How Much CBD Should I Take?

CBD Oil Dosage, Strength and Potency Explained
Written by 
Zora Degrandpre, MS, ND.
|Last Updated:
CBD Oil Strength Potency Explained

The perennial question is how much CBD should I take? The answer is not great, but it is true—and that answer is that it depends. It depends on your individual responses, your goals, what it is you are trying to benefit (eg. Insomnia, pain, anxiety, depressions, seizure disorders etc). It is essentially a process of trial and error—but that doesn’t mean you can’t approach it rationally and with solid, accurate information! So, here we go!

Potency—what does it mean?

Potency is a term widely used in the world of CBD. Unfortunately, it has different meanings to different people. In pharmacology (the study of how drugs work), potency is a measure of how active a drug is and how much of a drug is required to produce a specific effect. Synonyms of “potency” include strength, effectiveness, power or influence and some suspect that the term potency is used to imply, at least subconsciously, sexual ability.

The best way to understand potency as currently used regarding CBD is in terms of concentration or strength. It is best associated with how many mg of CBD is in every unit of dose—and that unit can be mL for liquids, a single gummy, a single capsule or a single inhalation of a vape.

However, the number of mg/unit doesn’t tell the entire story because its effectiveness may also be based on its terpene content, its purity, the strain of plant from which the CBD was purified (which also reflects terpene content), whether it is a full- or broad-spectrum product (because for some conditions, CBD along with a variable amount of THC seems to produce better results) and your response to the CBD. It can also depend on the delivery system—oral delivery systems have poorer bioabsorption and take longer to act, but act for longer periods of time. Oral delivery systems also end up delivering a much smaller total amount of CBD in the body because the CBD first passes through the liver and is metabolized. This is called “First Pass Metabolism” and lowers the total amount of CBD delivered by variable amounts.

But—potency/strength/concentration is one of the best places to start.

The next problem is—there is no universal agreement on how to measure potency—and how to put that on the product labels. This can get confusing because some companies use the straightforward mg/mL or mg/capsule approach. Then you can compare one company’s product in mg/mL to another product labeled mg/mL. You can also easily compare two companies who produce capsules. However, other companies use percentages, and this can get a bit tricky for comparison purposes—you may have to search through the label, website or the lab reports to get an idea of how many mg of CBD/unit the product contains. To give a quick example, a CBD oil may say that it is 55% pure CBD and contains a total of 7 grams of CBD.

  • First, convert the grams to milligrams. Milli is a prefix indicating one thousand, so 1 gram = 1000 mg.
  • 7 grams then equals 7000 mg.
  • The bottle contains 10 mL total, so the concentration (mg/unit or in this case mg/mL) is 7000mg/ 10 mL or 700mg/mL.
  • That sounds like a lot—and it is, BUT the label also says that it is 55% CBD, so that amount, the 700mg/mL has to be multiplied by 0.55 (55%) and gives you 385 mg of CBD/mL.
  • It can vary from dropper to dropper (and you may have to contact the company to find out) but most standard droppers hold 20 drops or 20 drops/mL.
  • To get the amount of CBD per drop, divide the amount of CBD/mL by 20. 385mg/ mL ÷20 drops/mL= 19.25 mg/drop.
  • If you have found (through trial and error) that you benefit most from 75mg of CBD, you would take 4 drops (4 drops x 19.25 mg/drop=77mg). It is not exactly 75 mg but it is as close as you will get with that particular liquid.

Why is Potency / Strength / Concentration Important?

To get to the point where you know how much CBD is needed to address your specific goals, you need to go through some trial-and-error processes—and then, be able to take the correct amount of CBD. As a warning, this absolute amount of CBD may change as you progress for several possible reasons:

  • You may be “getting better” and find you need less CBD to address your health concerns.
    • For example, if you go through situational anxiety and the situation changes, you may not need the same amount of CBD to help you through.
  • There is some evidence for the development of tolerance to CBD. This can mean a variety of different things, but it may also mean you may need to slowly increase the amount of CBD to get the same effect.
  • There is also some evidence for either a biphasic response with CBD—in other words, there is evidence that different doses may produce opposite effects, and this may develop differently in different people. The take-away lesson is that if the CBD stops working for your insomnia and seems to be keeping you awake instead, if everything else has remained pretty much the same (eg. No major life changes, you are using the same product you always have etc.) you may need to change the dosing—usually, lowering it.
  • We hear lots about the entourage effect and the beneficial effects of terpenes—but the entourage effect is a theory, not a fact and we are just beginning to learn about the health benefits of terpenes. People may talk as if there was lots of evidence—but the fact is, there is little or no evidence—yet!
  • Delivery methods vary.
    • The “best” delivery method—meaning you get the most out of it as far as bioavailability and how quickly the effects begin is by sublingual (under-the-tongue) absorption. This delivery method is fast (only vaping is faster) and allows the largest percentage of CBD to be absorbed into your system because it by-passes the First Pass Metabolism.
    • Topical application also bypasses (mostly) First Pass Metabolism and allows a high percentage of the CBD in the topical to be absorbed.
      • For the science geeks out there—CBD is in an oil form because it doesn’t dissolve very well in water. Your skin contains a significant amount of fat—and the CBD is well absorbed into the skin because of that.

How To Find Your Best Dose of CBD

Pharmaceutical drugs have an advantage—the concentration is well-characterized and there are legions of researchers determining the best dose for the most people. You are on your own with this process—meaning YOU are the only one who can determine the best use of CBD for yourself and for your specific health issue.

On the other hand, we here at Leafreport don’t want you to go through this process unsupported—and here are some tips on how to go about finding your best dosing for CBD.

The overall approach is to Start Low and Go Slow.

  • Start Low and Go Slow
    • Determine your specific goal and keep track of how you feel. Keep a journal or some record of your responses. This may sound odd, but you might be surprised at how soon you forget how many hours you slept of if you felt more or less anxious or depressed one day to the next. Figure out a scale of depression or anxiety that works for you and keep track of that. If you are in pain and using CBD to reduce the pain, use a scale and record your pain levels daily.
    • Start at the lowest dose you can conveniently measure—this may be ¼ of a gummy, or ½ of a dropperful of CBD oil. For capsules, you can usually find 5 or 10 mg capsules. You can, if you want, use CBD isolate but this can be a bit tough to accurately measure unless you have some pretty sensitive weight scales.
      • With topical applications of CBD, it can be even more difficult to determine how much to use. Start out using a “pea-sized” amount of topical…then 2 peas, 3 peas and so on to increase the amount as necessary.
    • Increase the dose slowly until you reach your goal.
      • Practically, this means that you stay at one dose for at least 3-4 days and then increase it by 1-2 times that smallest unit.
        • So, if after 4 days, your starting dose does not appear to be that effective, start slowly increasing it, waiting at least 3-4 more days before the next step.
        • If you are using a CBD oil or tincture and starting with 4 drops, increase the dose by no more than 1-2 drops.
        • If you are using gummies, increase by no more than ¼ to ½ a gummy.
        • If you are using a topical, increase by no more than 1-2 “peas”.

This approach is cautious—but not so much because of any concerns of significant side effects because most people tolerate CBD quite well. The side effects of CBD include nausea, dry mouth, decreased appetite drowsiness and in some, a small drop in blood pressure. Instead, this approach is recommended so that:

  • You can have much more control over what you are taking.
  • You get the most out of your CBD—there is no sense in paying for more CBD than you need.
  • It allows you to get a much better idea of the benefits that CBD is providing, and you use no more than you need. So What Potency is Best?

The straightforward answer is that the best potency of CBD to get is the one that:

  • Allows you the simplest method of achieving your goals in the sense that it is the form that is easiest to get the amount of CBD you benefit from (as determined in your Start Low Go Slow process) as easily as possible.
  • Allows you to get the most for your money.
    • High potency means higher costs, in general. But that is not always the case and if you are able to get exactly the amount you need without wasting any, it may very well be much more cost effective to buy the highest potency available that allows you the simplest method of achieving your goals.
    • Keep in mind though that a higher potency or concentration may also increase the risk of contamination, so it is still very important to check the 3rd party lab results.
  • High efficacy is not necessarily equivalent to high dose! Some people benefit from a lower dose, so buying a high potency product may not be necessary. This is another reason to Start Low and Go Slow. If your insomnia, for example, is relieved by 10 mg of CBD, to use the earlier example (a CBD oil that is 55% pure CBD and contains a total of 7 grams of CBD and 19.25 mg/drop), you couldn’t measure out ½ a drop, so why bother.
  • No matter what product you decide on, make sure you check those 3rd party lab reports! Purity and no contaminants should be the most important question for any product you use.
Dr. Zora DeGrandpre practices naturopathic medicine (home visits) in rural Washington and is a professional medical and scientific writer and editor, specializing in naturopathic, functional, botanical and integrative medicine. Dr. DeGrandpre has degrees in drug design, immunology and natural medicine and has extensive research experience in cancer and molecular immunology. In her practice, Dr DeGrandpre has found the use of CBD with elderly patients and others to be safe and clinically effective. She brings to all her writing a straightforward approach that is accurate, clear and authentic.

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