When the topic of marijuana is raised, the first thing that comes to many a mind is typically “getting high.” … Yes?
This is interesting, because when someone mentions a bottle of red wine, the first thing most people think about is “is it a [merlot/cab/pinot/insert favorite varietal here]” — it’s (usually) not “getting super hammered.”
So, can we enjoy cannabis in measured amounts, similar to a touch of sauvignon blanc on a summer’s eve? Absof**kinglutely, friends.
Enter: microdosing. The take-the-edge of benefits of THC, without the impairment. The glass-of-wine vibe, minus the calories and hangover. Yes, we still love a good cab or a crisp rosé, but can we please — for the love of God — normalize cannabis? Perhaps equating a microdose of THC in a mint or tincture to a glass of chardonnay can give some additional context in reframing what 20th century culture told us was ‘bad.’
“Several years ago, the media published numerous articles espousing that red wine improves heart health … [but] drinking wine, beer, or spirits to the point of excess on a regular basis can be detrimental to one’s cardiovascular health,” he wrote. “The American public have far greater familiarity with alcohol, so this distinction between moderate and excessive drinking is common sense … [but] the American public have far less familiarity with cannabis and the science behind it, and therefore consumption volume is far less understood. Many incorrectly believe that the health benefits of THC-rich cannabis are tied to intoxication or that, if one does not feel intoxicated, then the medicine is not working."
OK, off the “what’s wrong with society” soap box and onto this talk about itty bitty quantities of THC. As someone who has struggled to use medicinal cannabis in any form due to extreeeeme sensitivity to THC (thanks for nothing, endocannabinoid system), microdosing has been an absolute blessing, and said blessing came to me in the form of a sweet little pastel tin of mints. Since then, a whole new world has opened up to me. I’ve recalibrated my sleep cycle (quite a few times, because #2020), alleviated crippling anxiety (#2020), and helped turn my brain off of work and to-dos so I can better enjoy moments of recovery and relaxation (cue: good dinner, good movie, and the teensiest amount of THC). With microdosing, I have elevated the effects of CBD and gone deeper into my plant medicine regimen; a little goes a long way, and the synergy is unreal.
This hasn’t always been an option, though — particularly thanks to the limited amount of space in the industry due to legislation. Founder of Highland Pantry, Suzanne Shpall said that this is how she decided to create a microdosing product herself. “When I first started taking edibles, I had the typical, horrible experience most have,” she told Svn Space (too relatable). “Too much, hitting all at once, lasting waaaayyy too long. I was looking for natural relief, not a mind-bending trip.”
“I was looking for natural relief, not a mind-bending trip.”
But until recently, microdosing products haven’t been the main focus of the cannabis industry. Those who were willing and able to experiment had to get scrappy and do a little DIY. “I intuitively started to take smaller and smaller bites of my cookies and began seeking out products with a lower milligram count,” said Shpall. “I also noticed that my mom was seeing massive benefit from adding just a bit of cannabis into her daily routine. When I saw that the market didn't really have much to offer someone looking for someone looking for a little something to take the edge off, I knew there was an opportunity. I’m so happy to see today’s market is seeing micro-dose as a growing segment. It’s powerful to feel great, in a balanced way. Like my dad always said — everything in moderation!”
Shpall decided to blend CBD with just a touch of THC, going off the theory of the entourage effect that “CBD works best when accompanied by a little bit of THC.” Thus, the 3:1 CBD:THC ratio was born for Highland Pantry products. The aim? A “manageable mellow without a scary head high.”
[Aside: the intent of sharing this information with you all is not to vilify the high, but rather show that there is so. much. more. to cannabis and hemp than getting stoned. SO much more. Especially for those of you reading who are, in fact, scared of the high for whatever reason — this is for you.]
Though Shpall’s line includes two additional categories at slightly higher doses, they’re still by and large considered a small dose at 3mg and 5mg THC servings, with 5mg being their maximum-strength product. The goal for the “Midi” mint was to create “an everyday essential.”
In this way, it operates similarly to a strong dose of magnesium — another natural supplement that helps you calm down. You can take a microdose of THC or some magnesium powder blended into water first thing in the morning, whereas you may not want to pour a glass of pinot at 6am. Shpall also likens microdosing to taking an NSAID. “It’s more like taking an Advil for what ails me,” she said. “Drinking a glass of wine is fun and super tasty, but it’s not always a great relaxation tool or stress reliever. I am a lightweight and depending on the day, one glass of wine can still get me tipsy with feelings of a hangover the next day,” (PREACH) “But microdosing CBD and THC is my daily relief — consistent and manageable support to help me cope with the normal stresses of life and bodily pain.”
This is what Jordan Tishler, MD, President and CMO of InhaleMD would refer to as a therapeutic dose. “When most people in the cannabis space say ‘microdosing,’ they usually mean doses that are lower than they’d [normally] use,” he told Svn Space. “This means all the doses I’d use for a patient.”
Dr. Tishler shared that microdosing with cannabis comes more from the user experience than any scientific research. “A micro dose is defined as a dose that is below the threshold of perception, often described as ‘me, but better,’” he explained. “This comes from the psychedelic research literature and really has never been studied in cannabis. There are no data to show that microdosing cannabis has any benefit; This doesn’t mean that there aren’t any benefits, but that we haven’t studied them.”
He also asserted that for whatever reason, some people still feel that ‘high’ intoxication with a very low dose, so a microdose for you might be a high dose for someone else. It can still be therapeutic, though. In these situations, a little goes a long way.
“The patients I’ve seen who have needed such low doses, are getting the benefits and side effects that others get at more ‘normal’ or average doses — not some different benefit without side effects as defined for a micro dose.”
As for why we all react to different doses? The jury is still out. “It likely has to do with genetic factors such as liver metabolism or receptor sensitivity,” said Dr. Tishler. “However, current genetic testing, while able to show some genetic variability, hasn’t yet led to concrete understanding of who will respond in a particular way.”
We know you can take too much cannabis (you can’t really overdose — not lethally, at least — but you can definitely get too high for comfort), but can you take too little? Getting the dose right for you and your own sensitivity to THC is the ultimate goal. “I think that for sensitive patients, care must be taken to get the dose correct. Again, however, I would not call that a micro dose if they’re getting perceptible benefits and psychoactive effects. If they aren’t getting such, I would wonder if they’re getting any benefit at all.”
Dr. Ahmad believes that idea of a little bit going a long way as well. “An increasing body of medical evidence suggests that the amount of THC one needs to consume to experience the medicinal effects of cannabis is significantly lower than the amount one must consume to experience its psychotropic effects,” he wrote. A 2013 study published in the Journal of Pain also confirmed this assertion, and some researchers who published a study in the European Journal of Pain found that even 0.5 milligrams of THC (a ridiculously small amount) was enough to reduce pain.
And if you’re worried about your reaction to THC because it’s triggered your anxiety in the past, consider this 2017 paper from the University of Washington, that essentially concluded that small doses lower anxiety, while higher doses can increase it (the irony that “Dr. Stoner” conducted this research is not lost on me). So perhaps scaling back to the sweet spot is the golden ticket for your anxious woes.
What constitutes a “micro” dose? That depends on the patient or user. “There is no one-size-fits-all prescription even in microdosing,” Dr. Ahmad wrote. The general, most cited rule of thumb in this field is start low and go slow, meaning start with the lowest dose possible, and see how you feel for a day (or several hours) before increasing your dose. Then when you do increase, only do so incrementally. And there’s some research that shows CBD may counteract any intoxicating effects of THC, so try coupling your THC with a dose of CBD as well (this is what Highland Pantry does with their mints, as mentioned earlier).
This microdosing cannabis trend is also taking off in Italy (so chic) — they’re calling it “cannabis light,” and apparently they’re getting their tiny doses in some infused pasta, olive oil, and gelato… because Italy is glorious (can you tell I miss traveling?). Are you thinking about delving into the Italian trend yourself? Perhaps you’ll like it even more than an Aperol spritz.