Traditionally, we usually think of two types of cannabis use: lifestyle (or recreational) and medicinal. Generally, lifestyle users consume cannabis for its psychotropic (“the high”) effects, while medicinal users consume to find relief from their symptoms. (Of course, this is a broad characterization and there’s plenty of overlap between the two.)
Bottom line: therapeutic dosing tends to be different from recreational dosing. Medicinal users — if they are administering correctly — ingest the smallest dose necessary to elicit therapeutic effects. In contrast, recreational users consume however much it takes to produce the “high” they’re looking for.
However, there’s another consumption method that gets less attention, but continues to increase in popularity. It’s called “microdosing.”
What is Microdosing and What is the Purpose?
Microdosing refers to the practice of using small doses (e.g. a single drag off of a vape pen, a “one-hitter,” a small tincture dose, a tiny edible, etc.) to achieve specific results without getting “high” — for example, to improve overall health and well-being, or increase focus and productivity.
It’s actually been popular among many medicinal users for years. Dr. Dustin Sulak, is the Medical Director of Integr8 Health in New England, where he and his colleagues integrate clinical cannabis into a holistic health regimen. In an article for United Patients Group, Sulak reports that many patients find more benefit in low doses (with fewer side effects). And, he should know: his team has treated more than 20,000 patients with medical cannabis.
“When I started my practice, I was surprised to see that some patients were using very low doses (e.g. 1 puff), while other patients require much higher dosages (e.g. 1 joint or a potent edible) to achieve optimal benefits,” observes Dr. Sulak. “Over time, I began to notice that most patients using small amounts of cannabis were getting better and more sustainable results than their high-dosage counterparts with similar conditions.”
Sulak notes he ultimately concluded, “most people have a certain threshold dosage of cannabis, below which they’ll actually experience a gradual increase in health benefits over time, and above which they’ll start building tolerance, experiencing diminishing benefits, and more side effects.”
Circling back to microdosing as part of a holistic health strategy for people who are looking to improve quality of life, while deriving health benefits from cannabis, it’s clear why microdosing is becoming very popular. Gregory Frye from Green Flower writes, “Sure I enjoy the psychoactive experience but is my current level of dosage working for me – or against me? Can I address my medical needs with smaller amounts of cannabis? And if so, would I be even more productive? I know I would save more money!”
Frye points to his colleague, Max Simon, the CEO of Green Flower Media. “He’s been using cannabis for decades to treat a very intense case of ADHD. Along the way he’s maintained a productive lifestyle and has constantly monitored the efficacy of his cannabis dosing.” In Simon’s own words: “What I’ve realized about myself is that I am strongly affected by cannabis if I take too much,” he says. “Sure that can be an enjoyable psychoactive experience, but in terms of using it medicinally I realized that taking much smaller doses than anybody else talks about is more ideal for me.”
Bottom line: Simon, like many microdosing enthusiasts, has found just a few micro-hits from a vaporizer (or a one-hitter) provides just the right amount of cannabinoids to help relieve anxiety, settle down and focus on the task at hand.
Microdosing has become so popular that enthusiasts are starting their own online communities. One vibrant community is the Reddit Microdosing Community.
Cannabis Has a Biphasic Effect
From a scientific perspective, the benefits of microdosing are starting to be validating across a number of studies. To understand microdosing, it’s important to understand what the “biphasic effect” is. The biphasic effect means low doses and high doses affect people very differently, and often produce opposite results. For example, in low to moderate doses, if you consume a low to moderate amount of alcohol you will likely have a positive experience that can be energizing and euphoric. On the other hand, if you throw back too many tequilas, alcohol can become a powerful depressant producing an experience that is accompanied by aggression, nausea, or worse — toxicity.
Compared to alcohol, the biphasic effect is more subtle, but no less consequential. To provide an example of the biphasic effect, researchers at McGill University in Toronto conducted a study on the potential effects of THC on depression. Using experimental animal models (aka “lab rats”), they found that at low doses, THC is a potent anti-depressant, but at high doses, it can exert profound neurobiological alterations that can wreak havoc on depression.
How to Microdose
Learn about strains: This should include learning how cannabinoids and terpenoids influence outcomes. THC is very different from CBD. CBD is different from CBN. CBN is different from THC-A. And, every strain has a unique chemical composition that you can learn more about on sites like Leafly. Some strains, like Durban Poison (a sativa), are known for producing a stimulating, cerebral high, that promote creativity and productivity. Other strains like Blue Dream, are known for crushing anxiety and making consumers “happy.”
Figure out your favorite mode of consumption: Vaping will generally produce the most predictable and manageable doses, while edibles produce more variability in the amount of time it takes to affect you and how you’ll respond. But, sprays, capsules, and tinctures, are all great to experiment with, as well.
Self-titrate. Start low and gradually increase (if necessary). The goal is to find the lowest dose that elicits the effects you’re looking for. The purpose is not to produce the most powerful psychoactive response you can tolerate. Keep in mind, it may take a week (or more) to identify your “sweet spot.” (also a good way to cut back if you’re concerned about your intake.)
Of course, everyone’s body chemistry is different. So don’t necessarily compare yourself to others. Some people who use therapeutically, use often, but may be immune to the adverse effects. But, consuming that often as a lifestyle user would constitute dependency.
There you have it! Microdosing can provide many significant benefits. Give it a shot. You may like it — even love it! Frye notes, “Experimenting with your cannabis regimen and finding what works for you and what doesn’t is a huge aspect of responsible and effective use.” And, effective use, is happy use!
If you’ve been microdosing for awhile, share your experience with us. Or, if you’re new to it, we’d love to hear from you, too. Happy microdosing!