The Basics of Cannabis Tolerance

Regular listeners of the Utah in the Weeds podcast have heard our very own Tim Pickett discuss the concept of taking regular breaks from Medical Cannabis. The idea behind doing so is to address cannabis tolerance, which occurs naturally and develops with regular cannabis use.

Tolerance is not a bad thing. It is one of the body’s many defense mechanisms designed to keep things in balance. Yet tolerance isn’t ideal for Medical Cannabis patients because it reduces the effectiveness of their medicines. Taking regular breaks reduces tolerance so the patients don’t continually have to increase dosage and frequency.

Why Tolerance Occurs

Cannabis isn’t the only drug that can produce tolerance. Tolerance is reality with a variety of pain medications, sleep aids, antidepressants, etc. Where cannabis is concerned, tolerance is the result of how THC affects the brain.

THC’s psychoactive effects occur when the cannabinoid binds to cannabinoid receptors in the human body. A receptor is a cellular structure that binds to certain molecules. So cannabinoid receptors bind to cannabinoids, like THC and CBD.

Here is the problem: the body can get used to having a certain amount of THC in the system. As that happens, the body produces fewer receptors in an attempt to balance things out. The result is that the same Medical Cannabis dosage doesn’t produce the same effect.

You Need More Medicine

Tolerance in Medical Cannabis patients isn’t ideal because it ultimately means they need more medicine. When you consider just how expensive Medical Cannabis is, having to continually update your dosage is not a good thing. Your tolerance could be such that you simply cannot afford to medicate any longer. That’s what we’re trying to avoid when we recommend taking regular breaks.

Above and beyond being quite expensive, another possible outcome of unchecked tolerance is that Medical Cannabis eventually becomes less effective as a medicine. Then what? Going back to less effective prescription medications doesn’t seem like a particularly good option.

Why Taking Breaks Helps

By now you have figured out that taking regular breaks from cannabis is a way to address tolerance. But what is actually happening physiologically? For that answer, we go back to cannabinoid receptors.

Just as the body produces fewer receptors in order to accommodate an expected level of THC in the system, it will begin producing more receptors as THC levels drop. By taking a break for 3 to 7 days, you are giving your body a chance to readjust. You’re giving your body the opportunity to start producing receptors again.

There are no hard and fast rules dictating how often you should take a break and for how long. A general rule of thumb among Medical Cannabis patients is to tolerance breaks at least once every three months. See our “Reset Your Tolerance” guide for details on getting the most out of your next tolerance break.

If you are a long-term cannabis user and you find that your consumption has increased to the point where you believe the drug is no longer helping you as it should, you might want to consider a longer break. It is not unheard of for long-term patients to take a break of up to a week or longer. Just be prepared to approach cannabis more slowly after your break is over. You’re going to feel the effects of the drug like you used to, so you don’t want to jump back in too fast.

Tolerance is a reality of Medical Cannabis use. It is also a natural biological function. However, it is nothing to worry about, and it can be managed just by taking regular breaks.

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Published March 22, 2022

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