In 1999, renowned Los Angeles doctor Allan Frankel learned he had a deadly viral infection of his heart. Diagnosed with only six months left expected to live, a few of his cancer and AIDS patients urged him to try cannabis for his condition. Frankel said he couldn’t be certain that cannabis healed his heart – but it certainly helped. “I’d been depressed and cannabis stopped the depression,” he said. Frankel died last year at age 71, living more than 20 years after his diagnosis.
In 2006, Frankel opened a cannabis medical practice where he found that some of his patients benefited most significantly from small doses. A quarter of his patients were taking less than 3 mg of THC a day, which he called the “correct dose. In all medicine, with all drugs, you look for the minimum effective dose. Period.”
Microdosing is a practice often associated with psychedelic drugs such as LSD and psilocybin mushrooms, but any medicine can be microdosed. According to popular lifestyle hacker Tim Ferriss in his book The Four Hour Body, the definition of minimum effective dose (MED) is pretty simple–the smallest dose that will produce the desired outcome or effect. This is also known as the “minimum effective load” or optimal dose. Anything beyond the minimum effective dose is a waste.
The cannabis plant is complex, with beneficial cannabinoids like THC, CBD, CBN and CBG present in varying percentages in each cultivar. Cannabinoids are unlike a lot of other supplements and treatments when it comes to finding the right dose. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach. But as the research into cannabis compounds grows and evolves, we have learned more about the factors that affect how the body responds to cannabinoids.
One’s optimal dose seems to be inversely correlated to the endocannabinoid levels that are naturally produced by the body. Those with high levels of endocannabinoids might need less cannabis, while those with lower levels might need more to achieve homeostasis.
Those who find they need more cannabis don’t necessarily raise their dosage as much as they increase their dosage frequency. A microdose is typically considered between 1 and 2.5 milligrams, and edibles and tinctures are often the easiest way to ensure you’re dosing properly.
Here are some examples:
While small doses are best, those with high dosage requirements can take slightly higher doses. You shouldn’t feel pressured to take your cannabis product 20 times a day. What matters is precision and consistency over time.
As the last section covered, microdosing doesn’t necesarily mean taking miniscule amounts of cannabis. It typically means achieving a minimum therapeutic dose for you, and dosing with it more frequently. It should be highlighted that microdosing is different than “start low, go slow” which is the advice many are given at the dispensary the first time someone tries THC.
The main goal of microdosing THC is to receive the medicinal benefits without experiencing a high. Until you get used to the psychoactive effect that comes with THC, it helps to keep doses very low and only increase them over time as the body adjusts to the effects. Slow refers to the time between doses. You don’t want to take 2.5 milligrams in edible form and wait 10 minutes and decide to take more because it takes 30 minutes to two hours to feel the effects.
Taking too much THC in one dose can produce unwanted side effects such as anxiety and paranoia.
Macro-dosing: Titrating cannabis over time is a priority for some patients, especially for those trying to achieve very high therapeutic doses in accordance with popular cannabis pioneer Rick Simpson’s Method. Learn more about titrating using the Rick Simpson Method here.
No matter how much cannabis you take, taking your cannabis at the same time(s) each day can help with consistency.
Because microdosing cannabis typically means that you’ll need to dose more frequently, the market has developed lots of great products to microdose discreetly while you’re on-the-go. Here’s a few categories you might check out:
Tinctures are a great way to microdose. The dropper inside the bottle has a measuring device on it, so you can individualize your dose so you don’t overdo it.
A budtender may recommend that a patient start off by taking a quarter of a dropper under the tongue, then wait around half an hour to judge the effects. If you’re feeling relaxed, then this could be the right dose for you. If you feel no different, try taking another quarter of a dropper. Keep a note of how each dose makes you feel (or doesn’t make you feel) and when you hit the sweet spot, stick to this dose. If you’re having a particularly stressful or anxious time, you may consider temporarily increasing your dose slightly.
If you’re used to sipping coffee or tea throughout the day, you might find cannabis-infused beverages or beverage powders to be an attractive way to dose discreetly. Cannabis beverage powders dissolve easily into any beverage and can even be sprinkled onto your food. Typically these powders come in 10mg flavorless doses.
Oral sprays are made using a tincture of cannabis oil extract and ethanol alcohol. The alcohol helps extract the cannabinoids. An oral spray dispenses directly into the mouth, either under the tongue or inside the cheek. Although oral sprays need longer to take effect than smoking or vaping, they are faster-acting than edible forms of CBD.
Vaporizing cannabis gives you a little different high than smoking. When smoking, you don’t have precise control over how much you use. When you are vaping, you can have a small amount of vapor to microdose and then turn the vaporizer off. Then you can turn the vaporizer on again and use the same buds for another round of a small dose. Some vaporizers are better suited for microdosing than others.
Your doctor and dispensary budtender can tell you more about microdosing and the products that are available to meet those needs.
Author: Gabrielle Dion Visca
Gabrielle has been writing and editing professionally for the medical and wellness industries for more than 20 years. She’s held positions with The Journal of Pediatrics, Livestrong, The Cincinnati Enquirer, and Patient Pop. She currently writes articles about medical marijuana for Duber Medical, and is the founder of the Ohio cannabis journalism non-profit, MedicateOH.