Mood altering, pain altering, but not mind altering: microdosing with cannabis

microdosing with cannabis soft gels in hand

In the past few decades, cannabis has gone from something offered to your teen in a back alley after school, to something that your friend from yoga class raves about. And while the stigma around cannabis has changed, the plant is basically the same. Sure, growers are trying to top each other in the THC content showdown, but the plant is still a nature blessed mix of cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids, and is truly greater than the sum of its parts.

While all components of the plant can provide therapeutic benefits, one component, THC, is most responsible for the “high” feelings associated with cannabis use. Now look, I love that feeling. And while it takes less THC nowadays to achieve it than the Amanda of yore, the euphoria is definitely a desired part of the experience for me.

RELATED: Fast Five Q&A: Dr. Amanda Reiman

That being said, I use cannabis for many purposes, euphoria being just one of them. And while I enjoy that intoxication after work and while relaxing, I also use cannabis for medical purposes, to treat arthritis and back pain. Sometimes this pain hits at night, but sometimes it is moments before a work call. In these situations, I want something that is pain altering, but not mind altering, so I microdose cannabis.

You may be most familiar with the term “microdosing” as it relates to psychedelics. In this context, it means taking a dose of psilocybin or LSD that provides therapeutic effects without the more commonly known hallucinogenic effects of psychedelics. And while the research on microdosing psychedelics is mixed, the concept is that it is possible to get benefits from mind altering substances, without altering your mind. When using cannabis strictly for therapeutic benefit while avoiding the mind altering qualities, there are a few things to consider.

microdosing with cannabis tincture
A tincture containing CBDA and CBGA for therapeutic use.

Cannabinoid Ratio

THC is the chemical most responsible for the mind altering effects of cannabis. Less THC means less chance of feeling high. However, THC is effective at addressing pain and other medical symptoms, like appetite, so eliminating it all together may not provide the desired therapeutic effects.

As I mentioned, the cannabis plant has a symphony of components that work in harmony to provide relief, so choosing products with the whole plant inside is important. The cannabinoid ratio refers to the amount of cannabinoids present in the product in relation to each other. For example, if a tincture says it is 5:1 CBD to THC, this means that there is 5x the CBD vs. THC in that product. Or, for every mg of THC, there are 5 mgs of CBD.

Sometimes there are three or even four cannabinoids present. So you might see something like 20:5:5:1 CBD:CBG:CBN:THC.  It can be tough to find raw flower with a varied and balanced cannabinoid ratio, so unless you are taking one very small hit from a pipe, there are other methods of ingestion that might be a better fit for microdosing.

RELATED: Was cannabis designed to get you high? Maybe not

Method of Ingestion

While smoking flower is still the preferred method for most consumers, other products like tinctures and edibles allow consumers to choose a more balanced effect due to their ability to produce a variety of cannabinoid ratios. Tinctures are a particular favorite among those looking to microdose cannabis because not only do they come in a variety of carefully measured cannabinoid ratios, when taken under the tongue, the effects occur in about 10-15 minutes. This is very useful for someone like myself who is treating sudden breakthrough pain.

There are also edibles and beverages that come in low THC options, with just 1 or 2 mgs per dose, but you should read the label because, unless it says otherwise, these products can take 60-90 minutes to take effect. Also, they may be made with THC isolate or distillate, which is pure THC. While this can produce an effect, a full spectrum or whole plant product represents the entire symphony, not just one instrument.

Minimal Effective Dose 

Once you find a product you want to try, the next step is to determine your minimum effective dose or MED. The MED refers to the amount you take where you achieve the therapeutic effect without any unwanted effects. If your goal is to experience the mood, pain, sleep or appetite altering effects of cannabis without the mind altering ones, then you are looking for the dose that does precisely that. This can take some time to figure out, and there are apps like Tetragram that allow you to record your dose and outcomes so that you can dial in your MED.

microdosing with cannabis app
A screenshot of the Tetragram cannabis consumption journaling app.

Remember that different methods of consumption take different amounts of time to reveal the effects, so be sure you know the expected time of onset for your chosen method. Inhalation hits immediately, tinctures take about 10-15 minutes when taken under the tongue, and edibles and beverages (unless they indicate that they are fast acting) can take 60-90 minutes. For more on finding your MED, check out the content from Dr. Dustin Sulak on

Mindful Consumption

Finally, like all cannabis consumption, mindfulness plays a role in giving you the results that you want. It can take some time to figure out your MED and get the therapeutic benefits without the mind altering effects, but paying close attention to how you feel will pave the way for a good experience.

Before you consume, review your intention and dial into how you are feeling and how you would like to feel. Then, place awareness into the transition once you consume, and notice if you are getting the effect you want. Once you acknowledge that therapeutic effect, stop. This can be tricky because if 3 drops makes your pain lessen, then wouldn’t 6 drops make it even better? Not necessarily.

If you are trying to avoid the mind altering effects of cannabis, it can be a fine line between pain management and being too high for your next meeting. It is suggested that, until you find your MED, experiment in a time and place where accidental intoxication won’t interfere.

RELATED: What is “quality cannabis”? Consider food

Final Thoughts

In recent history, cannabis use has always been associated with the desire to get high. And while the therapeutic use of cannabis has been a part of the story for thousands of years, we are now seeing the emergence of a whole population of people seeking the medical benefits of cannabis without the mind altering effects.

Knowing that you can use cannabis as a medicine without the high opens up options for folks looking to move away from other medications, who want to treat their conditions in a more natural way, or who just don’t enjoy the feeling of being high. Cannabis is here for all who need her, and she will not be offended if you don’t want her to alter your mind.

*This blog first appeared on Personal Plants and not was edited or altered by GreenState. The statements within do not necessarily reflect the opinions of GreenState, Hearst, or its subsidiaries. The author is solely responsible for the content.

amanda reiman

Dr. Reiman is a social worker who has been studying the relationships between people and psychoactive plants for 20+ years. Dubbed the “Dr. Ruth of cannabis”, Amanda’s superpower is taking complicated and stigmatized information and making it accessible to the masses. Quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Rolling Stone, Playboy and elsewhere, she is the trusted voice and conscience of the cannabis space. Her research focuses on the use of psychoactive plants in a harm reduction context and through her company, Personal Plants, she educates others around developing and maintaining healthy relationships with psychoactive plants. Amanda resides in Mendocino County, CA, in the famed Emerald Triangle and is a dedicated teacher, gardener, partner and dog and cat mom.