Traditionally, cannabis has been used to get high, stoned or baked – as an enjoyable, relaxing and much needed escape from day to day life. But now the opposite is true – it’s being increasingly used to tune in, as opposed to fade out.
In much the same way the use of psychedelics has evolved from their shamanic and countercultural roots, finding their way into the daily lives of productivity hackers, tech wizards, wellness warriors and the like, cannabis use is also evolving.
Cannabis is after all a psychedelic, and its effects can vary greatly depending on the dose thats used. Most of us have had an edible experience we’d like to forget about. Eating too much, freaking out, and waking up the next day in a haze of confusion wondering what the hell happened.
We’re going to take a look into exactly what effects dose can have on experiences with cannabis and how it can be used as an addition to a healthy lifestyle.
Regular Dosing vs Microdosing
If you’re a regular cannabis user, then you’ll have no doubt tried edibles. But odds are you haven’t tried microdosing it.
The beautiful thing about microdosing is the fact that one can experience sub psychedelic effects, without writing off the entire day.
Quite the opposite in fact.
Cannabinoids, like THC and CBD are the primary constituents of the cannabis plant. The neat thing is, they can have opposing effects on the endocannabinoid system (ECS) based on the doses they are used at. These are known as biphasic responses.
So whilst low does of THC (7.5mg) may alleviate anxiety, high doses (12.5mg) may actually perpetuate it (1) – cue the sketchy edible experience. The same is true for CBD – low doses can promote wakefulness, whereas high doses may induce sedation (2). The behaviour of these cannabinoids at cannabinoid receptors is dose dependent. The exact dose at which the effects of THC and CBD start to turn is pretty individual, as it depends on the activity of our own endocannabinoid systems.
Microdosing is the ideal way to find our own personal ‘goldilocks zone’ with THC and CBD, to suit our unique endocannabinoid systems.
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The great thing about microdosing is that it’s a much more strategic and targeted approach to using cannabis. Unlike smoking pot, using measured doses in the form of extracts and working from the ground up is an ideal way to find your own personal sweet spot.
By exploring incremental doses slowly and gradually, you can find ones that suit your own endocannabinoid system. If you notice the scales starting to tip towards undesirable effects, then you’ll know the doses that overshoot the level at which your ECS works best.
The modern world poses challenges to our ECS, and can cause it to become over or under-active. When it’s out of balance, things start to go wrong – inflammation can occur, imbalances in mood, digestion, stress, sleep, appetite and body weight crop up.
Things like stress, trauma, poor sleep, infections, high sugar, high fat (omega-6 and saturated fat) diets and sedentary lifestyles all disrupt the ECS, and make it harder for us to maintain harmonious health.
The beautiful thing about cannabinoids like THC and CBD is that they can morph to suit our individual needs, as adaptogens. Whether our ECS is low or high functioning, they can sense this and pitch in to restore balance. Unless we have severely imbalanced endocannabinod systems, as is the case in some chronic diseases (3), most of us only really need small doses to restore this balance.
Maybe some of us have a little anxiety, can’t sleep well, have PMS or have a little trouble with digestion – its an issue, but not the end of the world. This is where many of us turn to using pot in a (sort of) medicinal, but kind of recreational way. Using it in the usual way – bongs, blunts, pipes, joints etc may help with what ails us, but sometimes comes with side effects.
We all know when we’ve had too much cannabis (especially with edibles), or have been using it too much. Sometimes we’re more tired, hazy, less motivated, slow to remember things, and in some cases have worsening anxiety and depression. These are classic signs that we’ve overshot our own ECS sweet spot.
Chronic recreational use of cannabis is associated with lack of motivation, and in susceptible individuals mood disorders like depression, anxiety and even psychosis.
This depends on the delicate dance between how our genetics, lifestyles and life experiences influence our ECS, and the interaction it has with cannabinoids like THC and CBD. It’s not that cannabis is inherently good or bad, its how we use it that forms how we respond to it. Get the dose right for your own unique needs, and it can be a totally different ball game.
By using smaller doses over the long term, we have less risk of overshooting our sweet spots. For what its worth, in my experience I’ve noticed that if I haven’t smoked for a while, the first few smokes are enjoyable, creative and productive. But then after a few days I become lazy, moody and less sociable. Using higher doses in a short period of time overshoots the mark too quickly.
The thing about the ECS is that a low or high functioning one is not ideal – we experience vibrant health when it operates within a sweet spot. So if you naturally have a low functioning ECS, not using cannabis you may experience mood imbalances, lack of creativity etc – but using too much cannabis to try and compensate for this can equally lead to an imbalanced mood for eg.
Using high does chronically also means our bodies become saturated with cannabinoids, contributing to a spillover effect – this we notice when it takes days to shake off a big session, or when we take a tolerance break and it takes a while for us to return to an equilibrium.
The body has to get rid of cannabinoids, and chronic use can mean it takes longer to get rid of them. The half life (time it takes for the circulating concentration of a drug to be reduced by half) of CBD can be up to 5 days with chronic use for example (4). THC and its metabolites THC-COOH can also hang around for up to 30 days when measured in saliva, urine and blood (5), (6), (7).
That’s the beauty with microdosing – we allow little room for cannabinoids to accumulate in amounts that desensitise or overbalance our own ECS. We also allow the cannabinoids to be sufficiently metabolised by the liver, and cleared from our bodies.
THC and CBD Benefits
Where traditional use of cannabis may have been fun and recreational, microdosing is a health and wellness play. This is where extracts really come into their own. Unlike flower, we can get a good picture of how many mg of THC and CBD a dose contains.
Taking THC and CBD is akin to taking the omega-3 fatty acids, DHA and EPA, which have become commonplace in many peoples daily wellness routines. Cannabinoids are very similar to omega fatty acids, and afford many shared benefits. They both have potent anti-inflammatory effects which is great for protecting the brain, cardiovascular system and joints in particular. They are essential for keeping the immune system in check, maintaining the balance between healthy and pathological levels of inflammation. We need a little, but too much promotes disease.
Just like DHA and EPA, CBD in particular may support a healthy brain. CBD can preserve neuronal structure and function, helping the brain communicate more efficiently, which supports a healthy mood and cognition (8), (9).
CBD’s effects on neuronal health and communication means that it can also support better sleep and memory (10), (11), (12), (13). When it comes to sleep though, slightly higher doses (> 20mg) may be better, whereas daytime use of ~ 5-10mg may help keep us on our toes.
We all know that moderate to high doses of THC can make some people paranoid, anxious and forgetful. This is where dose is key, because there’s evidence that THC can also be helpful for things like anxiety and depression (14), with lower doses being supportive (1).
Paradoxically, THC has been shown to actually improve memory and cognition in old mice when given at low doses over a long period of time (15). This echoes what we discussed earlier, about the effects of cannabinoids being dose dependent, and dependent on the activity of an individuals ECS.
On the flipside, low doses of THC have been found to increase appetite, whereas high doses suppress it (16). Valuable info for those susceptible to the munchies. Adding CBD can also quell the urge to eat (17), (18), yet another great reason to combine them.
Combining THC with CBD is key to finding a balanced effect. Taking them together, usually in ratios of anywhere from 1-20:1 (CBD:THC) has been shown to reduce the negative side effects from THC (12), (19), which may preserve some of the more pleasant effects on mood and intoxication (20). Combining cannabinoids is also a way of offsetting their biphasic effects for a more steady ride.
The Cardiovascular System
Just like omega-3’s, cannabinoids could also help to maintain healthy arterial flexibility, prevent obstructions and the development of atherosclerosis.
Taking a single dose of CBD can lower blood pressure, partly due to its effect on dilating blood vessels (21). Whereas THC acutely increases blood pressure. But when used over the long term, it actually promotes a lower blood pressure (22). This is similar to how a single exercise training session increases blood pressure, but promotes a lower blood pressure at rest as a long term benefit.
Cannabinoids also act as antioxidants, and omega-3’s promote increased antioxidant activity, which helps protect artery walls against oxidative damage. This also helps prevent atherosclerosis.
Both may also support healthy metabolism through their effects on cholesterol regulation. Omega-3’s are well known to reduce levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol (LDL) (23). When oxidised, LDL can stick to and damage artery walls, promoting atherosclerosis. There’s an indication that THC and CBD may also help reduce LDL (24), (25).
We need healthy joints to move, and we need to move to feel good. Exercise, especially heavy, load bearing and repetitive types takes a toll on our joints, wearing on the cartilage. Just like omega-3’s, THC and CBD offer protection against joint degradation, thanks to their anti-inflammatory effects. Both have shown promise in supporting tissue regeneration of arthritic joints (26).
Also, during training their analgesic (pain relieving) effects may help cope with heavy training loads, as well as soften the blow after a big session (27).
Where to Start
There’s loads of ways to enjoy a microdose, catering to many different tastes. Whilst you can use vapes in doses, the cannabinoids may lose their effects in as little as 2 hours, so ingesting them may be more practical. Oral drops, capsules and micro dosed edibles are a great way of getting longer lasting effects throughout the day, whilst also being practical and measured.