Researcher in white coat looking at tablet screen with medical discoveries like the ECS

Cannabis 101: The Endocannabinoid System

Is the endocannabinoid system real? How does cannabis interact with it? We answer your questions in today’s Cannabis 101 blog.

Medically reviewed by Katherine Golden, RN
Written by Denise Rustning

For anyone unable to attend our inaugural Leaf Learning Series: Get the 411 on Cannabis Therapeutics, we wanted to take a step back and give you a quick review on the body’s endocannabinoid system, or ECS. A basic understanding of this system will go a long way in helping you find the best CBD hemp or cannabis product for your needs.

We can already hear what you’re thinking—that the ECS sounds made-up. After all, none of us learned about the ECS in high school biology!

Researcher in white coat looking at tablet screen with medical discoveries like the ECS

How the Endocannabinoid System Was Discovered

The discovery of the ECS happened relatively recently. In 1988, scientists discovered that rats’ brains had specialized receptors that were activated by THC. The identification of these receptors led to new knowledge about the ECS, including:

  • The ECS is found in humans, dogs, and all other animals that have spinal cords.
  • This system’s purpose is to maintain internal balance (also called homeostasis).
  • It plays an important role in regulating metabolism, sleep, mood, and immunity, along with other functions.

What are CB1 and CB2 Receptors?

Your body’s ECS contains two types of cannabinoid (CB) receptors: CB1 and CB2.

  • CB1 receptors are found in your central nervous system—primarily your brain and spine. These receptors play a role in memory, behavior, appetite, motor control, and perception of pain.
  • CB2 receptors exist throughout the body, helping to control inflammation and immune response.

The body produces endocannabinoids which bind to the CB1 and CB2 receptors, signaling when the system needs to take action to maintain or restore internal balance.

Just like any other system in your body, the ECS can also fall out of balance, requiring intervention to restore homeostasis. Dr. Ethan Russo has published extensive research on this front, looking specifically at how clinical endocannabinoid deficiency may be connected to treatment-resistant conditions including migraines, irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia and other conditions.

Illustration showing where CB1 and CB2 receptors are located in the human body.
Woman balancing on a fallen tree log in a green forest, representing the balance the ECS provides.

How Cannabis Supports Your Endocannabinoid System

Dr. Dustin Sulak at Healer.com is an expert in the ECS. In this 3-minute video, he explains how cannabis and the ECS interact: https://healer.com/the-endocannabinoid-system-video/

(Prefer reading over video? You can find Dr. Sulak’s article on the ECS at this link.)

Scientists in other medical specialties are aware of the ECS as well, researching its potential as a therapeutic avenue for treating a wide range of diseases.

When thinking about the connection between your ECS and cannabis, it’s helpful to look at how you already use medicines to help your body. For example, your body generates pain-killing endorphins in response to pain, but you also take ibuprofen to reduce pain and inflammation. With cannabis, the difference is that endocannabinoids (produced by your body) and cannabinoids (produced by the cannabis plant) are very similar to one another, which minimizes unwanted side effects.

Tabletop with a keyboard, small plant and printed sticky note that says “Need Help?”

Our Leaf Nurses Can Help

Now that you’ve learned about the ECS, you might be wondering how to use this knowledge to guide your use of CBD hemp or cannabis containing higher levels of THC. Our Leaf nurses have completed specialized clinical education on the endocannabinoid system, and can help you find the most effective CBD hemp or marijuana options for your specific health goals. As you likely know from our other blog posts, not all pain or insomnia are the same. Different issues may require different approaches to maximize the ECS’s potential to restore balance. Call 844-LEAF411 (844-532-3411) or chat us from the Leaf411.org homepage for free guidance tailored to your questions!

Not ready to chat with a nurse? You can find more information about the ECS in our Leaf Library.  

Our Leaf Learning: Get the 411 Series is a great way to learn more about how cannabis might help relieve pain, improve sleep, and restore balance. Be sure to sign up for our newsletter below so you can be the first to know about upcoming topics for the next Leaf Learning: Get the 411 Series event!


Top Takeaways from the Inaugural Leaf Learning Series

Medically reviewed by Katherine Golden, RN
Written by Denise Rustning

Were you able to join us on Thursday, August 20th, for our first online Leaf Learning Series? If not, don’t worry! We plan to release an archive of the event at a future date. Be sure to sign up for our newsletter at the bottom of this page to find out when the content is available! As a newsletter subscriber, you’ll also be the first to learn about our next session covering all things CBD hemp.

In the meantime, we thought we’d share some of the top cannabis takeaways from our inaugural session.

Diverse mix of hands raised into the air, showing how everyone is different.

When it Comes to Cannabis, Everyone is Different

Everyone has an endocannabinoid system—but everyone’s endocannabinoid system is just a little bit different. Leaf411’s Founder and CEO/ED Katherine Golden, RN, and our Advisory Board member Dr. Dave Gordon from 4 Pillars Health & Wellness always recommend starting low and going slow when finding your optimal dose of CBD hemp or marijuana containing higher levels of THC, in part because everyone’s endocannabinoid system is unique. The dose that works best for your friend or partner might not be the best amount of CBD or THC for you.

During the learning session, Dr. Dave also talked about how there’s no one best way to use cannabis. Different product types offer different benefits, depending on your health issues and wellness goals.

Understanding the basics of your endocannabinoid system and how CBD, THC and other cannabinoids interact with this system is a great place to start on your cannabis journey, saving you time and money as you begin exploring the best cannabis options for your health goals. That’s why we focused on Cannabis Therapeutics 101 for this first session!

Cannabinol (CBN) molecular structure drawn on whiteboard.

In a subsequent session during the event, Dr. Dave addressed the therapeutic potential of minor cannabinoids like CBN for sleep, and THC-A as a non-intoxicating alternative to help manage pain and nausea. He also talked about how some peoples’ sensitivity to minuscule amounts of THC might actually be due to either inconsistent product quality or the type of product they’re using—this is a much more common experience with edibles as a result of how THC is metabolized by the liver.

Want to learn more? Keep an eye out for the recorded session, and in the meantime, we encourage you to look through our blog and Leaf Library, which includes useful FAQs.

Of course, you are always welcome to call us at no cost at 844-LEAF411 (844-532-3411) or chat us from the Leaf411.org homepage during our hotline hours.

Cannabis vape and cannabis flower, two effective forms of cannabis medicine.

Cannabis Medicine: Don’t Be Afraid of Inhalation

Dr. Dave and Katherine tackled one of the biggest hesitations many people have with cannabis—smoking and vaping. They discussed how inhalation methods may provide a safe, effective way to use cannabis medicine. Inhalation can be especially effective when seeking immediate relief for breakthrough pain or nausea. Dr. Dave suggested that vaping flower is a good approach, especially if you’re concerned about unwanted ingredients in vape cartridges.

If you are shopping for oil vapes, look for products with limited ingredients, and which don’t contain propylene glycol (PG), polyethylene glycol (PEG), or vitamin E acetate (the identified source of last year’s 2019 vaping-associated lung injuries).

Several of our supporting members have developed cannabis edibles that utilize cutting-edge technology to deliver a delta-9-THC inhalation type experience—check out Quiq’s wide range of products or Wana Brand’s Fact-Acting Gummies as examples of this new type of product.

THC oil in a beaker on a lab bench, with test results beneath it.

Cannabis Product Quality Matters

At Leaf411, we know that quality matters. Product quality and safety are always in the front of our minds when we review potential members.

During our Leaf Learning Series, we were excited to provide a platform for many of our members to talk about their ingredient sourcing and product manufacturing processes. Attendees chatted with company representatives, including founders and CEOs, during live sessions and in the vendor expo hall.

Nature’s Gift Shop, an incredible family-owned dispensary in West Pueblo, and Lightshade Dispensary, with locations throughout the Denver metro area, both shared dispensary tours along with live Q&A, with participants asking questions about the different products they offer. Both dispensaries are dedicated to making every visit a positive experience by meeting consumers where they’re at, whether they’re brand new to cannabis or an experienced user. By the way, the next time you visit Nature’s Gift Shop, be sure to check out their Willie Nelson sculpture that was made by a local artist!

Robbie Wroblewski also provided an incredibly fun and interactive virtual tour of Seed & Smith’s Growhouse, answering a wide range of audience questions. While we missed smelling the extract room (a feature of their pre-COVID in-person tours), we appreciated the behind-the-scenes look at how cannabis is cultivated.

All of this content will be available on-demand soon. Be sure to sign up for our newsletter for updates!

Learning From Top Cannabis Experts

Remember how we said that everyone’s endocannabinoid system is unique? Cannabis retailers and manufacturers understand that consumers have different health goals, tolerances and product preferences as well! 

Many of our supporting members employ food engineers, chemists and other industry experts to develop reliable, high-bioavailability cannabis products. If you weren’t able to attend the August 20th session, we hope you’ll find time to join us in the future, because you’ll be amazed by both our supporting members’ professional backgrounds and the science that they’re bringing to their product development!

Logo for CannOccasions, a cannabis event management company.

A Special Thank You to CannOccasions

We also want to extend special recognition to the amazing CannOccasions team who managed the registration, online event platform and all logistics. If you’re seeking a professional cannabis events management company for your virtual or IRL event, we highly recommend CannOccassions!

Clothesline with a hemp leaf and sign that says “What is CBD?”

Looking Forward to Our Next Leaf Learning Event: All About CBD

Our next Leaf Learning event will be all about CBD! We’ll cover the differences between full-spectrum, broad-spectrum and isolate forms of CBD hemp, and provide education to help you find the right CBD for your health goals. 

We also know that many people, including first responders and healthcare workers, are concerned about whether CBD hemp can trigger positive workplace drug test results, despite the fact that it’s a non-intoxicating substance. Join us during our next Leaf Learning event to hear answers to these concerns and more.

We’re still in the process of scheduling our CBD hemp-focused Leaf Learning event. Sign up for our Leaf411 newsletter below to stay in the loop as we release more registration details!


Cannabis for Sleep: Tips to Find the Best Product for Your Needs

Medically reviewed by Katherine Golden, RN
Written by Denise Rustning

Cannabis can be a powerful tool for a good night’s sleep, whether you’re dealing with stress or simply age-related insomnia, a topic we discussed in a recent blog post.

However, when it comes time to find the best cannabis products for sleep, your choices may feel overwhelming. Today, we’ll take a look at cannabis products legally sold in medical and adult-use (recreational) dispensaries, breaking down the options. If you’ve ever been confused when it comes to strains (chemovars), ratios, or the pros and cons of edibles versus inhaled products, then today’s blog post is for you.

A Quick Refresher on THC, CBD and Terpenes

We previously talked about the role that the cannabinoids THC and CBD play in our post on using cannabis for pain.

  • CBD: This cannabinoid is the star player in hemp products which are federally legal. CBD hemp products are required to have below 0.3% THC, which is such a small amount that it’s not intoxicating and won’t get you high. You’ll also find CBD in cannabis products that contain higher levels of THC.
  • THC: The cannabinoid responsible for the “high,” if used in large enough amounts. Cannabis products containing over 0.3% THC remain illegal at the federal level and can only be legally purchased in states that have legalized adult-use (recreational) or medical marijuana.

Of course, CBD and THC aren’t the full story. Terpenes are increasingly understood to play a major role in cannabis’s therapeutic benefits. Plant terpenes are aromatic compounds found in many different plants—for example, the relaxing linalool terpene is found in lavender as well as cannabis.

Terpenes and other plant compounds work together with cannabinoids to create an entourage effect that provides therapeutic benefits beyond any one single compound. Terpenes can also help buffer THC’s intoxicating impact, based on research conducted by Dr. Ethan Russo.  

If you’ve ever wondered how some cannabis strains can promote relaxation and sleep while other strains are known for boosting energy and creativity, the answer is largely due to different terpene profiles. We’ll dig into this topic more below.

Cannabis for Sleep: Tips to Find the Best Product for Your Needs

Finding the Best CBD:THC Ratio for Sleep

You may hear budtenders, your friends and especially the Leaf411 nurses talk about the importance of understanding the “ratio” in products. They’re referring to cannabis products manufactured with specific ratios of CBD to THC. For example, a 1:1 ratio product will contain equal parts of CBD and THC, while a 5:1 ratio product will contain five times as much CBD as THC. Understanding different ratios can be a huge help when finding the best sleep product.

Many of our supporting members manufacture different ratio products in addition to THC products. We encourage you to check out each manufacturer’s website to see the range of ratios they offer. Here are some examples showing how different options can help you dial in your cannabis dose for sleep:

Many people find success with a ratio product that’s THC dominant. While these can be more challenging to find, several of our supporting members, including Conscious Medz, have developed products to address this need.

Our Recommendation for the Best CBD:THC Ratio for Sleep

What’s the best ratio to start with? This depends on two factors: (1) The cause of your insomnia (pain, inflammation, stress, mind chatter, etc); and (2) How sensitive your body is to THC. 

Typically, we suggest starting with the current gold standard which is a 1:1 ratio, equal parts of CBD to THC, following our mantra of starting with a very low dose and slowing building up. However, depending on your specific health concerns, you might do better with a different ratio. For example, if you have anxiety at night, a 2:1 ratio of 2 parts CBD to 1 part THC may be a safer choice since too much THC for your body can actually worsen anxiety. 

Remember that you can always call our free nurse hotline at 844-LEAF411 (844-532-3411) or chat us from the Leaf411.org homepage for personalized guidance that will help you save time and money.

Cannabis pre-roll joints and cannabis flower on a white background.

What You Need to Know About Inhalable Cannabis for Sleep

You may be wondering how ratios work when it comes to cannabis flower (bud). Most cannabis sold in dispensaries is THC dominant, with very little CBD. That doesn’t mean that CBD-dominant strains don’t exist, though! They can be challenging to find and don’t necessarily provide the best sleep solution for everyone, however. 

Remember, a small amount of CBD alone can actually make your mind more alert. If you’re trying a CBD-dominant flower, you’ll want to experiment with your inhaled dose earlier in the evening versus when your head is about to hit the pillow to ensure you are feeling the sedation you desire. You can always adjust by adding a bit of THC if not.

As you recall, THC and CBD are only part of the story. In the next section, we’ll dive into different cannabis strains and talk about how they impact sleep quality.

Budtender holding flower in palm of hand, with three jars containing different cannabis strains.

Cannabis Strains and Sleep: Untangling the Puzzle

What’s a cannabis strain (chemovar)? That question can be tricky, but it’s important to understand when shopping for cannabis. (Note: We use the terms “strain” and “chemovar” interchangeably, though chemovar is a scientifically more accurate representation of the compounds in the plant.)

Broadly speaking, cannabis strains are often sorted into one of three categories at the dispensary:

  • Sativa: Provides an uplifting, energetic, creative high
  • Indica: Provides calm and varying degrees of sedation
  • Hybrid: Balanced effects

If you look at actual plant genetics, most of today’s legal cannabis is hybrid, combining the strongest genes from different plants to produce healthy flower. So why are these terms still used?

They continue to be used as a shorthand to describe the plant’s effects. In fact, those effects are mostly the result of other plant compounds—namely terpenes along with minor cannabinoids which give each strain its signature effect.

For example, our Supporting Member Seed & Smith offers two different flower strains, Midnite and White 99, with very similar THC potency levels. Based on that alone, you might expect both to have similar effects, but that’s not the case at all, in large part due to the different terpene profiles!

Seed & Smith’s Midnite cannabis nug

Midnite flower

Dominant Terpene: beta-Myrcene (sedating effect)
Subordinate Terpenes:
beta-Caryophyllene (stress relief)
Linalool (calming)
d-Limonene (stress relief but energizing)

Seed & Smith’s White 99 cannabis nug

White 99 flower:

Dominant Terpene: d-Limonene (stress relief but energizing)
Subordinate Terpenes:
beta-Caryophyllene (stress relief)
beta-Myrcene (sedating)
Linalool (calming)

Which one of these strains—Midnite or White 99—would you choose for the best chance of a restful sleep? 

Our Leaf411 nurses would suggest trying the Midnite flower due to the dominant terpene causing sedation. That potency range is quite high though, so a word of caution would also be given by our nurses to start with one inhalation first and assess if that is enough for your intention.

Cannabis Strains and Edibles

Some infused product manufacturers also create products that utilize plant compounds from specific strains, or which reference either Sativa or Indica type effects. You’ll see those listed on several of the products above. 

Strains are also impacted by cultivation factors, including whether the plants are grown outdoors or indoors along with individual cultivation processes including lighting, fertilizers, etc. That’s why your friend in another legal state might rave about the Black Ice strain for sleep, yet the flower you bought in your own state doesn’t compare.

All this is to say that while you may think strains are the entire story, it’s often not the case. However, strains can provide clues for what to expect.

Cannabis flower and gummies shown as two different options for sleep

Smokable Versus Edible Cannabis for Sleep

An additional consideration when shopping for cannabis for sleep is the route of administration—how you want to use cannabis.

To some extent, it’s a matter of personal preference and also the type of insomnia you’re trying to treat, whether that involves having trouble falling asleep, staying asleep or both.

Smoking cannabis can be a responsible, safe method of administration in legal states; however, deep stigma remains around inhaling cannabis. Likewise, some people have concerns about the safety of vapes following the spike in vape-associated lung injuries last year, though the CDC traced most of those cases back to counterfeit or illicit vape cartridges containing Vitamin E acetate or other contaminants. In the face of the current pandemic, many people have also decided to stop smoking any substance, including cannabis, opting for edibles instead. And lastly, you may simply live in an apt, condo or shared housing where smoking is prohibited.

When you smoke or vape cannabis, the effects can be felt very rapidly, often within minutes. The intoxicating effects from smoking or vaping typically last between 2-4 hours.

From a sleep perspective, smoking or vaping may be beneficial for people who have a difficult time falling asleep. Inhalation may not fully meet your needs if you also have trouble staying asleep, though, since the effects will typically subside within the 4-hour mark.

Edibles including candies, tinctures and capsules typically have a longer onset—the amount of time it takes before you feel their effects. You can expect ingestion to take anywhere from 30 minutes to a couple of hours before you feel the effects, though those effects will last a lot longer—typically from 6-8 hours.

Edibles can be a good option if you have a tough time staying asleep throughout the night. However, you’ll want to make sure your schedule allows a full 8 hours of time for sleep.

A New Option on the Market: Quick-Acting Cannabis Edibles

Many manufacturers, including Quiq and Wana, are manufacturing new quick-acting edibles that take effect much more quickly, similar to inhaled products when it comes to timing. These new fast-acting products are a wonderful alternative to help with falling asleep. Remember, though,  that what hits your body faster will also subside faster. Fast-acting ingestible products may take some trial and error before determining whether they’re better for early evening relaxation or insomnia.

Smiling young Black man in white hoodie making the “small” symbol with his hand, pinching together index finger and thumb.

The Leaf411 Mantra: Start Low and Go Slow (and Plan for a Full Night’s Sleep!)

If you’re using edible cannabis products, you’ll want to use the products 1-2 hours before bedtime instead of waiting until the moment you are climbing into bed. Timing your dose will allow you to relax before bedtime. Of course, it should go without saying, but don’t plan to drive while using any type of cannabis, because you never know how quickly the product will take effect.

Because everyone’s system is different, the minimum dose required for positive effects is also different—that’s why we always say to start low and go slow when trying a new cannabis product. How low? We suggest starting with 1/4 the suggested serving size on the package, or 1-2 mg of THC, whichever is lower.

If you’re smoking or vaping, this equals one inhalation at a time and waiting at least 15 minutes in between doses to assess your tolerance.

You may not feel anything at the lowest dose, but by starting low and going up slowly each night, you can build up your dose safely until you find the right amount that works for your body. When increasing by a milligram or less each night, you may still end up with a dose that makes you feel a bit too groggy in the morning or uncomfortable before falling asleep. If this happens, just go back to the dose that was comfortable and reassess after a few days. When using ingestible products (edibles and tinctures), it can take up to 2 hours for you to feel an effect, so allow plenty of time before increasing your dose.

Our Leaf411 nurses always guide our callers to safe use by cautioning about potential side effects from THC, which is dry mouth and an unsteady gait. We suggest keeping a glass of water at your bedside so there is no need to walk to the kitchen and risk falling when you feel the cannabis take effect. These precautions are very similar to those you’d take with any other sleep medications.

Get Your Cannabis Sleep Questions Answered During Our First Leaf Learning Series!

This Thursday, August 20, Leaf411 is launching our inaugural Leaf Learning Series: Get the 411 on Cannabis Therapeutics. Join us online from 4-7 p.m. MDT for a FREE beginner-friendly cannabis 101 presentation, followed by live Q & A with our own Co-Founder and CEO/ED Katherine Golden, RN, as well as Leaf411 Advisory Board member Dr. Dave Gordon from 4Pillars Health & Wellness. Sign up today at this link: https://hopin.to/events/leaf-learning 

Many of our supporting members will be on-hand sharing information about their products and ready to answer your questions, including live Q&As with Medically Correct’s President Bob Eschino (maker of Quiq and incredibles); Stillwater Brands Ripple; and CAASI CBD’s Founder and CEO Lori Peck.  Seed & Smith will host a virtual grow tour and Lightshade will also be providing a dispensary tour! You’ll also have the chance to meet one of Nature’s Gift Shop’s budtenders. We’ll also have a virtual expo hall with Wana, Ripple, Lightshade, Care by Design and Altus sharing information on their high-quality cannabis products.

Hop over to this link to reserve your spot: https://hopin.to/events/leaf-learning 

Also, be sure to sign up for our newsletter below, so that you can be the first to learn about upcoming events!


Older Asian man yawning while looking at his phone.

Seniors and Insomnia: How a Little THC Can Go A Long Way to Restoring Sleep

Medically reviewed by Katherine Golden, RN
Written by Denise Rustning

Insomnia is an issue we hear a lot about on the Leaf411 hotline. Many callers ask if cannabis might help manage age-related sleep issues.

The short answer for most people is yes—but it depends on your specific health conditions as well as finding the best products to meet your needs.

We also hear concerns from callers who are eager to try cannabis as an alternative for sleep but worry about experiencing an unwanted high.

In today’s blog, we’ll address both these issues—why cannabis may help with age-related sleep issues and how to use it to minimize the risk of feeling overly intoxicated or uncomfortable.

(Note: When we talk about cannabis, we include both CBD hemp which is federally legal and non-intoxicating with less than 0.3% THC, as well as marijuana containing over 0.3% THC, which is legally sold in dispensaries in states that have legalized adult-use/recreational or medical marijuana.)

Older Black man sits at his computer staring into the distance, appearing tired and distracted.

Why Is Sleep So Hard As You Get Older?

It’s a well-known fact that sleep patterns change as we grow older. Falling asleep is more difficult and quality of sleep suffers, according to the Sleep Foundation. Many seniors also experience insomnia, impacting their overall quality of life. Changes in seniors’ sleep architecture trace back to the aging brain, a phenomenon that researchers have managed to capture using imaging in the lab.

Also, sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, pain and many other common physical and mental health conditions may negatively impact sleep cycles. And let’s not forget those everyday worries that keep all our minds preoccupied late into the night!

Clothesline with 3 signs saying “Good,” “Better,” and “Best,” symbolizing the challenge of finding the best solution for sleep.

Finding a Sleep Solution that Fits

When seeking a sleep solution, it’s essential first to have a clear sense of where the problem is. Many different treatment options exist, but they are not one-size-fits-all.

If your sleep difficulties are rooted in unhelpful bedtime habits like keeping the news channel on all evening, then the solution may involve behavioral approaches like turning off the TV and listening to calming music instead.

Certain health conditions and medications may also cause insomnia. If you suspect that a health condition may be the source of your insomnia, we suggest first talking with your primary provider to address any underlying medical issues.

In some cases, cannabis might be a helpful adjunct therapy for specific health issues. For example, cannabis has shown promise in managing restless leg syndrome. However, in other cases, cannabis may not be a good fit if it interferes with medications you’re taking.

Our Leaf nurses have the experience, training and research-backed knowledge to help determine whether cannabis may be a suitable option for you if you’re dealing with health condition-related sleep issues.

For many seniors, though, insomnia isn’t due to a specific health issue but is simply the outcome of the aging brain and changing sleep patterns. You may find that it’s harder to fall asleep or stay asleep, even after cutting out caffeine, taking up evening mindfulness practices, and shutting down electronics early in the evening. That can be frustrating!

Medical provider holding sleep pills in one hand, and cannabis in the other hand as an alternative for sleep.

Looking For Alternatives to Pharmaceutical Sleep Medications?

Finding a product that supports a good night’s sleep is the holy grail for most of us. A lot of over-the-counter and prescription products exist, but many come with unwanted side effects.

Over-the-counter medications like Unisom (doxylamine) and Benadryl (diphenhydramine) may cause unwanted grogginess the following day.

Likewise, many prescription sleep medications may work in the short term but have troubling trade-offs. The popular drug Ambien (zolpidem tartrate) is a hypnotic that’s gained a reputation for causing serious side effects in some people, including amnesia, hallucinations, sleepwalking and even sleep-driving. It also has the potential for dependency, like many other prescription sleep medications.

A powerful plant-based sleep alternative is becoming available to more people as marijuana legalization spreads to more states each year. However, just like conventional medications, not all marijuana is the same. Knowing the best type of product for your particular sleep issues can make a tremendous difference.

Your Cannabis Sleep Team: THC, CBD, CBN, Terpenes and More

You’ve likely heard about tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD); however, those are only two out of 113 different identified cannabinoids found in cannabis plants. Here’s a quick primer on some of the various cannabis plant compounds:

  • THC: This cannabinoid is responsible for the “high” that cannabis is best known for when used in large enough amounts. THC binds to CB1 receptors that are primarily found in your brain and spinal cord and help regulate the nervous system, as well as CB2 receptors which are found in the peripheral nervous system and play a role in reducing inflammation.
  • CBD: A non-intoxicating cannabinoid that indirectly affects the CB1 and CB2 receptors, though it doesn’t bind to them. CBD has been shown to reduce inflammation and muscle spasms and to help manage anxiety.
  • CBN: Cannabinol (CBN) is a lesser-known cannabinoid created when THC is exposed to heat and light over a period of time, and has been called the “sleep cannabinoid” by some people due to its sedating effects. It also lacks the intoxicating effects of THC, though an older study showed that it could make the effects of THC feel stronger. Research is still limited on exactly how CBN impacts sleep onset or duration.
  • Terpenes: Terpenes are aromatic compounds found in cannabis along with many other plants, including lemons, basil, oregano and pine trees. For example, if you’ve ever used lavender-scented products to help with relaxation, then you’ve experienced the power of linalool, a terpene found in lavender as well as in some cannabis chemovars (strains).

Cannabidiol (CBD) tincture with an illustration of CBD’s chemical structure and cannabis leaves in background.

How CBD Helps with Sleep – and How It Doesn’t

Remember when we mentioned the importance of identifying the root cause of your insomnia to find the best solution? CBD is the perfect example of why that’s the case.

If your sleeplessness is the result of anxiety, stress or inflammation-related pain, then CBD may be useful at higher doses. Paradoxically, lower doses of CBD may cause wakefulness. Dr. Dustin Sulak discusses this challenge in an interview on his Healer.com website.

However, if you are contending with age-related changes in your sleep patterns, CBD may not be enough to solve your sleep issues.

Unfortunately, when CBD doesn’t work, many folks write off plant-based alternatives as a failed experiment and resign themselves to chronic fatigue or less-than-ideal pharmaceuticals.

Why CBD May Not Solve Your Sleep Problems

CBD doesn’t bind with the CB1 receptors that are concentrated in your brain and nervous system, but THC does. That gives THC an advantage when dealing with age-related sleep issues that are connected to the brain.

“But wait,” you might be saying, “I don’t want to get high—I just want to get a good night’s sleep!”

At Leaf411, we understand. Despite growing research and medical marijuana legalization in over half the states, the plant still suffers from stigma and misconceptions.

Stoner stereotypes are hard to shake, especially when some brands and celebrities promote the recreational, fun aspects of cannabis and not the plant’s therapeutic value.

Also, occasional fear-mongering news stories report how potent cannabis is today, but that’s not the full story. The legalization of marijuana in many states has allowed for more precise cultivation and manufacturing practices to develop flower (bud), concentrates, edibles, tinctures and other products tailored to different consumers. As a result, you’ll find products designed for consumers seeking high-THC products as well as for consumers looking for much smaller amounts of THC, or even ratio products with balanced amounts of THC and CBD.

Most legal states also require licensed marijuana cultivators and manufacturers to regularly test their products, assuring that the stated levels of THC are accurate. CBD products, on the other hand, are not required to undergo any testing, so it’s buyer beware.

Wooden letter blocks spelling out “Microdosing” referencing microdosing THC for relief.

Microdosing THC for Sleep, Not to Get High

When it comes to using marijuana for sleep, our mantra at Leaf411 is to start low and go slow.

Leading cannabis physicians support this approach, including Leaf411 board member Dr. Dave Gordon as well as Dr. Dustin Sulak.

Even very small amounts of THC, like 2mg, can have therapeutic benefits. Using very small amounts of THC is called microdosing, and it’s an increasingly popular option among people of all ages who are seeking cannabis’s health benefits without an intoxicating high.

Because everyone’s endocannabinoid system is different, the minimum dose required for positive effects is also different—that’s why we always say to start low and go slow to find your optimal dose. How low? At Leaf411, we suggest starting with ¼ the suggested serving size on the package, or 1-2 mg of THC, whichever is lower.

You may not feel anything at the lowest dose, but by starting low and going up slowly each night, you can build up your dose safely until you find the right amount that works for your body. When increasing by a milligram or less each night, you may still end up with a dose that makes you feel a bit too groggy in the morning or uncomfortable before falling asleep. If this happens, just go back to the dose that was comfortable and reassess after a few days. When using ingestible products (edibles and tinctures), it can take up to 2 hours for you to feel an effect, so allow plenty of time before increasing your dose.

Old-fashioned clock at 7:15 pm, reminding someone to use THC a few hours before bedtime to help with insomnia.

It is always vital to time your dose about 1-2 hours before you want to fall asleep instead of waiting until the moment you are climbing into bed. Timing your dose will allow you to relax before bedtime instead of watching the clock and hoping it kicks in fast.

Our Leaf411 nurses always guide our callers to safe use by cautioning about potential side effects from THC, which is dry mouth and an unsteady gait. Our nurses suggest keeping a glass of water at your bedside so there is no need to walk to the kitchen and risk falling when you feel the cannabis take effect. These precautions are very similar to those you’d take with any other sleep medications.

Healthy older white woman at home sitting on a yoga mat while calling Leaf411 with sleep questions.

Helping You Find the Best Cannabis Product for Insomnia and Sleep

Our Leaf nurses are knowledgeable about the unique challenges that seniors face in getting a good night’s sleep. Our goal is to provide balanced education and clinically-sound guidance that is specific to your needs and goals. Our commitment is to you—the consumer—not to a particular product or company.

Call our anonymous hotline for free at 844-LEAF411 (844-532-3411) or chat us from the Leaf411.org homepage during hotline hours for help with your cannabis questions. 

The Leaf411 cannabis nurse hotline provides free, anonymous education and directional support to the general public about the safe use of legal cannabis. We partner with select business members who meet our rigorous standards to extend our education and outreach efforts.

Various cannabis tinctures and other products, with cannabis flower (bud) in foreground.

Low-Dose Cannabis Options for Seniors

The cannabis market has responded to the growing popularity of microdosing by producing low-dose edibles and tinctures that make it easy to find the right dose. Many of these products are available in both THC versions as well as CBD:THC ratios.

Among our Leaf411 supporting members, Ripple offers a range of low-dose dissolvable powders that can be added to beverages or food or sprinkled directly on your tongue. Our member Wana Brands also provides low-dose vegan-friendly gummies, including new fast-acting gummies that take effect on average within 5-15 minutes. Medically Correct is another of our supporting members that is developing low-dose products tailored to different needs, including the recently launched Quiq brand, also designed for fast onset. Also, our supporting member Altus produces the Lucky Edibles micro-tart line with each tart containing only 2 mg THC. 

Fast-acting products like Ripple, Wana and Quiq are ideal for the person who has trouble falling asleep versus staying asleep. Something that you swallow is vital because these products tend to last 6-8 hours in your system, providing a longer sleep cycle than inhaled products that typically last about 2-4 hours. Gummies and tablets can be an excellent choice since they tend to be easier to cut into small pieces versus a chocolate that may crumble. 

It’s important to always pay attention to the dose size listed on product packaging. For edibles, in particular, there’s not one standard size or dose. One brand might produce 10 mg THC gummies, while a different brand’s gummies are 5 mg. Products like THC-infused candy bars contain multiple doses, typically with each square serving as a separate dose. Likewise, cannabis tinctures will list a dose on the bottle which you can measure out using the bottle dropper.


Cannabis and COVID-19: Do You Need to Change Your Cannabis Routine?

A Detailed Look at How Leaf411 Cannabis Nurses Help You Find the Best Cannabis and CBD Hemp Products for Improved Mental Health

Headshot of Leaf411’s Jennifer Axcell smiling in sunny outdoor setting.
Jennifer Axcell, Co-Founder and COO of Leaf411

Medically reviewed by Katherine Golden, RN
Written by Denise Rustning

Leaf411 co-founder and COO Jennifer Axcell has a lot of experience in using cannabis to effectively manage chronic pain and PTSD she suffered many years ago as a result of a car crash. She previously shared her story in our very first Leaf411 blog post.

But when coronavirus hit, Jennifer’s PTSD crept back up as stay-at-home restrictions and uncertainty took hold.

“I was struggling, I couldn’t eat or stop crying. I was not feeling like myself. Nothing seemed to help—not even my normal cannabis products. I was afraid that I would have to go back on the same pharmaceuticals that I’d used years ago, along with their terrible side effects,” Jennifer said. 

Instead, Jennifer decided to first check in with her friend and Leaf411 co-founder/CEO Katherine Golden, RN, to get her input. Katherine quickly recognized that a change was needed.

An Inside View of the Leaf411 Cannabis Hotline Triage Process

“When I spoke to Jennifer that day, I triaged her just like I would a caller on the hotline,” Katherine said.

Those triage questions included:

  • What is your daily cannabis consumption? 
  • How many milligrams of CBD and in what form (CBD hemp product, isolate, etc.) do you use?
  • How many milligrams of THC and what type? (Knowing the brand helps us look at the terpene profile if any) 
  • How did this cannabis routine help you prior to this sudden change and what have you done differently since?
  • Describe your feelings when using the products. (This is good to know when trying to figure out someone’s tolerance).

Katherine sits in front of the Leaf411 Hotline banner, wearing a computer headset
Katherine Golden, RN, Co-Founder and CEO of Leaf411, shown during a recent webinar. Katherine is one of several Leaf nurses who staff the hotline.
Durban Poison tincture bottle with product details: 100 mg THC olive oil infusion with 18:1 THC:THCV ratio
Conscious Medz Durban Poison strain-specific tincture

After obtaining all the necessary pieces of the puzzle, Katherine was able to determine that:

  1. Jennifer had continued to increase her CBD hemp from 25mg/day to 50mg or more/day thinking she needed to consume more to reduce her anxiety. She knew that CBD could have biphasic effects (having the opposite effects when used in higher doses), though she thought this occured only with much higher doses than she was taking. CBD can actually worsen conditions or be completely ineffective when used too much, which to Katherine sounded exactly what Jennifer was experiencing. Her CBD was no longer working at the higher level, so Katherine suggested she reduce down to 10-20mg/day BUT also try a tiny amount of THC for its uplifting effects.

    Katherine suggested our business member Conscious Medz product Durban Poison tincture since it has a nice amount of limonene (shows benefits for anxiety and depression) plus a large amount of terpinolene which shows to be very uplifting for daytime use. She suggested that Jennifer only use a micro dose of 2.5mg to start, which should avoid any type of impairment but would be a high enough dose to lift her spirits.

Remedy 1:1 ratio indica tincture bottle with product details: Olive oil infusion with THC and CBD
Conscious Medz Remedy 1:1 Indica Tincture

  1. Jennifer had switched from her THC inhalation (due to COVID precautions) to an edible. The product she was using was made from a distillate with minimal other compounds and no added terpenes. It worked for her prior to the increased stress, but Katherine knew that Jennifer needed something that had a chemovar that included its terpene profile. Katherine suggested Conscious Medz again since their Remedy tincture is a 1:1 Indica with a wonderful amount of sedating terpenes. Katherine again suggested starting with a micro dose and increasing one drop at a time each night until an optimal dose was reached. This meant reaching the point of sedation with a small amount of euphoria and also having the terpenes that benefit anxiety.

This regimen ended up being the perfect combination. 

“After five hours of taking the Conscious Medz Durban Poison tincture, I cracked my first smile in as many days,” Jennifer said.

Jennifer continued, “The biggest ‘aha’ moment for me was looking at the terpene profile. I know I am not the only patient who tends to focus on cannabinoid content (because those are always listed clearly on the packaging) and had forgotten the role that terpenes play. That’s one of the things I like about the Conscious Medz productsthe terpenes are clearly listed on the packaging.”

Jennifer’s new cannabis regimen is a huge shift from where she started and has been for years, which was being an extremely educated inhalation user, to realizing that even small amounts (micro doses) of the right chemovars and cannabinoid ratios may work well for her body’s supplement needs.

Now, Jennifer is feeling better mentally and physically. However, she knows that many others are facing similar challenges as they find their normal cannabis consumption is no longer providing the good sleep, relaxation or pain relief that it has in the past.

An African-American mother sitting on a sofa, stressed with her head down in her hand while her kids run around the living room.

Why Your Usual Stress Relief Routine May No Longer Work

We all have routines that help get us through normal times, but many of those routines have either been interrupted or overwhelmed by the last few months of change.

Anxiety is at an all-time high, according to research. We’re worried about our own health and especially that of our family and friends. We’re worried about how COVID-19 will impact our children’s education. We’re worried about our finances and the economy.

Many of our usual tools for dealing with stress and anxiety are not available—no trips to the gym, weekend brunch outings, or get-togethers with friends to commiserate and provide in-person support. While many resources have moved online, it’s a tough transition.

That means the tools we do have left—including CBD hemp (containing less than 0.3% THC and legal at the federal level) as well as marijuana (containing over 0.3% THC and sold at dispensaries in legal states)—have a lot of heavy lifting to do!

Close-up of colorful CBD hemp gummies and marijuana flower (buds) scattered on the tabletop.

Reassessing Your Cannabis and CBD Hemp Needs

Perhaps in the past, you only consumed marijuana or CBD hemp edibles every once in a while to help with sleep after a stressful workday, but now you’re finding that you’re using edibles every night.

As you can see from Jennifer’s example, everyone is different when it comes to the challenges they are facing and the potential for CBD hemp or marijuana to help. Our Leaf nurses have specialized training to thoroughly assess your needs and provide guidance for safe, effective plant-based medicine that’s tailored to your needs. Call us via our toll-free hotline at 844-LEAF411 (844-532-3411) or chat us from our homepage during hotline hours.

An African-American mother and her daughter doing yoga together, sitting in easy pose with eyes closed, representing other wellness strategies.

Embracing Other Wellness Strategies and Support

We often remind people that cannabis is only one of many tools in your toolbox. The power of cannabis is amplified by other supportive practices, from good nutrition to exercise and mindfulness.

Going back to the sleep example, we suggest not only looking at your cannabis use but also your other nighttime routines. Perhaps you always scanned through social media before going to bed. However, with the current public discourse often leading to online arguments, you might find you need to sign from social media in evenings instead of winding up in a debate with some internet stranger.

In Jennifer’s case, in addition to updating her cannabis regimen, she also committed to taking breaks from daily news and social media, which also helped.

Smiling African-American nurse in blue scrubs making a phone symbol with her hand, reminding readers that the Leaf411 hotline welcomes your calls.

Leaf411 Can Help You Find the Best CBD Hemp or Marijuana Regimen for Your Needs

The current COVID-19 pandemic has interrupted ongoing health routines while also drastically increasing anxiety and stress, which take a toll on both physical and mental health.

Many “canna-curious” folks are deciding that now is the time to give either legal marijuana or CBD hemp a try as an alternative for stress relief or wellness.

And for experienced consumers, many are wondering if a different cannabis chemovar (strain) or product type might provide better results when dealing with our current times.

Our cannabis-trained fully-licensed Leaf nurses can help! Give us a call at 844-LEAF411 (844-532-3411) or chat us from our homepage during hotline hours. 

The Leaf411 cannabis nurse hotline provides free, anonymous education and directional support to the general public about the safe use of legal cannabis. We partner with select business members who meet our rigorous standards to extend our education and outreach efforts.


Our Top April 2020 Hotline Questions: Cannabis and COVID-19

Cannabis Users’ Questions as the COVID-19 Pandemic Progressed

As the COVID-19 pandemic evolved, so did your questions. Today, our Founder and CEO Katherine Golden, RN, shares some of the most common types of cannabis and hemp CBD questions the hotline received over the past few months. Katherine also talks about why the questions that she and other Leaf nurses are currently receiving gives her hope as we all adapt to changing circumstances brought about by COVID-19.

When COVID-19 first came to Colorado, there were still many, many unknowns with the virus. Guidance at the national, state and local levels seemed to be changing on a daily basis.

At Leaf411, we immediately sprung into action to do all we could to support both our community members and the cannabis industry as a whole.

Old-fashioned red telephone handsets representing busy COVID-19 hotlines.

After hearing that many health hotlines were being overwhelmed with questions about coronavirus, we expanded our hotline’s scope to respond to general questions about coronavirus. We also took cues based on caller questions and developed marijuana dispensary preparedness plans and resources, which are discussed below.

Portable credit card machine held in a gloved hand, showing precautions marijuana dispensaries take to keep customers and employees safe.

The First Round of Cannabis Consumer Questions: Product Safety

On our hotline, we began receiving questions focused on callers’ immediate concerns around access and product safety. Colorado and other states with legal cannabis designated cannabis as essential which ensured access; however, one big question remained: How do I know my product is safe?

CBD hemp consumers and legal marijuana consumers were worried about potential virus exposure via product packaging. They also had many questions about how to ensure product manufacturers, in-person and online retailers, and legal marijuana dispensaries were safely handling products prior to sale.

In response, we provided the latest information based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) guidance, translating those recommendations to the cannabis space.

We also developed preparedness plans and resources for both our supporting members and other non-member dispensaries.

Colorful cannabis edible gummies stacked next to a cannabis leaf.

Changing Cannabis Questions: Concerns about CBD and COVID-19

Legal marijuana dispensaries and CBD hemp sellers did a good job developing safety plans for both their employees and customers, often going above and beyond state mandates for essential businesses. Once customers became familiar with the new protocols, their concerns about product and packaging safety subsided.

However, as everyone’s understanding of COVID-19 continued to grow, research emerged that nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen could worsen COVID-19 symptoms. This issue is still being discussed and debated in the clinical research community. Like many things with COVID-19, we are still very much in the learning phase.

As research on NSAIDS and COVID-19 began circulating in the news, we started fielding calls on the hotline from people who use CBD for its anti-inflammatory properties. Many people have success using CBD to manage symptoms related to osteoarthritis and inflammatory pain. Did they need to change course to reduce their risk of developing serious coronavirus symptoms?

On the Leaf411 hotline, our guidance is always driven by both the research and the unique needs of each caller, so we can’t give a one-size-fits-all answer here. 

However, this resource may help, if you have general questions about cannabis and COVID-19. 

Also, our fully-licensed Leaf nurses are available to answer your specific questions at no cost to you at 844-LEAF411 (844-532-3411).

Clinician wearing PPE holds up a chest x-ray, looking closely for signs of COVID-19 infection.

Cannabis and Lung Health During the Coronavirus Pandemic

COVID-19 is a respiratory virus primarily affecting the lungs. When the virus began to spread, we anticipated that many cannabis users would switch over to non-inhaled products—things like edibles or tinctures.

The reality has been more complicated than that. It’s true that sales figures for edibles (which include tinctures) are strong. However, flower (bud) also remains very popular.

Some industry experts think this is because cannabis flower is the equivalent of a comfort food. Most peoples’ first cannabis experiences were smoking flower, and in times of uncertainty people go back to what they know and trust.

Other people are moving forward with trying new cannabis consumption methods. On the Leaf411 hotline, we’ve heard from people who are navigating the switch from smokable to ingested cannabis products.

It can be difficult to figure out how much to start with, when changing from a flower product containing about 25% THC to an edible with 10 mg THC per piece. Add on to that the fact that inhaled THC enters your bloodstream more quickly while edible products pass through the digestive system and are changed by your metabolic practices. This means using flower versus edible can be very different in how quickly it hits, how long it lasts, and how intensely effects are felt.

Close-up of hand holding joint offering it to another person, with the other person’s hand up declining, choosing other cannabis consumption methods instead.

Cannabis Consumption Methods: Questions About Moving from Flower to Edibles

The switch from smokable to edible cannabis products isn’t as straightforward as you’d think, even for experienced cannabis users. The calls we’ve received on the hotline underscore the importance of understanding product dosing, and starting low and going slow when switching to edibles and tinctures.

In one case, we received a call from someone who assumed that an entire cannabis-infused chocolate bar equaled one dose. In fact, each square of the cannabis chocolate bar was a separate dose!

It’s an easy mistake to make, considering that grocery store candy bars count as a single serving. Unfortunately, in this caller’s case, their mistake meant that they used more cannabis than intended. While this isn’t life-threatening, it can result in a negative experience.

Due to social distancing practices, you may not be able to chat with your budtender about different products like you did in the past.

At Leaf411, we can help! Our cannabis-trained, fully licensed registered nurses know how flower and edibles differ in timing and dosing. Whether you’re planning an online dispensary order, or just returned home with a new product, we can with any questions you have at our free hotline: 844-LEAF411 (844-532-3411). We’re also available via online chat. Look for the chat feature on the bottom of our website home page.

Young African-American man wearing a casual denim shirt and a surgical mask, with hands outstretched in asking gesture.

Our Latest Cannabis Hotline Questions: A Return to Routine Health Concerns

The COVID-19 virus will be a presence in our world for the foreseeable future. The latest calls to our Leaf411 hotline reflect this new reality. The anxiety and fear are still there, but it’s no longer an emergent issue demanding all of our attention. This shift in focus is an encouraging sign, showing that people are finding balance and perspective despite challenging times.

People are shifting their focus back to ongoing health concerns, and medical facilities are opening back up for routine care and elective procedures. (It’s important to note that “elective” includes a wide range of procedures, including joint replacements, biopsies, and even some cancer treatments!) 

As people return to routine care and undergo elective procedures, we’re hearing more questions about cannabis as an alternative for managing health conditions. We’re also getting questions about using cannabis both prior to and after surgery.

Of course, you’ll always want to share your medical history, including cannabis use, with your doctor prior to any surgery or medical treatment. You should also talk with your primary provider ahead of time about your goal to use cannabis as an alternative to opioids following surgery.

If you need help with talking points or research to share with your provider, give us a call at 844-LEAF411 (844-532-3411). Our Leaf nurses understand the clinical research supporting cannabis and can help you find the right resources and research to share with your doctor.

The Leaf411 cannabis nurse hotline provides free, anonymous education and directional support to the general public about the safe use of legal cannabis. We partner with select business members who meet our rigorous standards to extend our education and outreach efforts.


Addressing Cannabis Stigma on the Leaf411 Nurse Hotline

Medically reviewed by Katherine Golden, RN
Written by Denise Rustning

The cannabis sativa plant has been used as medicine for over 1,500 years, according to historic records.

That can be hard to imagine sometimes, after nearly 100 years of cannabis prohibition in the United States.

Chances are good that you grew up hearing messages about the dangers of marijuana, complete with scary stories of addiction, irresponsible behavior, and negative health impacts.

Where did these messages come from? It’s a long story that we’ll be covering in a future blog, but the takeaway is that many of these negative stories and stereotypes were driven by politics and money, not by research.

Now, research is showing that much of the old propaganda simply isn’t true.

Male clinician in white coat reviewing cannabis research, standing in medical library holding thick book.

With legalization expanding at the state level, many people across all walks of life are going public with their use, showing that cannabis can be used responsibly for therapeutic or recreational purposes.

The cannabis plant contains many different cannabinoids, including tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). When we talk about cannabis, we’re really talking about two categories of products:

  • CBD hemp products are now legal under federal law and almost all state laws (Idaho, Nebraska and South Dakota are the exception). CBD hemp comes from hemp plants—cannabis plants bred and grown to contain very little to no THC. Under federal law, CBD hemp products are limited to less than 0.3% THC.
  • THC is the cannabinoid responsible for the “high” that people feel when using cannabis. Products containing over 0.3% THC are legally sold in dispensaries in states that have voted for legal recreational or medical marijuana.

Despite growing acceptance, many people run headfirst into misconceptions and stigma when considering whether to try cannabis themselves.

Anatomical model of brain in a laboratory. Photo by Robina Weermeijer/Unsplash

Tackling the Stigma: Cannabis Will Not Destroy Your Brain

Our hotline callers are often concerned about whether cannabis will kill brain cells. When we recently talked to Dave Gordon, MD, one of our Leaf411 Advisory Board members, he shared similar stories of patients who worried that cannabis would hurt their brains. Dr. Dave explained that in response, he shares the research showing that in fact, cannabis won’t harm the adult brain, and may even be protective against certain neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Likewise, our hotline nurses always go to the research when answering specific questions about how cannabis may impact brain health. Peer-reviewed studies can be hard to decipher if you don’t have a medical background and clinical training. One reason we created the FREE Leaf411 cannabis hotline is to help bridge the gap between cannabis research and the public.

Distorted repeated image of woman’s face, representing discomfort from being too high after using cannabis. Photo by Diana Satellite/Unsplash

The Fear of Getting Too High from Cannabis

When people first call the hotline, they often express concerns that using any amount of THC at all, even the very small amount in CBD hemp products, will make them too high.

THC is not like a simple on-off light switch, though.

Instead, you can think of it like a gas pedal in a car, where more gas equals greater speed. The amount of THC you use will impact how much of the “high” you feel—or whether you feel those intoxicating effects at all.

For example, the amount of THC in a full spectrum hemp product is not enough for you to feel it—but it is enough to contribute to the entourage effect when the different plant compounds work together to provide enhanced therapeutic benefits.

Some people are most comfortable starting with CBD hemp products to test the waters and see if it helps their health concern. And CBD hemp is the only legal option for people living in states where recreational and medical marijuana are outlawed.

When you call the hotline, we listen and take your goals and priorities into consideration. We can provide specific guidance to help you minimize the risk of feeling “too high,” while also helping you find a product that is a good match for your needs.

Molecular diagram of THC, with cannabis leaves in background.

THC: Bogeyman or Powerful Plant Ally?

You may still be skeptical about the power of THC, since that cannabinoid is at the root of the propaganda from the past century.

If full-spectrum CBD hemp products contain all the plant compounds, after all, then why is more THC needed?

It’s true that full spectrum CBD hemp alone provides relief for many people, especially when dealing with inflammation pain.

However, when someone is dealing with chronic neuropathic pain, a higher dose of THC may offer more relief, due to the fact that THC works with the same nervous system receptors that opiates do, without the problematic side effects that come with opiates.

The THC cannabinoid can also help with relaxation and mental release, whether you’re dealing with pain, anxiety or other health concerns. However, it can take some trial and error to find the best product, dose and even CBD:THC ratio for your needs.

At Leaf411, our goal is to empower our callers so that your experiences with cannabis are positive. Our hotline nurses have the training and experience to help guide you in the right direction on your journey.

Female nurse in scrubs with a skeptical expression, questioning cannabis’s medical benefits

Addressing Cannabis Stigma Among Clinicians

We know that not all doctors, nurses and other clinicians are on the same page when it comes to the potential therapeutic benefits of cannabis.

Keep in mind, clinicians grew up with the same stereotypes and stigmas as the rest of us. Odds are good that when they went to nursing or medical school, they received little to no education on cannabis, either. For example, a study published in 2017 found that only 9% of medical schools included education on prescribing medical marijuana.

As clinicians ourselves, we always suggest that you discuss your cannabis use with your primary care provider. As providers see more patients who are successfully using cannabis to treat different health conditions, their own minds may be changed about the power of plant-based medicine. In our interview with Dr. Dave, he makes some suggestions for how to broach the topic with your primary care provider.

State legalization, as well as federal legalization of CBD hemp, has put cannabis on the radar for many physicians, nurses and other clinicians. When we talk to our colleagues, we hear them saying that they know their patients are turning to CBD hemp and marijuana as an alternative.

However, as long as cannabis remains illegal at the federal level, many clinicians are reluctant to proactively suggest this option to patients, especially when they don’t have specialized education to guide their recommendations. In addition to a lack of knowledge, they face potential professional repercussions from their own employer or licensing bodies.

Pioneers in the Field: Cannabis Doctors and Nurses

Despite the challenges, many doctors and nurses are actively seeking out the research and training to provide medically-sound guidance to patients on cannabis as a treatment option.

They may be like Dr. Dave, who saw the limits of conventional medicine in bringing relief and balance back to patients’ lives. He began digging deep into the research after realizing he needed better tools.

They may also be like our very own CEO, Katherine Golden, RN, a nurse with over 22 years of experience. She turned to the research when helping a family member who had a cancer diagnosis, and found compelling research on cannabis in well-known medical databases like PubMed and ScienceDirect.

In the coming month, we’ll highlight our Leaf411 hotline nurses, as well as the special training they undergo to prepare them for your calls.

The Leaf411 Hotline: A FREE Public Resource for Your Cannabis Questions

Our hotline nurses are ready to answer your questions on our free anonymous hotline. We combine our nursing expertise with specialized knowledge of the medicinal benefits of cannabis, providing balanced, research-based information and support. Call us at 844-LEAF411 (844-532-3411).

The Leaf411 cannabis nurse hotline provides free, anonymous education and directional support to the general public about the safe use of legal cannabis. We partner with select business members who meet our rigorous standards to extend our education and outreach efforts.


Question of the Month: What Are Transdermal Cannabis Patches and Gels?

Medically reviewed by Katherine Golden, RN
Written by Denise Rustning

We often get questions on the Leaf411 hotline about the different types of cannabis products on the market today.

The product people are most surprised to hear about? Transdermal patches or gels containing cannabis plant compounds—either cannabidiol (CBD), tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), or both CBD and THC. Transdermal products may also feature other cannabinoids like CBN or THCa (tetrahydrocannabinolic acid), which is a raw, non-psychoactive form of THC.

Transdermal products can even contain other cannabinoids, terpenes, and compounds that have therapeutic benefits.

How Transdermal Products Work

What makes transdermal patches or gels different than regular topical products you put on your skin like creams or salves?

Normally, the skin acts as a barrier. While creams and salves are absorbed by the outer layers of skin, they do not make it past all the skin layers and into the bloodstream.

However, transdermal products contain specially formulated carrier agents to help medicines, including cannabinoids, to fully penetrate the skin barrier and be absorbed directly into the bloodstream.This route of administration eliminates the need for medicines to first pass through the digestive system or respiratory system (if inhaled). It also allows for more consistent dosing over longer periods of time.

Transdermal patches and gels are not unique to cannabis. In fact, you’ve probably seen transdermal patches used to deliver other medications.

Transdermal routes of administration are used for certain birth control products, smoking cessation and motion sickness. They’re also used to deliver opioids like fentanyl that are prescribed for persistent chronic pain.

Cannabis transdermal patches use the same technology. The middle of the patch contains different cannabinoids like THC, CBD, or CBN. In some cases, terpenes and other therapeutic compounds like menthol or eucalyptus are also added. Manufacturers also add carrier agents, so that the compounds will be more readily absorbed through the skin and into the bloodstream.

The Advantages of Transdermal Cannabis Products

Transdermal cannabis patches and gels are a good option for people who want cannabis’s therapeutic benefits, but have health conditions or other restrictions that prevent them from either inhaling (smoking/vaping) or ingesting edibles or pill-based forms.

Finding an Effective Transdermal Product

Product quality is a big factor when choosing transdermal cannabis products. As we mentioned earlier, simply putting a cream or salve on your skin and letting it soak in does not make it “transdermal.” Many people—and even some budtenders—don’t understand this difference.

Look for products specifically labeled as “transdermal,” and make sure the manufacturer provides Certificates of Analysis (COAs) on their website with test results confirming the amount of THC, CBD and other cannabinoids.

CBD hemp-based transdermal patches and gels are federally legal (containing less than 0.3% THC). They can be found online or in retail outlets in most states.

Transdermal patches and gels containing higher amounts of THC are only legally sold at recreational or medical dispensaries.

How to Use Transdermal CBD Products

Transdermal CBD patches or gels are typically applied on a part of your body that has veins near the skin’s surface, like the inside of your wrist or on your ankle. The time of onset is rapid, sometimes within 20 minutes, and lasts for up to 12 hours. Remember that CBD is not intoxicating, so you won’t feel “high” from a transdermal CBD patch.

The Quill transdermal CBD gel pen by Arcanum, designed to provide fast relief when applied to venous areas.

In some cases, transdermal patches can be applied elsewhere on the body for localized relief. For example, our supporting member Arcanum makes Sarco Skin, a CBD-infused kinesiology tape. Kinesiology tape is a favorite of athletes, and may help by supporting muscles and joints, while also having a positive impact on pain signals.

Sarco Skin kinesiology tape by Arcanum is a transdermal product infused with CBD.

How to Use Transdermal THC Products

Transdermal products containing THC work in much the same way as those containing CBD, with relatively quick onset and an extended, consistent dose. Many people report that the intoxicating effects of THC are more subdued when using transdermal products containing THC or a 1:1 CBD:THC ratio.

Transdermal cannabis patch being applied on the inside of the wrist, where veins are near the surface of the skin.

When considering your dose, take into account that almost all of the cannabinoids contained in the patch are bioavailable. In other words, you don’t lose part of the dose through first-pass metabolism in your digestive system like you do with edibles.

We always suggest starting with one-fourth of the suggested dose or serving size. 

Transdermal gel can be dosed in smaller amounts. 

For transdermal cannabis patches, products like Mary’s Medicinals transdermal patches can be cut into smaller pieces to provide a lower dose. We suggest you check the manufacturer’s website to make sure the transdermal patch is designed so that it can be cut into smaller portions.

Transdermal cannabis patch cut in half with scissors, allowing a smaller dose to be used.

Need Help with Your Cannabis Questions?

The FREE anonymous Leaf411 hotline nurses can help with your questions, whether you’re a recreational cannabis user, patient, or a clinician wanting to learn more about plant-based medicine. Call us at 844-LEAF411 (844-532-3411).

The Leaf411 cannabis nurse hotline provides free, anonymous education and directional support to the general public about the safe use of legal cannabis. We partner with select business members who meet our rigorous standards to extend our education and outreach efforts.


Finding the Best CBD:THC Ratios and Products for Pain

How Different CBD:THC Ratios and Types of Products Can Help with Pain

Medically reviewed by Katherine Golden, RN
Written by Denise Rustning

Last week, we overviewed different types of pain and shared how cannabis might help.

When it comes to treating pain with cannabis, both the type of product and the ratio of cannabinoids matter. The two primary cannabinoids are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), though the cannabis plant contains many other cannabinoids, terpenes, plus other compounds that contribute to its therapeutic effect.

CBD: This cannabinoid is the star player in hemp products which are federally legal. CBD hemp products are required to have below 0.3% THC, which is such a small amount that it’s not intoxicating and won’t get you high. You’ll also find CBD in cannabis products that contain higher levels of THC.

THC: The cannabinoid responsible for the “high,” if used in large enough amounts. Cannabis products containing over 0.3% THC remain illegal at the federal level and can only be legally purchased in states that have legalized recreational or medical marijuana.

Understanding the roles that both CBD and THC play in managing pain can help you find the best product for your needs. If you need a quick refresher on the types of pain that CBD and THC work best on, check out our previous post here.

Timing Your Dose: How Different Cannabis Products Reduce Pain

Whether you’re looking at CBD hemp or cannabis containing higher levels of THC (sold legally in dispensaries), you have several different routes of administration to choose between:

  • Inhalation (smoking, vaping): Takes effect immediately and lasts 2-4 hours. This is a great choice for instant relief and for treating breakthrough pain (a flare-up in pain when you’re already taking longer-acting cannabis products). You can also layer inhaled cannabis with a longer-acting method (more on layering below) to help get you through the night.
  • Transdermal (patches, gels): Extended release option that takes effect quickly, since the cannabinoids are absorbed directly into your bloodstream. The time of onset is rapid, sometimes within 20 minutes. Transdermal products provide a consistent dose of medicine for up to 12 hours. The transdermal patch or gel is used on an area where the veins are near the skin’s surface—like the inside of your wrist or on your ankle.
  • Sublingual (placed under the tongue): Sublingual administration can provide rapid relief, but there are few true oromucosal (sublingual) products on the market. Cannabinoids are fat-soluble and, in their natural state, do not absorb well into the oral mucosa. Moreover, cannabis products are often extracted into oils, and these products are not water-soluble. Patients often expect rapid onset when using tinctures, only to wait 1-3 hours for the dose to take effect. Many products marketed as tinctures will end up being swallowed and absorbed via the digestive system, regardless of how long they are held under the tongue. A true sublingual (a product in which the cannabinoids are formulated to be more water-soluble) absorbs rapidly into the mouth. The effects can be perceived in 15-20 minutes and can last 4-6 hours.
  • Edibles (gummies, capsules): Edibles take effect in between 30 minutes and 2 hours. You’ll feel their effects between 5-8 hours. They provide a discreet, portable long-acting option.
  • Topicals (creams, salves): Topicals provide short-term localized relief. They can take effect within minutes, and may last for up to an hour.

Understanding CBD:THC Ratios

Most marijuana flower sold at legal dispensaries is THC-dominant, with very little CBD. Of course there are exceptions, such as The Wife strain or even some CBD hemp flower strains. However, odds are that if you’re using flower, you won’t find ratios connected to the strain.

Once you start looking at other cannabis products, including vapes, you’ll notice ratios on many—but not all—product labels. Common ratios include 1:1, 5:1, 10:1, and even 20:1. What do these numbers mean? And how do they help with your pain?

The ratio indicates the amount of CBD compared to the amount of THC.

  • A 1:1 ratio is when the amount of CBD and THC are the same in each dose.
  • On the other hand, if a product has a 5:1 ratio, that means there’s five times as much CBD as THC in each dose.

It’s important to note that the ratio is not the same as the amount of CBD and THC. Our supporting member 1906 makes several different products, including their Midnight drops and Genius drops, that are designed to be swallowed. The ratio of each of these recreational products is 1:1—but the amount of CBD and THC in each is different.

  • The 1906 Midnight 1:1 drops have 5 mg of CBD and 5 mg of THC per dose.
  • The 1906 Genius drops are also a 1:1 ratio; however, they have 2.5 mg each of CBD and THC.

What if a product doesn’t list a ratio? In that case, look closely at the product label. The chances are good that the product either contains all CBD, with little or no THC (legal CBD hemp products fall in this category), or the product contains all THC.

What’s the Best CBD:THC Ratio For Your Pain?

The CBD and THC cannabinoids work individually to target different types of pain. By combining them in different ratios, though, you can achieve different effects to fit your specific needs. 

While everyone is different, the following guidelines work for most people:

1:1 – Equal amounts of THC and CBD. A good option to try for all kinds of pain, including neuropathic pain. Products with a 1:1 ratio can be uplifting but this ratio will most likely cause impairment if using the suggested serving size. Always start low, go slow, to avoid intoxicating effects.

2:1, 4:1, 5:1 – A balanced product that can provide optimized levels of both CBD and THC for medicinal use, based on the fact that higher doses of CBD are often needed for relief. Can be intoxicating. 

10:1 – A high CBD alternative for people who find the 5:1 ratio to be too intoxicating.

20:1 – High CBD levels along with very low THC levels provide a good option for managing inflammation pain. Very rarely intoxicating.

Leaf411’s supporting members offer many different CBD:THC ratios to meet different needs.

Be sure to closely look at the product label to make sure you understand the ratio! While it’s not as common, some manufacturers state the ratio reflecting the THC first and the CBD content second, like our member incredibles 10:1 THC:CBD tincture.

Layering Different Cannabis Products

Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night when your pain medication wore off, and suffered as you re-dosed and waited for the medicine to kick in? Fortunately, with CBD and THC products, you can layer different product types to reduce the changes of this happening.

For example, you might use a shorter-acting sublingual pill or vape to bring instant relief, together with an edible or transdermal patch to get you through the night.

If you’re using products containing THC (the cannabinoid that can be intoxicating and make you feel “high”), you’ll want to be careful with your dosing to make sure you don’t get end up with too much THC. The best approach is to start low and slow.

While you cannot overdose on THC, the feeling of being “too high” can be uncomfortable. Our website provides tips for what to do if you feel too high.

Cannabis as an Adjunct Therapy

Depending on how you use cannabis and other medications, there can be possible medication interactions. Our Leaf411 library offers guidance on specific medication interactions here

We recommend consulting with a clinician before combining cannabis (which includes CBD hemp products!) with pharmaceuticals or over-the-counter pain medications.

Our Leaf411 cannabis-trained registered nurses can help with questions specific to medications you’re taking, and our service is FREE! Call us at 844-LEAF411 (844-532-3411).

We’re Here to Help!

We realize that it can feel overwhelming when researching cannabis for pain. There are so many options—different types of products and different ratios. 

Research on cannabis as a safe alternative for treating pain continues to grow. As nurses, we’ve heard and seen firsthand the power of this plant-based medicine, and we stay up-to-date on the latest findings and clinical guidelines for using cannabis for pain. 

Our Leaf411 hotline nurses have both specialized training and experience helping people to find the best option for their particular situation. We’d love to share our expertise with you as well! Reach out to us on our free, anonymous hotline at at 844-LEAF411 (844-532-3411).

The Leaf411 cannabis nurse hotline provides free, anonymous education and directional support to the general public about the safe use of legal cannabis. We partner with select business members who meet our rigorous standards to extend our education and outreach efforts.


Cannabis May Help with Different Types of Pain

How Cannabis May Help with Different Types of Pain

Medically reviewed by Katherine Golden, RN
Written by Denise Rustning

We receive many calls on the Leaf411 cannabis nurse hotline from people who are curious to learn how cannabis might help with their pain.

In today’s post, we’ll share some information based on the questions we hear. We also provide suggestions on how to match the right cannabis product to your pain.

Our goal to help callers find a solution allows them to be functional. Of course, you’re always welcome to call our hotline with questions as well!

Much like any other medicine, cannabis is not a magic pill but it’s a tool. From the research and our own experiences working with patients, we believe that the cannabis plant may be an effective alternative to opiates or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen and acetaminophen, which can carry unwanted side effects if overused.

Cannabis for Pain: A Powerful Tool

When it comes to pain, everyone is different. How you experience pain, as well as your pain tolerance level, is shaped by a lot of different factors.

In the same way, people respond to medicines differently. That’s one reason why so many different painkillers are on the market today!

Cannabis is emerging as a different option, proving to be a powerful new tool for controlling pain. The cannabinoids in the cannabis plant, especially cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), have been shown to reduce inflammation and pain. Other cannabinoids and plant compounds like terpenes also play a role in reducing pain. (You can read more about terpenes in one of our past posts ).

Federal restrictions in the United States continue to limit research on how cannabis impacts pain; however, other countries such as Israel have completed considerable research on cannabis’s therapeutic benefits.

xray of broken collarbone, a source of acute pain.

Quick Primer on Types of Pain

Understanding the different types of pain and their sources can help you find the best cannabis options.

  • Acute pain usually comes about as the result of an injury, overuse, or medical procedure. While the initial pain can be mild or severe, it gets better over time as your body heals. Slamming your finger in a door results in acute pain. Post-workout soreness, broken bones and surgery recovery also fits into this category.
  • With chronic pain, “the pain itself becomes the disease,” explains Eduardo Fraifeld, MD, in this article. Doctors typically categorize pain lasting over 3-6 months as chronic pain. Chronic pain can be associated with arthritis, migraines, diabetes or multiple sclerosis (MS), among other conditions. It can be a side effect of chemotherapy or other long-term medical treatments. When an injury heals yet the pain remains, that also fits the description for chronic pain.

Pain can also be broken down into the following categories:

Person standing on track with hands on knee highlighted in red to indicate pain from overuse and inflammation.

  • Nociceptive pain: Pain in soft tissues, tendons or joints caused by injury, overuse, stress or illness. Arthritis and other types of inflammatory pain also fit in this category. Nociceptive pain tends to get better over time, except for arthritis. With this type of pain, inflammation triggers nearby nerves, resulting in aching or throbbing pain. 

Close-up of female arms and hands, one hand holding wrist highlighted in red to indicate carpal tunnel syndrome pain.

  • Neuropathic pain: Neuropathic pain, or nerve pain, originates in the nervous system, and is chronic in nature. It often feels like pins and needles, an electric shock, or a burning sensation. Some common causes of neuropathic pain are carpal tunnel syndrome, post-shingles symptoms, sciatica or pinched nerves, diabetes, and chemotherapy treatment. 

Man in gray t-shirt standing with his hands on his lower back, highlighted in red to indicate chronic low back pain.

  • Nociplastic pain: A relatively new category for pain that doesn’t fit well into the other two categories. Fibromyalgia, non-specific low back pain, irritable bowel syndrome, and pain associated with and exacerbated by centralized and peripheral sensitization are all examples of nociplastic pain.

THC or CBD? It Depends on the Person and the Type of Pain

Before we jump into the pros and cons of THC versus CBD, we have to mention that to some extent, every human body is different. Cannabis plant compounds (cannabinoids) work on the CB1 and CB2 receptors in your body’s endocannabinoid system (yes, that’s a real thing!). Your body even makes its own cannabinoids.

Everyone’s endocannabinoid system is just a bit different, just like everyone has their own pain tolerance levels. Keep this in mind if your neighbor recommends a specific product that ends up not working for you.

However, we can share some general guidelines for using CBD and THC for pain.

CBD: Many people successfully use CBD products to reduce inflammation-based pain . Full spectrum CBD hemp products containing all the plant compounds, including less than 0.3% THC, tend to be the most effective, since minor cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids and essential fatty acids work together synergistically to create the “entourage effect.”

CBD has potent anti-inflammatory properties that can help reduce either acute or chronic inflammation. CBD also works as a muscle relaxant and has been shown to reduce muscle spasms associated with MS and other health conditions.

By reducing inflammation, CBD indirectly helps reduce pain. However, it doesn’t bind directly to the receptors that control pain like an opioid does. For that, you need a different cannabinoid, THC.

THC: We’ve heard a lot of people immediately rule out products with THC because they’re concerned that it will make them act silly or that they’ll get too high.

It’s important to know that small amounts of THC may have minimal intoxicating effects. At the same time, THC—even small amounts—can be a gamechanger when it comes to pain.

THC acts on the same receptors in your body that opiates do; however, you don’t get some of the problematic side effects that opiates can bring—nausea, constipation, and risk of physical addiction.

Close-up of clinician’s hands, with one hand holding cannabis flower and the other holding pills, showing different options.

Cannabis Compared to Opiates

Ironically, long-term use of opiates for chronic pain can make you more sensitive to pain—an effect called opioid-induced hyperalgesia. What’s the recommended protocol in response to opioid-induced hyperalgesia? To wean off of opiates and find a safer alternative for managing pain. Cannabis is showing promise on this front, based on emerging research.

Cannabis does not cause pain sensitization but in fact can help treat it. While THC and other cannabinoids work through the same receptors that opiates do, the way that they reduce pain—their chemical process—is different.

Neuropathic pain is difficult to treat even with conventional pharmaceuticals. Generally, opioid use for chronic neuropathic pain is ineffective. One study considered the risk and benefits of opioids for the treatment of neuropathies and stated that “long-term opioid therapy didn’t improve the functional status but rather was associated with a higher risk of subsequent opioid dependency and overdose.” 

If you are going to try cannabis for your neuropathic pain, many different ratios and cannabinoids may need to be explored before finding something that may ease some of the pain so you need to manage your expectations accordingly.

Group of five young adult friends with two dogs walking across field at sunset, healthy and happy.

The Goal: To Restore Function

We wish that we could tell you that CBD or THC products will completely eliminate all pain; however, that’s not the case. If there were a magic one-size-fits-all cure for pain, the pharmaceutical companies would’ve discovered and patented it by now!

Instead, when we talk to people on the hotline, we always set the goal to reduce pain to a manageable level and restore function. When you restore function, you open the possibility of adding on additional supportive activities such as exercise and relaxation that further promote healing.

In our next post, we’ll take a closer look at the best CBD:THC ratios and products for pain. We’ll also talk about how to layer different products to provide optimal short-term and long-term pain relief. Check back next week for more information!

Can’t wait to get started? Our FREE Leaf411 hotline is available now to answer your questions about using cannabis to manage pain. Call us at 844-LEAF411 (844-532-3411).

The Leaf411 cannabis nurse hotline provides free, anonymous education and directional support to the general public about the safe use of legal cannabis. We partner with select business members who meet our rigorous standards to extend our education and outreach efforts.