Navigating the cannabis industry is challenging for newcomers, especially without a reliable source to turn to for help. When we talk about the cannabis industry, we include any products arising from cannabis including hemp and marijuana-based products. We will refer to cannabis that contains higher than 0.3% THC as marijuana. We'll help you understand the acronyms, math, and science behind your cannabis-derived products. Throughout, we'll also debunk some myths about cannabis that you may have been afraid to ask.
Myth #1: CBD is the Non-Psychoactive Component of Cannabis
Cannabidiol (CBD) and Delta-9-Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) are the two main constituents of cannabis. These molecules are the focus of scientific studies characterizing cannabis's therapeutic potential. THC is responsible for most of the psychoactive and impairing effects of marijuana. While high levels of THC might make you feel anxious or paranoid, when taken with CBD, some of these anxiety-inducing effects may be balanced out. A psychoactive substance is anything that can influence our mind and mood. If you need THC to manage your symptoms but it makes you anxious, CBD might help balance the THC-induced anxiety out.
Myth #2: THC is Bad, CBD is Good
Nothing in biology or biochemistry is ever a simple binary. THC alone shows potential for relieving pain in animal models and may reduce nightmares in PTSD. There is also plenty of evidence that these two molecules can work together. Some marijuana-derived products contain more than just THC and CBD. However, these other molecules aren’t as widely studied or understood. If you take a CBD/THC product with these other molecules, you might experience different effects than usual. CBD, THC, and a whole host of other marijuana-derived molecules use the same signaling pathways in our bodies. They can all bind to the same types of receptors but exert different effects depending on the concentration of different cannabinoid molecules. For example, a simple product consisting of THC will activate the cells exerting one effect. But if another molecule is also present, it will interact with your cells a little differently.
Myth #3: Knowing % Content Is Enough to Make an Informed Consumer Choice
Labels on our products are often confusing. Most of us don't like math and most of us aren't pharmacologists, biochemists, or pharmacists. What does it mean when something has the % content as opposed to mg?
Let's compare two identical products as we see below.
1g Recommended Dose, 10% CBD
1g Recommended Dose, 200mg CBD
Formula 1, Convert Percentage to Grams:
Dose (g) x CBD (%) / 100 = Grams of CBD
Example for Product A:
1g x 10%/100% = 0.1 g
0.1 g is 100 mg
Formula 2, Convert Grams to Percentage:
CBD (g) / Dose (g) x 100 = % CBD
Example for Product B:
200 mg is 0.2 g
0.2g / 1g x 100% = 20% CBD
Both product labels recommend that you take 1 g of the product as you're starting. One of the labels tells you that that 10% is CBD. The other label tells you that each dose contains 200 mg of CBD. The percentage tells us the proportion of CBD in each dose. Meanwhile, the mg or weight tells us the raw amount of CBD. To compare these two products, we can use the two formulas above to convert between percentage and grams. We can see that Product B contains more CBD than Product A.
You can see that the percentage can be a little misleading. It doesn't tell you exactly how many milligrams of CBD or THC that your body is absorbing. This can lead to a lot of trouble and false assumptions about the potency of your product. Best practices involve starting at a small dose of whatever you're taking. As you begin to understand how your body absorbs and processes it, you can up the dosage little by little.
Myth #4: Eating and Smoking Give You the Same High
When you use cannabis products, the THC is distributed and absorbed by your body. When you smoke or vape, the majority of the THC is absorbed in your lungs and then flows into your bloodstream. It does not pass through the digestive tract and it isn't broken down by the liver.
Edibles may take a little longer (30 to 90 minutes) to kick in and will give you a much stronger high. You might think that edibles are safer because they go through the digestive tract after all. However, when the THC enters your body, your saliva starts breaking it down. It is absorbed into the bloodstream as it heads through our intestines. Compared to inhaling cannabis, more of the delta-9-THC from edibles reaches the liver where it is metabolized into its much more potent cousin, 11-hydroxy-THC. So when you're wondering "how many CBD or cannabis gummies should I eat?", make sure you take into account that it can take over an hour to feel the effects!
With CBD, when you use a vaporizer, you experience the effects quicker. Edibles again kick in slower and last longer. CBD is also an oil-loving molecule and if inhaled, quickly binds to its receptors. Edibles provide a longer-lasting release. While edibles can be more discreet, it is more difficult to control dosage. Compared to a professional operation, it's easy to screw up a homemade cookie recipe with CBD-infused butter. If you aren’t careful weighing or measuring the CBD, you might accidentally put in too little or too much. I mean, who hasn’t accidentally used a tablespoon instead of a teaspoon in a recipe?
Topical absorption provides a nice middle-ground for CBD. The THC or CBD is readily absorbed by the skin and into your bloodstream. However, this process takes longer than smoking or vaping. The cannabinoids applied topically avoid liver metabolism. Delta-9-THC is not converted to 11-hydroxy-THC. The effects will be more local as the THC or CBD will bind to cells in the vicinity of its application.
Do not confuse topicals with transdermal patches, where the product is designed to bypass the skin and enter more easily into the bloodstream. These patches intend to affect sites away from the vicinity of its application. If you have THC in your transdermal patch, it may get you high.
Putting it All Together to Find Your Dose
Let's summarize the main things to look for when selecting a dose or a product. In addition to what we’ve already covered, you will need to consider your body size and metabolism. If you have a fast-acting metabolism or you are larger, you will likely need to select higher doses to experience the same effects as a smaller person.
How quickly do you want to feel the effects?
If you want a speedy high or quick relief, you could go the inhalational route. Often this is through vaporizers and smoking. Vaporizers do the same job as smoking but without many of the negative side effects on your lungs. Otherwise, you can choose either edibles or topicals for slower release.
How many milligrams of CBD or THC should I take per dose?
As we discussed, sometimes CBD and THC can work together for an added effect. A 1:1 CBD to THC ratio has the same amount of CBD and THC. Depending on your metabolism, a 5:1 or 1:1 ratio will likely give you a more pronounced psychoactive experience than a 50:1 or 20:1 ratio.
Make sure to convert percentages into milligram values to have a good idea of the total amount you’re actually consuming. Depending on the type of product you purchase, you will need different concentrations of CBD/THC for the same perceived effect. The table below tells you about how quickly you might feel the effects. Recall that 11-hydroxy-THC is more psychoactive at the same concentration than its cousin delta-9-THC and is created when you digest delta-9-THC after consuming edibles or using transdermal patches. You should take these factors into consideration when deciding on a dose. Also, note that these are approximations of each consumption method to give you a general idea of the differences between them. It’s possible that you will have a different experience based on your body.
How long until it kicks in?
Inhalation: 2-10 minutes
Under the Tongue (sublingual): 10-15 minutes
Topical: ~90 minutes to peak
Transdermal/Skin Patch:15 minutes, long-lasting
Edibles: 30 – 60 minutes to start feeling effects
Importantly, make sure to experiment to find the right product or dose for you. Even with the same amount of CBD or THC, two different products could have different effects. Start with a small dose and increase it as you are comfortable. If you are seeking specific medical advice, talk with your doctor. Also, always remember to purchase your products from a reputable brand with high-quality ingredients.