Health

Why People Are 'Microdosing' Marijuana

Not all marijuana users consume it to get high.

One way that users can avoid the high and still reap the plant's medical benefits is to take small doses throughout the day — an alternate consumption style known as "microdosing."

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The psychedelic community has long endorsed microdosing LSD or psilocybin, the main ingredient in magic mushrooms, as a means of treating various psychological conditions and bolstering productivity. Research on microdosing marijuana is limited, but anecdotal evidence suggests that the process could be similarly effective.

Last month, German researchers published a study on marijuana microdosing in the journal Nature Medicine.

They gave mice in three age categories (young, middle-aged, and old) small doses of cannabis that wouldn't be enough to get them high over the course of a month and found that, for middle-aged and old mice, these microdoses improved their ability to navigate mazes and recognize other mice.

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In the control group that didn't receive any cannabis, the young mice did better on these cognitive tests than the middle-aged and older mice. But the middle-aged and older mice that were given microdoses did just as well as the young mice.

The study revealed a "profound, long-lasting improvement of cognitive performance resulting from a low dose of THC treatment in mature and old animals," the researchers wrote. The THC treatment "restored the learning and memory performance of mature and old animals." The researchers now plan to recruit humans for a clinical trial to see if the effects are replicable.

Dr. Dustin Sulak, a physician in Maine who has studied cannabis for the past decade, has developed a system for people interested in microdosing weed. He told Rolling Stone that the first step is to abstain from cannabis for two days.

"On day three, consume one milligram of THC and one milligram of [the non-psychoactive ingredient] CBD, preferably in a tincture or oil where they can be measured precisely," Sulak said. "Before consuming, ask yourself three questions, and answer on a scale of one to 10: How easy is it to breathe, how comfortable and calm does your body feel and how easy is it for you to smile authentically, to feel content and grateful?"

"You repeat this process over the next few days, increasing the dose by small increments," he said. "When you reach a point where you feel a difference after consuming, you've found your minimal effective dose" for microdosing.

Joshua Lee, founder of the advocacy group Veterans Alliance for Compassionate Access, told ATTN: that microdosing cannabis provided consistent relief of his stress and anxiety "without experiencing any noticeable psychoactive effects."

"I was able to experience a reduction in symptoms for my social anxiety, stress, and panic attacks through the use of 1:1 CBD-THC combination [an equal mix of marijuana's main psychoactive and non-psychoactive ingredients] tincture," Lee said. "It was an amazing experience — being able to walk hand-in-hand again with my wife for the first time in years without panicking about being constrained."

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As the legal marijuana industry has evolved, there's been a push for cannabis companies to create products designed for the microdosing community, which would eliminate the guesswork required to develop individual microdosing processes.

Kiva is one of the companies that have answered that call with their line of cannabis mints that contain just 2.5 milligrams of THC each. Kiva's marketing manager Christie Strong told Maxim that "there was a lack of potent, consistent, and delicious edibles on the market for discerning patients," and their mints allow patients to "find their minimum effective dose with incredible precision."

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That said, the lack of clinical research leaves some uncertainty about whether taking small doses of cannabis throughout the day actually improves memory in humans — or has any unique benefits that taking normal doses doesn't already produce.

Though plenty of patients enjoy having the best of both worlds with cannabis, experiencing the therapeutic benefits as well as the high, fewer users seek out cannabis specifically for the psychoactive effects alone. Only 37 percent of marijuana users consume it "to have fun," the rest do it to treat pain, improve sleep, and relax, according to a Yahoo/Marist survey released March 2017.

That lends credence to the idea that there's an unmet demand for low-THC products. But industry analysts expect that to change quickly as the market continues to grow and evolve.

“Plenty of consumers are happy to buy a 10mg cookie and eat it all or break it in half to share with a friend, but to attract new users who are wary of marijuana’s affect, those who have a low tolerance for the substance, or those who want to titrate their use more precisely, companies are offering lower dose products,” Julie Weed, a cannabis reporter who covers industry entrepreneurs, wrote in Forbes