There’s a great ongoing debate in California marijuana circles at the moment—the same ancient question, persistent and pervasive, that’s hovered over legalization since the beginning: How much is too much?
How strong do we allow marijuana edibles to be, before everybody loses their minds?
If you listen to the cannabis industry, edibles packed with 500 milligrams of THC and above are not unreasonable and ought to be a basic sundry good in every dispensary (albeit affixed with warning labels advising the unfamiliar to please, please go slow, and maybe take a few nibbles before swallowing the whole bar and having a well-documented freakout).
California regulators believe 100 milligrams per edible is plenty—and if profoundly sick people need to eat six cookies to achieve the pain relief they say they need, well, maybe they’re better off with a few drops of concentrated oil.
Neither side will want to listen to the academics.
According to a study published in a recent issue of the Journal of Alcohol and Drug Dependence, the optimum dose of cannabis, enough to allow the average person to relax, is a paltry 7.5 milligrams.
Just a little more—12.5 milligrams, to be precise—greatly increases the chance of experiencing stress and anxiety, the study declared, thereby defeating the purpose of using weed to take the edge off in the first place.
As Business Insider noted, researchers at the University of Chicago found 42 people, aged 18 to 40, who were familiar with cannabis but not daily users. Participants were given a dose of THC via a capsule—either a “low” dose of 7.5 milligrams of THC, a high dose of 12.5 milligrams or a placebo. Two and a half hours after the participants took their pill, they were asked to complete a series of tasks—a mock job interview, some basic arithmetic, some benign small talk and then a game of solitaire—and to gauge their stress levels during completion of said tasks.
According to the study, the more THC the participants took, the less chill and the more stressful—”threatening” and “challenging”—the tasks were. Those hit with the low dose reported the opposite effect—7.5 milligrams of THC “significantly reduced self-reported subjective distress,” the researchers found.
The problem for most marijuana users is that both the low and the high dose have much, much less THC than the average products sold in dispensaries.
As Business Insider noted, just a few puffs on the average joint would deliver more THC than the high dose—and the high dose is but 1.25 percent of a 1000-milligram Korova “black bar,” one of the strongest and most potent edibles on the market and 12.5 percent of the proposed 100-milligram maximum dose in California’s pending regulations.
By the market’s standards, “weak” edibles have 25 to 50 milligrams of THC and popping 2.5 milligram mints at work is cool—it’s “microdosing,” bro.
By the study’s strict standards, many consumers are consuming enough THC to medicate a small village.
And here’s where we discover the study’s limitations, and why it will be difficult for consumers to get too much value out of its findings. Study participants were dosed with THC capsules—meaning pure THC, no other cannabinoids, no terpenes.
As has been demonstrated time and again, cannabis’s net effect on the body and brain has everything to do with the other constituent cannabinoids present, as well as the strain’s terpene content.
So is a 13-milligram dose going to blow your doors off, where roughy half will help you wind down and tackle your day with relaxed aplomb? Maybe, if it’s pure THC; maybe not, if it isn’t and comes in a flower with substantial amounts of myrcene, a terpene with known sedative effects.
To their credit, the researchers won’t say. Instead, they’re calling for more research, perhaps with the products marijuana users actually use—which, conveniently, are next to impossible to obtain for research purposes.
“Studies like these—examining the effects of cannabis and its pharmacological constituents under controlled conditions—are extremely important, considering the widespread use of cannabis for both medical and non-medical purposes,” said lead researcher Emma Childs, in a press release advertising the study. “Unfortunately, significant regulatory obstacles make it extremely difficult to conduct this type of research.”
The other problem with applying the study’s conclusions broadly is that the body can very quickly build up a tolerance to cannabis.
A heroic dose that would floor an average civilian would barely cause a wook who dabs on the regular to blink twice. And as medical marijuana advocates say time and again, someone with intractable pain needs a big dose, and shouldn’t have to eat a whole package of pot cookies to get it.
So is 100 milligrams too little and is 500 milligrams too much? The answer, frustratingly for regulators and for the industry is—it all depends.
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