Microdosing 101 - Why You Need To Know About It
In the center of a market where high THC marks mean everything, there is a growing community of activists that are pushing for less consumption instead of more. This method is called “microdosing,” a growing trend as cannabis consumption becomes more mainstream. These practitioners are taking minor quantities of cannabis to receive the medical benefits of THC while not experiencing the psychoactive effects that it can cause.
According to Michelle Ross, the founder of IMPACT Network, “Microdosing is something that is very personal. There is no magic bullet for all patients; it is different for each one. Most people don’t know about microdosing. They just blast their system with cannabis or high amounts of THC, and that is not always the best approach for whatever condition they have.” In fact, Ross takes several small doses of cannabis each day to help manage her own reoccurring health issues. “I have a lot of chronic health problems including neuropathy and fibromyalgia, and cannabis has been the only thing that has enabled me to surmount them,” she says.
Dustin Sulak, an osteopathic physician based in Maine who treats many of his patients with small doses of cannabis, says, “When you raise the dose, sometimes you get diminished benefits and sometimes you get the opposite of what you are looking for.” For example, while a small amount of cannabis can help to reduce anxiety, too much can actually do the opposite.
Sulak also points out that cannabis can be effective for helping to control other chronic conditions. “If I see someone with multiple sclerosis who is in the middle of a flare-up and having a really hard time, she may need a higher dose to get the symptoms under control,” he says. “But as she gets well and heals, her daily dose will go down and down and down, until the point where microdosing becomes a maintenance plan.” He has also found that microdosing is beneficial on a daily basis, adding, “I find that a sub-psychoactive dose of cannabis helps me stay healthy, reduce stress, and stay sharp and focused at work.”
Now, you might be wondering what the optimal dosage for microdosing cannabis would be. The short answer is, it depends.
There is large variance in the quantity of THC that will result in the familiar high feeling. This can be affected by specific dissimilarities in liver metabolism, genetics of cannabinoid receptors, and previous usage.
According to Sulak, “The goal is to use the dose that gives the most minimal noticeable effect.”
Ross generally recommends that first time microdosers start off at 2.5 milligrams, maintain that level for approximately three days, and increase if necessary. But that can sometimes be difficult. “In Colorado we have a saying: start low and go slow. But the lowest dosage that they start off with for consumers is 10 milligrams and I think that is already too high.”
Meanwhile, Sulak advocates starting at even lower doses, and has created a step-by-step guide to microdosing for both experienced and novice consumers.
For those who are regular users of cannabis, Sulak recommends a preliminary 48-hour period of abstinence, which he thinks is enough time to reset the endocannabinoid system. While this might seem like a small window after years of usage, a brain imaging study published last year tracked the number of cannabinoid receptors during a period of abstinence from cannabis. The results showed that even in heavy users, the receptors returned to baseline levels after just two days.
After this neural cleansing, micro hopefuls should slowly reintroduce cannabis into their system, starting with just one milligram. Look at Sulak's video below about dealing with chronic pain.
“The goal is to use the dose that gives the most minimal noticeable effect,” says Sulak. “You are not trying to get stoned, you are not trying to get total relief from symptoms–you are just trying to get a little something. And then once you get to that dose where you feel a little something, stay there for a few days and then you can start gradually increasing if needed. And that typically falls somewhere between one and three milligrams per dose.”
Sulak has also noticed that the use of lower doses can actually lead to increased sensitivity to cannabis over time, thus underscoring the importance of staying at low levels for the first few days of microdosing. While this is merely observational, Sulak notes that tests on animals suggest that low-level doses of THC can result in an upregulation of the endocannabinoid system (for endocannabinoid production as well as expression of its receptors).
For those who are using cannabis irregularly or for the first time, Sulak suggests one milligram of THC combined with one milligram of CBD and gradually increasing the dosage (while maintaining the 1:1 ratio) until they feel something, then stay at that level for four days.
“Everyone is going to get to the point where they increase their dosage and it will not work as well as it did before,” he says. “And that means they have passed their optimal dose. That optimal dose is different for everyone. Finding it means going past it.”
While microdosing generally refers to THC, the psychoactive cannabinoid in cannabis, it can be beneficial to add an equal ratio of CBD as well. “When we add CBD to THC we tend to get a wider therapeutic window, which means we are less likely to see side effects of THC and more likely to see benefits,” says Sulak.
Yet, it is important to note that doubling the amount of cannabinoids for each dose can be financially crippling, because CBD is very expensive. Sulak also mentions that for some people, CBD acts as a mental stimulant and should be avoided in the evening prior to bedtime.
While many have already started to benefit from the wonders of THC prudence, many challenges still remain. Sulak believes that the greatest roadblock to microdosing is societal. “We need to change our relationship with cannabis from something that we use for recreation or to treat severe symptoms to something that we use to stay healthy, like we would a multivitamin,” he says.
For many, it may be problematic to cut back as cannabis has become widely available. However, for those seeking to remain sharp, calm and collected, you may want to think twice before taking that extra hit because the new buzz is, in fact, no buzz.
Just remember that everyone is different and there is no one correct method of microdosing, so you will have to experiment with yourself to find out what works best for you and what your body reacts to the most effectively. But most importantly: enjoy yourself!