Using cannabis mindfully might be more important now than ever before, Dr. Adie Rae breaks it down.

Our world is experiencing unchartered territory on many levels due to the coronavirus pandemic and its fallout.. And as a shock to no one, people are looking for a way to help them cope with stress and anxiety, or even just a method for taking the edge off; especially parents. 

Many of us are facing job loss, decreased or no income, keeping ourselves and our families healthy, and maybe even attempting homeschool for the first time. Furthermore, many people may be struggling with emerging mental health challenges right now and can meaningfully use cannabis to support their well-being. 

Some may think that cannabis can only work in large doses, which is simply not true. If we use it mindfully and in small doses, it can actually help us in many ways. Think about it … the effect of one glass of wine compared to the entire bottle, or one cup of coffee compared to the entire pot, one serving of dinner compared to seconds. There is a profound difference in the effect you get in these comparisons, and this can be the case with cannabis as well. 

Using cannabis mindfully through microdosing can be helpful for our wellness. 

To learn more about how to use cannabis mindfully, and whether it is important to do so, Leah Maurer, co-founder of spoke with Dr. Adie Rae for SWEET JANE on this very topic. 

Rae is, an NIH-funded neuroscientist who has been studying cannabis, opioids, and their interaction for her entire career. She is currently an assistant scientist at Legacy Research Institute in Oregon, holds a joint faculty appointment at Washington State University, is a co-founder of a platform called Smart Cannabis, and is a mother. 

We ask about her perspective on mindful consumption, well-being, parenting, and alcohol.

Dr. Adie Rae is a neuroscientist who studies cannabis, opioids, and their interactions.

SWEET JANE: Parents are likely feeling more anxiety than usual during this time with the concerns surrounding the coronavirus pandemic. Can using cannabis mindfully help relieve anxiety? 

Dr. Adie Rae: Mood disorders often go hand in hand. We often worry about future or past events, and this causes anxiety. What we know about cannabis for anxiety from research, is that cannabis can help with short term anxiety but can cause longer term depression. However, with most things cannabis, the research is very sparse. 

What we also know is that moderation is key, and wrapped up in that mindful, moderation component is lower doses of THC. We don’t want to hammer the brain with THC because we can overload our receptors. Microdosing is much better. There seems to be a misconception that you have to get as high as possible to relieve stress, that you must be intoxicated and max out CB1 receptors in your brain. But, what can be most helpful is a submaximal effect. Many people commonly refer to this submaximal effect as “microdosing,” and it can give people additional resources to cope and just turn down the volume on their stress. 

Microdosing is a useful way to be moderate and be mindful. There are lots of great reasons to use cannabis moderately. When you reach maximal, it’s like game over, but when using it submaximal you have the opportunity to leave your brain on the line and not go into autopilot mode. It can create a slightly shifted but still functional state and can be a great opportunity to slow things down, reflect and process rather than forgetting things all together. 

Can CBD-only products help with anxiety? 

It is possible. We do have sparse evidence, but studies show that moderate doses of CBD-only products help levels of stress and hormonal markers of stress go down. 

In one study, people were given 600 mg of oral CBD and then they were told to do public speaking. They were more relaxed and their brains were less stressed after being given the CBD. However, oral CBD is not great because only about 5-10% of it gets to your bloodstream. Inhaled CBD, on the other hand, is far more bioavailable, and offers more efficient delivery to your brain with 50% getting into your bloodstream. 

Flower is so much more affordable, and if you’re inhaling hemp flower you’re also not paying for the processes of manufacturing, packaging, et cetera. In my opinion, hemp flower in a vaporizer is the most cost effective way to use CBD. 

There are some concerns about people who have a grapefruit warning because CBD and grapefruit both work on liver enzymes. A CBD+THC combo is generally more effective unless a person is hyper sensitive to THC. 

One to 3% THC organically grown flower vaporized would be my recommendation if I could give one. This can be a powerful tool for anxiety management.

Do you have some tips for using cannabis mindfully as a parent? Or ways that cannabis can enhance activities that we already seek out for anxiety or stress relief? 

It is a perfect time to think about this. When you’re a mom and you get that scarce 30 minutes to yourself to run, paint, do yard work, or whatever helps you deal with the stress you’re experiencing, you can use this opportunity for self exploration with cannabis. 

This may be the best time to take advantage of trying cannabis to help with that intention of stress relief or taking a break or pause to process. It allows you to experience your talents or activities from another point of view and/or with a slight shift in perception. 

meditationWe are in a time where a lot of people are turning to meditation for the first time. This is an activity where cannabis has been used for a while already, and, if you find the right dose for you, you can have an experience that you usually can’t with this kind of intentional, mindful practice. You can also use it to promote sleep and other things we already know are healthy for us. If you enjoy taking walks or using walking as a means to pause or relieve stress, cannabis can increase your perception of the vibrancy of colors and nature in your neighborhood and enhance other senses as well. 

It is VERY important what the intention is behind the activity; what we are expecting from the effect is very important for how cannabis actually affects us. If a particular effect or experience is expected, people typically have it. This is what we refer to as the mindset. The mindset, regardless of if you’re running, mediating, or sleeping, is very important, so make sure you always check-in with yourself before consuming your cannabis. 

I am a parent and understand how [we] get to the end of our rope each day … you’ve given up on emails, homeschool, housework and are just feeling like, “I’m done.” This is a time when you can turn to cannabis to get a little relief. But, it’s important to go into this experience of cannabis consumption with intention. Using cannabis mindfully and intentionally almost makes a kind of self fulfilling prophecy.

“There are lots of great reasons to use cannabis moderately. When you reach maximal, it’s like game over, but when using it submaximal you have the opportunity to leave your brain on the line and not go into autopilot mode.” – Dr. Adie Rae

Tell me your thoughts on cannabis versus alcohol for stress relief during this time, or just in general. 

I am glad you asked because I think there is a genuine and real concern that people will come out of this pandemic and all the stay-at-home orders with alcohol abuse disorder. 

Alcohol feels profoundly good to turn off or get immediate stress relief, and is very effective as an emotional and cognitive anesthetic. But, you can almost compare alcohol to opioids in this way because it turns everything off, everything goes away. The issue is that those things you turned off don’t go away and are all still there when you sober up. 

Cannabis on the other hand does not turn off the pain, but helps us be a little less bothered by it. Even medical cannabis patients who use cannabis for pain relief often feel like they can cope better with the pain, not that pain is gone or eliminated altogether. The same could be said with mental health challenges. Alcohol is an effective way to turn things off but they don’t go away. Cannabis allows you to sit with worries and uncertainty with a little less bother and potentially deal with them in a healthier, more sound way. 

Alcohol use has shortened the life span of many Americans. It leads to thousands of deaths every year, even without car accidents, and is a contributor to metabolic disease and heart disease. There are lots of reasons not to use it chronically from a health and wellness perspective. Now, while we don’t have that evidence for cannabis yet, we do know that it lowers your Body Mass Index (BMI), that you have a lower chance of getting a Metabolic disease like diabetes) and that you have a lower chance of getting fatty liver (which usually develops into liver disease). 

Certainly there could be negative effects of long term cannabis use, but all long term studies of heavy users have not shown effects as severe as those from heavy alcohol consumers. A critical component to consider when using alcohol, cannabis, or any other substances, is that you need to take a tolerance break (literature says about 48 hours) regularly so you can use half as much and get the same effect. It will allow you to not only be more cost effective, but also give your body a chance to get back to its base line. This is very important for overall wellness and for being mindful during this time (and always). 

Potency and tolerance are most important when considering microdosing and being mindful with your cannabis use. We can take this time at home and/or in isolation from others as a time for returning back to our core as human beings. This is also a safe time for exploration and for learning new things about ourselves and how we can best navigate our lives. 


Photography from top: Sydney Sims via Unsplash, courtesy of Dr. Adie Rae, Madison Lavern via Unsplash

Leah Maurer is a mother of three, canna-journalist, and activist who lives in Portland, Oregon. She is a co-owner of The Weed Blog, a cannabis news and information publication, where she serves as the Editorial Lead. She helped found New Approach Oregon, Moms for YES on Measure 91, and the Portland Chapter of Women Grow.