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THC Tolerance breaks

Jul 20, 2020 4:40:00 PM

Do you ever get to a point in your marijuana journey where you just can’t get enough THC in your system? Maybe you’ve been chasing the experiences you had when you first started smoking. Or maybe the experience of consuming cannabis has just become stale and mundane. We’re talking about tolerance. Tolerance to cannabis can creep up on you and suddenly you feel like you have to consume so much more than you used to, and even then the experience is lackluster. This can be both frustrating and expensive. Do not fret, my stoner friends. With a little willpower and patience, your tolerance can be broken down and the experience of consuming cannabis will be a whole new level of fun. 

What is a tolerance break?

Our bodies are great at keeping our various systems in balance. When a substance is frequently consumed, the body adapts to these changes in an effort to feel normal. In the case of marijuana, our brains adapt so that we can function properly with the consistent presence of cannabinoids. Some people build tolerances to things faster than others, but the process of maintaining homeostasis is the same. A tolerance break is when someone takes a break from consuming something in order to lower their tolerance. This can be done with anything including caffeine, sugar, and alcohol. A cannabis tolerance break works the same way, and is actually good for our endocannabinoid system. Think of it like maintenance for our receptors.

How and why do tolerance breaks work?

When our tolerance to cannabis is too high, our CB1 receptors aren’t as responsive to THC. In the early days when we first start smoking cannabis, our receptors are extremely sensitive. It is fairly common that people won’t feel “stoned” the first time they smoke pot, in fact there are a few theories surrounding that phenomenon. However, most people remember their first time being high as one of the most intense experiences in their cannabis journey. Many chase that experience by constantly and frequently consuming more and more THC. The problem is that the more we consume, the less sensitive our receptors become and it gets harder to feel the effects of THC. The process of the receptors becoming desensitized in terms of time will vary from person to person, but it usually occurs over a couple of years. As the receptors become less sensitive, eventually a process called internalization occurs. Internalization is a process that removes the receptors from the cell’s surface. It’s kind of like the receptors go into hiding. This happens so that the brain and body can feel and function normally in the presence of THC since there is always THC in the system. This is when the tolerance break can save the day. When we abstain from THC, our CB1 receptors come out of hiding and regain sensitivity. The good news is that it doesn’t take long to get our CB1 receptors back in working order! A 2016 study examined the CB1 receptor changes in males who habitually consumed cannabis. They examined before taking a break from THC, two days after, and 28 after. They found that their receptors began to return after only two days of cannabis abstinence. They checked again after 28 days and found that there were no major changes. The good news here is that to benefit from a tolerance break, one would only have to abstain for 3-4 weeks. As always in the world of cannabis, the research to date is limited. One major flaw of this study is that the researchers only examined males. Some studies have examined how cannabis affects men and women differently. There are so iit is likely that tolerance breaks will be different for women. 

Tips for taking a successful tolerance break

  • Don't take breaks from your tolerance break!

This is when it’s important to have willpower. If you’re a daily smoker and you quit smoking for a few days to a week, the process of waking up the CB1 receptors will have started, but it won’t produce complete results. Someone taking a tolerance break should abstain from THC for at least 2 weeks but the results will be more noticeable if the break is 3-4 weeks. Consuming some THC during a tolerance break wouldn’t completely defeat the purpose. Limiting THC will have some benefits for your tolerance, but a full blown break will have the most dramatic effects. We understand that it may be difficult to avoid THC for that long, but it will be worth it. 

  • Abstaining from THC doesn’t mean abstaining from all cannabinoids

A tolerance break can be especially intimidating for someone who relies on cannabis for medicinal purposes. THC’s favorite sibling, CBD can be a lifesaver when abstaining from THC. Many argue that CBD is the most medicinal part of the cannabis plant, and it can offer some of the relief of cannabis without the THC. A 2015 study published by the National Library of Medicine hypothesized that CBD would inhibit agonist activity of THC by negatively modulating CB1 receptors. They found that CBD actually prevented the internalization of CB1 receptors. While studies still need to be conducted to determine if CBD will help recover internalized CB1 receptors, the present research is promising. 

  • Don’t beat yourself up if it’s too hard

It may seem like a silly pointer, but it might be the most important. Think about why you’re taking a tolerance break. If you’re doing it for the wrong reasons, it will be harder to make the connection that you can succeed. Even if you’re taking this break as an act of self care, it’s ok if you can’t go the full 3-4 weeks. The best part about tolerance breaks is that you can do them multiple times. If you only get a week or two into it, try cutting down the amount you consume and try again later. Either way, you’re bound to receive at least a few benefits of taking a tolerance break, Mary Jane is a beautiful and forgiving mistress like that. 

Rio Kaplan
Written by Rio Kaplan

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