Everyone has an endocannabinoid system. The ECS is a regulatory system that helps keep our
bodies balanced, affecting everything from the nervous system to the skin to the gut. It’s made
up of endocannabinoids, receptors, and enzymes that are believed to help regulate a huge
variety of functions like sleep, appetite, mood, memory, and pain sensation, working to keep
your body well-balanced and in an ideal state of homeostasis.
The ECS has cannabinoid receptors, CB1 and CB2 receptors being the most significant, that sit
on the surface of cells and transmit information when activated. The cannabinoid THC fits like a
key in the lock of the CB1 receptor, causing the CB1 receptor to activate in a way that produces
the intoxicating effect of cannabis, or the “high”.
When we talk about Cannabis Tolerance we are usually talking about needing more of the
active molecules in cannabis (THC) to cause the same effects. This happens when the CB1
receptor is activated too many times, our brains will subsequently decrease the amount of
receptors that are available.
When there are less receptors you need more molecules to cause the same effects, this
decrease in the number of receptors is also the cause of withdrawal symptoms (headache,
tired) It is important to monitor your use to avoid developing extreme tolerance.
I think there’s a misconception about tolerance, that we need to completely abstain from
cannabis in order to lower tolerance. In reality, for some people completely abstaining from
cannabis can be much more damaging than beneficial.
A current theory is that some people have lower levels of endocannabinoids naturally occurring
in their body. Because of these low levels it can lead to health problems like migraine, mood
disorders, sleep disorders, or even GI issues which are all essentially treatable but incurable
conditions right now. In these cases, individuals are taking cannabis to supplement their
endocannabinoid system with enough of these cannabinoids that their body is not naturally
making. (Russo E. B. (2016). Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency Reconsidered: Current
Research Supports the Theory in Migraine, Fibromyalgia, Irritable Bowel, and Other
Treatment-Resistant Syndromes. Cannabis and cannabinoid research, 1(1), 154–165.)
If you feel like your tolerance is getting high, and you are not able to take a full break from
cannabis, there are other ways that we can lower our tolerance.
- Use a strain that’s low in THC
- Use products with THC & CBD
- Use less, less often (that way you’re still providing your body with the molecule that it needs
for a therapeutic purpose, but it also lowers tolerance)
Simply put, the brain reacts strongest to changes, so when there is a continuous exposure to
THC in the brain from consistent use, it will not react as strongly because there is little change.
By doing something as simple as not smoking until the evening can lower the levels back
enough that when the THC is administered after the gap, there will be a much more noticeable
Cannabidiol (CBD) is another compound found in cannabis. It doesn’t seem to lead to depletion
of CB1 receptors, meaning it doesn’t cause you to develop tolerance in the way THC does. CBD
won’t give you a “high,” but it does seem to have some beneficial effects which are being
There’s no strict timeline for how tolerance develops. It depends on a range of factors, including:
- how often you consume
- how potent the cannabis is
- your personal biology
If you do a full T-Break (completely abstain from THC) consider the following to help minimize
any unpleasant feelings you may or may not encounter:
In my experience cannabis withdrawal is very similar to caffeine withdrawal.
For example, how an individual may get a headache or feel irritable if they go a day
without drinking coffee and/or caffeinated beverages.
To help with these symptoms, make sure to get plenty of hydration and rest.
Try taking CBD only products, which won’t get you high but can reduce those unpleasant
In addition, exercise and fresh air can help you feel alert and reduce any slumps in your mood.
While the symptoms can be uncomfortable, the good news is that cannabis withdrawal
symptoms usually only last for 72 hours