Marijuana Tolerance: Why it Gets So High & How to Lower it

Is medical marijuana no longer relieving your symptoms the way it once did? You might be experiencing high marijuana tolerance.

Tolerance refers to the body’s reduced response to a drug as a result of regular use. It can develop with all types of medications, including both prescription and illegal drugs. If you have developed a tolerance to medical marijuana, it means your body has become “used to” the current dosage.

You may need to increase your dose to achieve the same benefits or effects as before. However, continually increasing your dose is not always a practical solution, especially for medical marijuana patients. Fortunately, there are ways to reset your tolerance.

But First, How Does Marijuana Tolerance Work?

Marijuana tolerance develops over time due to long-term, repetitive use of both synthetic and plant-derived cannabinoids. Cannabinoids are the active compounds in marijuana. Cannabinoids work by acting on receptors located on cells throughout the brain and body.

For example, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the main psychoactive cannabinoid in marijuana. It acts predominantly on cannabinoid type I (CB1) receptors on brain cells. Over time, regular THC intake desensitizes these receptors. As a result, the CB1 receptors don’t bind adequately to THC, ultimately reducing its effects. With continued use, the brain begins removing CB1 receptors from the surface of cells via a process known as internalization. [1]

These two distinct mechanisms are responsible for THC tolerance: desensitization and internalization. If you continue to consume THC, the desired effects will decline as there are fewer receptors to stimulate, and those that remain are less receptive to circulating THC.

Currently, research indicates that other cannabinoids, including the non-psychoactive compound, cannabidiol (CBD), don’t cause a similar degree of tolerance. [2]

Marijuana Tolerance Timeline

Similar to other medications, there are no strict timelines on how quickly tolerance to marijuana develops. It depends on several factors, including:

  • Frequency of cannabis use
  • The THC content of each dose
  • History of cannabis use
  • Individual DNA

Research surrounding the development rate for marijuana tolerance is limited, although a person’s individual biology appears to play a significant role.

How to Lower Marijuana Tolerance?

One of the most common ways to reverse THC tolerance is temporarily abstaining from marijuana. It’s typically called a “T-break.” Evidence shows that, although THC can weaken and reduce the number of CB1 receptors, they can recover and return to normal levels. [3]

According to one study, the recovery process begins within the first two days of abstinence with receptors returning to previous density and function within four weeks. The same study also found that daily cannabis users had, on average, 20% fewer CB1 receptors than non-users. This correlated with marijuana use history – e.g. long-term users had fewer receptors compared to short-term users. Importantly, the study measured changes in the density of CB1 receptors, not desensitization. [4]

Taking a Safe Tolerance Break

While abstaining from marijuana is an effective way to reduce your tolerance, keep in mind that it can be challenging, particularly for medical marijuana patients. Some people will have no problems taking a T break, whereas others may experience unpleasant withdrawal symptoms, such as:

  • Nausea
  • Headaches
  • Fever and sweating
  • Nervousness
  • Irritability
  • Marijuana cravings
  • Diminished appetite’
  • Insomnia and fatigue

To help make the process easier, keep hydrated by consuming at least eight glasses of water per day and try to incorporate exercise into your daily routine. Taking over-the-counter medications can also help alleviate nausea and headaches.

If you’re using marijuana for medical purposes, speak with your doctor before making any changes to your prescription or dosage. Your doctor will be able to advise on the best course of action based on your individual circumstances. In some cases, you may require continuous monitoring to abstain from marijuana safely, and in other situations, your doctor may determine that a T break is not a feasible option.

Other Ways to Reduce Your THC Tolerance

If abstinence isn’t an appropriate solution for you, don’t worry. There are other strategies to help reduce your THC tolerance.

Use High CBD Products

Depending on the purpose of your medical marijuana, switching to a higher CBD-to-THC ratio may enable you to slowly reduce your THC tolerance, without the associated withdrawal symptoms. Cannabidiol (CBD) is the main non-psychoactive cannabinoid in marijuana and it’s proving very beneficial in the management of chronic pain, inflammation, anxiety, and seizures. While there is much to learn about CBD, the current body of research indicates that it’s not tolerance forming. [2]

Importantly, CBD does not act directly on CB1 receptors and has a very low affinity for CB2 receptors. Instead, CBD appears to exert its effects indirectly, without needing to bind to receptors. Theoretically, this suggests that tolerance is far less likely with CBD. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), studies show that CBD regulates receptors outside the endocannabinoid system, including the 5-HT1a receptor, which triggers serotonin release (the “feel-good” chemical).

Use Products Containing Both THC and CBD

You may be able to reduce your THC dose by choosing products containing both THC and CBD. One animal study found that THC + CBD improved pain more than THC alone and resulted in higher blood THC content after six days.

These findings indicate that CBD may inhibit the metabolism of THC, meaning the cannabinoid can remain active within your system for longer. Theoretically, you should then need less to get the same response. [5]

Get more cardiovascular exercise

Besides the fact the exercise is excellent for your overall health, going for a run can stimulate your endocannabinoid system in much the same way as THC. Of course, we’ve always known about the endorphin induced runners high. But, according to a recent study published in the National Academy of Sciences, cardiovascular exercise increases endocannabinoids (cannabinoids produced by the body) and maybe a key mechanism behind the reduced anxiety we tend to experience after building up a sweat. [6]

Furthermore, a 2013 study published in the Journal of Drug and Alcohol Dependence found THC metabolites stored in the fat tissue of regular cannabis users releases into the bloodstream during exercise for up to 28 days after the last consumption. [7]

Improving your THC Tolerance

Before making any changes to your regular medical marijuana prescription, speak with your doctor. At THC Physicians, we are all Certified and Licenced Medical Marijuana Doctors who can offer advice and recommendations on medical marijuana for a range of conditions. We can also process your medical marijuana card online with ease. Call us today with any questions.

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