You may not be aware of it, but if you’re reading this article, you’re witness to a remarkable sea of change in the story of cannabis.
For the many decades in which cannabis was prohibited—of course, technically it still is illegal on the federal level—the goal for most underground users was to purchase (or grow) the most potent cannabis possible so as to achieve the maximum high.
But as cannabis slowly but surely filters into the mainstream—as of the 2018 midterm elections, some 33 states and the District of Columbia have legalized Cannabis, medically or recreationally—an intriguing trend is emerging, one that will have broad implications for the future of cannabis here in the United States. Increasingly, people who use cannabis want to feel less high, or even not high at all.
Welcome to the world of microdosing.
We’re going to explain what microdosing is, why it’s effective for some conditions, how to microdose cannabis, and finally, give some specific recommendations for products you can try yourself. Are you ready? Let’s get ‘dosing!
What is Microdosing Cannabis?
Simply put, microdosing cannabis—or any other medicine, for that matter—means taking a dose so small that, typically, you’re not aware of its effects on a conscious level.
Why would you take a medicine in order not to feel it? It’s a worthy question, and answering it requires looking beyond cannabis’ psychoactive qualities—the sensation of being “high” so many of us are familiar with and enjoy—and looking at its medicinal qualities. For as an increasing number of people are learning, outside the conscious sensations of cannabis intoxication—the euphoria and giddiness, the changes to our perceptions of time, space, sound and taste—there’s a whole host of other processes and effects taking place behind the scenes.
If you already enjoy cannabis, you’re probably already aware of at least some of them. Have you noticed that aches, pains, and tired muscles tend to feel more relaxed and less bothersome after taking cannabis? That we enjoy deeper and more sustained sleep? Or that feeling of social anxiety and restlessness sometimes become diminished and less pressing after imbibing cannabis?
For some of us, these “secondary” effects may, in fact, be the primary reason we seek out cannabis in the first place. But for others of us, taking perceptible amounts of cannabis is a non-starter. Sometimes, even the relatively low psychoactivity of CBD-dominant strains is too distracting or inhibiting, particularly in the workplace.
But just because we may not perceive the beneficial effects of cannabis doesn’t mean they’re not happening. Let’s take a closer look at what cannabis is doing beyond the sensation of being high.
What is Microdosing Cannabis Good For?
In a nutshell, the idea behind microdosing cannabis is that it’s giving us all the healing and restorative power of the cannabis plant without its psychoactivity, particularly when that would be distracting or otherwise inappropriate.
We’ve already discussed a couple of very broad ways in which we can become aware of cannabis’ medicinal powers, like when we notice that aching muscles feel soothed, that it’s easier to fall (or stay) asleep, or that our anxiety and stress levels have decreased. While we may not be aware of the exact mechanics of what cannabis is doing for us, our senses don’t lie: Pain management, better sleep, and reduction of anxiety are three of the areas in which microdosing cannabis excel.
Let’s start with pain control, which happens to be the #1 reason patients ask for medical cannabis. Cannabis is broadly accepted as an effective treatment for several types of pain.
There’s “nociceptive pain,” the kind that results from a physical injury and chronic pain is “neuropathic pain,” which comes from injuries to nerves themselves, or from diseases such as Parkinson’s. Finally, there’s “central pain,” which arises from a generalized dysfunction of the nervous system. Like nociceptive and neuropathic pain, it can be triggered by a physical injury, but like neuropathic pain, it often occurs without any obvious trauma.
Our traditional understanding of pain suggests that the more painkillers we take, the more our pain is diminished. But according to a 2012 study, some patients who didn’t respond to opioid painkillers were given nabiximols, an oral spray delivering roughly equal—and low—doses of THC and CBD, the two most prominent cannabinoids.
What stood out from the study was the fact that patients taking the lowest doses of cannabinoids actually experienced the greatest reduction in pain.
As far as sleep goes, there are no studies of which we’re aware that are researching the effects of microdoses of cannabis. But insomnia—the inability to fall asleep (or stay that way)—is the #2 reason patients turn to medical cannabis. And as such, it’s generally accepted as a safe and gentle remedy.
Anecdotally, many users report that microdoses of cannabis are effective as sleep aids too. One upside of trying tiny doses here is that it might eliminate the major gripe about “macrodoses” of cannabis at bedtime: The slight grogginess and fuzziness that can sometimes cloud the morning after.
And finally, cannabis’ anxiolytic—or anxiety-fighting—properties are one of the plant’s most fascinating qualities. One of the most unusual wrinkles is that while THC can make some users feel anxious, CBD has a “buffering” or inhibiting quality that helps diminish any anxiety brought on by THC. It’s as if the plant comes with its own botanical toolkit to help us humans reap the optimal benefits without unpleasant side effects.
For this reason, those of us who suffer from anxiety are often counseled to try CBD-heavy strains or products. Pets, too, can benefit from CBD’s subtle but undeniable power to soothe. Even in states in which cannabis is illegal, nervous or anxious dogs can enjoy CBD supplements derived from hemp, which contain no more than .3% THC.
Back in the human realm, research into cannabis’ anxiety-quelling characteristics is promising. A 2014 study found that low doses of the synthetic cannabinoid Nabilone were effective in treating PTSD, which shares many characteristics in common with anxiety. The research showed that the individuals in the study experienced significant improvements not only in the root cause (PTSD) but its associated symptoms, including insomnia, nightmares, and chronic pain as well.
It’s a safe bet that many other chronic and hard-to-treat conditions will follow suit. As our understanding of the mechanics of how cannabis interacts with our bodies only grows, the therapies and treatments we use to target them will grow more precise and refined. And thanks to the promise of microdosing, they’ll probably get a lot smaller, too. Now that we’ve covered some of the benefits, let’s tackle how to microdose!
How to Microdose Cannabis: When Too Much of a Good Thing Really Is Too Much
When it comes to the question of how to microdose cannabis, the main challenge is finding dosages that are small enough to be medically effective but not distractingly psychoactive.
We’ll break the bad news first: If you’re interested in learning how to microdose, puffing a fat joint or ripping a dab are not going to cut it. A typical target figure given for the potency of a microdose is 2.5 milligrams of THC and/or CBD. By comparison, it’s estimated that an “average” joint—if such a thing exists—contains roughly 100 milligrams of THC/CBD.
Alternately, you could try microdosing from a vape pen, but again: You’ll probably be ingesting too much cannabis, even with a single hit. What’s more, only a few high-end vaporizers come equipped with dosimeters, which signal when you’ve had a predetermined amount by emitting a gentle shake like a mobile phone set on “vibrate.”
One cannabis product class that comes carefully labeled is edibles. They’re worthy candidates for microdosing as well (come on, when was eating a square of brownie ever a bad thing?). But there are downsides too. For one, because edibles are metabolized somewhat differently than other forms of cannabis, it’ll take a good deal longer—up to 90 minutes—for them to take any effect. And having partially consumed items of food present their own challenges, such as keeping them refrigerated and fresh (or simply eating the entire package of chocolate mints in one go).
Our recommendation? Cannabis tinctures. They’re chemically pure, reasonably fast-acting, and—most importantly—they’re sold in carefully measured and labeled doses. The main challenge? Depending on how the product is labeled, you may have to do a little fancy math to figure out exactly how many milligrams of cannabinoids are in a single drop. Remember, at least to begin with, you’re aiming for roughly 2.5 milligrams of cannabinoids per dose.
What Kinds of Cannabis are Good for Microdosing?
As you’re most likely already aware, not all cannabis strains are created equally. The potency, cannabinoid ratio, strain and terpene profile—those delicious volatile oils that give cannabis and many plants their characteristic aromas and other qualities—can vary widely. But we can point you toward some likely starting points. Again, our top recommendation for the type of cannabis medicine for microdosing is tinctures.
Many microdosing approaches favor THC-dominant strains. Generally speaking, they’re effective at addressing a broad range of symptoms, including pain, soreness, anxiety, and inability to sleep.
That said, some microdosers incorporate CBD-heavy strains into their routines as well. They’re especially noted for their anxiolytic, or anxiety-fighting qualities, but some users find them too stimulating—even at the microdose level—for use before bedtime.
Because we tend to have somewhat personalized responses to different types of cannabis, at the end of the day you may have to accept a little bit of trial and error as you discover the ideal microdose strain for your need (or needs).
Especially when you’re just getting started, the ability to access a low, consistent and controlled dose is arguably more important than which particular strain you’re using. Once your body acclimates to taking these very subtle dosages and noticing their various effects, you can begin to experiment with different strains to find which suits you best.
Wrapping It All Up
When you’re first learning how to microdose we recommend you cease any “regular” cannabis use. Even though the idea behind microdosing is that you won’t feel any obvious psychoactivity, it’s best to undertake this experiment with a clear head.
Start low and slow, taking one 2.5mg dose every morning for three days to a week. After that time, assess what effects you’re noticing. If there is no change whatsoever, you can try upping the dose to two or even three times that initial amount. But if you’re up to a quadruple dose—10mg—you’re no longer in microdosing territory.
This can be a challenging endeavor. Unlike traditional cannabis usage, it requires you to focus on subtle changes and shifts. However, if you’re someone who finds the psychoactivity of cannabis distracting, we’re excited to see what benefits you’ll reap from microdosing.
On that note, we’re dying to see more research into the healing powers of cannabis, especially at lower dosages. One of the most exciting facets of the microdosing craze is the notion that we humans can derive many of the benefits of cannabis without the intoxicating effects that land the plant in such hot water, so to speak.
While it’s too early to hope that low-dose cannabis will replace the many thousands of prescription medicines currently prescribed—or, in some cases, vastly overprescribed—our experience of the last few years indicates that cannabis will continue to reveal itself to be a powerful, gentle, and sustainable alternative to many pharmaceuticals.
Want more information about how to microdose or interested in learning more about our different strains? Visit a store nearest you and talk to one of our experienced budtenders.