Saturday September 18, 2021
By Andrew Ward
Over time, cannabis consumers develop a weed tolerance, making the effects of marijuana diminished to a certain degree. This happens to just about anyone who consumes frequently enough. As you consume more cannabis, your brain needs more THC to produce the desired effects you seek. This is due to the diminished effects that occur when THC cannabinoids bind with the body's CB1 receptors.
However, breaks from consuming have been known to reduce one's tolerance to cannabis by making the receptors sensitive to THC once again. This is called a tolerance break, or a T-Break.
What is a Marijuana Tolerance Break?
A tolerance break refers to taking a set period of time to abstain from marijuana in order to reset the body’s sensitivity to THC and other cannabinoids. It is most often referred to as a T-break, but there are numerous slang terms for the concept, including “drug holiday” (holiday is used here in the British sense of “taking time off”).
What do we mean when we say “tolerance?” Tolerance is how strongly our bodies react to the effects of a given substance. We develop tolerances because human bodies are highly adaptive, and that includes adapting to the things we consume. As we consume cannabis, our bodies adjust to the cannabinoids over time, resulting in less potent effects. How does this happen? Let’s look at the science behind it.
Why Consider a ‘T Break’: How Marijuana Tolerance Works
While we know that our bodies develop tolerance to cannabinoids rather quickly, the scientific community still has a lot to learn about how the process happens. However, there is some information that may help us understand tolerance breaks.
In our brains we have tiny structures called cannabinoid (CB) receptors which receive and uptake cannabinoids to regulate body processes such as pain and hunger. These CB receptors are dispersed throughout the body and brain, and take in the many different types of cannabinoids to help regulate and influence our bodily processes. These include endocannabinoids, which our bodies produce naturally, and phytocannabinoids, which come from plants, and are the type we find on cannabis. Cannabis cannabinoids have nearly identical structures to some of our own natural cannabinoids, and that is why they fit into our brain and affect similar functions. However, this also likely plays into why we easily develop cannabis tolerance.
Because cannabinoids affect so many of our regular bodily functions, our bodies also have systems in place to mediate their uptake chemically. Regulating CB receptors can mean making the reaction to receptors weaker (known as desensitizing), or physically retracting (internalizing) them so that fewer cannabinoids can attach.
When our bodies intake more cannabinoids than they usually would, these systems leap into action to respond. Without regulating systems in place, we may never stop being hungry, or might never feel rested. They exist to help us maintain homeostasis. However, the same systems will react to an abundance of cannabis cannabinoids.
The more cannabinoids we throw at them, the more they will respond to mitigate them. With less available receptors and a weaker response, our bodies react less, and the effects of cannabis are reduced. Consequently, we would need to take in more cannabinoids to have the same level of effect that happened when more receptors were available. Eventually, our bodies do not respond to cannabinoids in the same way at all.
After chronic marijuana use, human brains respond to cannabis in a different way: Reward centers quit releasing dopamine after use, and the impairment in neurocognitive function goes away. This may be good for those who use marijuana regularly for chronic issues, because you can take it without issue.
How Long Should a Cannabis Tolerance Break Be?
If you are prescribed marijuana for a medical condition, consult your physician. It’s always a good idea to see a physician if you are experiencing tolerance issues. You and your physician can work out a more tailor-made plan, but for those do-it-yourselfers we will provide some helpful guidelines.
A self-imposed tolerance break can last as long as you see fit. To determine how long that should be, consider both the amount you consume and your base tolerance level.
Everyone’s interaction with cannabis is unique, and that is because each person has a unique body chemistry. Remember how we discussed CB receptors above? How these receptors perform in each person will differ depending on their genetics and the unique chemical processes that happen within them.
This means factors like a person’s levels of neurotransmitters, or the speed and effectiveness of their metabolism. As such, the duration of a tolerance break will need to be tailored to the individual in order to be most effective.
A typical duration for a tolerance break is 2-5 weeks. Casual consumers may see a tolerance reduction in as short as 1-2 weeks. For semi-frequent consumers, 2 or 3 weeks. Regular heavy consumers may need to hold out a month or longer.
Given the variance from person to person, these are soft guidelines. Overall, the more cannabis that you regularly consume, the longer your break will need to be in order to reset or reduce tolerance.
Completely ceasing cannabis consumption may not always be possible; such is the case with many medical cannabis patients who depend on daily cannabis intake to manage their symptoms. Many have found success doing partial breaks, where they scale back their cannabis intake instead of outright stoppage. This won’t be as reliable as a full-fledged break, but should still be able to help mitigate tolerance increase to some degree. Be aware that reducing use, in place of abstaining from it, will likely take longer to have an effect as well.
When a Tolerance Break from Weed is Needed
In general, a tolerance break is needed when a person feels like they are not getting the strength of response that they need or want from cannabis. There is no set limit of intake that determines when a tolerance break is needed. Furthermore, the reasons for needing a break will be highly dependent on the individual and their circumstances.
The LA times put out some good rough tolerance charts and calculations that can offer some insight, but how well they work for you personally is unknown.
Most people take a tolerance break because they find it difficult to achieve the effects they are looking for with a manageable amount of cannabis. For example, if smoking half a joint used to be plenty to catch a buzz for the evening, but they are slowly finding they need the whole joint to get there. Or even two.
Even when you get a great deal on it, cannabis costs money. As tolerance increases not only will it require more product for the desired effects, but that will also mean spending more money. Financial reasons are another of the most common reasons that people take tolerance breaks.
Knowing whether or not a tolerance break is needed will depend on what you’re looking to get out of it. Are you looking to get more potent effects from less product? Or simply looking to reduce your consumption. Is there a set amount you’re looking to stay within? How much or how long that you want to reduce your intake of cannabis will mean examining these factors and setting goals.
In other cases, the T-break is thrust upon us. This can be in the case with job applications, parental rights cases, probation terms and several different instances. Obviously, abstaining for these reasons isn’t quite a break to increase tolerance, however, tolerance will be reduced as a side effect of not consuming, so these breaks should be taken into consideration as well whenever consuming cannabis starts again.
Tips for a Successful Marijuana Tolerance Break
Deciding to take a break is one thing, but carrying it out is another. One integral step in a successful tolerance break is determining goals. Ask yourself, what do I want to achieve as a result of the break?
First, be specific. If you want to reduce your intake, set a goal of what amount you want to reduce it to. Vagueness can keep you from accurately assessing your success.
Aim for something like, “it currently takes me two joints to get high, I would like to reduce that to one joint,” or “right now I need 20mg of edibles to have an effect, and I’d like to make that 5mg.” Maybe any reduction counts as success to you, but if that’s the goal, state it.
Once you know your goal, set a time table. Mark on a calendar or set a countdown for the last day of your break. Setting a firm date will help to avoid ending your break early, and give you a measurable time table to check in on your results. Otherwise, it can be hard to know what’s working and what’s just a fluke.
Next, think about what physical variables you can control for your break. Many people suggest getting rid of whatever cannabis you may have on hand so that you’re not tempted. Others suggest finding activities to replace your cannabis routines. For example, if you’re used to a daily joint to unwind after the workday, find something to fill that time slot, such as meditation or exercise. Exercise is especially a good option, as it is known to release anandamide, which has a nearly identical chemical structure to THC.
It can also be helpful to discuss your break with your immediate friends and family, and that goes doubly so for any of them that you may consume with. Letting them know you’re taking a break means they will (ideally) be less inclined to offer or ask you to partake with them, and can be an opportunity for them to help support you in your goal. The idea here is to minimize the opportunities to consume cannabis, in hopes that it will curb overall consumption. Cannabis is often a very social substance, and it can be hard to put a pause on that bond if it’s something you regularly share with others.
Overall, be as mindful as you can of the times and ways you consume cannabis. The more aware you are of your consumption habits, the better you can control them.
However, if you’re looking for some less anecdotal advice there are more academic routes available.
One of the most official looks into tolerance breaks comes from Tom Fontana and the University of Vermont's Center for Health and Wellbeing. Going off the premise that a break should last for at least three weeks, Fontana created a thorough 21-day guide walking abstainers through the process.
Acknowledging that a break is trying on the individual, the guide aims to help people push through the adversity of a cannabis pause so they can re-evaluate themselves. Each week focuses on a theme with daily practices. The first week centers on the physical, ranging from preparation to our routines. The second week delves into the emotional, ranging from withdrawal to a person's creativity. Lastly, the final week explores spiritual and existential themes, from crediting yourself, not the substance, to what comes after the break is completed.
CBD and Marijuana Tolerance
The rise of CBD in the cannabis community has inevitably found its way into the tolerance break discussion as well. While not a hot topic of discussion in comparison to other subjects with the cannabis community online, some have weighed in on the matter. In most cases, they suggest that CBD is adequate, if not recommended, during a break.
Most reports argue that CBD lacks psychoactive effects of THC, and isolate forms (or distillate void of THC traces) can be safely consumed during a detox. CBD users have reported feeling calmer, and that it helped reduce desire to consume THC.
The Positive Side of High Tolerance
There are certain circumstances that may call for raising one’s tolerance instead of reducing it. Although higher tolerance can suppress the primary effects of cannabis, it can also reduce the side effects of cannabis as well.
Many medical patients who would not otherwise consume cannabis need to do so to treat their symptoms and find that they need to build up some tolerance to overcome side effects such as sleepiness or anxiety.
If this is the case, you can do something like the inverse of a tolerance break in order to acclimate to a desired dosage. Just as you would with a tolerance break, take note of your goals and current consumption, and track your progress at measured intervals.
The key difference is that you’ll be gradually upping your dosage to hit the desired amount or effect instead of reducing it. Be aware that your body will take time to adjust, so take into account that you might be more impaired than usual during the adjustment period. Building tolerance should be done in small progressive steps, and should aim to hit the desired goal and go no further, or else you risk diminishing returns for your time spent acclimating.
All in all, finding your ideal tolerance break duration might take a little trial and error to understand your unique body chemistry and how fast it rebounds from high cannabis tolerance. Once you dial it in, however, you should see noticeable results and feel stronger effects from your normal cannabis consumption habits.
How long do you take tolerance breaks for? Do you have any tips or tricks for maximizing results? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.