Cannabis Tolerance and How to Reset it

Francis Cassidy February 24, 2020 0 comments

Most patients notice some form of cannabis tolerance the more they medicate.

From coffee to cannabis, tolerance build-up is common with many substances. Cannabis tolerance occurs when the body deems that it is getting enough of a particular compound. In the case of cannabis, THC tolerances are commonplace among frequent consumers. Effectively, tolerance means patients must medicate with more if they are to experience the same effects.

But, tolerance is a complicated issue. While many consider it a negative, many of those consuming medicinal cannabis actually consider some degree of tolerance to be advantageous.

How do we Develop Cannabis Tolerance?

The body develops a tolerance to THC in two steps. It all begins when the CB1 and CB2 cannabinoid receptors become repeatedly stimulated by THC. This triggers something known as desensitization, a process whereby cannabinoids bind to a lesser degree with receptor sites in the brain. Essentially, it’s a method of protection that the body uses. Before patients begin medicating with cannabis, receptors are always more sensitive. With repeated exposure, the desensitization process is a natural toning down in sensitivity.

When receptor sites become desensitized, repeated THC exposure triggers a process known as internalization. This triggers true tolerance, and affected receptors are taken offline and recycled back into the cell membrane.

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weed tolerance represented by young man holding roach and smoking

Can you Lower Your Cannabis Tolerance?

A study published in Biological Psychiatry Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging (2017), found “rapid changes in CB1 receptor availability in cannabis dependent males after abstinence from cannabis.”

Researchers found that the brain has the ability to bring previously internalized receptors back online with abstinence. While the time required varies based on the article, researchers noted that there “were no significant group differences in CB1R availability in control groups after twenty eight days of abstinence.”

Researchers concluded that although cannabis dependence is associated with CB1 receptor downregulation, it, “begins to reverse surprisingly rapidly upon termination of cannabis use and may continue to increase over time.”

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Overpowering an Existing Tolerance

Patients with high tolerances to THC can either live with it, or reset it. For those who require cannabis daily for medicinal purposes, the latter may be the only option.

Many of those who don’t respond to their old dosage will often switch to using concentrates. Concentrates contain much higher values of THC than flower. Sometimes as high as ninety percent, concentrates are very potent, and are often the only choice for some medicinal consumers battling crippling conditions.

Concentrates come in several forms, many of which are devoid of the majority of useful plant compounds. Where ninety percent THC shatter may deliver very intoxicating effects, it may not be the best therapeutic option. Concentrates that preserve the full spectrum of the plant are always the more attractive option for medicinal consumers. Live resin and terpene sauce are two well-known forms of concentrate that retain much of that medicinal punch while also delivering high THC.

Full-spectrum oil extracts are another viable alternative to flower. With the preservation of the entire range, a quality extract will provide medicinal value and also help overcome existing tolerances.

There is another way to look at the tolerance issue. Rather than overpowering a perceived tolerance, why not see it as something beneficial? While tolerance can be a significant issue for recreational consumers, it isn’t necessarily so for medicinal consumers.

Why Tolerances Aren’t Always bad

For many medicinal consumers, the intoxicating effects of THC are an inconvenience. In the case of those who must function optimally for work or other duties, potential side-effects of THC like anxiety, dizziness, or paranoia are often unwelcome.

For many, having a base level tolerance to the effects of THC is considered a good thing. Every patient is different however, and patients with various conditions always respond differently.

Aside from THC, cannabis contains hundreds of other known cannabinoids, many of which have medicinal benefits. Taming THC, a study published in the British Journal of Pharmacology (2011) examined many of these compounds and their associated benefits. The study’s investigation into the role of terpenes is of particular interest to the medicinal patient. The study found that via the natural synergies that play out between plant compounds through the entourage effect (like terpenes and cannabinoids), a significant enhancement of the therapeutic effects can occur.

Whether it’s pinene with its memory-enhancing effects, caryophyllene with its anti-inflammatory and antidepressant properties, or any other dominant terpenes, their presence is medicine too. Just because someone develops a tolerance to the effects of THC doesn’t necessarily mean that their body isn’t benefitting from the synergies that play out between additional plant terpenes and minor cannabinoids.

weed tolerance represented by pre rolls

Ways to Reset Tolerance

There are several ways to reset tolerance. For those who can, merely abstaining for any length of time between one day and four weeks will reset tolerance to some degree. Other tactics involve increasing the consumption of CBD. Cannabidiol doesn’t antagonize the CB1 or CB2 receptors. Instead, it triggers the TRPV1 receptors that then stimulate the CB1 and CB2 receptors and thus help negate the issues associated with tolerance.

Whether through abstinence or the consumption of concentrates, there are several ways to deal with cannabis tolerance. Weed tolerance may be inconvenient for the recreational consumer. Thankfully, however, that doesn’t have to be the case for many medicinal patients.

Author avatar

Francis Cassidy
Francis Cassidy is a freelance writer who writes on a variety of topics. With a particular focus on the cannabis industry, he aims to help ensure the smooth reintegration of cannabis back into global culture. When not writing, he's to be found exploring his new base in British Columbia, Canada. You can follow his other works including his photography on his blog

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