Medical cannabis is unique among modern therapies in its wide array of formulations and methods of ingestion. One of those forms, oral cannabis, in the form of a capsule or THC pill, or a cannabis edible (food containing cannabis) has much more in common with the medications people are used to purchasing over the counter or being prescribed by their doctor. These forms of medical cannabis can provide a consistent, known dose to patients who need a longer acting effect suitable to treating conditions such as chronic pain.

Massachusetts medical marijuana healthcare professional Jordan Tishler discusses the shelf life for certain cannabis products.

Health Benefits of Medical Cannabis

Despite cannabis remaining illegal under federal law and therefore not approved by the FDA, research has proven that cannabis can be helpful for a wide variety of conditions.

Under the Massachusetts law governing the medical use of cannabis, cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and multiple sclerosis are specifically called out as debilitating conditions for which cannabis can be helpful. Physicians are also able to recommend cannabis for other conditions they believe could help their patients. There is evidence to support the use of cannabis as a treatment for conditions ranging from mood disorders such as anxiety and depression, to conditions such as migraine or insomnia, and even the treatment of neuropathic and other chronic pain.

It is for conditions leading to chronic pain, in particular, that orally consumed medical cannabis may be more helpful than inhaled cannabis.

How Long Does the Effect of Oral Cannabis Last?

While inhaled cannabis can take effect in 10-15 minutes, making it helpful for acute or episodic conditions such as migraine or insomnia, its effects may only last about three to four hours. Orally consumed cannabis takes longer to take effect, but can last more like 8-12 hours, which can be more convenient and effective for patients managing chronic conditions.

The Difference Between Oral Cannabis Pills and Edibles

Edibles, such as gummies or cannabis infused foods, will affect people differently than pills because the addition of foods increases the absorption of THC and other cannabinoids in the gastrointestinal tract by 100% — fatty foods could lead to increased absorption of THC and other cannabinoids. This means that a 5mg gummy is approximately equivalent to a 10mg pill or capsule! To ensure reliable and consistent effects, patients should pick either pills or edibles, and stick with the one they prefer.

How Long Do THC Pills Last on the Shelf?

The cannabinoids THC and CBD are both degraded by exposure to air, heat and light, so to ensure consistent potency, cannabis should be stored in a cool, dark place, and in a sealed container. But even under these conditions, THC and CBD will degrade over time. How long can you keep capsules or pills before considering them to be expired?

A 2017 study in the American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy examined the stability of dronabinol pills— synthetic THC and sesame seed oil in a soft gel capsule — stored at room temperature, frozen or kept in the refrigerator. They found the pills retained their potency in all three conditions over a 90-day period and recommend pharmacies store THC pills in refrigeration, labeled with an expiration date 90 days from being removed from the refrigerator. While this may provide a baseline for the short-term expiration date of cannabis capsules, it should be noted that dronabinol pills contain only synthetic THC, and that capsules prepared from whole cannabis extracts and containing other cannabinoids such as CBD may expire at a different rate.

On the other hand, storage for up to 4 years show degradation but not that much, nor in any dangerous way.

In a study published in the Romanian journal, The Chemistry Magazine, the scientists measured the THC and CBD content of cannabis oil extracts stored in sealed bottles over a period of four years. The samples were stored at around 40 degrees Fahrenheit in darkness or at around 72 degrees exposed to the laboratory light. Samples stored in darkness lost between 18 and 22 percent of their THC content per year over fours years, while samples stored in light at room temperature lost between around 20 to 23 percent of their THC per year. And while this study was conducted with cannabis extracts rather than pills, it illustrates how heat and light can degrade THC over time — a cool, dark place for storage is essential, but under those circumstances the losses up to one year are not concerning. Patients should consider discarding cannabis edibles and pills after about one year if stored properly.

Consult a Massachusetts Medical Cannabis Healthcare Professional

To learn more about how THC pills or other forms of medical cannabis can help you, contact the Massachusetts medical cannabis physicians at inhaleMD today at (617) 861-8519. Our offices are located in Brookline and Cambridge, we provide home visits for patients outside the metro area, and we also offer secure online consultations for Massachusetts residents outside the Boston area.