“Most of our physician partners prefer capsules as the primary choice for their patients as well, as they eliminate the potential for measurement mistakes with dosages. Capsules also have no waste and can easily be integrated into a patient’s medication administration plan, and are easy to transport and add to medication administration boxes,” Talachian adds.
While capsules help ensure correct dosages, the complications of determining the appropriate dose for cannabis don’t end there. “Cannabis tends to impact people in different ways, and can’t be prescribed in the same way as traditional medicine. There is a need for continuous dialogue between patients and doctors to ensure that their cannabis therapy is working as intended,” cautions Dr. Mahabir.
Edibles v. cannabis capsules
“If you have never capsulized cannabis before, it’s an opportunity for you to avoid the sugar and the high fat content of edibles,” says Jonathan Hirsh, cannabis educator and CEO of Toronto-based The Education Station.
Cannabis capsules offer a straightforward way to know exactly how much an individual has consumed, and can potentially be a healthier alternative to smoking cannabis and inhaling harmful carcinogens.
“You are taking the pure potential of the product and administering it to yourself,” notes Hirsh. “I like to consume cannabis in many forms depending on my activities that day. If I know I am going to be in a situation where consuming cannabis through vaping or combustion is not going to an option, and since I don’t necessarily like the taste of edibles sometimes, I would go for decarboxylized (a process that converts the non-psychoactive THC-A cannabinoid to intoxicating THC) cannabis pills,” he suggests.
But when it comes to choosing gel capsules or edibles, the challenges are quite similar. “Since the product is being absorbed through the digestive system, it could take anywhere from 30 minutes to more than an hour for onset effects to be felt. Patients or consumers may feel they need to consume more product to feel the effects during this waiting period, which could lead to overconsumption,” advises Dr. Mahabir.
DIY v. purchasing from an LP
The biggest challenge with homemade edibles or capsules is the risk of having inconsistent strengths. To avoid such a scenario, healthcare practitioners recommend investing in a reputable product. “Licensed producers are striving to create products that are consistent, and their resources allow consumers to know exactly what is in the product they are ingesting,” says Dr. Mahabir.
Capsules require sophisticated equipment, talent and processes to produce, and many of them are quite accommodating based on the consumer’s preference or beliefs. Consider, for example, CannTrust’s range of cannabis oil vegan-based hard shell capsules.
“Vegan shells do not use animal products such as gelatin, making them much more desirable for a variety of customers and patients due to possible religious or ethical reasons,” Talachian says. He also sees a number of benefits of vegan hard-shell capsules over soft-gel capsules, “including that they do not include animal products, they don’t stick together and they maintain their quality during shipment better than soft-gel capsules,” he says.
While capsules do offer a smoke-less consumption method for both recreational users and medical patients, the medical community cites the need for more research. “The medical benefits of the capsules stems from the familiarity patients have with utilizing medications in pill form. Similar to oils, it allows for micro-dosing and predictable titration,” says Dr. Mahabir.
“But there is still need for more clinical research to support the efficacy of the cannabinoids within the cannabis plant, as there is still much to learn on the therapeutic potentials of the plant,” he adds.