Your friend let you try one of their infused chocolate blueberries, and instantly, you were hooked. The dosage was consistent, the packaging discreet and they’re delicious to boot. You make the trek out to a dispensary yourself and before long, it’s a routine addition to your post-work dinner-and-TV routine. But after a while, you’re finding the urge to reach for two blueberries, or even three, and you notice, they’re just not quite hitting you like it used to. Maybe it’s time for a tolerance break?
How does cannabis tolerance work?
Cannabis tolerance is unique in that it works differently than other drugs that affect your state of mind. While tolerance can be affected on some level by your genetic predisposition, there’s not a clear correlation between say, your body weight and cannabis tolerance like there is for alcohol. This is why we recommend going “low and slow” when trying cannabis for the first time, even if you’re a 300-pound bodybuilder.
One significant distinction from alcohol is the speed at which your body will adapt to THC. Because the effects of THC are mediated through our endocannabinoid system, a system whose main function is maintaining homeostasis and balance in your body, your body has different ways of nudging you back to it’s idea of center.
In our bodies, THC affects us by attaching itself to our CB1 receptors, the versatile P.O. boxes of our endocannabinoid systems. These receptors can accept a variety of neurotransmitters, like anandamide or 2-AG, which can affect your stress, appetite, pain or sleep. When THC is attached, we get the “high” feeling, and of course, the peripheral effects that modulate our stress, appetite, pain or sleep.
As a self-regulating system, your body will actively impose measures to limit the effects of THC if exposed to it frequently or for prolonged periods of time. Your brain does this by desensitizing (weakening) and internalizing (retracting) your CB1 receptors, making the overall experience less intense. These are the actual things happening in your body when you experience “tolerance.”
How long does tolerance take to build and reset?
Your body works incredibly quickly to build tolerance. If you haven’t noticed before, you can test this out for yourself with two or three equally portioned doses on a day off. Have one earlier in the day, wait for it’s effects to play out, then have another, equal dose. It should be pretty apparent that each subsequent dose is notably less effective.
The speed of your brain’s moderation is a double-edged sword. Your brain will also “reset” your receptors to previous levels of sensitivity, even moving retracted receptors back to the surface. You’ll notice that just one night’s sleep will reset your tolerance significantly, so it’s important to remember that your first exposure to THC on any given day will also be your most sensitive.
If you use cannabis with any regular frequency, your baseline tolerance will begin to reset less and less effectively, which is why that one blueberry begins to feel like less and less if you have a couple every day. The human body is pretty resilient and flexible, which is how some people can push their tolerance so far that they need several standard 10mg doses to feel THC’s effects. Heavy smokers of concentrate or dabs often remark that after a while, flower becomes virtually ineffective. The average consumer likely doesn’t have to worry about that.
The actual chemical mechanics of tolerance are well-documented, but it’s important to remember that veterans of cannabis also benefit from familiarity with THC’s psychoactive effects. Only you know exactly how you’re affected by THC, so the better you know how it affects your state of mind and your decision-making, the better you’ll be at navigating it.
How do I manage my tolerance?
From a practical perspective, having a general knowledge of your tolerance can help you dose safely, more effectively, and even save you some money. You don’t want to come back from a long vacation, ready to partake, without realizing you’ve reset a year’s worth of tolerance. You also don’t want to waste money over-ingesting THC past the point of diminishing returns.
If you’re planning a day with multiple doses, consider “backloading” your THC content. Remember, you’ll always be most sensitive to the effects of THC during your first dose, so keep your first dose small, and allocate larger doses later. This practice also helps in the long-term, as you’ll “spend” less THC to get the same effect, as well as keeping your overall net consumption lower, which keeps your tolerance lower.
You may have heard veterans use the term “t-break” or “tolerance break” to refer to an intentional period of abstinence in order to reset your tolerance. Every night’s sleep resets your tolerance to some level, but it can take up to 4 weeks to fully return to your baseline sensitivity if you’re a frequent consumer. Many people will feel the increased sensitivity in days, so anywhere from a 1-4 week break can be effective. Just be careful on your first adventure back!