How to Find Your Perfect CBD Dose (Because More Definitely Isn’t Always Better)

Photo: Stocksy/ Paff

As editor-in-chief and co-founder of Miss Grass, an elevated lifestyle shop and publication for women and cannabis, Anna Duckworth lives and breathes the plant (pun definitely intended). And now, she's sharing her knowledge with Well+Good—starting with one of the questions we get asked all. the. time: How much CBD is the *right* amount?

You’d be hard-pressed to swing a cat these days without knocking over at least a few vials of CBD. It's everywhere: From New York to Los Angeles, it’s in the cool coffee shops, on the cocktail menus of the see-and-be-scene watering holes, at the poshest spas, and at the checkouts of the bougiest grocery stores. Wellness gurus, healers, even the skeptics are extolling the virtues of CBD (which studies show can include relief from inflammation, sleep issues, types of anxiety, and epilepsy).

But with all the buzz around CBD—cannabidiol, the non-psychoactive compound found in the cannabis plant—there’s been surprisingly little discussion around dose. And, more specifically, what can happen when you get dose wrong—because you definitely can. Just like water, sunshine, or sex, CBD abides by the law of diminishing returns: More is not necessarily better.

A handful of animal studies have shown a bell-shaped dose-response curve with CBD. “What that means is that at a low dose, you don’t see the intended effect. At a moderate dose, you do see the intended effect. And at high doses, you go back to seeing no effect,” says Jeff Chen, MD, founder and director of the UCLA Cannabis Research Initiative.

Just like water, sunshine, or sex, CBD abides by the law of diminishing returns: More is not necessarily better.

Meanwhile, other clinical trials have shown that high doses of CBD—which for the average adult is considered 20 mg per kilogram of body weight (this is super high, but it is possible to take this much without realizing)—could be associated with unwanted side-effects including decreased appetite, diarrhea, vomiting, and fatigue.

“At the end of the day, the dose is going to come down to what condition you’re trying to treat, your method of ingestion, and what else is in the product,” says Dr. Chen.

Samantha Miller, President and Chief Scientist of Pure Analytics, a cannabis testing lab based in Northern California, agrees. “There’s so much variability between people, so it becomes important to have good observations of what works for you,” she says.  “Make sure you know what it is you’ve been taking that works and look for that when you’re researching new product.”

The fact is, we’ve only just begun to scratch the surface of human trials for CBD. Extensive research has so far only been conducted around rare forms of epilepsy in children and multiple sclerosis. So, as with most things we do with our bodies, it’s up to each of us to test, monitor, and modify until we find what works. When a yoga practice is too rigorous, we adjust our practice. When certain types of food cause bloating and discomfort, we change our diet. Integrating CBD into your self-care routine requires the same attention to detail. It is our job to listen to our body and determine what works best for our unique configurations and circumstances.

How do you do that? Keep reading for 7 tips for finding the right amount of CBD for your needs.

This CBD treatment method has been shown to reduce seizures
Photo: Stocksy/Milles Studio

1. Talk to your doctor

If you're considering introducing CBD to your routine, your first stop should be your doctor's office. Your doctor is the only one who can dispense medical advice (this article is intended for entertainment and educational purposes only!), and while CBD can be helpful with certain conditions, it could also interact with some medications. You should also schedule a follow-up visit any time you change your practices so you can get ahead of any potential unwanted outcomes.

2. Educate yourself

Not all CBD is equal: Extraction methods can vary and the presence of terpenes (oils found in cannabis—and other plants—that create its signature scent), flavonoids, and other compounds can create an entourage effect, meaning they'll work in conjunction with the CBD to enhance its effect. Regulations also vary from state to state and country to country. The moral of the story: Do the due diligence on products yourself before putting anything in your body, or find ethical brands and retailers (ahem, like Miss Grass) that can do some of that legwork for you.

3. Determine your desired effect

Take the time to understand what issue you’re trying to address with CBD. Are you using it to help with a specific condition like epilepsy or chronic pain? Or are you taking it to restore balance in the body? The fact is, CBD is not a silver bullet and optimizing for results means integrating it mindfully alongside all of your other self-care practices.

To get started, Miller recommends being very clear about your desired effect and working backward from there. If you know, for example, that you’re using CBD to help with sleep, you’ll want to find a dose and time of day that optimizes the benefits of CBD for your unique sleep patterns. And that really comes to down to some good old-fashioned trial and error.

4. Start with a low dose

For anyone trying CBD for the first time, it can be helpful to keep a journal. Track the brand, amount of CBD, purity (whether full-spectrum or isolate), the presence of other ingredients, time of day you take it, proximity to meals, and effect.

Remember: There’s no rush to find your perfect dose. Any time you try a new product, the instructions always recommend you test it first. In the case of new skin care or makeup, that means putting a dab of the product on your skin to see if you have an adverse reaction. Trying CBD is no different. Miller suggests starting with 10-20 mg and then increasing the dose by 10 mg increments until the desired effect is reached.

5. Take CBD with fats

The bioavailability of CBD is actually quite low when taken orally, unless taken with fats or foods. Certain CBD tinctures solve that problem for you, since many are made with coconut or MCT oil. (A favorite of mine is 2Rise Naturals CBD Oil Tincture, which is made with turmeric.)

6. Avoid CBD at bedtime, at least to start

As you’re figuring out what works best for you, don’t take CBD at night—even if you're hoping it'll help you catch some much-needed zzz's. “For some people, CBD has an alerting effect, like having had too much coffee," Miller says. "Anecdotally, 25 percent of people seem to have this effect. It can give them trouble sleeping if they take it too close to the end of the day. For others, CBD can be sedating or calming.”

So for starters, try the morning, or even midday, and if you don’t find it makes you feel like you just downed a coffee in a hurry, then begin to experiment with the evening.

7. Go crazy with topicals

When applying CBD topically, as with lotions, serums, and balms, dose becomes less of a concern. Side effects from applying too much CBD-infused lotion are relatively non-existent, so the limit really comes down to your appetite for spending money.

For a deep dive into how cannabis is taking over the beauty and wellness industry, join us at our next Well+Good TALK. And here's what you need to know about using cannabis for your sexual health (and enjoyment!)

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