Global Drug Survey
Cannabis: how to cut down or stop using
By Professor Adam R Winstock
Founder and CEO, Global Drug Survey
Adapted from the Global Drug Survey | Safer Drug Use Limit Guidelines:
The world’s first safer drug use limit guide
GDS stresses that because of the huge amount of evidence that the onset of drug and alcohol use before the age of 18 years of age can cause long lasting impairments in your cognitive and emotional ability and potential, our guidelines are strictly for people over 18 years of age.
For me the development of the Safer Using Limit guidelines is a natural follow up to the GDS Highway Code (HWC). Safer Using Limit guidelines was developed from data collected from 40,000 people who used cannabis and who took part in GDS2015. They were designed to raise people’s awareness of the level of risk that different patterns of drug use places them at over the next couple of years. We did this by asking respondents to rate (on a scale of 1 to 10) how the risk of harm from various drugs (including alcohol) is heightened with increasing levels of use.
Risk here refers to the probability, range and severity of harm. The higher the score, the more likely it is for a person to experience any harm and the higher the score, the more problems that person is likely to face and the more severe those problems are likely to be.
We asked our respondents to think about the likelihood of a person experiencing harm over the next 1-2 years. By harm we mean anything that causes a person a problem, be it to do with their mental or physical health, their relationships and behaviours, their finances or their ability to work, study or just do the things in life they want to do.
Part of the Safer Use Limits app is a doctor’s guide to cutting down.
Here are some of the key points.
Why cut down?
Data from over 250,000 cannabis users suggests that about 1 in 3 cannabis smokers would like to use less in the coming year. Most are motivated to do so because of health concerns (mood, memory, motivation, respiratory health), while others report issues such as work, the ability to study, impact upon relationships or money worries. Cutting down is also advisable if you are planning on stopping altogether, since any withdrawal will less severe if you reduce your intake gradually.
The benefits of cutting down?
The potential benefits of cutting down vary between person to person but for most people the problems that motivated them to want to use less in the first place, start to get much better. They lose tolerance, get more stoned on less cannabis and get more things done. Most feel sharper, brighter, look better and notice improvements in their memory and chest. Most people say their mental health gets better but this is not always the case and for people who may be suffering and self-medicating either physical or mental health issues, rather than get better, these sometimes might get worse. So, I guess everyone has to make their own mind up about the benefits or not of cutting down.
How to cut down
Less cannabis per joint/pipe/bowl – make your weed go further
Delay the time of your first smoke of the day
Increase time between joints (or equivalent). Avoiding smoking spiffs back to back and leaving gaps between smokes, mean you lower your tolerance and also nudge down your consumption.
Cut down on tobacco (if you mix with it) and consider switching to vaporising as an alternative method of consumption. Both are better than mixing your cannabis with tobacco
Reduce your caffeine intake. Coffee and other caffeine-containing products can counter the sedating effects of cannabis. As you cut back, you might need less and reducing this will also reduce the potential effect on sleep your cannabis reduction may induce.
Increase ‘not stoned’ activities, especially exercise. As you spend more time being less stoned, you may find you have time to kill or a tendency to get bored. Spending your time doing physical activity is a great way to help you feel good, with the endorphins produced during exercise providing a natural high (no drugs required).
Ration your daily use. Having a big bag of weed in front of you can make it hard to know how much you are using and difficult to work out how effectively you’re cutting back.
Watch out for an increase in alcohol use. If you miss that stoned feeling be wary of topping up with booze. It can be a slippery slope for some.
Rate of cutting down: Slower is better and associated with less severe withdrawal, that is disturbance of mood, sleep and appetite. Most people should be reduce their daily cannabis intake down by about 25% each week without noticing much withdrawal.
Managing withdrawal once you stop
After cutting down preferably to less than 0.5g a day, then you are probably ready to try to quit (if you want to!)
Withdrawal symptoms occur in about 75% of daily cannabis users and are worse in women, tobacco users, those who stop because they had to and those with mental illness. The more you are smoking when you stop the more intense your withdrawal. This starts on day 1, peaks on days 2-4 and is over for most people after 5-10 days, though sleep problems and moodiness can continue for several weeks.
The most commonly reported symptoms are difficulty sleeping, weird dreams, irritability (and sometimes increased aggression), restlessness, craving for cannabis and low mood. These last 4-10 days for most people.
It can be easier to stop any drug if you are away from home. A change of environment can make it harder to score, easier to avoid bumping into people and places you associate with cannabis and the distraction and novelty of being away can help a lot.
Continue to reduce caffeine intake, cut out tobacco, increase exercise and avoid increasing your alcohol intake, see above.
Other problems. Some people get headaches, lose their appetite, feel sick, get very sweaty, get the chills or become very angry.
Anger. Some people (especially men with a history of being angry and or violent) can become very aroused, snappy and even aggressive when they stop using cannabis. Make sure those around you know you’re trying to stop and that you may have a tendency to be a bit snappy or irritable in the short term. If this places other people at risk (especially children) then make sure you gets some professional help (and maybe some medication to calm you down) or ensure that that those people are not around.
What can my doctor do to help? Cannabis can be a cause of health problems. (Yes, we know it can help with some conditions too.) If you are having difficulties cutting down or stopping or are worried about how cannabis is impacting on your health or how it might be interacting with other medications, go chat to your doctor. Your doctor will probably know local specialists who may be able to help with problems that she / he is unfamiliar with.
When should I seek help? If you can’t stop or cut down on your own, or if your cannabis use is effecting your relationships, your ability to work or study or your health in other ways such your lung health (coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath) or your mood then go have a chat and a check up.
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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
- cognitive impairment
- diminished appetite
- stomach problems, including nausea
- 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.