Start Low and Go Slow: Medical Cannabis for Beginners

Alternaleaf Team
Written by
Alternaleaf Team
Oct 12, 2022
Last updated:
Nov 21, 2023

“Start low and go slow.” This age-old advice has stood the test of time even in our new era of modern medical cannabis.

Like all medicines, the best way to use medical cannabis is to use the smallest dose necessary to get the symptom relief you need. Starting low also means more affordable medicines.

Let’s go into more detail and explain why.

Start Low and Go Slow: What Does it Mean?

It’s not unusual for new medical cannabis patients to be nervous about how cannabis will affect them. Most of us have heard stories about the effects of too much THC – and naturally, we’d rather not experience them ourselves.

That’s why doctors recommend “start low and go slow.” Simply put, this means to start with a low dose of THC, and take it slow before you consume more or increase your dose. You’re much more likely to have a positive experience with medical cannabis if you take it easy.

The Goal of All Medicine: Smallest Dose to Achieve the Greatest Effect

“Start low and go slow” isn’t just a piece of folk advice—it’s best practice in modern medicine. In pharmacology, the goal is always to use the smallest possible dose of a drug to achieve the desired effect. This is known as the “minimum effective dose (MED).”

All medicines have different effects depending on how much you take. For example, an over-the-counter drug like ibuprofen may reduce pain if you take a 200 mg pill. But taking dozens of pills could damage your stomach and cause dangerous side effects like low blood pressure and seizures. That’s why doctors always use the MED.

When it comes to medical cannabis, the lowest effective dose differs for every person, depending on their body, medical conditions, and other drugs they’re taking.

It can also change over time—for example, if you develop a tolerance, gain or lose weight, or develop a new medical condition. For more information on tolerance, check out our T-Break Guide.

Doctors work with patients to understand what dose will work for them. They’ll ensure the dose is safe, effective, and no higher than it needs to be.

In this respect, medical cannabis is no different than other common medicines.

Why Should You Follow This Mantra?

the wave, Arizona, USA, natural landscape
Medical cannabis, like other medications, is all about finding a minimum efficient dose, aka MED.

Doctors almost always recommend starting with a low dose of medicinal cannabis in Australia. This is particularly important for medicines containing THC because of its possible psychoactive side effects. There are three main reasons why:

Better Control

At low doses (2.5mg or less), THC is unlikely to significantly alter your mood or perception. But at higher doses (10mg or more), the psychoactive effects can be pronounced — especially for new cannabis patients.

Taking too much THC can cause temporary anxiety, paranoia, and nausea. These symptoms can be highly unpleasant but usually wear off within a few hours.

Medical Cannabis Can Act Slowly

Another reason to start low and go slow is that medical cannabis can take time to have an effect. Capsules, tinctures, and oils, which are digested, are slow-acting, and it may be 60 minutes or longer before you feel an effect.  

Vaping or smoking medical cannabis works faster, but it’s still possible to go too fast.

Affordable Prescriptions

A low dose is also good for your bank balance! While some health insurance plans cover medical cannabis, many patients still want to keep their costs down. Sticking to the lowest effective dose will make the most of your prescription and save you some cash.

Working With a Doctor to Access a Low Dose of Medicinal Cannabis in Australia

Your doctor will help determine your minimum effective dose. By understanding your medical history, symptoms, preferred product and tolerance, they can recommend a targeted dose that will relieve your symptoms.

You’ll most likely start with a low, non-intoxicating dose if your doctor prescribes a cannabis product with THC. Most patients don’t experience psychoactive effects from these low doses. Instead, the focus is on providing pain and symptom relief without side effects.

Through follow-up appointments, you can work with your doctor to adjust your dose as needed.

“Start Low and Go Slow”: Advice Worth Listening To

Medical cannabis has many uses, and there are so many products that no one dose will work for every patient. It’s a personalised medicine, which is why it’s so important to follow doctors dosage advice and adjust during your follow-up appointments.

Over time, you’ll learn what works for you. And with the support of your doctor, you can treat your symptoms safely, comfortably, and sustainably with medical cannabis.

There are a number of risks associated with the use of medical cannabis and your doctor will explain these to you before issuing a prescription. Medical cannabis affects everyone differently and may not help with your chronic condition.

Related articles