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What is a tolerance break and when are they useful?

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Contents

  1. What is cannabis tolerance?
  2. What are the benefits of a tolerance break?
  3. What are the side effects of a tolerance break?
  4. How do I take a tolerance break?
  5. How often should I take a tolerance break?

A tolerance break — sometimes called a T-break — is a deliberate, temporary cessation of cannabis consumption for the purpose of resetting the body’s tolerance to THC. Both medical and recreational cannabis users develop tolerance to THC with regular consumption, which can be reduced by taking tolerance breaks.

Both medical and recreational cannabis users develop tolerance to THC with regular consumption, which can be reduced by taking tolerance breaks. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps

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What is cannabis tolerance?

Tolerance is when the body acclimates to the effects of a substance or medication, when the substance is taken regularly . With repeated consumption, more of the substance is needed to achieve the original, desired effect. Like many other drugs and medicines, the human body develops tolerance when THC is consumed on a regular basis.

Scientists don’t fully understand the adaptations happening in our bodies when we experience tolerance; it’s a very complex phenomenon. However, brain imaging studies of people who use cannabis regularly have shown that chronic cannabis/THC use causes a decrease in the number of CB1 receptors across the brain. This means there are fewer sites available for THC to bind and activate the brain. The body’s natural system that interacts with cannabis — our endocannabinoid system (ECS) — is a very dynamic and responsive system. It’s no surprise that the ECS senses when it is being overwhelmed by THC, and compensates by becoming less sensitive. As a result, more THC (in the form of more frequent use or higher potency cannabis varieties) is required to achieve the same results as when you first started consuming.

Chronic THC use causes a decrease in the number of CB1 receptors across the brain. This means there are fewer sites available for THC to bind and activate the brain.

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While tolerance builds with continued, regular use, research is inconclusive on how long it takes to develop. Animal studies have suggested that females develop tolerance more rapidly than biological males, but this has been difficult to study in humans. The process is highly variable and depends on numerous factors such as consumption patterns, THC doses, routes of administration, and even our genetic makeup. The universal standard is, if you notice that you need to increase the amount of cannabis you’re using in order to feel its effects, you’ve built up a tolerance.

Tolerance isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Many medical patients wish to derive the benefits of THC (pain relief, for instance), but they have a hard time dealing with THC’s side effects of impairment and brain fog. Once a person develops a sufficient level of tolerance, it is possible to reap the medical benefits of cannabis in the absence of unwanted impairment. Anecdotally, patients have reported that when they are first starting out on cannabis therapy, they have success taking THC right before bed. By sleeping through the intoxication for a week or two, they are slowly able to incorporate small amounts of THC into their daytime routine, capturing medical benefits with minimal side effects.

What are the benefits of a tolerance break?

Tolerance breaks offer plentiful benefits with little effort. Moderating cannabis consumption by taking regular breaks is a good strategy for minimizing the risks of consuming too much THC. THC activates the CB1 receptors in the brain’s reward pathway, which triggers neurological responses that increase the likelihood a person will use cannabis again. While technically there’s nothing wrong with the fact that cannabis is a rewarding substance that makes people feel good, anything that creates the feeling of reward can be abused. Too much regular consumption can increase the risk of developing cannabis use disorder (CUD), and cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome (CH). A tolerance break mitigates the risk of developing these disorders by disrupting the body’s physical dependence on THC.

Taking a tolerance break also increases the effectiveness of cannabis on the body once you resume consumption. This means you get a more potent high (or more symptom relief) from less weed, which means less money spent in the long run.

Taking a tolerance break also increases the effectiveness of cannabis on the body once you resume consumption. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps

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What are the side effects of a tolerance break?

Chronic users of cannabis may experience some withdrawal symptoms when attempting a tolerance break. One study showed that nearly one-third of consumers report withdrawal symptoms when quitting after regular, long-time use. These symptoms are similar to nicotine withdrawal, and include irritability, decreased appetite, depressed mood, restlessness, anxiety, and insomnia. While side effects are more likely to occur for highly dependent users, cannabis withdrawal symptoms are typically mild and generally undisruptive.

For medical patients, the symptoms that are being treated with cannabis are likely to return during a period of cannabis abstinence. Temporarily switching to another medication, or using complementary and alternative therapies may be helpful during this time. Because medical patients are likely to be daily consumers of cannabis, they are particularly vulnerable to the risks of chronic cannabis use (such as hyperemesis). Managing tolerance is an important part of sustainable, long-term cannabis therapy.

How do I take a tolerance break?

It’s easy to take a tolerance break. Simply stop consuming cannabis for at least two days. Research demonstrates that CB1 receptor availability is diminished by chronic cannabis use. These receptors rapidly return to a cannabis-naive state after a mere 48 hours of abstinence. That’s to say, your tolerance should be back to normal after holding off from consuming for two days.

Some people may find this difficult to do, because they have come to rely on cannabis to make their daily lives more manageable or enjoyable. While cutting back the frequency or amount you consume (exercising moderation) is never a bad thing, it’s different than going cold-turkey and taking a true tolerance break to reset the body’s endocannabinoid system. Some people may find it helpful to taper down their use for a period of time before taking a true T-break for a few days.

Those who consume cannabis a few times per day may benefit from longer tolerance breaks, up to two weeks or even a month. However, the length of your tolerance break is entirely up to you. Determine what you want out of a tolerance break, give it a try, and see how your body feels. Everyone’s body interacts with cannabis and THC differently, and there’s no one-size-fits-all for tolerance breaks.

Everyone’s body interacts with cannabis and THC differently, and there’s no one-size-fits-all for tolerance breaks. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps

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Some consumers choose to take a tolerance break by replacing THC with CBD. Anecdotally, CBD seems to help mitigate the withdrawal symptoms that may occur with a tolerance break. However, there’s very little research available supporting this claim.

How often should I take a tolerance break?

Tolerance breaks have not been rigorously studied by doctors or scientists. However, some cannabis-centric physicians and patient advocate groups have suggested that taking a 48-hour break every 30 days is a good strategy for managing tolerance and preventing physical dependence.

Whether you are using cannabis to manage a chronic health condition, or simply enjoy having it as a part of your regular routine, there are good reasons to monitor and manage your intake, keeping your endocannabinoid system functioning at its best.

If you decide that it’s time for a tolerance break, it might be helpful to let your friends and loved ones know. Ask your friends to support you and, with their help, avoid situations that may challenge your commitment to a tolerance reset.

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Expert tips on taking a marijuana tolerance break

Let’s call it spring cleaning for your brain

If you are a daily consumer of cannabis, you probably have noticed that your tolerance to marijuana has changed. Photo by Getty Images

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    It’s time for a little spring cleaning. We’re not talking about cleaning out your junk drawers or purging your storage area of useless knickknacks, although now is a fine time to do those chores. It may be time to give your brain a cleanse by taking a cannabis tolerance break.

    Expert tips on taking a marijuana tolerance break Back to video

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    If you are a daily consumer of cannabis, you probably have noticed that your tolerance to marijuana has changed. You’ve tried different types of cannabis with higher THC levels. You’ve upped your dose. But no matter what you have tried, that old feeling of euphoria is difficult to capture.

    Tolerance Holidays, also known as T-breaks, are recommended for many reasons. Most long-term consumers of cannabis report that refraining from reefer for an extended period of time allows your body and mind to re-calibrate.

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    Do you know people who give up booze for a few weeks after New Year’s Eve? Or for Lent? It’s kind of like that. Here’s what you should know about taking a Tolerance Holiday.

    Do I Really Need To Take One?

    It’s your body and it’s your brain. Listen to what they are saying to you. But most experienced consumers will tell you that your relationship with the herb will benefit from a break.

    Think of it as giving your receptors a chance to recuperate. Why overtax them?

    Taking a T-break will also allow for reflection on why you consume in the first place. Is it a mindful, positive experience? Does it provide a new perspective? Does it make music sound better? Food taste better? If you find that your experiences are no longer as positive or euphoric, it’s time to put the bong down.

    Can’t I Just Cut Back On My Consumption?

    This method certainly will help, but your receptors are still being activated on a semi-regular basis. Many marijuana enthusiasts prefer this halfway approach and it works for some.

    If you spark one up multiple times a day, you opt to limit it to just at the end of the evening. Or if you use it as a sleep aid, consider opting for melatonin for a few weeks as a replacement.

    How Long Should I Refrain From Using?

    Once again, everybody is different. But taking a break for one or two days just won’t cut it. Most experienced T-breakers will tell you that two weeks is a wise minimum. A month is preferred. If you seriously give it up for the entire Lenten season (40+ days), your receptors will certainly be well rested.

    THC can remain in your system for 30 days. Allowing the cannabinoid to flush through your system will do your body good. And your next session should be memorable.

    What About Medical Marijuana Patients?

    This is a bit tricky. If you are using cannabis as medicine, it is smart to consult with the physician who recommended it. If you are currently using it as an aid in chemotherapy, PTSD, pain relief or any other serious ailment, it is paramount that you balance the desire to medicate with the desire to lower your tolerance.

    If you are more of a recreational user (and you know who you are), it’s smart to take a T-break. If you need cannabis for physical or emotional relief, it is recommended you have a talk with a doctor.

    Will It Have Negative Effects?

    Some people taking a tolerance holiday may show symptoms of irritability, moodiness of other signs of withdrawal. Have you ever been around someone who quit smoking tobacco? It’s similar to that, but usually less severe. And remember: The reason you are taking the T-break is to keep your mind and body in balance.

    The best advice is to stay active. Go for long walks or to the gym. Releasing endorphins may assist in preventing or lessening the negative effects.

    Added Bonus!

    If you find this to be a difficult task, it may be a warning sign that you are becoming dependent on the drug. But try to focus on this silver lining: If you take a protracted break from cannabis, you’ll be saving yourself a chunk of change. And who couldn’t use a few extra bucks in the bank account?

    Let’s call it spring cleaning for your brain ]]>