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The CULTA Blog

What is a Cannabis Tolerance Break (& Should You Take One?)

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The New Year is upon us, and many Americans are looking to reset some aspect of their lives, whether through better financial habits, complex 7-day juice cleanses, or finding a better work/life balance. But did you know that cannabis patients can reset their cannabis tolerance by taking a cannabis tolerance break? So, what’s a cannabis tolerance break? And should you take one? Here’s an overview of what you need to know about cannabis tolerance and how it affects your body. 

How does tolerance develop?

Cannabis tolerance develops when you use it regularly. THC, the psychoactive compound in cannabis, works by affecting the CB1 receptors in the brain. The more you use cannabis, the more these receptors are reduced over time. This means that, over the span of weeks, months, or years, the same amount of cannabis won’t affect these receptors in the same way, resulting in reduced effects. This is very similar to caffeine. Non-coffee drinkers can have one cup of coffee and feel a jolt of energy, while regular coffee drinkers may need two or three cups to feel that same effect. 

One study from 2011 showed a clear correlation between 

Although there is no hard and fast rule as to how long it takes for cannabis patients to build up a tolerance, a study from 2011 published in Molecular Psychiatry showed that the density of these receptors lessened the longer a person smoked. Other factors that impact tolerance include: 

  • How often you use cannabis
  • How strong the cannabis is 
  • Your personal biology 

Basically, two cannabis patients can smoke the same amount of cannabis every day and experience different levels of tolerance. So, how do you know if you’ve built a tolerance? Read on to learn more. 

How do I know if I've built up a tolerance?

If you’ve been consuming cannabis regularly for more than a few months, the fact of the matter is you’ve probably developed some level of tolerance. An important thing to keep in mind is that tolerance builds with frequent use which likely means daily consumption for most people. If you only consume cannabis every few days, once a month, or a few times a year, it’s unlikely that your body has built up a tolerance. 

Ultimately, determining whether or not you’ve built up a tolerance comes down to some self-reflection. Ask yourself if you’ve needed more cannabis lately to feel the same effects as you did when you first started using medical cannabis. If you’re having difficulty with this, your significant other or close family member can help you make this determination.  

I think I have high tolerance -- is this bad? 

Having a high tolerance isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it can lead to cannabis addiction, a chronic disorder that’s becoming more common in the United States. Per Web MD, other effects of chronic or heavy cannabis use can include: 

  • Altered brain development 
  • Chronic bronchitis (for those who smoke cannabis) 
  • Cognitive impairment 
  • Risk of chronic psychosis disorders (including schizophrenia) 

Risks of short-term use include altered judgment, anxiety or paranoia, impaired motor coordination, and short-term memory impairment. If your brain has been feeling foggy or you’ve been diagnosed with chronic bronchitis, it may be time to consider a cannabis tolerance break. 

How do I take a cannabis tolerance break?

The good news is that research shows that your CB1 receptors can recover to their previous levels over time.. It takes THC approximately three weeks to leave your system, so some recommend that cannabis tolerance breaks should be at least 21 days. Per the study linked above, any downregulation is reversible after approximately four weeks of abstinence. It’s important to note that the study focused only on males, and the researchers stress the importance of including data from females in future research. 

During this time, avoid alcohol, eat healthy food, exercise, and stay hydrated to prevent withdrawal symptoms. The most common withdrawal symptoms include irritability, mood changes, restlessness, and sleep difficulties, but these should pass and get less severe over time if they happen at all. 

How can I prevent it from happening again? 

So, you’ve reset your tolerance and are feeling great. That’s good news! But, you’re probably wondering how you can prevent it from happening again in the near future. Here are some tips: 

  • Use lower-THC products. Since it’s the THC in particular which lowers your CB1 receptors, choosing products that are lower in THC can help. Speak with your patient coordinator about finding products low in THC -- they’ll be happy to help! 
  • Use CBD instead. Depending on what you’re certified to use cannabis for, using CBD products may be an option for you. However, it’s important to keep in mind that THC does have some benefits not found in CBD, so this isn’t a viable option for every patient.
  • Monitor your cannabis use. This is especially important for individuals who live in states where cannabis is recreational. Monitor your cannabis use the way you would your alcohol use and be careful not to overdo it. 
  • Explore other treatment options. If you use medical cannabis, speak with your healthcare provider about other treatment options. It’s unlikely that they will urge you to discontinue using cannabis altogether, but they may recommend dietary changes or other holistic treatment options in conjunction with a lower cannabis dosage. 

Important note: Always consult your physician! 

If you use cannabis for medical purposes, it’s important to always consult your physician before discontinuing your medication. We cannot emphasize this enough -- do not discontinue or reduce your medication dosage without first consulting your physician. Not only will they be able to help you determine if a cannabis tolerance break would be beneficial, but they can help you find other treatment methods for your condition. For example, if you use cannabis for severe or chronic pain, they may suggest other holistic treatment options, such as therapeutic massage or acupuncture. 

Ultimately, it’s pretty normal to develop a tolerance to cannabis if you use it often. In most cases, taking a cannabis tolerance break will help reset your tolerance. However, if you’re concerned that your cannabis use might be part of a larger issue, we encourage you to have an open and honest conversation with your healthcare provider.