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What is a Marijuana Tolerance?

Monday July 17, 2017

T here are many reasons people consume cannabis which is no wonder considering how amazing marijuana makes everything seem. But, as with all activities, the more frequently you do it, the more you need to do it to feel the same sensations that hooked you in the first place. A person’s tolerance to marijuana can affect the types of products they chose to consume, the amount of product they consume, the frequency of consumption and, ultimately, the amount of money spent on maintaining the marijuana high.

What is Marijuana Tolerance?

Quite simply, tolerance is the act of enduring. Whether it be enduring the effects of a substance or the political rants of your Great Aunt Susie, those who have a high tolerance for something can endure quite a lot of it before reaching a breaking point whereas those with a low tolerance cannot.

When it comes to the effects of cannabis, a person’s tolerance varies depending on many factors including frequency of consumption, body mass index, sex, potency of the product and so on. Interestingly, some people don’t get high their first time smoking weed which could be due to a few things: either they aren’t inhaling properly or their body needs to “learn” how to process the foreign cannabinoids by first activating CB1 receptors in the brain.

Things that Affect Tolerance

Though research is limited, one study suggests chronic cannabis consumption may dull the effectiveness of CB1 receptors in the brain thus increasing the amount of product needed to feel its effects.

Don’t worry, though: the study also noted an uptick in CB1 receptor activation after only two days of abstinence with an almost full recovery after four weeks.

The study, which was conducted using PET scans of 18-35 year-old men, noticed an average 20 percent drop in cannabinoid receptor activity which was not affected by the amount of product consumed. Though the sample size was very small and included no females, the PET images do suggest a probable cause of increased tolerance to cannabis after extended use.

The reason females were not included in the study is specific: women and men process cannabinoids differently than each other, so including both sexes could easily skew the results. When comparing the effect of cannabinoids on men versus women, we find that novice female consumers are more sensitive initially than men but develop a tolerance more quickly. Researchers came to this conclusion after noting greater initial sensitivity to the pain-relieving effects of THC in female rats followed by an increased tolerance after just 10 days of use.

The reason cannabis affects men and women differently is still unknown, but it is suggested that estrogen may play a part. Though most research on cannabis has been conducted exclusively on men due to more stable hormone levels, Washington State University psychology professor, Rebecca Craft, has been studying the effects of cannabis on female rats for many years. By manipulating hormone levels in female rats, Craft detected a significant increase in THC sensitivity when estrogen levels were high (at the peak of menstruation), which adds an additional variable in determining a female’s tolerance level as compared to a male’s.

A person’s body mass index (BMI), which is largely dependent on their metabolic rate, is another variable that may affect cannabis tolerance.

Interestingly, because cannabis seems to improve a person’s metabolism, regular use of cannabis may lead to improved cannabinoid absorption which helps maintain tolerance.

Finally, product potency plays a major role in a person’s tolerance level. This has been proven to be quite the hurdle when it comes to research and industry standards, and can make it difficult to follow proper dosing, especially for novice users who tend to be very sensitive to the effects of cannabis. Those who are unfamiliar with a product or unaware of their ideal dose should always proceed with caution when learning their personal tolerance level.

Benefits of Having a High (or Low) Tolerance

We often hear people mention the need for a “tolerance break” just to be able to feel the strong effects of cannabis again. And while we can totally sympathize with the desire to save a few bucks and still get high, we feel compelled to note the benefits of having a high tolerance in the first place. First of all, with an increased tolerance comes a reduced occurrence of negative side effects like dizziness, memory loss or impaired cognitive functioning. Those who can go to work stoned every day without making the boss mad can do so because of their increased tolerance. Want to show up baked to your line shift job? Better maintain that tolerance if you want to do so successfully.

Of course, a low tolerance can be a good thing, too. Not only does it cost significantly less to fund infrequent cannabis consumption, but you’ll get much higher, too! This is good for those who like to fly high on occasion, but not so much for those when it comes to pulling off a straight face in public.

Improving Marijuana Tolerance

If you’re unhappy with your tolerance level, there are a few things you can do. To lower your tolerance, the best suggestion is to take a break for two days to four weeks. This will give your body a chance to flush out excess cannabinoids and reactivate dormant cannabinoid receptors.

Alternatively, you may consider switching up strain types (switch from indicas to sativas, for example) or switch from flower to concentrates. Micro-dosing is another option where consumers only consume a small amount which reduces pain and improves mental functioning without causing a high.

To increase your tolerance, you can try CBD supplements, stick with the same strains or simply consume cannabis more often.

Getting high is great, but when you do so often, it becomes harder and harder to reach the optimum level of “high.” If you’ve been struggling to get sufficiently stoned, it may be time to take a break.

Abby is a writer and founder of Cannabis Content, a marketplace designed to connect cannabis writers and creatives with businesses in the industry. She has been a professional cannabis writer since 2014 and regularly contributes to publications such as PotGuide and M&F Talent. She is also the Content Director at Fortuna Hemp, America’s leading feminized hemp seed bank. Follow Abby on Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin.

Have you ever wondered why you don't get as high anymore? It may be your tolerance to cannabis. Find out what a marijuana tolerance is, as well as some tips and tricks for lowering/raising yours!

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.