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How Much is Too Much? Cannabis Dosing

If you’re new to consuming cannabis, one of the first questions you’ll ask is “how much should I take?” The answer is: it depends on a lot of factors. This guide describes what consumers should consider when consuming cannabis and how to determine the right amount for them based on goals, product type, tolerance, environmental context, and more.

Is there such a thing as a “dose” of cannabis?

There is no standard dose of cannabis consumers should take. Research is ongoing into whether standardized dosages can be determined for various cannabis products or symptoms. Ethos is part of this effort in partnership with Thomas Jefferson University. 

While there is no standardized “dose” of cannabis, about 5mg THC is considered a good baseline for new consumers to determine how a particular cannabis product could affect them. If you’re looking for a starting point to better understand the consumption experience of a cannabis product, 5mg THC is a generally accepted amount.

Not only do people consume cannabis for such a wide range of reasons that determining standard dosages for any one product type is nearly impossible, but consumption experiences associated with cannabis are also so individualized and variable that it is hard to pin down the “right amount” for any given symptom as well. That said, you’ll hear milligrams of THC, CBD, and other cannabinoids referred to as amounts and not doses.

If there’s no set amount, how much cannabis should you consume?

What we do know is that a wide range of factors, both internal and external, contribute to overall cannabis consumption experience. These experiences are also highly individualized and can vary depending on any one of the factors below.

Consumption method

One of the first and most important factors that influence consumption experience is what cannabis product you consume and how you consume it. For example, inhaling cannabis – either smoking or vaporizing flower or concentrates – typically results in a fast onset of effects that are felt for a short period of time. Other consumption methods might be different. For instance, edibles have a longer onset of effects, often taking an hour or longer to kick in. However, the duration of effects is also significantly longer, lasting several hours. 

When using a vape, the duration and intensity of a puff can influence the amount of cannabis you inhale. This makes it difficult to gauge precisely the amount you are consuming, although most vape manufacturers estimate that a 3 to 5 second inhalation generally equates to about 4 to 5mg THC. This is also an ideal starting point for a new consumer who wants to gauge how a cannabis product might affect them. Since dosages are not an exact science when it comes to vaporizers, it is best to “start low and go slow”, waiting to observe how the first puff affects you before taking another. Inhalation tends to be a fast-acting method, so you will only need to wait about 5 to 10 minutes. 

Some vape devices include advanced features that can track your consumption over time, giving you a more accurate idea of how much you consume. While it still might be difficult to pin down a precise number of milligrams, understanding your typical usage levels will help you understand the amount it usually takes to make you feel better.

Other consumption methods still might have multiple routes of metabolization. For example, cannabis tinctures are what is known as biphasic. The first phase is sublingual consumption, in which the cannabinoids enter the bloodstream through the mucus membranes in the mouth and capillaries under the tongue. The second phase is digestion, similar to what occurs when eating an edible. 

Finally, cannabis topicals provide cannabinoids to a small, targeted area on the surface of the skin. Unlike other products, cannabis topicals do not cause intoxication even if they contain THC – these creams and gels typically don’t penetrate the skin deeply enough to circulate throughout the bloodstream. 

Cannabinoids and terpenes

The precise compound profile of the cannabis product you are consuming matters as well. More precisely, the cannabinoids and terpenes present in the product can drastically influence experience. 

There are more than 100 phytocannabinoids found in the cannabis plant and they are the primary drivers of your cannabis experience. Most people have heard of THC, the cannabinoid responsible for cannabis’s intoxicating qualities, and CBD, the therapeutic cannabinoid closely associated with hemp. These two cannabinoids are an important starting point in understanding a product. 

One useful metric to identify is the THC:CBD ratio, which measures THC content against CBD content. For example, a THC:CBD ratio of 10:1 would contain 10 parts THC to 1 part CBD and could be expected to be very intoxicating. On the other hand, a product with a 1:1 THC:CBD ratio would offer a more balanced experience along with similar therapeutic benefits. This metric doesn’t include the minor cannabinoids, such as Cannabigerol (CBG), Cannabinol (CBN), and Cannabichromene (CBC), Tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV) or Cannabidiolic acid (CBDA), which also play a role in consumption experience but are listed separately on the product label or lab reports.

With more than 200 terpenes found in the cannabis plant, each strain has its own unique scent and flavor profile. Some, like pinene, give off the crisp aroma of pine trees, while others, like limonene, offer a familiar citrus scent much like fresh lemons. These compounds are responsible for the tastes and smells of cannabis flower, and research suggests that some might offer therapeutic effects as well. Varying combinations of terpenes could contribute to stress alleviation and better sleep, for example, or perhaps a burst of creative energy. 

All these compounds – cannabinoids, minor cannabinoids, and terpenes – combine to augment one another’s effects in the body in a process known as “the entourage effect.” The entourage effect describes how all the compounds in cannabis interact with one another and the endogenous cannabinoid system (ECS) to influence a vast range of bodily functions and processes, from stress and mood to pain and inflammation.

Tolerance

Previous cannabis consumption and the tolerance you’ve built up as a result matters when determining how much cannabis to consume. Frequent consumers are generally going to require more product to achieve the same experience a first-time consumer would with a fraction of the amount. 

In addition to consumption frequency, people have varying natural tolerances for cannabis. Some, for example, have a high sensitivity to THC. This means an amount considered conservative by most consumers could lead to an intense experience for others. In many ways, consumption experience can only be judged on a person-by-person basis, even for the same products.

Environmental context

Even if you consume the same product, you might have a very different experience if your environmental context changes. For example, if you consume a strain of cannabis flower in a quiet, clean apartment with old friends, you might feel more comfortable than consuming the same strain before sitting on a crowded bus. 

Personal goals

Finally, always keep your personal goals and priorities top of mind when determining how much cannabis is the right amount for you. The right amount of cannabis for you will be how much meets your needs. If you are attempting to alleviate back pain, for example, monitor how much cannabis it takes to help you feel better. Also record which product types you are consuming, and which work the best for your needs. For example, someone with joint pain in their wrists might not need to smoke or vaporize cannabis flower. Perhaps a cannabis topical works better. 

How to determine what’s right for you

Before rushing off to your nearest licensed dispensary and purchasing the first product you see, walk through these simple steps to come prepared with your most important needs in mind. 

  1. Set goals and watch them closely: Knowing this baseline information can go a long way into making the right choice the first time. You may want to keep a diary monitoring how you felt after each inhalation of a vape pen or two hours after swallowing a capsule.
  2. Talk to a dispensary associate: At Ethos, our associates are readily available to answer the questions you have about what’s right for you. They can guide you to a product that may be helpful for your needs. The benefits of buying from a licensed dispensary is expertise, guaranteed quality, consistency, and a helpful and knowledgeable staff who can help narrow down a seemingly endless list of choices.
  3. Start low, go slow: Once you’ve selected the right product for you, be sure to start with a small amount. It is best, especially when it is the first time you are trying a new product, to err on the side of too little. Wait until the effects are noticeable (this may vary depending on product type) and determine whether your goals were met. If not, increase the amount slightly and repeat the process. 

If you are a medical cannabis patient, you should discuss the best cannabis product types and amounts for you with a medical professional. Always follow your healthcare provider’s recommendations regarding cannabis and your treatment plan. 

Know yourself and adjust accordingly

While having a standardized “dose” of cannabis would be nice, it simply isn’t how this complex plant works. Instead, there is often a bit of trial and error required when determining how much of any given cannabis product you should consume. Luckily, with a little bit of knowledge, you can identify products that are most likely to address your personal goals. At Ethos, we’re here to supplement whatever knowledge you already have. Together, we will find the best available cannabis products to help make you feel better – however that looks for you.

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