Defining a “serving” of cannabis

What’s the cannabis equivalent of a standard drink?

A “standard drink” is conventionally defined as the alcohol content of 12 ounces of 5%-alcohol beer or 5 ounces of 12%-alchol wine or an ounce and half (a shot) of 40%-alcohol (80-proof) whiskey: that is, about six-tenths of an ounce of absolute alcohol.

That helps consumers think about how much they’re putting away: a drinking binge is defined as four drinks for an average-sized woman or five for an average-sized man, which (depending on pacing) is enough to get someone above the .08 that constitutes legal intoxication.

Now imagine – just hypothetically, of course – that a state wanted to design a legal distribution system for cannabis. You’d want consumers to know the relative strengths of different cannabis products consumed in different ways (smoking, vaporizing, eating, drinking, sublingul, topical).

In particular, it would be helpful to define a “serving” of edible cannabis. For example, you might want to define a “serving” as containing the same bioavailable content of THC as a single puff of a joint of some sort of “standard cannabis.”

Or, since drinking is more common than cannabis use and since a legal system might well attract some cannabis-naive users, you might want to label cannabis products in terms of their alcohol-equivalent mood-altering power (necessarily inexactly, since the two altered states are dissimilar and since THC isn’t the sole active agent in cannabis).

That would have the additional advantage of hinting that cannabis use need not always be to the point of intoxication, any more than drinking need be.

So, a technical question: how many milligrams of THC, by lung, have the equivalent mood-altering power of a standard drink?

Please restrict comments to substantive contributions: if you want to rant about the immorality of legalization, or prohibition, or nudge strategies, there are other opportunities for all of that.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

46 thoughts on “Defining a “serving” of cannabis”

  1. It’s a tricky question. Of course, even a very small amount of cannabis has the ability to impair users’ conception of time, something that doesn’t really occur with alcohol. At the same time, the loss of inhibitions and risk-taking that we associate with alcohol consumption are not known side effects of marijuana intoxication. Maybe the way past this is to think of a simple task, for instance driving, and determine at what point most users driving is impaired. In general, though, I think this question points to the limits of the category “intoxicated.”

  2. This was an interesting article somewhat related to this question, I think. “Today’s marijuana is too strong, and that’s bad for new business.”

    1. Good article. One other factor that can be expected to continue to drive high potency is the current limit on the amount of cannabis that can be legally possessed (where possession is legal at all). I think this will work itself out in the long run, once legal cannabis is normalized, the sky doesn’t fall, and quantity restrictions are loosened or eliminated. Also, it should be noted that medical application of cannabis may be more effective in stronger doses, where recreational use need not be. Right now medical-purposed legal mj is all we’ve got, so that’s what the existing legal markets have responded to. Given the opportunity to legally serve the recreational market, I would expect potencies (as well as other factors) to follow demand.

  3. Canada’s Le Dain Commissioners spent a lot of time thinking about this question in the early seventies, but their findings were pretty mixed. Some pointed to the trouble with comparing marijuana and alcohol. If you would like I can try to find the specific study that they did (which included a road test, I believe).

  4. This problem has been solved by mature markets, no?

    The cafes in Amsterdam, which I know nothing about, I imagine have settled on an answer to this question, no? Obviously governments set markets, and that regulation influences the serving sizes…. But the “right” serving size tends to shake out over time, in the same way that every diner in America serves about the same number of french fries in one serving.


    1. The cafes in Amsterdam do not sell “individual servings” of marijuana, however. They sell by the gram, or with pre-rolled joints. Given the strength of some marijuana, a single joint can be enough to get 4 or 5 people pretty high … whereas a joint of some other cultivar might get a regular smoker only somewhat stoned.

      People have vastly different reactions to the same amount of marijuana, and marijuana itself encompasses a broad variety of potencies.

  5. It depends on whether you’re interested in educating consumers on how high they’ll get or if this is meant to establish a threshold for public intoxication or impaired driving. In the latter case, I suspect most states will adopt a zero tolerance policy assuming there is a way to test for THC that’s as easy/cheap/accurate as a breath-a-lyzer. Zero tolerance makes the most sense for drunk driving, but it’s resisted in the US mostly because of its affect on businesses dependent on alcohol sales. But if you’re starting a new industry from scratch it’s easier to begin with zero-tolerance legislation (note that by zero I don’t mean literally zero but a level that would not impair anyone). In terms of package labeling, I suspect there will be some listing of THC content and maybe a scaling factor depending on the delivery method. Even though impairment scales non-linearly with consumption this is also the case for alcohol.

  6. I have a hard time gauging, because I have a fairly robust tolerance level to alcohol, and none to pot. But trying to guesstimate/extrapolate/pull something out of my ass, I would say about 2-3 tokes of a joint, or one bong rip, of high-grade CA bud (the only pot I smoke, when I do smoke), gives a slight buzz, comparable to a single fairly stiff drink.

    @Zack, from the context of Mark’s post I’m quite certain he’s trying to establish an apples-to-apples comparison (to the extent it’s possible) and isn’t talking about DUI. And as far as DUI goes, I’m quite certain that if the stuff is to be allowable at all it won’t be zero tolerance. Note, too, that WA put in a specific DUI level of active THC.

  7. It’s just my two cents, but I’ve always felt that the effect from cannabis is best described by a line graph with a quick increase in intoxication that plateaus and stays generally level. With continuous consumption the line would barely increase. Where as continuously consuming alcohol is like a line graph with a steady continuous increase in intoxication, ending of course in blackout/death.

    The saying “you can have one drink and you’re not drunk, but one puff of a joint and you’re high” has some truth to it but it’s not an entirely accurate picture. The initial effects of one puff of a “regular size” joint generally affect one more quickly and intensely than one standard drink, however the intoxicating effects of continuous ingestion of cannabis are far more benign in duration and depth of intoxication than alcohol. In other words, you can get much drunker when drinking alcohol than you can get high when ingesting cannabis (smoking, eating, vaporizing,etc), and you generally aren’t impaired for as long when high as you are when drunk.

    I think that whatever metric that is used to decide one “serving” of cannabis should at least attempt to take the qualitative aspect of cannabis intoxication into consideration

  8. I’ve had a practice of making precisely dosed edibles for cannabis patients for a few years now. I started making very low doses i.e. 2 mg THC, I was told these were ineffectual, patients ‘felt nothing’. I raised the doses to 5mg, many people told me they felt something after taking multiple doses. After I started making 10 and 20mg doses, this seemed to please most people. I, myself am fairly cannabis naïve, I felt plenty at 5-10 mg. Those recovering from years of opiate pain management were more likely to prefer 40mg doses. Several heavy cannabis smokers preferred 40 mg doses.
    Myself, I feel it’s irresponsible to provide 40mg doses for general availability. I think 5, 10, and at maximum 20mg doses are responsible levels to offer the general public for regulated adult use.
    Also, I think it’s responsible and beneficial to provide ‘best practices for edibles’ literature at the Point Of Sale so people can get the best experience from their purchase.

    1. There’s definitely a place for large doses for patients with such specific needs or high tolerance. If you were recommending a starting dose for new or inexperienced users, though, I would definitely go for the 2 mg. dose, because that’s a safe level for almost everyone.

  9. WeedScientist – how would you define what a dose is between different cannabis products (hash, hash oil, dried buds, leaves, edibles, tinctures)? It seems remarkably different than alcohol, or is it?

  10. This blog post is strictly about edibles. Dosing one’s experience while smoking is much easier as a consumer since the effects come very quickly and also pass fairly quickly. The chances of an unpleasant ‘out of body’ experience is much more difficult to achieve while smoking, even if you do, it passes in a reasonable amount of time. Over dosing oneself using an edible is probably the most common ‘unpopular’ cannabis experience out there. Four main reasons for this–before testing labs there was no way to measure what was in an edible. secondly–the temperature for conversion from THCA (non-psychoactive) to THC happens at typical baking temperatures, Thirdly–edibles have additional appeal…one always WANTS to finish the brownie, or eat a whole piece of cheesecake..even if they know it is too highly dosed. and Fourth–the extended lag time between ingestion and sensing a ‘high’ AND the extended time period that it takes to fully metabolize that dose and feel ‘normal’ again.

    The one thing we can all draw comfort from is that even though one may be having a VERY unpleasant over-dosing experience from cannabis…it can’t kill you…it’s NOT killing your brain cells—and you can wait it out. Alcohol can’t claim ANY of those caveats.

    1. For users who are in a party setting or otherwise distracted, the delay between consumption and intoxication is a fairly big deal. The same is true, to a lesser extent, with alcohol.

      But, as a lot of other people have mentioned, the states really aren’t that comparable.

  11. Given that the two altered states are dissimilar, I don’t think the aims are coherent. This can be obviously appreciated if you replace alcohol and cannabis with LSD and an opiate.

    Having said that, one way to approach this is to characterize the range of intoxication (measured by an appropriately chosen test or suite of tests) from low dose to high dose for both drugs, then see where the alcohol defined 1-serving dose falls within its range, and then identify the equivalent point on the cannabis spectrum. Most likely, the test will be related to attention, short-term memory and probably basic motor control. Of course, first one would have to decide which compound or complex of compounds constitutes active cannabis. Most literature limits it to d9-THC and CBD.

  12. Sorry, didn’t bother to read that part about this being a question limited to edibles. Incidentally, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration has looked into quantifying THC impairment similar to alcohol and has come away with the opinion that ng/ml cannot be relied upon the same way BAC is with alcohol. That said, it should still be possible to allow consumers the ability to compare edibles with other edibles to gauge relative strength, even if that is not necessarily related to impairment levels. It seems to me (not being a scientist) that this would come down to a combination of potency based on THC content, bioavailability of THC (which is the fraction of THC in the edible that reaches the bloodstream), and the amount consumed (the “serving size” or “dose”). I think this would address Mark’s question: whether or not it is possible for consumers to know the relative strengths of different cannabis products consumed in different ways. Potency (% THC)/bioavailability (percent absorbed into the bloodstream)/total amount consumed (mg). If this approach worked, it might also be applicable to the other forms of consumables – tinctures, dried buds, etc. That or I’m totally wrong.

    1. I’m one who agrees with this rationale, but perhaps several other items might come into effect.

      Along with the User’s Weight, total mg of THC consumed, Potency and bioavailability (this may be difficult to measure) might be put into a simple formula. With testing on willing volunteers (this should NOT be difficult to obtain)who would perform standard sobriety tests before & after, a reasonable approximation (Read as ‘Preliminary Guess’) of the amount in a person’s system vs. level of intoxication should be derivable.

      Taking this formula and the results of the human testing to both WA & CO, a good number of tests could be obtained and a “talking-point percentage” posited. Once the ‘edibles’ are measured, similar testing with smokable & vaporised medicine could then be tested.

      Just my $.02 worth.

  13. Rather than try to derive something akin to the color of noise, suggest you look to health physics instead of alcohol. The problem of setting safety limits for exposures to various, little understood types of radiations, which had even less well understood body effects, and different exposure pathways, and different population susceptibilities, was very analogous to this problem of pot.

    Come up with a standard dose (mg thc in some method of administration) and then derive thumbrules for all the other methods of use, multipliers or fractions, depending.

    Then hire a programmer to build you a smartphone app that tests mental acuity, such as requiring speedy manipulation of numbers on a keypad in response to prompts. You administer the app to tens of thousands of people and it automatically uploads their scores. You run lots of trials with various doses until you have all your thumbrules worked out: in terms of impairment, X mg smoked = Y from a vapor inhaler = Z ingested in cookies. They won’t be exact, but they will get you the relationships you need.

  14. No answers here, but help yourself to some musings about how hard a question this is:

    Indicas and sativas have markedly different effects (perhaps as per your THC/cannabinoid remark?). Sativas can make the experienced user a bit sharper in small doses, though with compromised short-term memory. Indicas make one sensual and more prone to a ludicrous frame of mind. Take exercise: if I ingest an indica I am apt to think oh god I’m having a heart attack! whereas the same amount of sativa might make me soar through my workout. (Usually commercial growers breed for the bigger yield and quicker grow of indicas with as much sativa bump as is practical.)

    The inexperienced smoker should never drive, whereas the experienced smoker will guide her vehicle calmly and with focus. While too much leads to anxiety and paranoia, it’s hard to imagine an experienced smoker presenting the same risk as a drunk.

    None other than Carl Sagan pointed out somewhere that one can lose one’s high when warranted by the circumstances. If I’m cross or frustrated I can sort of get high, but not really. Perhaps I will simply get a headache. I don’t know if experience mitigates the reflex impairment of drinkers, but certainly when faced with a demanding task I quickly get to the point where I am unaware of being high.

    For my part I don’t drink because of a tendency to binge and signs of nascent alcoholism. Lack of moderation is a general personality flaw in me. And yet–and this is truly important–I have no desire to get high past a certain point. Drinkers are infamous for cataloging how much they drank last night. How often do you hear anyone brag about how many joints they smoked?

    Being high is a subjective experience which is affected by one’s circumstances. Drunkness has a brass tacks measurement, reflex impairment, in addition to the judgment impairment, which is harder to handle. To my knowledge there is no such bottom line with pot.

    Like the book says, “God made man straightforward, but he invents endless subtleties of his own.” This has been at least partially bollocks I imagine. I am not high incidentally.

  15. Annoyingly, a “standard drink” is anything but standardised internationally. The range is 4 to 1. A British standard drink has 10 ml of alcohol, a small glass of wine; an American one 16 ml of alcohol, a big glass. So take care when looking at websites advising on alcohol intake.

  16. One cannabis-infused maple nut caramel (half the manufacturer’s recommended dose) gives me the worst case of dry mouth I have ever had and renders me utterly legless for 8-12 hours, at a cost of about $1.65 plus tax. I would probably have to drink an entire bottle of wine, maybe two, to get a similar effect, and it would likely wear off more quickly. It’s so extreme that I’ve pretty much given up cannabis. Yesterday I tried eating 1/3 to 1/4 of a caramel, and that enhanced the flavor of my dinner and made me moderately sleepy at bedtime, but much less intoxicated. In fact, really not intoxicated enough. The dry mouth was still present, though much less.

  17. I agree with Mark on serving by puff:

    A “standard” potency is determined in the lab for Marijuana. 100 ppm THC per gram let’s say (completely pulled out of my ass, I have no clue what it really approximates). This standard is based on an average of random samples of all available pot.

    I would argue, for the sake of simplicity, that all consumption be based on weight of product used as it relates to a smoked and this standard potency. A gram of whamma blamma red contains 20 servings of smoked marijuana. A gram of Alabaman Slightly Mellower Than Harsh contains 12. If you use a gram of slightly mellower than harsh in a single brownie, that brownie contains 12 servings. If you distill it into a tiny bottle of sublingual extract, that oil contains 12 servings. The same oil made from the whamma blamma contains 20 servings.

    That’s the thing, if we keep it to a “simple” standard, people will understand by the SIZE of the thing they’ll consume, similar to alcohol potency. If someone looks at a pot brownie labeled “30 servings”, they’ll understand that it’s powerful compared to the 10 serving brownie. If you drink a bottle of 80 proof tequila, you realize that you’re getting more alcohol than the same size bottle of 20 proof wine.

  18. Not sure how much this will help, but there is one article with open access which mentions very approximate dose levels where a low dose is designated as “ 7mg (roughly corresponding to half a cigarette), the ’medium’ dose lay between 7 and 18 mg (approximately corresponding to one to one-and-a-half cigarette), and the ’higher’ doses were all dosages 18 mg (comparable with one-and-a-half cigarettes or more).” A “cigarette weight of 700 mg was assumed since most cigarettes weigh 500–900 mg. In other articles the number of puffs taken was documented. In these instances the dose was calculated as eight puffs corresponding to one marijuana cigarette.”

    Other routes of administration are discussed in the same article. When marijuana is smoked, it is likely that less than 25% is absorbed, they report, since most is lost to heat and exhalation of the THC.
    Some consumers of marijuana use vaporization rather than smoking. This route of administration is reportedly becoming more popular.

    Very rough approximations, but maybe a starting point for consideration of the variables involved in this complex issue.

    1. Damn copy and paste! The little square in front of the 7 mg is supposed to be a “greater than” sign.

      1. I fight WordPress by using braces {} instead of the angle brackets it will stupidly always try to interpret.

        1. HTML Entities works best. > == > == greater-than symbol.

          ‘course, cut & paste doesn’t work that way — you still need to manually edit any html characters in the copied text.

  19. Very roughly – two tokes is like half a drink (a little buzz and then get on with your day). A full joint is like a couple of drinks (want to listen to music and relax a while). It’s not really possible to go any higher than this as the amount of “stonedness” levels off at about this point while the amount of drunkenness gets more and more until you quickly reach “falling down drunk” and death.

    Marijuana doesn’t cause death no matter how much you ingest so there’s no comparison at all at the upper levels of consumption.

  20. I am curious about how law I forcemeat is going to deal with this. As I understand, perhaps wrongly, TCH is detectable in your system long after you have consumed, maybe ten to fourteen days. How can a blood test reveal the level of pot intoxication?

  21. Effects vary widely by tolerance. An everyday smoker might be sub-buzzed by a pipe hit of 20%thc cannabis. A neophyte might be buzzed. A guidepost may be Marinol pill dosages: 2.5 mg, 5 mg and 10 mg.

  22. It’s so difficult to do this because every person is different and, more importantly, every cannabis plant is different. There are some sixty cannabinoids that all have varying effects and are in fingerprint unique amounts not only from variety (or “strain”) to variety but even from plant to plant of that same variety. We only know a good bit about THC and CBD — with cannabinoids like CBN being off in the distance (and nearly all others after that being relatively unknown). So the slightest variance of cannabinoids can cause one to be loopy, alert, focused, incapable of focus, energized, sedated, happy, sad, positive, self-critical, and so on.

    After being completely opposed to all forms of intoxicants, I changed my tune about 18 months ago when I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. My pothead friends said cannabis would help but I didn’t believe for months until my treatment at that time began to loose its effectiveness. I now use cannabis as my main source of medication to treat not only my nausea, stomach pain, lack of appetite (I nearly wasted away last year over 6 weeks from a fit 185lbs to a frail 144lbs), and insomnia, but, to my greatest surprise, my incessant intestinal bleeding. At the moment, CBD rich cannabis is the only thing keeping me away from chemotherapy — a more rare form of treatment for unresponsive Crohn’s disease. I went from draining blood 10-30 times a day to now having seen about 4 blots of blood over the last 6 weeks.

    I use a half of a gram of cannabis twice a day. Need more but can’t afford it. 30 days is comprised of about 30 grams of cannabis. I try to have as much CBD rich cannabis as possible but it usually comes out to 10 grams of CBD rich cannabis and 20 grams of indica dominant cannabis. I crockpot the cannabis in coconut oil for about 8 hours and strain out the leaf material — then bake it into something edible. All in all, it comes out to about a half gram dose — which I take when I wake up and when I go to bed. I would prefer to double the amount (a gram at a time) of entirely CBD rich cannabis but simply can’t afford to do so.

    So that’s how I use it. Feel free to email me if you have any questions 🙂


    p.s. I am a chronic user due to my chronic disease. Your body acclimates easily to heavier doses — so long as they are regularly given. I can smoke multiple joints a day with very little high effect. The baked meds I make for myself have almost no effect on me other than taking away my daily nausea — but others would likely be sedated for 48+ hours if they weren’t regular users. So, again, it’s just insanely subjective.

    1. “It’s so difficult to do this because every person is different … I use a half of a gram of cannabis twice a day. .. I can smoke multiple joints a day with very little high effect.”

      To give an idea of how much these things vary, I smoke probably on average a couple times a week to a point of medium intoxication (whatever that means) and a gram of high potency pot will last me a couple months at least.

      1. My (recreational) serving size is similar to Nick’s. One or two puffs from a vaporizer or pipe is plenty for me, and if I partake 4 days/week I use less than a gram/month.

        @ Allen K: thanks for the link to the Slate article above. Availability of lower potency strains with nice aroma and flavor would be very welcome. The medical grade cannabis in northern CA is stronger than I would prefer.

  23. I have no idea, but from these comments, it seems like a great deal of well designed studies are in order, and don’t forget sex differences.

    Maybe I’m not supposed to do this on this post, but why not just ban all driving while high? Don’t do some version of the .08 BAC. It will just confuse and ensnare people.

    1. Everyone agrees on a ban on driving while high. The question is how to define, and measure, “high.” THC is fat-soluble, and is absorbed during smoking and released for days thereafter, long after any measurable impairment is gone. So a zero-tolerance law based on THC in blood would criminalize lots of utterly innocent behavior.

  24. I saw Mr. Kleiman last night on the Washington State public access channel doing an interview with Austin Jenkins. He didn’t smirk or make any pot jokes when I was watching!

    But I heard you mention 0.25 g per week as low usage. I would say that corresponds to 7-10 inhalations. The product I come across most these days is one-hit MJ from BC (the so-called BC bud that Jenkins mentioned). So I estimate that smoking 50 mg of dry bud is sufficient to alter one’s mood. But I don’t equate the effects of MJ and alcohol. They are very different to me.

  25. This is a bit tangential to your question, and maybe you’ve thought about this already, but one of the trickiest aspects of this is the fact that two people are going to inhale smoke differently. One of main difference between alcohol and marijuana consumption is that it’s easy to measure the amount of alcohol that is consumed. There is virtually no alcohol lost in the consumption process, where as smoke dissipates. People inhale differently. Smoke can have different concentrations from the same smoking implement depending on who is using it. So even if you can come up with a certain measurement like your seeking above, you run into the problem where people’s consumption practices will introduce some (probably large) variances in the amount of active ingredients absorbed. One can puff lightly on a joint, barely inhaling at all, or one can do the big “1970’s hit” as Louis CK describes it. One can take a very dense concentrated drag from a joint, but hold much of it in their mouth without deeply inhaling all of it. And I imagine there could be other complicating factors…like the method of smoking. I recall seeing a study years ago that tried to compare various smoking methods that came to the seemingly obvious conclusion that joints were the most efficient.

    And then there’s old adage for first time smokers, “you gotta cough if you wanna get off”. My own experience, it took 6-7 attempts to actually gt high, because I didn’t know how to smoke it at the time.

  26. One way to measure the amount of cannabis “comparable” to a given dose of etoh would be to use one or more of the standard tests for cognitive performance. The assumption would be that a comparable dose would be one that would cause a comparable impairment in cognition. There are other metrics you could look at, but impaired cognition is part of the definition of intoxication and it’s to test for.

    Get a bunch of subjects and give them these tests after taking different dosages. You’ll get some widely variable numbers, but you’ll be able to get some kind of average.

    Maybe the raw data already exists somewhere.

    1. I want to add that it’s unlikely that the relation between doses is probably not linear: if we determine that X mg of THC is equivalent to a standard drink, then we can’t conclude that 2X mg of THC is equivalent to two standard drinks.

  27. I think the question just doesn’t formulate well, even acknowledging the differences between alcohol and cannabis. In fact, one of the predominate differences between the two is the alcohol user’s tendency to continue imbibing past the point of comfort and commonsense. While there are certainly different levels of intoxication possible with the wide variation in cannabis strains, the most extreme of which may match the lower end effects of alcohol impairment. Even taking that into account, in general, marijuana users tend to know when to say when.

    I do see the concern to provide guidance when cannabis is eaten, as with this method it is possible to ingest more than one anticipates, unlike with the near instantaneous feedback provided by smoking/vaporization. I doubt this needs to be quantified, rather a general guide to strength, such as “mild,” “stoned” or “ripped,” should suffice. Yes, not an absolute guide, but one that’s sufficient to meet the goal, i.e. providing a guide to anticipated strength to the user.

    Back to smoking, for all intents and purposes, it self-titrates, so the need for dose guidance is minimal for the experienced smoker. As some have noted already, the sad thing about medical marijuana is that the need for relief takes precedence over recreational use. Daily use at typical medicinal levels usually leaves one unable to fully appreciate the finer qualities of the herb. You’re not immune, but the high part just isn’t so much anymore — more’s the pity. Undoubtedly, testing would reveal a high level of THC, but this would not track well at all with a naive user’s typical experience.

    My own experience suggests why this is so. I have a spinal condition that specifically qualifies under proposed Illinois law. Currently unable to use cannabis (details unimportant here), my neurologist is currently prescribing marinol, which is, at best, a very poor substitute for the natural product, which also supplies anti-inflammatory and anti-spasmodic effects, whereas marinol acts primarily against pain (thank goodness!) leaving me to deal with the rest of my “issues” with a rather nasty blend of pharmaceuticals. Makes no sense, medically or financially, but “that’s the LAW, buddy!”

    I use the maximum dose on the label, 30 mgs/daily, even though this is technically an off-label, but accepted use. Although the script is written for 10/mg, three times a day, a lot of my issues have to do with extremely disturbed sleep (despite an extreme CPAP machine, etc), I’ve found that taking the whole day’s doze at one a couple of hours before bed. A good buzz every night? Sorry, I barely feel it. I’m sure that someone who doesn’t medicate might find it a pleasant interlude the first few times, but continued regularly they’d soon be where I am: illegal levels in my system, but not much really fun beyond a good night’s sleep (which is still an iffy proposition, because I really SHOULD be in the proper med, cannabis.) So just to pull a number out, I’d say that any legal limit for eating should be at LEAST 30 mg/unit serving and probably higher. I know I do consistently get better sleep at higher doses, but 30 mg is all insurance will pay for.

    Obviously, hard numbers are attractive to the crowd that still believes we must punish cannabis use, although as noted hard numbers just don’t track well at all across the range of users. This plays into the part of the political process where the prohibitionists attempt to regain some of what they feel they’re “lost” at the ballot box by turning it into a scorched earth retreat. We should address reasonable concerns, but reject those for which there is no analogous ground between cannabis and alcohol, the most frequently compared intoxicants.

    I’m not exactly sure what problem NCG’s comment about just banning any driving with any level of THC in the system was meant to address, other than just such a crude attempt as I mentioned to try to win back with bureaucracy what s/he lost at the ballot box. Basically, that would mean that millions of Americans who use cannabis and who currently seem to be driving with minimal problems would lose that privilege. This would especially impact medical use and in rural and suburban locations.

    Among the most totalitarian proposals for doing so is in the proposed Illinois medical marijuana law. There, the patient database will be linked to driver records. Anyone pulled over who has a MMJ card from the state program will be subject to a blood draw at the officer’s discretion, regardless of the original reason for the stop. Of course, there has been no proposal to do this for any other legal drug, nor for drinkers. Why not have a license endorsement that allows you to drink (while prohibiting service to those without it) but allows any officer to request a blood draw anytime s/he encounters a driver with the drinker endorsement? Yeah, I know, I know. I mentioned my decade’s long perfect driving record here recently while administering my own medical program, but that’s just something to be ignored by the prohibitionist crowd.

    Several others have mentioned the vastly varying response, depending on the mix of pharmacologically active and inactive compounds in marijuana, how it is used, and how individuals process it biologically. There just isn’t a direct comparison between the way alcohol acts and is measured and how marijuana acts, calling into question the very “square peg in round nature” of Dr. Kleiman’s inquiry about putting hard numbers on this matter. If anything, any “limits” should be wide enough to cover typical, responsible use, instead of greasing the skids to jail in a new, Catch-22 sort of way.

    1. Marvelous! Thanks for that Freeman, heard it before somewhere, but it really IS applicable to this discussion. Fact of the matter is, people smoke to their preferred level, then life goes on. You work, you love, you relax and just get on with the things needed to get through daily life. It could be “smoke two joints” per the Toyes or it could be two puffs on Friday night.

      The best way to depict the difference in quantified dose in cannabis versus response comparison with alcohol? If you use a X/Y graph with booze, you need to use the X/Y/Z three dimensional graph with weed.

      Dr. Kleiman’s original question then resolves to, for me at least, into what the goal of his defining a single serving if “a state wanted to design a legal distribution system for cannabis. You’d want consumers to know the relative strengths of different cannabis products consumed in different ways (smoking, vaporizing, eating, drinking, sublingul, topical)”?

      If the intent is wholly as guidance to the naive consumer, it’s one thing. If it’s to guide the vast majority, experienced users, so they don’t over-commit with modes of consumption other than inhaled, it’s another number.

      If it’s primarily to drive thinking about how to use economic factors to control user behavior, I’d suggest that this is a very problematic use that should be frankly admitted as intended to drive revenue assumptions and thus decoupled from any assumptions about user preferences, somewhat skewed beliefs that whatever number is chosen has the same relationship with cannabis as it does to alcohol, etc. Just pick a number, THC level is probably best, but use it solely for calculating taxes or relative revenue assumptions.

      The worst thing would be to take that # and use it as a method for law enforcement to assess criminal intent/consent in the same crude way that’s actually fairly accurate with alcohol. It just doesn’t apply to the relationship between cannabis user and substance. Of course, common sense and empiricism seem to have very limited influence in government, particularly when it comes to the “drug war,” so I never get my expectations about their application to the problem at hand get me over-confident about the potential results of appealing to facts versus passion when it comes to putting numbers on the blackboard here.

  28. Equivalent mood-altering power? I found the posts of, Bud72, daksya, PotNerd, and The Sculpin accurate, informative and helpful. It appears the comparison of alcohol and THC in mood altering equivalents would be best indicated by the amount of dopamine released. Since one is a hallucinogen and the other a sedative hypnotic, the intoxicating effects, and consequently their equivalents, are difficult to impossible to evaluate. Similarly, the hallucinogenic effect of marijuana is not equivalent to that of LSD. I would like to emphasize that the accumulated effect of multiple doses or servings of THC and alcohol are not equivalent in their intoxicating effects on the consumer – on many levels. Comparing one drink to a couple big bong hits of killer bud taken by a novice smoker would have different effects and levels of perceived intoxication verses the same consumed by an experienced pot smoker.

  29. Obviously, (you know, from what I’ve heard..not that I know personally) alcohol tends to scale more linearly than pot, so you can’t expect a correspondence along the scale.

    But I think what you’re looking for is the (about equivalent to one drink) threshold where the average person feels an effect that they’re aiming for; maybe another way to put it is the minimum typical dose (i.e. the ‘get a very mild buzz and go about your day’ dose). So a little more than the absolute minimum detectable effect, but less than the average use. Obviously this is different for each person, but that’s true of alcohol doses, too; for big heavy-drinking guys, the first three to six beers are just warm-ups to get in the drinking mood, while for others three drinks is the ‘raging party’ dose.

  30. I just want to know ,because I can not drink because of meds .I have end stage COPD and severe Osteo Arthrites I take care of my 86 year old mother ,fix dinner for my Sister Mother ,sisters children <2 girls ,10 and 12 >and take care of my niece and granddaughter before and after school.I do light housework ,sometimes I just want to get rid of pain ,but I don't want to be stoned ,<been there done that.>

Comments are closed.