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Ask a Pharmacist: What is Cannabis Microdosing?

The practice of consuming ultra-low quantities of THC at a time – as little as less than 1mg to start – is gaining traction. For many, this is enough to benefit therapeutically from cannabis without feeling intoxicated.

To learn more about microdosing cannabis, how it works, and why some folks may want to try it, we talked to William McLay, PharmD at Ethos – Wilkes Barre. 

Why microdose?

There are many reasons a consumer may microdose THC, from personal preference to medical considerations. That’s because the effects of THC can vary depending on how much you consume – what might be helpful at low levels, may not be in higher amounts. 

“THC is dose dependent,” McLay said. “For example, at low to moderate amounts, studies have shown that it helps tremendously with anxiety. But when you go to higher amounts, it may cause anxiety, so starting off in that lower range is smart to avoid feeling anxious.”

If you’re a new consumer, you may be wondering how cannabis will affect you. It’s always recommended to start low and go slow, especially for new consumers, making microdosing a great option. 

Others still may find that microdosing alleviates their symptoms while leaving them clear-headed and focused throughout the day. 

“I recommend patients new to cannabis and older adults should start by microdosing,” McLay said, adding that it’s simply a suggestion and consumers are free to choose their own path. “Lowering the psychoactive effects is key, especially during the day, when you may need to focus at work or drive.”

Is microdosing effective?

You don’t need to feel the intoxicating effects of THC to know that it’s working. Microdosing can be effective for a range of needs, but it depends on your goals and what products you are microdosing. According to McLay, one of the most common use cases for THC microdosing is to manage pain without prompting anxiety. 

“Even if you are experienced with cannabis, you might get a high THC product like concentrates for pain management, for example, but find it causes anxiety,” McLay said. “Vapes and flower are great for emergency relief, but if you only consume them, your tolerance will build faster. If you want the relief to last long on a daily basis, you should microdose instead.”

McLay added that some consumers find microdosing adequately addresses their needs and they never feel the need to move beyond it into higher amounts of THC. “And that’s a great thing,” he said. 

But it’s not only about THC. According to McLay, the full spectrum of compounds in cannabis – from cannabinoids like THC and CBD to terpenes like myrcene and beta caryophyllene – offer therapeutic effects as well. And it is how they work in conjunction with one another, called the entourage effect, that provides some of cannabis’s potential for relief.

What to be aware of when microdosing

As is the case with all cannabis products and methods of consumption, there are several things to be aware of before trying microdosing cannabis. These following considerations should be top of mind before making microdosing part of your routine.

Understand how cannabis affects medications you take 

When microdosing (or consuming any cannabis), the first thing to understand is how it might interact with any medications you’re currently taking. McLay emphasized the importance of communicating with your primary healthcare professional before adding cannabis to your routine.

“Medication interactions are a big reason why pharmacists and nurses are so heavily involved [in Pennsylvania’s medical cannabis program],” McLay said. “I can look at a patient’s list of medications and see which might be an issue, and then we monitor cannabis consumption for the side effects we know to look for if an interaction takes place.”

In particular, cannabis can influence the P450 system in the liver, which is responsible for metabolizing a range of medications, including blood thinners like Coumadin. Precise dosing is critical to ensure patients don’t experience adverse effects.

“We’re making sure patients aren’t taking something dangerous for them,” McLay said. “That’s important because when you’re treating a disease state medically, you have to make sure you’re taking the right things.”

Know your goals

Microdosing may sound great, but it’s not necessarily the right fit for everyone, McLay said. Always know your goals, whether that’s alleviating symptoms of a certain condition or managing general stress.

“If a patient is fairly healthy and they’re not on lots of medications, microdosing could be a good option,” McLay said.

If you’re interested in microdosing, discuss your goals with an Ethos associate or pharmacist, who can help you decide if this is the right approach for you.

Consider how cannabis fits into you daily routine

Additionally, understanding how cannabis affects you and how that fits into your typical day should also inform when and how you microdose. McLay warned that consuming too much THC could cause anxiety or impairment that interferes with important tasks, so for many microdosing is a way to get the relief they need without those drawbacks.

“There are certainly situations, such as managing anxiety or chronic pain, where it’s better to use low THC – especially during the day,” McLay said. “People have to drive, they have jobs, and need to be able to function without being impaired.”

Microdosing can prevent the intoxicating side effects of THC that might impede people from performing basic tasks throughout their day.

How microdosing is done

Microdosing can be an effective approach to cannabis for many types of consumers, but it’s important to do it properly. To get the most out of your microdosing routine, keep the following in mind.

  1. Choose the right product type for microdosing

Microdosing is a simple process, but it can be difficult to control the precise amount you;re consuming with certain methods, particularly with inhalation. Instead, McLay said he likes to recommend orally ingestible products like capsules or tincture because they’re easy to take and measure.

“For someone fairly new to cannabis or just new to the dispensary, I lean toward oral administrations, like sublingual tinctures that go under the tongue,” McLay said. “You have a lot of variability to take as much or as little as you want using that little dropper.”

  1. Take a tolerance break before starting a microdosing routine

Before microdosing for the first time, regular cannabis consumers should take a tolerance break. McLay suggested refraining from cannabis for two days before beginning a microdosing regimen. 

  1. Start low and go (very) slow

Microdosing is aptly named, as the amounts of THC in a microdosing regimen are quite small. McLay suggested starting off with as little as 0.5 mg THC. He recommends his patients repeat the microdose for three to four days before slowly increasing the amount as needed, up to 2.5 mg THC at most. 

“Start with a tincture and just use a quarter dropper – you don’t have to fill it all the way,” McLay said, recommending consumers take that amount two to three times per day. “If you’re using capsules, they tend to last longer,” he added, “and you’ll be taking one per day as opposed to a tincture two to three times per day.”

  1. Use a full spectrum or broad spectrum cannabis product

McLay also recommends including a product that has, at minimum, some amount of CBD in it as well, instead of a THC distillate. This is due to the entourage effect, a theory that describes how cannabinoids and terpenes work together to influence the human endogenous cannabinoid system (ECS) and the many bodily processes associated with it. CBD is believed to modify how THC interacts with your ECS, modulating endocannabinoid receptors and subsequently lowering the chance of developing anxious feelings.

“Many people come in looking for strong THC products to help with their problems, but eventually they ask about anxiety. That’s when we have that conversation about lowering the THC and find many are more comfortable with that,” he said. “Just taking THC can help, but it’s not as effective as CBD and terpenes for the entourage effect. There are certain terpenes and cannabinoids that offer anxiolytic effects, and those are enhanced with THC in low amounts.”

Could microdosing cannabis be effective for you?

If microdosing cannabis sounds intriguing, speak with an Ethos pharmacist. Bring your goals, concerns, and questions with you, and our staff can help you select the right products from our menu to support your needs. Our associates and pharmacists can readily help you find the products that help you feel better.

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