Anyone who has purchased over-the-counter (OTC) medication has likely taken at least one capsule in their lifetime. After all, capsules dominate the OTC medicine aisles of most pharmacies. This common method of administration, which is available for patients in New York, involves the encapsulation of a dose of powdered or liquid medicine inside of a single or two-piece shell, which the patient can ingest orally or as a suppository.
The capsule reportedly dates back to the ancient Egyptians, making it one of the oldest forms of pharmaceutical dosing. A travel account from 1730 mentioned the first capsule available in Europe, attributed to Viennese pharmacist de Paul who produced capsules in order to cover up the foul taste of the turpentine he prescribed for patients with gout.
In 1834, the patent for the first gelatin capsule was granted to pharmacist Joseph Gérard Auguste Dublanc and pharmacy student François Achille Barnabé Mothès, sparking the adoption of capsules all over the world. In 1931, Arthur Colton successfully designed a machine on behalf of Parke, Davis & Co. that was able to simultaneously manufacture and assemble hard-shell capsules, enabling mass production applying processes still used to this day.
Cannabis capsules come in different shapes, sizes and colors.
The FDA’s Only Approved Cannabinoid
The one cannabinoid that can be legally marketed in the U.S. is actually available only in capsule form. The drug Marinol was approved by the FDA in 1985 as treatment for cancer patients suffering from nausea and vomiting due to chemotherapy. A synthetic form of THC, the cannabinoid primarily responsible for cannabis’s psychoactive effects, Marinol’s approval was a result of the National Cancer Institute’s testing and subsequent reporting of the drug’s effects on cancer patients for whom other anti-vomiting medication was ineffective.
Marinol has since remained on the market as a viable treatment for nausea, vomiting and cachexia (weight loss) in patients suffering from cancer or AIDS. However, its use of synthetic THC without any of the other therapeutic cannabinoids present in natural cannabis doesn’t provide complete holistic relief for all patients.
Who Benefits Most from Cannabis Capsules
Because capsules provide reliable and consistent dosing, they may be an ideal fit for those patients suffering from “chronic pain, cancer or HIV,” says Nelson Cuevas, general manager and head pharmacist at PharmaCannis.
A capsule is a safe way to ingest cannabis that doesn’t involve smoking or vaping. As such, it represents a feasible choice for older patients, children and people with respiratory issues. The lack of smoke and the ability of a patient to ingest a capsule anywhere, any time makes it an even more discreet option than vaping and tinctures.
And because capsules contain no unnecessary calories or ingredients, patients reap all of the holistic benefits of the medicine without having to be concerned about added sugar and fat commonly used in cannabis edibles. They are also a great choice for patients who are new to cannabis, have never used tinctures or vaporizers before, and simply feel more comfortable using a medication form that they’re already familiar with.
Patients also appreciate the precise dosing that capsules provide. As Nelson explains, “candidates that benefit from capsules or tablets are folks who already know what their exact dosing will be, whether it’s 5 mg 3 times a day or 9.5 mg 3 times a day, and they don’t have to worry about titrating up or down.”
Capsules have the ability to deliver exactly what the patient needs every single time, offering consistent treatment without the need to adjust based on trial and error. “The patient knows exactly what works for them,” Nelson adds, “that’s what they take, and they don’t have to worry about titrating up or down.”
The Drawbacks of Cannabis Capsules
The slower onset of a capsule’s effects may present challenges for patients needing immediate relief for their symptoms. Because a capsule is swallowed, it takes longer for the body to absorb the medicine. “It’s similar to the tincture [in terms of activation]—it takes a little bit longer to dissolve,” says Nelson. “That is called the ‘rate-limiting step’, which is the absorption of a capsule.”
Patients considering capsules will want to plan their administration accordingly since this isn’t a fast-acting solution. “Liquefying that capsule is what changes the absorption, so it’s not like they’ll be waiting for hours, but it will take15 minutes more than a tincture would,” adds Nelson.
While exact, consistent dosing is very appealing to some, patients who appreciate the flexible dosing that tinctures and vaping provide might find capsules aren’t right for them. This is because they’re more difficult to titrate due to the slower onset of the medication. Additionally, while cannabis capsules can help with nausea and weight loss, patients seeking relief for these symptoms may have trouble swallowing and keeping down foods and liquids, potentially making this form of ingestion a poor choice for those trying to manage such ailments.
That said, the ability to layer multiple forms of cannabis medication to suit your individual needs doesn’t disappear with capsules: Patients can safely use a vape to quickly address their symptoms, while they wait for the effects of a capsule to kick in.
PharmaCannis offers the following high-THC capsules:
- 5 mg capsules
- 9.5 mg capsules (similar to the 20:1 THC to CBD tincture, which has 9.5 mg of THC to less than 0.5 mg of CBD)
Capsules are a reliable and consistent form of administration that’s ideal for patients seeking medical marijuana that can be taken discreetly, doesn’t introduce harmful smoke or unnecessary ingredients into the body, and takes the guesswork out of dosing. As with all forms of cannabis administration, you should research your options and inform your healthcare provider if you believe capsules are the best option for your particular circumstances.