The Science of Cannabis Tolerance
Cannabis users often experience a phenomenon commonly described as ‘marijuana tolerance’ or ‘marijuana dependence’. In regular users of cannabis and cannabis products, marijuana tolerance is linked to regular use. In this state, a user requires more and more units of cannabis to seemingly enjoy the same effect as before. In essence, with regular use of cannabis, the body ultimately becomes less responsive to cannabinoids as it builds up a tolerance to the physiological effects of cannabinoids.
Clinical researchers trying to explain this tolerance have proposed multiple theories on why the body suddenly becomes tolerant to cannabis. In a reference review published by the Journal of Biological Psychiatry, Cognitive, Neuroscience, and Neuroimaging, there is evidence suggesting that with regular use of cannabis, there is a downregulation of cannabinoids receptor type 1 in the body system.
The body modulates the effect of cannabis by processing it through the endocannabinoid system – a large network of enzymes, lipids, and receptors primarily responsible for regulatory functions. To exert the typical effect of cannabis consumption, the psychoactive cannabinoid THC interacts reversibly with the cannabinoid receptors in the endocannabinoid system. With more and more of this interaction, there is a progressive decrease in the number of functional cannabinoid type 1 (CB1R) receptors over time. This occurrence, more pronounced in cannabis dependence, creates a physiological tolerance to cannabis.
What is the Tolerance Break?
Cannabis tolerance is a natural response to regular cannabis use and can happen spontaneously after a long period of consistent cannabis consumption. To reverse the effects of cannabis tolerance and re-tune the cannabinoid receptors, a Tolerance Break (T-break) is necessary. In T-breaks, a cannabis user simply abstains from using cannabis and any THC-based product for a while.
Research reports on the exact timeframe to observe a t-break are not definitive yet. However, a 2015 research study published on the same topic suggests that the density of cannabinoid type 1 (CB1R) receptors increases significantly after 48 hours of zero cannabis use. On average, it takes 3 weeks for the effects of THC to wear off in humans.
With this information, experts have generally opined that t-breaks should be designed to be at least 21 days long. During this break, a user systematically withdraws from cannabis in an attempt to repopulate and re-tune the cannabinoid type 1 (CB1R) receptors of the endocannabinoid system. People consuming cannabis for medicinal purposes are advised to only observe a t-break under the supervision of a physician.
What are the Side Effects of a Weed Tolerance Break?
Taking a cannabis tolerance break might not be easy for many people. To do this, cannabis users generally need a foolproof approach and a mental determination to go through with it. There are multiple reports of challenges people face while on a t-break. Similar to the experience of breaking a cannabis addiction, these challenges make it hard for many cannabis users to complete a t-break.
The side effects of weed tolerance vary primarily on individuals’ dependency levels and disposition. People who only use low doses of cannabis or other THC-based products may experience mild side effects.
Cannabis tolerance breaks are generally linked with two major side effects – Symptomatic relapse of underlying medical conditions, and withdrawal symptoms.
Symptomatic Relapse of Underlying Medical Conditions
Commonly observed in people who use medical cannabis, symptomatic relapse of medical conditions is considered a big challenge in t-breaks. In the geriatric population, cannabis is prescribed as a complementary intervention in the management of chronic pain, anxiety, neurodegenerative diseases, and some other conditions. Continued steady-dose use of cannabis in this population over a long period helps relieve the clinical symptoms of these conditions and also, unfortunately, creates a cannabis tolerance.
Temporarily observing a t-break may disrupt the therapeutic cycle as clinical symptoms resurface. Since cannabis is withheld during this period, patients may start feeling uncomfortable as their quality of life reduces. To counteract these side effects, experts recommend switching to another medication or alternative complementary therapies not based on THC. It is important to consult your physician before switching to alternative medications while on a t-break.
Arguably, withdrawal symptoms are the first challenges cannabis users on a t-break face. Habitual heavy users of cannabis or other THC-based products are about 50% more likely to experience withdrawal symptoms during a t-break compared to other users. During a cannabis dependency period, an abrupt pause in cannabis consumption may disrupt the body’s equilibrium prompting both physical and psychological unease.
Compared to nicotine withdrawal, these symptoms are milder and do not cause a significant disruption to daily living. The most commonly reported withdrawal symptoms during a t-break include:
- Anxiety and depression
- Mood disorders
- Irritability and monotony
- Abdominal discomfort
- Nausea and headaches
- Loss of appetite
- Vivid dreams
How to Take a Tolerance Break: 21 Days T-Break Guide?
If you are planning a t-break, following a tolerance guide is your best bet at success. Developed by Madeline Moore, a program coordinator at the University of Maryland Health Center, the T-Break Guide is the most widely recommended by experts globally.
This section of the article takes you through a summarized view of the guide from day 1 through day 21.
Day 00: Preparation
- Pick a date to start your T-break. In choosing a break, try to not procrastinate.
- Make sure there are no cannabis products and paraphernalia around. This makes sure your desire is not triggered.
- Get support from friends and colleagues. You will need this for the journey ahead.
Day 01: Stay Busy
- Get involved in activities that get your body, especially during times of the day you’ve initially allocated to smoking.
- You can get by watching a movie, going out with friends, or starting a medication routine. The whole idea is to get body when your body expects the typical cannabis high.
Day 02: Sleep
- The chances are that smoking cannabis right before bed has been a routine for you until now. Start a bedtime routine without cannabis on this day.
- If you have trouble sleeping, you take a warm bath, use herbal tea switch to blue light, or use a non-stimulant drug that can help you sleep.
- Establishing a bedtime routine without smoking is sure to help you in the long run.
Day 03: Food
- Cutting back on your cannabis routine may disrupt your eating habits. You are likely to experience considerable disruption in your appetite cycle.
- Setting a schedule for food and eating on schedule even when you are not hungry may help. Try not to skip meals and prioritize eating nourishing amounts.
Day 04: Cravings
- Dealing with cannabis cravings in the first few days will be very hard. When feeling intense cravings for cannabis products, distract yourself.
- You can reflect on your journey, meditate with music, change locations, draw, or call someone. Keeping your body and mind busy is one of the most effective ways to control your cravings.
Day 05: Sleep Cont.
- Cutting cannabis off completely after a long period of use may negatively impact your sleep cycle. By now you might have vivid dreams caused by the disruption of your rapid eye movement (REM) sleep stage by THC.
- This is normal on a t-break, and it eventually resolves. Practice sleeping habits that can make you fall asleep for long.
Day 06: Routine
- Get your routine right and stay away from spots and things that tempt you to use cannabis. Revaluate your routine and consider the routines that are worth leaving behind and that are worth improving on.
- The better part of this journey rests on the routine you set early.
Day 07: Celebrate
- You have accomplished a lot within your first week! Get yourself something fancy. Maybe a new pajama for your bed routine, food movies, and music
Day 08: Withdrawal
- By now, you must have noticed that the withdrawal effect is opposite the usual high and rush of euphoria cannabis produces. If cannabis also makes you form social connections easily, you might be feeling a bit lonely.
- This week is dedicated to helping you through these withdrawal effects.
Day 09: Irritability
- Your withdrawal symptoms by this time might have peaked, with sleep disruptions, cravings, and mood swings causing irritability spells.
- You’ve got this! Once your symptoms peak, they will gradually resolve. This is the time to connect with friends and get the social support you need.
Day 10: Anxiety
- Although cannabis seems to help with anxiety at first, now that you are on a break your level of anxiety might feel overwhelming. It worsens to a level and might make you feel uneasy.
- It is time to figure out how best to be less anxious without cannabis. Get that social support and meditate more.
Day 11: Boredom
- At a time, cannabis high makes you feel less conscious of the environment and makes you feel alive. Now, you might feel bored.
- This stage is essential as it helps you better channel your creativity and problem-solving skills. Use this time to engage in activities that ignite your imagination and make you feel needed.
Day 12: Loneliness
- With the interplay of cravings, boredom, and irritability, you might be feeling a bit lonely. You are not alone. It is time to strengthen and deepen your connections with people around you.
Day 13: Creativity
- There are many claims about how cannabis can enhance your creativity and make you solve problems better. Since you can’t use cannabis right now, it is time to work on your talents.
- Take the time to work on your skills and sharpen your talent.
Day 14: Celebrate
- Welcome to the end of Week 2! You are doing just great.
- Reflect on your journey so far and celebrate with friends. You can also document your experience for the past 2 weeks in a journal.
Day 15: Outsourcing
- Until now, you’ve probably been outsourcing your burst of creativity and the feeling of being alive to cannabis. Feeling good or being creative should be a quality you can easily activate without turning to cannabis.
- Give yourself the credit for your creativity and stop outsourcing. Feel happier and more relaxed in your skin.
Day 16: Connecting In
- It is time to connect with a part of you that has always been there. You can tell your stories to yourself in a bid to reflect on your strength and resilience since day 1.
- Tell yourself the hard truths and chart a better path to connecting with yourself and others.
Day 17: Escape
- Many people choose cannabis as a means to ‘escape’ and live in their own private world. Chances are that this might be one of your motivations for using cannabis. Start asking yourself questions that can help you ‘evolve’ and ‘grow’ rather than ‘escape.’
Day 18: Connecting Up
- Dedicate this time to spiritual wellness. Connecting up is all about relating with the idea of infinity whether through religion, nature, science, or love.
- Connecting up guides you to ‘enlightenment’ and help you find purpose.
Day 19: Connecting Down
- It’s time to connect down – form a bond with people around you.
- You can never get too much support from people around you. The remaining part of this journey helps you leverage this bonding as you make new friendships and reevaluate the old ones.
Day 20: What Next?
- It’s been a journey and you are almost there!
- For today, take the time to reflect on the journey and the main purpose for starting a t-break. It’s probably a good idea to lay down plans for your next break.
Day 21: Celebrate
- Congratulations! You have taken a successful t-break.
- While you reflect, give yourself credit for this feat and continue the healthy living habits you’ve learned during the journey.
Taking a T-break as a cannabis user holds significant medical and psychological benefits. If you use medical cannabis, t-breaks recalibrate your response to THC and make sure your therapy cycle is not disrupted by THC overload. Steadily lowering your consumption dose over a few weeks or months may also help you recalibrate your THC response