Can You Develop a Tolerance to Cannabis?

Does it feel like your cannabis isn’t working for you like it did in the past? It’s not your imagination: You might have developed a high tolerance for cannabis.

Cannabis tolerance occurs when your body gets used to the amount you ingest. This happens because Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) — the psychoactive compounds in cannabis — turns on CB1 cannabinoid receptors in the brain. Regular ingestion of cannabis desensitizes the CB1 receptors over time, reducing the effects of THC. 

Your genetics and the strength of the cannabis you use can also impact tolerance levels. 

When that happens you have to ingest more to get the same results.

Cannabis Tolerance: Advantages and Disadvantages

While building a tolerance to THC might seem like a bad thing, it also has benefits.

Advantages

There are several good reasons to build a tolerance to THC. With cannabis tolerance, you can:

    • Take higher doses of cannabinoids for medical reasons (e.g. reducing symptoms for a cancer patient or battling inflammation of a traumatic brain injury).
    • Feel fewer side effects, like anxiety, paranoia, and over-intoxication.
    • Experience relief without intoxication. This is particularly useful for people with chronic pain who want to avoid opioid-based painkillers.

Disadvantages

There are many people who seek cannabis for its mood-lifting, appetite-increasing, sleep-inducing, and pain-killing properties. Unfortunately, building too much of a tolerance to THC can diminish these effects. 

Other disadvantages include:

    • Added expense. You have to spend a lot more money on cannabis to get the same effects as before.
    • Having to find new products. Cannabis that once worked for you might not anymore, meaning you have to go through the discovery process for products all over again.
    • Accidentally taking too much. The risk of taking too much and feeling panicked or paranoid. For those with anxiety, building tolerance to THC can be a good thing, but too high a dose can induce panic. Those with anxiety may therefore want to microdose and not build too much of a tolerance in order to reduce their chances of experiencing an anxiety attack.
    • Experimentation with other medications. You might be tempted to turn to more harmful medications, especially if cannabis gets too expensive for your budget.

Resetting Cannabis Tolerance

There can be a happy medium when it comes to medicating with cannabis. You want to build up enough tolerance in order to reduce the chances of a negative reaction. But you also don’t want to build up so much tolerance that you have to spend more and more money in order to achieve the same effect. 

Here are some ways in which you can reduce tolerance:

Take a Tolerance Break (T-Break)

A tolerance break — commonly called a T-break — is where a person voluntarily stops using cannabis for a period of time to help reduce tolerance to THC and to regain the effect it once had. 

Tolerance breaks can last anywhere from one day to around 35 days. Other than wanting to retain the euphoric effects of THC, many people take time off from using cannabis in order to save money, or for health reasons.

The body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS) breaks down natural, plant-based cannabinoids quite quickly, so even taking 24 to 48 hours off from THC can substantially reduce cannabis tolerance. By the end of the month, your body should have gotten rid of most if not all traces of cannabinoids like THC, and be back to baseline levels.

If you’re a medical cannabis patient and are considering a T-Break, we recommend you consult your physician before stopping cold turkey.

Gradually Cut the Cannabis

For those who need to use cannabis medically, skipping a day of medicating is not necessarily ideal, and could lead to much worse effects like seizures. If that’s a concern for you, you can continue to ingest cannabis daily and reduce tolerance by:

    • Sticking to your dosing guidelines. If you find 20 mg of THC and 10 mg of CBD per day treats your symptoms and treats you well without over-intoxication, you don’t have to use any more. Refrain from using more, and the chances of building too much of a tolerance reduce.
    • Microdosing. Using small amounts of THC and slowly increasing in increments until your symptoms have diminished is an ideal way to reduce your chances of developing tolerance.
    • Switching products. This isn’t always ideal, as some people and conditions require specific formulations (e.g. autism). However, for those who don’t, changing cannabinoid and terpene profiles may help the body from becoming overly acclimatized to one particular product or strain/cultivar.
    • Swapping delta-9 THC for non-intoxicating cannabinoids. A mixture of CBD, cannabinol (CBN), cannabichromene (CBC) and cannabigerol (CBG) can provide anti-anxiety and pain-killing effects with less of the psychoactivity. CBD can also reduce the tolerance-forming behavior of other cannabinoids. This may be one reason why many find a THC:CBD ratio of 1:1 particularly effective.
    • Using Delta-8 THC and THCV. Delta-8 THC is a less psychoactive variant of delta-9 THC, and can be a useful way to reduce tolerance to delta-9 THC. THCV in low doses is anti-psychoactive and can reduce THC’s effects, but is psychoactive in higher doses and can increase THC’s effects if combined.
    • Adding Terpenes. Terpenes have unique effects of their own. A combination of linalool, humulene, and myrcene can be very relaxing, whilst a combination of high doses of limonene and beta-caryophyllene may produce more excitatory effects.
Free Cannabinoid and Terpene Guide

Can You Develop a Tolerance to CBD and Other Non-Intoxicating Cannabinoids?

It’s a lot harder to tell if you’re building a tolerance to cannabinoids like cannabidiol (CBD) because you don’t feel its effects in the same way you do with THC or tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV). But to answer the question, no, it is not really possible to develop a tolerance to CBD.

This is because CBD doesn’t bind to CB1 receptors in the way that THC does, meaning you do not become desensitized to it. In fact, CBD can reduce the activation of CB1 receptors, meaning that it can “re-sensitize” CB1 receptors and reduce tolerance to THC.

This makes CBD and other cannabinoids very useful for not only reducing negative side effects, but also for ensuring that a patient doesn’t become overly tolerant to one particular cannabinoid.

Free Infographic Guide to Cannabinoids

Striking a Balance with Cannabis

The key to utilizing cannabis as a medicine effectively is to find the “sweet spot”. 

Cannabis should provide mood improvement and symptom reduction, but taking too much could potentially lead to a cannabis tolerance. This is one of the key reasons why going slow and low with cannabinoid dosing is so important. 

We also recommend using products with different and wide ranging cannabinoids and terpenes. 

Following this advice reduces the chance of a bad cannabis episode and potentially being turned off from a plant that could work wonders if given the chance and the appropriate respect. 

Treat cannabis like you would any other medicine, and it will treat you well in return.

Written by
Dipak Hemraj
Dipak Hemraj

Dipak Hemraj is a published author, grower, product maker, and Leafwell’s resident cannabis expert. From botany & horticulture to culture & economics, he wishes to help educate the public on why cannabis is medicine (or a “pharmacy in a plant”) and how it can be used to treat a plethora of health problems. Dipak wants to unlock the power of the plant, and see if there are specific cannabinoid-terpene-flavonoid profiles suitable for different conditions.

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