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Developing Tolerance to Marijuana

Posted on April 14, 2017

How does an individual develop tolerance to Marijuana? Generally speaking, Marijuana tolerance is said to develop when the individual doesn’t feel the same effects of the drug with repeated use, and has to take larger doses. However, it is not really understood how Marijuana works in the body to provoke increased tolerance. It could involve both psychological and physiological factors.

Marijuana Tolerance Symptoms

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association defines drug tolerance as having either or both of the following characteristics:

  1. Needing significantly increased amounts of Marijuana to achieve intoxication or desired effects.
  2. Individuals feel a markedly diminished effect with continued use of the same amount of Marijuana.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that the individual is addicted to Marijuana, rather it is an indication that the drug is not having its full effect on the individual. Tolerance to Marijuana does not mean that dependence or addiction will follow as a consequence. It simply means that the individual’s body has adapted to the presence of Marijuana in its system and no longer reacts to its chemical cues.

Marijuana Tolerance – How long does it take to develop?

Tolerance is different with each individual. Studies have suggested that if an individual is using Marijuana daily over a continuous period of time, then tolerance can be built up within 2 to 4 weeks. However, that can vary from person to person. There are also other factors to be taken into consideration, such as whether the individual has been diagnosed as depressed or has anxiety. Such individuals might build Marijuana tolerance quicker than those who use it recreationally or medically. Finally, individuals who use Marijuana in social situations, with their peers, may also build up a tolerance quicker because they are using the more frequently.

How To Lower Tolerance To Marijuana

While it is possible to lower tolerance to Marijuana, there is very little evidence to suggest that the individual could lower their tolerance all the way down to its original level. That is to say, there could always be a level of maintained tolerance for as long as the individual continues to use the drug.

That being said, the way to lower one’s tolerance level is by cutting the back the amount and frequency of the Marijuana dose. Apart from that, some other ways to lower tolerance include:

  • Reducing the initial amount used first thing in the day.
  • Starting the day with a larger than usual dose will reduce the effects of any subsequent doses.
  • Alternating taking Marijuana for one week with not taking it at all for the next week. This is called a ‘drug holiday’ and gives the body time to lower its tolerance.
  • Starting a regular exercise regime and incorporating a healthy diet. When the body is healthier, it will flush out the residual Marijuana from its system.

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Marijuana tolerance is said to develop when the individual doesn't feel the same effects of the drug with repeated use, and has to take larger doses.

How to Reset Your Cannabis Tolerance

Feel like cannabis isn’t working for you the way it used to? You might be dealing with a high tolerance.

Tolerance refers to your body’s process of getting used to cannabis, which can result in weaker effects.

In other words, you need to ingest more to get the same effects you once did. This can be particularly problematic if you’re using cannabis for medical reasons.

Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to reset your tolerance.

Cannabis tolerance develops when you use it regularly.

Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the psychoactive compound in cannabis. It works by affecting the cannabinoid type 1 (CB1) receptors in the brain.

If you ingest THC often, your CB1 receptors are reduced over time. This means the same amount of THC won’t affect the CB1 receptors in the same way, resulting in reduced effects.

There’s no strict timeline for how tolerance develops. It depends on a range of factors, including:

  • how often you use cannabis
  • how strong the cannabis is
  • your personal biology

One of the most common ways to lower your cannabis tolerance is to take a break from using cannabis. These are often called “T breaks.”

Research shows that, while THC can deplete your CB1 receptors, they can recover over time and return to their previous levels.

The length of your T break is up to you. There’s no solid data on exactly how long it takes for CB1 receptors to recover, so you’ll have to experiment a bit.

Some people find that a few days does the trick. Most online forums advise that 2 weeks is the ideal time frame.

If you’re using cannabis for medical reasons, taking a T break might not be feasible. There are a few other strategies you can try.

Use cannabis products with a higher CBD-to-THC ratio

Cannabidiol (CBD) is another chemical found in cannabis. It doesn’t seem to lead to depletion of CB1 receptors, meaning it doesn’t cause you to develop tolerance the way THC does.

CBD won’t give you a “high,” but it does seem to have several potential health benefits, such as reducing pain and inflammation.

At many dispensaries, you can find products ranging from a 1-to-1 ratio to as high as 16-to-1.

Tightly control your doses

The less cannabis you use, the less likely you are to develop a tolerance. Use the minimum you need to feel comfortable, and try not to overindulge.

Use cannabis less often

If possible, use cannabis less frequently. This can help to both reset your tolerance and prevent it from coming back again in the future.

Many people who have developed a high tolerance do go through cannabis withdrawal when taking a T break or using less cannabis than usual.

Cannabis withdrawal isn’t necessarily as intense as withdrawal from alcohol or other substances, but it can still be quite uncomfortable.

You might experience:

  • mood swings
  • fatigue
  • headaches
  • cognitive impairment
  • diminished appetite
  • stomach problems, including nausea
  • insomnia
  • intense, vivid dreams

To help with these symptoms, make sure to get plenty of hydration and rest. You can also try using over-the-counter medications to deal with headaches and nausea.

Exercise and fresh air can help you feel alert and reduce any slumps in your mood.

The withdrawal symptoms might make it tempting to continue using cannabis. To keep yourself accountable, tell your loved ones that you’re taking a break.

While the symptoms are uncomfortable, the good news is that cannabis withdrawal symptoms usually only last for 72 hours.

Once you’ve reset your tolerance, keep the following in mind to keep your tolerance in check moving forward:

  • Use lower-THC products. Since it’s THC that leads to the depletion of your CB1 receptors, it’s wise to opt for products that are a bit lower in THC.
  • Don’t use cannabis too often. The more you use it, the higher your tolerance will be, so try to only use it occasionally or as needed.
  • Use a lower dosage. Try consuming less cannabis at a time, and try to wait a bit longer before re-dosing.
  • Use CBD instead. You may want to consider giving CBD-only products a try if you’re looking to reap the potential health benefits of cannabis. However, THC does have some benefits that CBD doesn’t seem to have, so this switch isn’t viable for everyone.

Keep in mind that tolerance might be unavoidable for some folks. If you find that you’re prone to developing a high tolerance, consider coming up with a plan to take regular T breaks as needed.

It’s pretty normal to develop a tolerance to cannabis if you use it often. In most cases, taking a T break for a week or two will reset your tolerance.

If that’s not an option, consider switching to products that are lower in THC or reducing your cannabis consumption.

Keep in mind that cannabis tolerance can sometimes be a sign of cannabis use disorder. If you’re concerned about your cannabis use, you have options:

  • Have an open and honest conversation with your healthcare provider.
  • Call SAMHSA’s national helpline at 800-662-HELP (4357), or use their online treatment locater.
  • Find a support group through the Support Group Project.

Sian Ferguson is a freelance writer and editor based in Cape Town, South Africa. Her writing covers issues relating to social justice, cannabis, and health. You can reach out to her on Twitter.

If you've been consuming weed for a while, you've probably developed a high tolerance along the way. Here's how to reset it and keep it from happening again.