Update: This story has been updated to clarify certain statements and include comment from Vera Wellness.
When listing off drugs you can snort up your nose, marijuana usually doesn’t make the list. But with cannabinoid-spiked nasal sprays, that’s now possible, though when it comes to how high it gets you, sniffing might not be any different than smoking.
Homemade cannabis nasal sprays have existed on the fringes of the medical weed market for years now, but a Colorado company recently released a commercial version. Verra Wellness’s “nasal mist” comes in three ratios: 10:1 THC to CBD, 1:1, and 1:100. According to the company’s marketing material, spraying the mist up your nose allows for “increased bioavailability,” of the cannabinoids. But an expert I spoke to said there’s not much science to back up these kinds of claims.
“A lot of the stuff about bioavailability and any drug tends to be kind of hype-y,” said Dr. David Casarett, the chief of palliative care at Duke University who has researched and written about medical marijuana. “If one product had a bioavailability of 50 percent over, say, 25 percent, you could use a little less but it’s not like it’s a life changer.”
Casarett told me that ingesting cannabinoids through the nasal membrane does change the way it’s absorbed because it won’t first pass through your metabolism the way it does if you smoke or eat it. Verra Wellness's co-founder Paul Johnson elaborated on how the nasal spray works differently than other methods, like smoking.
"Transmucosal delivery of cannabinoids by nasal spray is very different than smoking; It is safer and does not contain pyrolytic products (caused by heating) of a variety of compounds present in raw plant material," Johnson wrote in an email. "We have developed formulations with good solubility properties, particle sizes, and sufficient purity to avoid subjecting delicate lung tissue to pharmacological action of cannabinoid formulations and typical impurities. We have worked with accredited labs to test our formulations for optimal delivery of cannabinoids."
But it’s also harder to predict how your body will react to the drug when it enters your system by your nose.
“Absorption can be varied depending on what’s going on with your nose—if you have a cold or allergies, for example,” Casarett told me.
He also noted that the nasal membrane has high concentrations of enzymes that CBD has been found to deactivate, causing the body to temporarily not be able to metabolize other drugs, including THC. All of this means that it’s tricky to predict how a specific dose or ratio might affect you when you squirt it up your nostril instead of puffing it.
Casarett said this isn’t to say there’s anything wrong with nasal sprays—like any time you’re trying a new cannabis product, he recommends you “start low and go slow,” with your dosage. He also noted that it may be a more discreet way of consuming your cannabis since nasal sprays aren’t very obviously associated with weed the way, say, a bong is.
“I don’t see this being a game changer,” Casarett said. “But it is another option for people. “
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