People come to cannabis for all sorts of reasons. Many treat their pain, insomnia, PTSD, or appetite loss with medical cannabis. Others choose weed over alcohol in social situations, while hiking or doing yoga, or when they need a mental reset. And a smaller, but increasing, number of people are starting to recognize cannabis as a tool to help with focus and concentration.
Of course, everyone has to focus to get things done on a regular basis: Papers. Work deadlines. Taxes. But for most cannabis users, the plant has long been associated with other things. Many people have had “in da couch” experiences where the most challenging thing they’re able to do is contemplate the merits of barbecue potato chips versus coffee ice cream. Many weed enthusiasts have also had plenty of experience with cerebral highs in which thoughts and ideas feel as abundant as rain in Seattle. Many say yes to cannabis for painting, design, photography, or crafts. Yes to cannabis for out-of-the-box thinking.
But cannabis for increasing focus and concentration? It’s not always an obvious fit.
While research in this area is still lacking, users and cannabis companies are starting to experiment with it. And some are finding — with the right product and the right dosage — that it works. Terry Binion, a cannabis concierge at March and Ash dispensary in San Diego, told Civilized that while concentration aids aren’t currently the most common request at the dispensary, he sees interest building. As customers become more educated about the wide range of effects cannabis can have, they’re growing sophisticated about seeking particular experiences. “There are more products out there geared toward people looking for focus and concentration,” he said, mentioning OLO’s sublingual product, Focus.
Andrew Mack, founder of OLO, told Civilized that the product features a proprietary blend of terpenes and cannabinoids with higher than usual amounts of CBD to moderate the THC. “When some of the distractive psychoactive elements associated with THC are removed, consumers can tap into a more productive workflow with reduced levels of anxiety, and an increase of creativity,” said Mack. The blend is meant to promote feelings of inspiration and centeredness, or what the company calls a, “happy edge to purposeful thinking.” LEVEL tablinguals with THCV also provide an uplifting, energetic experience that's good for concentration, said Binion.
For some, like Wayne Schwind, host of the Periodic Effects podcast and owner of Periodic Edibles in Oregon, a mild high can boost productivity. "If it’s late afternoon and I want to work two to three more hours and I’m feeling kind of slow, cannabis helps me," he told Civilized. He says he prefers flower for this purpose because it takes effect within a few minutes and doesn’t last as long as an edible. Schwind also finds it easier to calibrate his high with flower. As far as product goes, “I don’t look for specific strains,” he said. “They’re unreliable.” Instead, he scrutinizes lab results to find a flower’s cannabinoid and terpene profiles. “If you find the active compounds in that flower, it’ll tell you how it’s going to affect you," he added.
Pinene (piney-smelling, known to promote alertness), limonene (citrusy, known to elevate mood and energy), and terpinolene (also found in cardamom, thought to promote relaxation), are the three cannabis terpenes (aromatic compounds) Schwind seeks out for focus, though he’s also quick to add that moderating THC intake and balancing it out with CBD is key. When it comes to increasing mental performance, THC dosing is extremely important. “More is not better," he said.
Another of Schwind’s favorite combinations for enhancing focus and mental performance? Coffee and cannabis. A moderate amount of caffeine has known cognitive-enhancing properties.
Cannabis educator and consultant Emma Chasen agrees that pinene is one of the most beneficial terpenes for brain function because of its “abilities to clear the mind, improve memory and offset the negative side effects of THC.” For the best results with focus, she recommends to find a cannabis flower with a moderate concentration of THC (13 to 15 percent ideally) combined with a high concentration of pinene.
CBD and Supplements or Nootropics
Earl LeMond, owner and operator of Paradise Organics, a natural food and supplement store in Newburgh, Indiana (full disclosure: he is also the author's father), told Civilized that about 25 percent of his customers come in looking for focus-boosters or related cognitive support. He sells a number of supplements, some of which would be deemed nootropics that have been shown to support brain function. Many people can benefit from these kinds of supplements, including those with ADD/ADHD, older adults who want to prevent or reverse memory issues, and working adults suffering from stress and fatigue.
LeMond also sells a high volume of third-party lab tested CBD products. Because CBD works so well for sleep, anxiety relief, and reducing tremors and seizures, we know that it works on the brain’s neurotransmitters. He recommends supplementing with high quality CBD and fish oil with an omega-3 called DHA for a low-risk route to boosting brain function.
For a natural approach to stress relief — which can lead to better concentration — LeMond recommends combining CBD with L-Theanine, an amino acid known to relax the mind without inducing drowsiness. An herbal supplement called Relora could also be combined with CBD, says LeMond, to control the stress hormone cortisol. Or, if anxiety and racing thoughts are what’s impeding your concentration, a passionflower supplement with CBD could do the trick.
Of course, everyone is different. Terry Binion from March and Ash stressed that, no matter what you’re using, or what you’re looking for, proper dose is vital to a good experience. He recommends talking to your budtenders and seeking out resources for cannabis education. In other words, do your research.
Once you know what kind of experience you seek, and what might help you get there, take it slow. A new-to-you product — even with the same number of milligrams you’re used to — may affect you differently. If dosing with edibles or sublinguals, remember that they last a lot longer than vaping or smoking, so if you find you’re unable to concentrate, you’ll have to wait it out or try modulating your high with CBD.
There are certain things we know about how weed affects individuals’ cannabinoid system, and plenty of things we don’t know. “It’s a lot of trial and error right now,” said Schwind. “A lot of experimentation. We’re just starting to learn the science that will allow us to predict the experience ahead of time.”