Microdosing Marijuana May Have Benefits—But Not For Everybody

By Britni de la Cretaz 05/10/17

A new study examined the impact that microdosing marijuana has on the brain.

Man holding a small marijuana joint in his hand.

New research seems to indicate that small amounts of THC could actually be good for you—but it’s not that simple, of course.

Results of a study conducted on mice show that microdosing weed may actually reverse brain aging in middle-aged and older adults. However, the opposite effect was true for the younger mice, supporting research that found that smoking marijuana has a negative effect on memory, learning, and attention in teens.

Microdosing involves taking very small amounts of a drug. Musician Father John Misty has discussed microdosing with LSD to treat his anxiety and depression; one study showed that microdosing with psychedelics could improve emotional clarity and focus. With marijuana, microdosing levels are about 3 mg of THC per day, Dr. Allan Frankel told Rolling Stone, which he considers to be “the correct dose.”

He said, “In all medicine, with all drugs, you look for the minimum effective dose. Period."

Edibles and oils are often the most common way that people microdose, and the effect is very different than when smoking the drug.

This new study, published in the journal Nature Medicine, researchers gave three age groups of mice—two-month-old, 12-month-old, and 18-month-old—a microdose of cannabis too small for them to get high. They received these doses for a month before testing them on different aptitudes like completing a maze or recognizing other mice. What they found was that middle-aged and older mice that received the marijuana performed just as well on tests as the younger mice in the control group.

“We repeated these experiments many times,” team leader Andreas Zimmer at the University of Bonn, Germany, told New Scientist. “It’s a very robust and profound effect.” Young mice that received the cannabis saw their scores decline.

Continued study showed “a quite striking finding,” Zimmer said: THC increased the number of connections between brain cells in the hippocampus. The hippocampus is involved in memory formation. The next step, according to researchers, is to conduct human trials to see if the results translate from mice to people. But, Zimmer notes, “There is no formula to translate mouse months into human years.”

Regardless of what the science ends up saying, researchers say it’s unlikely that people will see products to assist in microdosing weed widely available anytime soon; legal hurdles still abound, as does stigma.

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Britni de la Cretaz is a freelance writer, baseball enthusiast, and recovered alcoholic living in Boston. Follow her on Twitter at @britnidlc.