I had never heard of “reverse tolerance” before, but apparently it’s a real thing. It describes a condition in which some habitual users of a drug will, over time, require less of the drug (instead of more) to achieve the same effect. It’s most often discussed with reference to marijuana, but sometimes alcohol also.
One theory is that marijuana accumulates in the body for a long time and that’s what produces the effect — i.e. you think you may be having just a little, but you’ve already got a lot in you. Another theory is that it’s just a psychological illusion. As users become more familiar with how to smoke it, they do so more efficiently and learn to identify the effects earlier. Therefore, they think they need less to achieve the same effect.
When people develop a reverse tolerance to alchol, it’s usually because of liver damage. They lose the ability to break down alcohol, so a little bit produces a big effect.
Minneapolis Star Tribune – Dec 18, 1970
St. Cloud Times – Feb 17, 1973
Paul Di Filippo
Paul has been paid to put weird ideas into fictional form for over thirty years, in his career as a noted science fiction writer. He has recently begun blogging on many curious topics with three fellow writers at The Inferior 4+1.
Posted By: Alex – Wed Mar 22, 2017
Factors Influencing Psychopharmacological Effect
Smith and Mehl’s (1970) clinical observations of many marihuana smokers suggest a J-shaped time curve of tolerance to marihuana. A novice marihuana smoker often reports feeling no high or requiring considerably more drug to get high on his first few trials with the drug than after he obtains more experience with the drug. This phenomenon has been called “reverse tolerance.” These clinicians believed this represented “learning to get high” or acquiring the ability to appreciate or become sensitive to the subtle aspects of the intoxication.
Goode (1971) found that more frequent and term marihuana smokers tend to require fewer “joints” to get high but differences were not statistically significant.
Weil et al. (1968) reported that experienced users of marihuana achieved a “high” after being given the same dose as naive (non-users) persons who did not experience a high but did demonstrate objective physiologic and psychomotor drug effects.
Meyer et al. (1971) found that heavy marihuana, users (daily for three years) were most sensitive to the “high” and required less marihuana to achieve a social high than infrequent intermittent users (use one to four times per month for less than two years).
Phillips et al. (1971) reported an increase in severity of symptoms after repeated administration of THC to rats. This “sensitization” may be a correlate of reverse tolerance.
Lemberger et al. (1971) supplied additional evidence for reverse tolerance based on the intravenous administration of 0.5 mg of THC to experimental subjects. Naive subjects experienced no effect from this small dose. However, daily marihuana users, who were told they were receiving a non-pharmacologically active dose of THC, reported a “marihuana high,” which lasted up to 90 minutes.
Lemberger et al. (1971, 1972) and Mechoulam (1970) suggested the possibility that enzymes necessary to convert THC to a more active compound require prior use of marihuana.
Reverse tolerance appears to be a complex phenomenon. Jones (1971) presented evidence which stressed the importance of expectation, setting and prior drug experience on learning to get “high.” As the user gains more experience with marihuana, the more the individual’s mind is able to respond to the expectation of the “high” by actually becoming high when given an inert material which smells and looks like marihuana.
Weil (1971) believes that the capacity to get “high” is an inherent characteristic of each individual’s mind. He, believes that marihuana facilitates the user’s abilitv to achieve this altered state of consciousness, that is, learn how to get high.
Mendelson et al. (1972) did not find evidence for reverse tolerance. In fact, the daily users were more likely than the intermittent users to smoke two cigarettes per occasion. Both groups had had an average of five years of marihuana use. Several other investigators did not obtain any evidence of reverse tolerance after repetitive daily use in experienced subjects (Hollister, 1971; Schuster and Renault, 1971; Fink et al., 1971).Factors Influencing Psychopharmacological Effect REVERSE TOLERANCE Smith and Mehl’s (1970) clinical observations of many marihuana smokers suggest a J-shaped time curve of tolerance to ]]>