We Need More Low Dose Weed

Go high or go low.

The Broccoli Report 
Friday, January 8, 2020
Time to read: 4 minutes, 52 seconds. 974 words.

Low Dose Limbo: How we’re missing the mark with mellow edible highs.

The low-dose THC pitch, as it stands, sounds great in theory. Plenty of newcomers to dispensaries or former enthusiasts getting back on the weed wagon are interested in products that won’t get them too high. Microdosing substances is in vogue across the wellness industry, but there's a disconnect when it comes to THC. The problem is, products with a truly low dose are very hard to find in the adult-use market.

Dispensary shelves are packed with products touting high THC levels, and even so-called "low-dose" edibles—usually pegged at 5mg THC—don't really offer a low dose. Many consumers find these products too strong for a single sesh, regularly biting their 5mg gummies in half or cutting 10mg cookies in quarters.

So what, you might think. What's the big deal if people are biting gummies in half? The problem isn't the folks who are getting creative finding ways to microdose; it's the ones who aren't. While some consumers may persist and experiment, others may have one bad experience with a 5mg edible and give up (the 21st-century legalized twist on the classic bad brownie experience).

Five milligrams of THC seems to be a standard for multi-piece edible products like gummies or cake balls, a number shaped more by state legislation than an average starter dose of cannabinoids. Multi-piece products like those at first seemed to solve the problem of having to divvy up one brownie into smaller doses, allowing someone to eat one or two gummies instead of measuring a ¼ inch bite. But traditional demand for the biggest THC bang for your buck left manufacturers erring on the heavier side as a safer investment. By keeping the overall product at maximum THC content (about 50 to 100mg, depending on the state), companies could appeal to high-tolerance customers while breaking up those milligrams into multiple pieces satisfied needs for more moderate doses. It resulted in this arbitrary standard of 5mg that has little to do with a baseline for a low-dose high.

I have nothing against a 5mg edible—as a regular consumer of many cannabinoids, it’s like an anti-anxiety pill that I know won’t ever get me too high, but that’s just me and my tolerance level. What about consumers who prefer a dose of 1mg THC, for example? They’re being left out, and just try to chop a 5mg hard candy into five pieces.

Edible makers/dispensary buyers accustomed to the demand for high THC might be thinking to themselves, “If we build it, will they really buy it, though?” 

Short answer: yes, but there’s work to be done. 

Formula Reform

First, accept that if you intend to serve a low-dose audience, you can’t be afraid to go low. I’m talking 1-2mg of THC per serving, allowing consumers to build their own high and truly understand and own their personal dose. Look at the hemp CBD industry: consumers have had no problem jumping on the bandwagon for a product with sometimes imperceptible physical effects. It’s time for THC to take its place as a viable and useful microdose-able product. 

The product’s formulation and presentation are key. Dosing must be crystal-clear; clever, user-friendly packaging is essential here. Low-dose customers know what they don’t want—to get super high—and it’s on us to ensure that handling and dosing the product makes sense and is easy for consumers to ingest without resorting to scales and calculators.  

Rebranding THC

It’s time to take a big, huge hint from the wellness industry, grab a blank page, (and a great copywriter!) and get to rethinking how to talk about THC. Hemp CBD products have been defined in opposition to THC highs, which are framed in CBD-land as a firehose of heavy psychoactive effects. Opening minds to the more dynamic utility of THC starts with re-writing its current definition as “the opposite of CBD” and educating consumers of the fact that most negative experiences with THC have to do with the size of the dose, not the cannabinoid itself. Scientists are unearthing potentially meaningful effects that can come from small amounts [editor’s note: this link will download a PDF], and it makes sense that those seeking anti-anxiety, sleep-supporting, or pain-relieving effects may have more luck with a low dose of full-spectrum THC product than macrodosing hemp-derived CBD. THC needs a full-on makeover that better speaks to the ways different doses can fit into different parts of daily rituals.

Don’t Forget Your Buds

Many customers visiting a dispensary for the first time will end up buying whatever the dispensary employee recommends. They look to budtenders for suggestions based on their desired effects and the store’s menu. With personal experience being as accurate an assessment of potential effects as any other, most budtenders tend to stick to what they know and have tried before. Getting thoughtful samples and messaging through to these retail staff is key to ensure that context makes it to your potential customers. It’s no surprise that many brands consider budtender education and relationship management a key part of their sales teams’ responsibilities. It’s worth your budget to invest in these connections, especially during our pandemic times, where in-store brand demo’s are unlikely. This is an opportunity to get creative!

Customers’ heads are filled with confusing mg measurements, THC percentages, and those bad brownie experiences—it really comes down to the budtender to explain how a product creates the high a customer wants. 

The cannabis beverage market is home to many of the latest low-dose offerings to hit adult-use shelves. That trend is something we’ll be looking into more deeply in the coming weeks (including a roundup of beverage thoughts on next Monday’s dispatch), because offering a broader spectrum of doses is a significant part of normalizing this plant in our day-to-day lives. After all, what would bars be like without wine? Beer? There’s room and demand for a range of milligrams and percentages.

Wishing you a perfectly dosed weekend,
Lauren Yoshiko