Marijuana can energize us, soothe ragged nerves, give us the giggles, or produce a contemplative state.

Yet can we also harness the power of the plant to boost productivity? We’re talking about those times when we’re facing a killer deadline on a massive pile of work. Might a few hits of cannabis, in one form or another, supply us with the laser focus and hyper-clarity we need to power through that project? posed the question to Dr. Byran Doner, an osteopath who is chief medical officer with Compassionate Certification Centers, a national cannabis healthcare network. Dr. Doner, who trained in emergency medicine and is a member of the American Academy of Cannabinoid Medicine and the Society of Cannabis Clinicians, spoke to us from his home in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  

Q: I’ve got a monster project at work? Can I use cannabis to help me focus?

A: Absolutely. Overall, what cannabis can do is help quiet the noise, which in turn, helps people achieve mental clarity and stamina. It’s similar to how cannabis helps patients with PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder]. They often feel flooded with sensory information and that becomes overwhelming. Cannabis can lower the volume.

Keep in mind that using cannabis effectively always depends on the strain, the cannabinoid profile and the route of administration.

Q: What’s a good place to begin?

A: For starters, a situation like a crushing deadline comes with a lot of stress and anxiety. These symptoms, of course, can be distracting and undermine your ability to stay focused. I think the most effective cannabinoid, or compound of the marijuana plant, in addressing that angst would be cannabidiol, or CBD, which is calming.

Q: What’s the best way to consume CBD to lower stress?

A: Orally. When you consume CBD by mouth, it’s processed by your gastrointestinal tract. That means it has a delayed onset on the front end and a prolonged effect of six to eight hours on the back end. You can use that timing to your advantage to promote a sound sleep that will leave you feeling rested and less anxious in the morning.

I would suggest taking an edible CBD, in whatever form you prefer — gummies, drops, an oil mixed into a liquid — about an hour to an hour-and-a-half before going to bed.

Q: Are there products containing THC that can help sharpen concentration?

A: Yes, but it really depends on the individual. You can have two patients with the same exact symptomology and goals, and one cannabinoid profile will be effective for one, but not for the other. Anyone who tells you with a straight face that if somebody wants to focus they need to take this strain at this dose at this frequency isn’t being honest. At this point, there’s no research to point us to that defined an algorithm. It takes trial and error to find what works for you and it depends on many variables, including whether someone is an experienced cannabis user.

Q: What do we know right now about cannabis strains that can improve focus?

A:  If I wanted to help an experienced cannabis user improve focus, I would suggest a strain with a broad-spectrum cannabinoid profile, a nice balance of CBD, THC and, perhaps, THCA. A reasonable starting point would be a product that’s 50-50 CBD-THC.

Then, you need to be mindful of how different modes of administration work. Inhaled cannabis, vaporized or smoked, works quickly but isn’t going to last that long. The onset of effects is two to four minutes and the duration one to two hours. So, that’s a good form when you need to focus for a brief period of time.

Conversely, oral preparations have a delayed onset but will last much longer.

A reasonable place to start is with a product that has a 1-to-1 ratio of CBD to THC. Then I’d adjust based on the patient’s response. If they come back and say, “Whoa, that was way too psychoactive. I didn’t feel I could really function or get in the car and drive,” then I’m going to back off the THC component a bit and go heavier on the CBD. Maybe I’d suggest a 3-to-1, CBD-to-THC ratio.

Q: It sounds like using THC to improve focus isn’t something you’d want to do right before, say, studying for the bar exam or tackling a really important work project?

A: That’s absolutely correct. If you’re a naïve cannabis user, I would never suggest trying THC for the first time, or the first time in years, right before that critical test or project.

I would want to put that person on a CBD-only preparation. Again, we know that CBD is anxiolytic, an effective anti-anxiety medication.

And what I’ve found with many patients, whether they’re being treated for pain, PTSD or seizures, is that even a very, very small amount of THC in a CBD-dominant product can have profound benefits. We’re talking about a ratio of 18 or 20 to 1 CBD-to-THC.

The question becomes, what’s your time frame for figuring out what works for you? Do you have a month? Or is that test or project coming up in two days?

Q: So, the best strategy might be to start experimenting on a weekend with a project like cleaning out your closet?

A: I couldn’t agree more. Choose a time and a project where the consequences of having to adjust the cannabis product are minimal. If you have a big project today or tomorrow now is not the time to start messing around. The last thing you want is to have the reaction, “oh, my god, this isn’t working. I feel weird.” Give yourself the time and space to find what works for you.

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