Whether you are exploring cannabis for the first time or are simply revisiting a familiar friend, you’ll want to ensure you have the best experience possible. That goes for cannabis enthusiasts who are seeking therapeutic effects as well as those who are after a pleasant, euphoric high. Fortunately, you can exact a great deal of control over your own adventure with attention to proper cannabis dosing.
Cannabis Dosing 101
There are various methods for cannabis dosing, including smoking and vaping, oral administration, and topical application. Each method has its own unique characteristics and dosing considerations.
Smoking and Vaping: Inhaling the smoke or vapor produced by heating cannabis flower or concentrates is a popular method. The effects are typically felt within minutes of inhalation.
Oral Administration: Cannabis can be consumed orally through edibles, capsules, or tinctures. The onset of effects can vary, ranging from 30 minutes to 3 hours. Sublingual methods, such as tinctures, can have a faster onset, taking around 15 minutes.
Topical Application: Applying cannabis-infused lotions, creams, or oils directly to the skin is another option. The effects are usually localized, and the onset can vary from several minutes to 30 minutes. However, new technology like transdermal nano-encapsulation allows cannabinoids to enter the bloodstream within about 20 minutes.
Each administration avenue has its own unique benefits and drawbacks, and the most appropriate method for you will depend on your individual needs and preferences. No matter which you choose, it is important to start with a low dose and gradually increase as needed, as the effects of cannabis can vary widely from person to person.
In general, a 5 mg. dose is often considered a beginner dose for many administration methods. However, though unlikely, this can have adverse effects for those new to cannabis. For this reason, you might consider trying 2-3 mg. for your first cannabis dosing experience, then increasing as you gauge its effects.
Defining a Standardized Cannabis Dosing Unit
You may wonder why we don’t simply recommend a standardized dosing unit. While a uniform dosing recommendation would be convenient, there are several factors that make the idea of a standardized dosing unit impractical. To determine the ideal dose of a cannabis product, you need to consider the associated cannabinoid and terpene profile, your tolerance, and the administration method involved.
Understanding Cannabinoids and Terpenes
The cannabis plant contains a wide range of compounds that each have their own unique impact on your cannabis session. The major compounds include both cannabinoids and terpenes. Cannabinoids are chemical compounds that interact with the body’s own cannabinoid system to exert physical and mental effects, while terpenes are aromatic plant oils responsible for the unique smells and flavors of each cannabis strain.
The most well-known cannabinoids are THC and CBD, found in varying concentrations in each cannabis strain. THC is the primary psychoactive compound that is responsible for the majority of the intoxicating effects of cannabis. CBD is a non-intoxicating compound that has been shown to have therapeutic benefits. However, there are also other cannabinoids present in cannabis, including CBG, CBN, CBC, THCV, and CBDA, which can also influence its effects.
In addition to cannabinoids, there are over 200 terpenes found in cannabis, each of which contributes to the unique scent and flavor emitted by a cannabis strain. In nature, terpenes exist to provide a plant with anti-pest, anti-predator, and even anti-bacterial protection. Terpenes have been shown to demonstrate therapeutic benefits for humans, such as the ability to address inflammation, alleviate stress, or improve sleep.
How Compounds Influence Cannabis Effects
The way all the compounds in cannabis work in synergy to help create cannabis’ psychoactive and therapeutic benefits is known as the “entourage effect.” The entourage effect describes how the various compounds interact with each other and the body’s own cannabinoid system to influence various functions and processes.
For this reason, understanding the specific cannabinoid and terpene profiles of a cannabis strain or product is important for predicting its effects. One useful metric to assess how a product will influence your cannabis experience is the THC:CBD ratio, which compares the relative amounts of THC and CBD. For example, a product with a high THC:CBD ratio is likely to have a more intoxicating effect, while a product with a lower THC:CBD ratio may offer a more balanced experience with similar therapeutic benefits.
It’s also important to consider the presence of other cannabinoids and terpenes, as they can also influence the overall effects of the product. Terpenes can modulate the way cannabinoids interact with your cannabinoid receptors and may even interact with the receptors themselves. Meanwhile, cannabinoids like CBD can exert their own influence on cannabinoid receptors and even affect the way the body experiences THC. As you can see, the variances in cannabinoid and terpene profiles make it difficult to develop a standard dosing unit.
Tolerance refers to the reduction of the effectiveness of a particular substance with repeated use, requiring an increase in dosage to achieve the same effect. Tolerance can occur with any psychoactive substance, including cannabis, and can develop for a variety of reasons. When it comes to cannabis, tolerance can develop due to changes in the brain’s cannabinoid receptors, which are the proteins THC binds to produce its effects. With repeated exposure to THC, the brain may reduce the number of cannabinoid receptors, leading to a decreased response to THC.
Tolerance of cannabis, and even the rate at which tolerance increases, can vary widely from person to person. Tolerance can even vary within an individual over time. It’s also worth noting that tolerance to some effects of cannabis, such as the psychoactive “high,” can develop more quickly than tolerance to other effects, such as pain relief. That’s one reason it’s so important to begin with a low dose of cannabis and gradually increase or consume more as needed. Gradual dosing can help minimize the risk of developing tolerance and can also help to ensure a more enjoyable and safe experience. It’s also a good idea to take breaks from using cannabis from time to time to reset your tolerance.
The way you administer your cannabis can also significantly impact the dose you receive—and modulate the effects you feel. For example, inhaling cannabis by smoking or vaping provides the quickest onset of effects, as THC and other cannabinoids are rapidly absorbed through the lungs into the bloodstream. However, the effects of inhaled cannabis tend to be short-lived, and the dose can be difficult to control.
By contrast, consuming cannabis orally by swallowing, whether through edible treats or capsules, allows for a slower onset of effects. Your dose must first be metabolized by the digestive system before it can enter the bloodstream. What this all means is that while administration methods like oral consumption can result in a longer lasting and more potent effect, it is also more difficult to gauge an effective dose due to the delayed onset.
So, Does a Standardized Unit of Cannabis Even Exist?
Unfortunately, no. Cannabis compounds occur in varying concentrations across strains and products, interact with one another and the brain/body in complex ways, and differ too widely among dosing methods for experts to even consider truly defining a standardized cannabis unit. The closest the industry has gotten is to create standardized devices like inhalers designed to deliver precise volumes of cannabis by the milligram. However, what is required to meet your cannabis needs and goals can only truly be determined by experience and experimentation.
More About Cannabis Administration Methods
When cannabis is inhaled, whether via vaporized cannabis extracts like dabs and vapes or dried, combusted flower, the effects can be felt almost immediately. This is because the active compounds in cannabis, such as THC and CBD, are rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream through the lungs. How quickly you will experience the effects of inhaled cannabis can depend on a few factors, including the strength of the strain, the amount consumed, and your tolerance and metabolism.
In general, the onset of effects from inhaled cannabis can be felt within seconds to a few minutes. However, it’s important to note that the effects of inhaled cannabis can vary widely and may not be the same for everyone. Most people feel relaxed and euphoric, while others who consume too much may feel more anxious. For this reason, it’s important to start with a small dose and go slow, as it can be difficult to gauge the onset time, strength, and unique effects of a new inhaled cannabis product. It’s also worth noting that the effects of inhaled cannabis can last anywhere from a few hours to a full day, depending on the individual and the amount consumed.
You can orally ingest cannabis in the form of edibles as well as capsules and tonics. Cannabis edibles have become increasingly popular in recent years because they are discreet, portable, delicious, and extremely diverse. Edibles are available as lozenges, other hard candies, chocolates, melts, gummies, baked goods, and even savory snacks and drinks. No matter the product, when cannabis is ingested, it must first pass through the digestive system before entering the bloodstream. This means that the onset of effects can take longer than when it is inhaled, sometimes up to two hours or more.
The timing of the onset of effects can vary greatly depending on several factors, including your metabolism, the amount of food in your stomach, the specific type of edible being consumed, and your tolerance level. The process is made even more complex as liver enzymes convert THC to 11-Hydroxy THC, a more psychoactive form of the cannabinoid. Additionally, the bioavailability of THC can vary depending on the method of administration, with some forms providing higher levels of THC to the bloodstream than others
Oral cannabis products can also be administered sublingually, which means they are taken under the tongue. Tinctures—typically alcohol-based liquids infused with cannabis concentrates—and meltaway products like cannabis strips and dissolvable lozenges can be placed under the tongue and left to dissolve and absorb into the skin. This method of administration allows the cannabis to enter the bloodstream via the delicate skin there, with its intricate network of blood vessels, rather than being processed through the digestive system.
Because the active compounds in cannabis enter the bloodstream more quickly, the onset of effects from sublingual administration is generally quicker than in traditional edibles. The effects of sublingual cannabis products like tinctures can be felt within 15-30 minutes, although this can vary depending on the individual and the dosage.
Cannabis topicals like lotions, salves, creams, gels, and a variety of other skincare products are a popular choice for those seeking the potential benefits of cannabis without the psychoactive effects. These products are applied directly to the skin and absorbed through the pores, allowing the active ingredients to interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system. The onset of the effects of these topical products cannabis topical lotions can vary, though they appear more quickly than those of cannabis edibles. Some users may feel the effects within minutes of application, while others may take up to an hour to experience the full effects. It is important to start with a small amount and gradually increase the dosage to determine the optimal amount for individual needs.
Cannabis transdermal lotions or patches are a popular alternative to smoking or ingesting cannabis products. These products are unique in that encapsulation technology enables them to be absorbed through the skin and into the bloodstream to provide whole-body effects. The onset time for transdermals can vary, but it is faster than orally ingested products—some users may feel the effects within minutes.