Do You Know How Much Cannabis You're Consuming?

If you’re a cannabis enthusiast, you probably already know your favorite ways to consume, as well as your personal sweet spot for THC intake. But how often can you put an actual number on the milligrams of THC that get you to your happy place? And how do you guide friends or family who are new to cannabis toward finding their perfect dose?

In two online groups for cannabis writers and enthusiasts, we asked 17 women aged 21+ about their habits. Here’s what they had to say:

Ten out of the 17 people said they consume cannabis more than once a day. Four said they consume daily, one said a few times a week, and two said weekly. Smoking was the most popular form of consumption (13 people), with edibles not far behind (12), then vaping (10), followed by oils (four), topicals (four), and dabbing (just two).  

As far as dosage goes, four people said they consume fewer than five milligrams of THC each time they use consume, three said between five and nine milligrams, another three said 10 milligrams, four said 10 to 30 milligrams, and three didn't know. Nobody said they ingest more than 30 milligrams of THC at once.

One respondent observed that, because she lives in Ecuador, where the selection of high-quality flower is limited, she tends to use a bong to heighten the effect of her product. That yields an experience closer to what she would get from smoking a bowl in the U.S. Another respondent said, “I wake and bake and consume (mostly strains high in CBD and low in THC) throughout the day.” The same respondent uses higher THC strains in the evening to help her wind down before bed.

While only three of our 17 online respondents said they didn't know how much THC they're consuming (the majority are pretty in-the-know when it comes to weed), we'd bet that legions of new cannabis users wouldn’t know how to answer that question, either.

Saxon Schoch, a cannabis concierge at March and Ash dispensary in San Diego, told us that he’s seeing more and more people from all walks of life trying cannabis now that it’s legal for adult use in California. He's observed that the average dispensary customer consumes about 50 to 250 milligrams of inhaled THC a day—which is fairly consistent with our survey results, given that 10 of 17 people reported using up to 30 milligrams of cannabis more than once a day. “We’re seeing more people consume daily, as it’s legal now,” said Schoch.

Of course, the amount someone consumes hinges on the reason they're consuming. If they have medical needs, it’s likely that they’re using daily. But people who use it just to unwind after work may not be consuming cannabis as frequently.

As to what they’re consuming, Schoch said that new folks are more likely to seek out vapes over any other kind of product because of how discreet and convenient they are. “Some people are still worried about the stigma of cannabis," he said. "It’s just so much easier to use a vape and not have to think about the smell.” Pre-filled, disposable vape pens are manufactured to give the user a precise amount of THC per pull. With a Dosist product, for instance, the pen vibrates and stops dispensing the distillate after a 2.25 milligram hit of THC delivered in three seconds. So long as you keep track of your hits, it’s easy to calculate your total intake.

But Schoch has seen flower sales rising in recent months and believes that the distillate vape trend may be on the wane. Dabbing is still considered a more niche way to consume and is most popular among those with plenty of experience with cannabis.

Edibles used to be notoriously difficult to dose because most people don't have the equipment to help them measure or test dosage in their home kitchens. With everything done by hand, there's been a healthy amount of guesswork thrown into the recipe.

Now, however, we have gadgets that enable home cooks to create precisely-dosed batches of oils and butters, and dispensaries are stocked with edibles containing, by law, 10 milligrams of THC per dose. As a result, edibles have morphed over the last handful of years from the most difficult to among the easiest, cannabis products to dose. These days, tinctures also present an efficiently dosed mode of consumption because labels clearly state the THC content per milliliter, or even per drop.

But why is 10 milligrams considered a standard dose of THC in an edible, when it takes significantly more THC via smoke or vapor to experience the same high? The answer has to do with how the body processes THC from inhalation versus ingestion. Delta-9 THC is what gets you high when you smoke, dab, or vape. But edibles are metabolized by the liver into 11-hydroxy-THC, which is, depending on whom you ask, five to nine times more potent than delta-9 THC. From what Schoch sees, five milligrams of an edible become roughly equivalent to 40 to 45 milligrams of smoked or vaped THC. “It’s essentially a new drug,” he said.

That’s one reason people tend to be (or should be!) more cautious about consuming another edible than they are about taking another hit. “Even if you smoke too much, it’ll only be 30 minutes to two hours that you’re uncomfortable,” said Schoch. “But with an edible it could be eight hours later and you’re still hitting the CBD pen trying to come down.”

As to the question of how much THC we’re consuming with non-edibles, there’s a bit of guesswork involved, said Schoch. One variable is the percentage of THC content in your flower, distillate, resin, or rosin. This figure should be indicated on the label if you're buying the product at a licensed dispensary. However, flower in particular degrades in THC content over time. The longer you own it, the less potent it will be. Another variable is the fact that roughly 50 to 60 percent of the THC is lost when smoking a joint, and slightly more dissipates when using a bowl. Vaping flower wastes less (roughly only 30 percent) and dabbing wastes the least — but exact numbers here can be challenging to quantify.

With all the variables in mind, we did some of the some for you:

If you’re smoking a joint with a 20% THC strain, that’s…

200 milligrams of THC per gram of cannabis

Minus roughly 60% (120 milligrams) of THC lost due to combustion

= 80 real milligrams of THC in a smoked gram

If your joint weighs .5 grams (though larger joints are definitely a thing), that yields about 40 milligrams of THC in your joint.

How many hits does it generally take for you to finish your joint? That will give you a good sense of how much THC is in each hit.

When smoking that same strain out of a bowl, expect just a little less THC per bowl — more in the 30 milligram range if you’re smoking solo.

When vaporizing the same dry flower strain in a device such as a PAX, you’ll lose less THC than with a joint or glass, but the total number of milligrams will depend on the size of your vaporizer chamber.

If you’re vaping a distillate from a cartridge, calculating the amount of THC per pull is tricky because everyone hits it differently. “I kill a cartridge in 25 hits,” said Schoch, “but it lasts a month for others.” If you start with a new, 1,000 milligram cartridge and ensure your pulls are consistent, you could theoretically keep track of the total number of pulls you get from a single cartridge to arrive at the number of milligrams of THC per pull. Just make sure you do the math first based on the THC content of the product. For instance, if you’re using a 75% THC distillate, you’d start with 750 mg of THC in your full cartridge.

And last, if you’re dabbing a 75% THC concentrate and you take a .1 gram hit (which is tiny in actual size), that’s 100 mg x .75% potency = 75 mg in the hit. Then, accounting for the 30% loss, you’d be inhaling 52.5 milligrams of THC in a hit. Dabs range in size, so you could easily be looking at a much larger dose of THC.

Keep in mind, too, that tolerance levels vary quite a bit, as does each person’s unique endocannabinoid system and the way he or she processes cannabis. So a small dose for me could be a big dose for you, or vice versa.

Confused? Don’t be. As you've probably heard, start low and go slow — that's the surest way to gain THC literacy when it comes to comprehending the workings of your own body vis-à-vis the cannabinoid. And even if you’re experienced, hold back a bit when you try a new strain, edible, or mode of consumption. As the saying goes, you can always add more but it’s hard to take away. And if you’re guiding a newbie, halve a standard edible dose to 5 milligrams for starters, or encourage the person to stick with two to three hits off a joint.

As to the upper limits of consumption, Schoch, an experienced cannabis user with a high tolerance, told us he smokes multiple grams of live resin and live rosin a day. "So that puts me in the 1,000 to 2,000 milligrams range," he said, noting that he rarely encounters anyone who smokes 3,000 milligrams a day. And while we’re pretty sure we could find someone, somewhere out there who consumes that much, we don’t recommend it!

Image courtesy of Goldleaf 

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