Cannabis is a highly unique substance that affects users differently depending on the plant's growing conditions, genetics, the consumption method, and the physiology of the individual consuming it.
A dose is a measured amount of a medicine or drug intended to be taken at one time. Finding the best dose and consumption method is a very personal process and should be carefully considered. However, there are general guidelines that can help you safely consume cannabis and determine the best fit for your body and lifestyle.
The maxim "start low, go slow" decks the walls of many cannabis dispensaries, and for good reason. A 2012 study published in the “Journal of Pain” showed that patients with advanced cancer experienced pain relief without side effects using lower doses of cannabis spray rather than higher doses.
Another study in the same journal found that low doses of vaporized cannabis were as effective in relieving treatment-resistant nerve pain as larger doses. Furthermore, the researchers concluded smaller doses were unlikely to have a significant impact on daily functioning.
It's safe to assume, therefore, there's an upper limit to how effective cannabis can be, where more weed doesn't equate to a stronger medical effect. However, it is possible to experience an overwhelming amount of anxiety or paranoia induced by a cannabis overdose.
Everyone's endocannabinoid system (ECS) is different, and factors such as weight, gender, consumption regularity, and metabolism play a role in how marijuana affects each person. The process of finding your perfect dose is a journey that may require lots of trial and error to find the ideal amount and consumption method.
To mitigate cannabis-induced anxiety, err on the side of consuming less. Wait to see how you feel, and take more after an appropriate amount of time has passed, if needed. If you're a novice consumer, perhaps start with a smaller-dosed edible or one-to-two puffs of a pre-roll. As you gain confidence, it'll become easier to gauge the best amount for an enjoyable experience.
Weighing the risks
Like any medicine or recreational activity, cannabis consumption poses a certain amount of risk.
Cannabis is an agricultural commodity, which means the final product is influenced by the environment in which its grown, genetics, nutrients, and grower techniques used during its flowering cycle. After harvest, the curing process further affects flower's potency, and in the case of edibles and concentrates, the extraction process also determines the strength and overall effects of the final product.
It's essential to purchase lab-tested cannabis products where possible, to have an accurate understanding of a product's potency, cannabinoid, and terpene profile, and whether the product contains any metals, pests, or pesticides. In most legal markets, state regulations mandate lab testing to protect the consumer, but lab testing has yet to be standardized. But due diligence matters so be sure to check the product label when making consumption decisions.
That said, it is near impossible to overdose on cannabis. While you can consume so much that you'll experience unwanted paranoia, anxiety, or otherwise feel overwhelmed, marijuana is non-toxic, and there are no recorded deaths caused directly by cannabis consumption.
Different risks for different consumption methods and product types
Consumption risks vary based on the type of cannabis product in question. Below you'll find the various ways to use cannabis and the potential risks associated with each..
Smoking cannabis in a pipe, bong, or joint is one of the most common methods of ingestion. It provides a quick onset of effects, usually within seconds of inhalation, and lasts anywhere from one to three hours after peaking at about 30 minutes.
Marijuana flower varieties, or strains, can vary in potency and cannabinoid content even if they carry the same name. Cannabis compounds can change based on where and how it's grown and even how it's processed. So, once you find something you like, make sure you get that strain from the same cultivator or brand to recreate the experience you enjoyed.
The combustion of cannabis generates carcinogenic compounds that travel via the smoke into the lungs. Avoid taking deep breaths, as 95% of the THC in cannabis smoke is absorbed within the first few seconds after a hit, and prolonged breath-holding can damage your lungs, making you feel short of breath. Those with compromised immune systems or lung issues may want to consider other consumption methods.
The body processes edibles differently than other forms of cannabis. After being digested in the stomach, THC is processed by the liver into 11-hydroxy-THC, a molecule more potent than THC with a longer-half life and more sedating properties. Edibles typically kick in between 45 and 60 minutes after ingestion and last up to three hours, depending on the dose size.
An edible's packaging will state its potency in milligrams of cannabinoids per product. For example, a chocolate bar may have 50 mg of THC total. Therefore, the bar can be divided into ten pieces of five milligrams each to reach the desired dose.
With edibles it's smarter to start with a small dose. One to 5 milligrams is a good starting point for beginning consumers. Wait 24 hours to evaluate the dose's effects, and slowly increase the dose by 2.5 to 5 milligrams every 24 hours until you reach the desired experience.
Vaporizers heat cannabis flower or concentrates to the point of vaporization then users inhale the vaporized trichomes and terpenes. Cannabis' vaporization point is at a lower temperature than combustion so the vapor contains fewer carcinogens and is less harmful to the lungs.
Some users find that vaping cannabis delivers a milder experience than other forms of consumption, which may be valuable for novice users. If you vape concentrate, be sure to source your cartridges or pens from reputable companies, as there is a risk of contamination from solvents and low-quality materials or fillers depending on the product's origin. Also, take care when mixing cartridges and batteries, as some companies formulate their products to only work best with each other.
Concentrates are considered a more advanced method of consumption, due to the multi-step process involved and the heavy dose of fast-acting potency per dab. If you're sure you want the radically more potent high associated with consuming concentrates, start with a small amount and wait to see how it affects your system. Different factors affect the quality of concentrates, such as the type of cannabis plant materials and the processing technique used to make them.
To prevent carcinogens from entering your lungs, be careful not to overheat your dab. The high THC content of dabs will also quickly raise your tolerance, so other forms of ingestion won't be as effective without a period of abstinence.
Topicals are cannabis-infused lotions, oils, transdermal patches, and salves applied to the skin for localized pain or inflammation soothing. Topicals typically don't produce psychoactive effects, which makes them an excellent choice for new users or those with low tolerance to THC. However, some products may contain artificial fragrances or parabens, which could irritate sensitive skin or cause other skin issues.
Tinctures are alcohol-based, cannabis-infused liquids with a more rapid onset time than edibles; effects usually appear within 20 to 30 minutes. They're a discreet method of consumption and typically offer exact dosing with labeled droppers. Be careful to store these properly, as light and oxygen will degrade the tincture's potency.
What is cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome?
Cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome, or CHS disease, is a condition in which a consumer becomes nauseated after an extended period of cannabis use. Symptoms include vomiting, nausea, and abdominal pain. CHS disease is episodic, with symptoms lasting between 24 and 48 hours and not reappearing for several weeks.
CHS is a rare condition that occurs more often in daily, long-time users. As cannabis is known to keep nausea and vomiting at bay, those experiencing CHS symptoms may be tempted to use cannabis to mitigate their symptoms. However, the two ways to relieve CHS are to soothe symptoms with a hot shower or bath and cease cannabis use.
How to mitigate the feeling of being too high
When you consume cannabis, you run the risk of taking a dose that may leave you feeling overwhelmed, anxious, or generally too high for comfort. While it's nearly impossible to overdose on cannabis, it's never fun to feel trapped in psychoactivity. Here are a few ways to reduce a too-strong high.
In a 2011 review published by the “British Journal of Pharmacology,” researchers found that terpenes such as beta-caryophyllene, found in high amounts in peppercorn, might create a calming effect via the endocannabinoid system.
Some research shows that CBD may have a mitigating effect on THC's intoxicating properties. However, a team of Australian researchers found that the mitigating effects of CBD occurred only in higher doses, while lower doses of CBD taken with THC increased intoxication.
Much more research is needed to understand the complicated relationship between THC and CBD. Anecdotal reports seem to confirm that CBD can help alleviate cannabis-induced anxiety, but use this method with caution.
Stay hydrated and eat
No matter which consumption method you use, it's essential to drink plenty of water and fill up on food before and during your cannabis experience. When you get high, your mouth temporarily stops producing saliva for up to a day after smoking. Water helps you battle dry mouth resulting from smoking or vaping.
Eating ahead of time can mitigate the munchies associated with cannabis consumption. Chewing food and distracting yourself with the action and flavor of your snack can help calm down your anxiety, but be careful: mangoes and other food containing myrcene can enhance and prolong the effects of THC in your system.
Take some ibuprofen
A 2013 study showed that certain anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen, appear to counteract the intoxicating effects of cannabis and reduce adverse side effects such as anxiety and paranoia. This over-the-counter remedy will take about 20 to 30 minutes to kick in and should effectively mellow your high.
Terpenes are the essential oils that give cannabis and other plants their distinctive smell, flavor, and, in the case of cannabis, unique effects. They form a synergistic relationship with THC and CBD to create an entourage effect in the body. The terpene limonene, responsible for lemon's citrusy smell, has shown the ability to reduce anxiety. A 2012 study found that limonene has anxiety-reducing effects in mice and, therefore, it may help soothe cannabis-induced anxiety.
Relax and breathe
Sometimes all that's required to soothe an intense high is a comfortable, familiar environment and some meditative breathing. If you feel a panic attack incoming, try to relax and know that the feeling will pass in time. Close your eyes and take deep, intentional breaths. Take a shower, put on soothing music, do whatever calms you most.