This is a guest post from Microdosing Cannabis expert and educator, Jennifer Rotermund.
Let’s not kid ourselves – cannabis use comes with baggage. I’m a coach who works specifically in the psychedelic and microdosing cannabis spaces for therapeutic and wellness purposes. When I first sit down with a new client, I inquire into their history with cannabis. The answers I receive vary widely, but generally fit into a few categories:
- The long time users who know their stuff
- The ones who “dabbled for fun way back in high school or college”
- Those who waited until legalization and now have their favorite go-to single product or two at the local dispensary
- And of course those who have proudly stayed away from it and never intend to try it
One answer that has interested me the most however typically goes something like, “Oh yeah, I tried cannabis once and it made me so paranoid and anxious that I never touched it again. It’s clearly not my medicine.” This answer fascinates me – not because of the answer itself, but because of how often I hear it.
In the psychedelic space – in which I include cannabis – no one substance works for everyone. I believe it’s our responsibility as professionals in this space to at least begin with that understanding. As wonderful as pure MDMA might be for most, for example, not everyone has the same, profound experience. Add to that the growing understanding and inclusion of a trauma-informed perspective, and it becomes additionally clear that (along with “set and setting”) the dose size or amount is a critical factor to consider.
Too much of a good thing is not always a good thing – in fact, it’s sometimes traumatizing and painful. Who can blame anyone for never touching a product again after it causes so much distress? But, before we go all “baby with the bathwater”, a growing body of neuroscience research is adding further proof to what indigenous cultures around the world have known for hundreds, if not thousands of years – sometimes, less is not just more – it’s ideal.
Today, we call this microdosing, and it happens to be a really useful approach to working with cannabis. Microdosing has blossomed in popularity within the current psychedelic renaissance. Even though it is most commonly associated with psilocybin mushrooms, microdosing is a practice that can be applied to many psychedelics – cannabis included. In fact, this ancient practice of taking small amounts of a medicine, at a sub-hallucinogenic level, may be more in alignment with the healing path than the standard western approach of “if some is good, more must be better.”
Every medicine has its own nuances and interactions, and cannabis is certainly no different. Where psilocybin is relatively straightforward and almost predictably dose-dependent, cannabis is inherently more layered and complicated. With that in mind, let’s take a look at a couple of ways in which microdosing cannabis is similar to microdosing psilocybin and a couple of ways in which it is very different.
Similarities: Microdosing Cannabis vs. Microdosing Psilocybin
1. Dosing is unique to each person
Calibration to find your “sweet spot” dose is a good practice no matter which substance you’re consuming. Each of our bodies is different and unique from anyone else’s. Our Endocannabinoid System (the master regulatory system in our body that produces its own cannabis-like molecules and interacts with cannabis) is as individual as a fingerprint and is influenced by our health, our age, our state of mind – it even cycles in strength throughout each day.
Similarly, when it comes to psilocybin’s interaction in our bodies, the general availability of the neurotransmitter serotonin and its receptors vary in each of us depending on our overall health and the pharmaceuticals we’re taking. As a result, no one else can determine the best dose of any substance – especially cannabis – for anyone else. Each of us must find that ideal dose (or dose range) for ourselves.
To avoid being thrown unexpectedly and uncomfortably into a stronger experience than desired, starting with a low dose and moving slowly through a gentle increase in dose size, at a predictable and measurable rate, is valuable. Calibration supports you in finding the dose that works best for you. It also helps you avoid the potentially traumatizing experience of suddenly becoming far too “high”.
2. Building a relationship to your substance is imperative
Prioritize allyship with the medicine over the strictly symptom relief mindset of the pharmaceutical model. Thanks to the media, we’ve likely all heard these seemingly miraculous stories of psilocybin or cannabis healing depression, relieving anxiety, promoting good sleep, and so on, and these outcomes are all possible.
Experience and research show, however, that these medicines function outside of the pharmaceutical model of take “X” dose for “Y” result. Inherent to the current psychedelic renaissance is the fact that these substances seem to connect with and weave together every aspect of our lives – cognitive, physical, emotional and spiritual. Anything that functions so holistically is, by definition, dynamic and nuanced (as are we).
Quick solutions are sometimes necessary, but for every miracle story I hear in the psychedelic space, I also hear of one that fell short of immediate expectations. If we can turn to microdosing cannabis (or psilocybin) instead from a place of connection and developing a deeper relationship between one’s self and the medicine, the outcomes tend to be stronger and more lasting.
Differences: Microdosing Cannabis vs. Microdosing Psilocybin
1. Complexity of compounds varies more when microdosing cannabis
Cannabis is a much more complicated and layered medicine than psilocybin. Psilocybin is incredible and, of course, gives us many gifts. Personally, I consider myself a devotee – and I don’t use that word lightly in my life. At the same time, psilocybin is relatively straightforward.
Scientists have studied its impacts on the brain and nervous system. We know pretty well how it works and what to expect, at least on the physiological level (though the implications and applications are still being discovered). In this field, there’s a common – if somewhat debated – statement that a “cubensis is a cubensis” – meaning the cultivated strains of psychedelic mushrooms, Psilocybin cubensis, are each basically the same (debate about that is for a different conversation).
When it comes to calibration, psilocybin is simple: for a given strain of mushroom, begin at a given low dose and increase dose size at a predictable rate over a predictable schedule. However, when we turn to microdosing cannabis, we are immediately confronted with far more variables. Cannabis includes major and minor cannabinoids, which technology and skilled cultivation has given us increasing access to.
Each cannabinoid carries its own medicine, which can cause different results in our bodies. Furthermore, cannabis – like most plants – contains a diverse set of terpenes, from which our bodies glean a wide variety of benefits. Finally, cannabis research is just beginning to discover and investigate the flavonoids within the plant as a third layer of medicinal value. When it comes to calibrating to a sweet spot dose with cannabis, at least the major cannabinoids need to be taken into account, but the complexity of the plant means that truly understanding its relationship to your body is likely to take more time and patience than microdosing psilocybin.
2. Dosing can be more challenging when microdosing cannabis
Measuring and comparing cannabis microdoses can be a bit more generalized than with psilocybin. I’ve been a psilocybin microdoser and educator for several years. I regularly discuss the pros and cons of using whole vs. powdered mushroom, making a tea, or why someone might choose to encapsulate their mushroom microdose. If I lived in Europe, I’d even be able to add the experience of the psilocybin truffle to the conversation.
Beyond these few variations, ingesting psilocybin is refreshingly simplistic. Measuring your psilocybin microdoses, as a result, is also pretty easy. Increasingly, there are even companies that will send you pre-packaged psilocybin microdoses in varying dose sizes. If you’re measuring out your own mushroom material, as long as you have an accurate scale, you’re only adding another couple of steps to your process.
On the other hand, the cannabis industry, even in a completely legal state or country, is not usually set up to make dosing of any kind particularly clear. Whole cannabis bud, at best, comes with a list of ratios and percentages of cannabinoids and terpenes. More processed products, such as tinctures or edibles, often give you milligram totals for the entire package or for portion sizes that are often too large to be a microdose. The conscious user is then required to dust off some high school algebra to (hopefully) sort out how much of each cannabinoid might be present in the small fractions of cannabis ingested with each dose
Finally, it has to be taken into account that a microdose from a joint, vape, bong, pipe, tincture or sublingual is very likely to activate in the body differently – in both timing and intensity – than any edible or drink, which must processed by the stomach and liver before it’s activated in the body.
As a result, we generalize a bit, for simplicity (and sanity) sake. We can approach dosing for smoking and vaping with a “one puff equals one dose” rule. Similarly, with tinctures, one drop or a set number of drops can be considered one dose. Likewise, edibles can be divided into portions where each portion may include, at most, 1-5mg of a targeted cannabinoid.
The goal of microdosing is to achieve a therapeutic dose without entering into the altered state. When microdosing cannabis, rather than “getting high,” we’re looking for what’s referred to as minimum effective dose (MED). Having the patience and taking the time to calibrate through different doses of cannabinoids and terpenes, then thoroughly tracking how you feel at each dose, is critical.
If you’re a seasoned psilocybin microdoser, you likely already have a bit of a feel for interacting with and inner-witnessing through such tiny doses. If you’re a longtime cannabis macrodoser interested in re-imaginging your relationship to cannabis, know that you may first need to begin with a solid 48 hour (or a little longer) tolerance break to clear and re-set your Endocannabinoid receptors.
Less is more
But even – perhaps, especially – if you are completely new to the microdoisng cannabis or psilocybin world, know that a gentle and slow approach is almost always going to be the safest and healthiest way to approach these sacred and ancient medicines. Even though psilocybin and cannabis rank as two of the safest and most medicinal of the incredibly potent medicines in the psychedelic field, taking in too much too soon for your body can lead to some difficult and painful outcomes.
I prefer instead to bring reverence and honor to these wise allies. As we honor and revere them, so do we honor and revere ourselves – which some would say is the whole point of microdosing to begin with.