Using cannabis changes the way the body works.
Adding cannabinoids in the form of THC and CBD (and others) into the body works with the endocannabinoid system to reach the CB1 and CB2 receptors within the brain. This creates the physiological changes we generally seek from medical cannabis; scientifically, these changes are referred to as “compensatory adaptations”. These physiological changes occur through the recreational use of cannabis as well.
Once the body becomes accustomed to receiving cannabinoids on a regular basis, the endocannabinoid system will begin to interpret the level of cannabinoids being introduced as “normal functioning”, creating a tolerance. When the body has a high level of cannabis tolerance, it is not as receptive as it once was, and those compensatory adaptations we once experienced may be less noticeable.
In order to counter this increase in tolerance, it’s become common practice in the cannabis community to take a “tolerance break.” Regular cannabis users will give their bodies time to “reset” to a lower tolerance. Alternately called a cannabis detox, users will sometimes also use a tolerance break to reexamine and redefine their relationship with cannabis, and then re-integrate their cannabis use into their lives based on the new perspective gained during the break.
Could you benefit from a cannabis tolerance break?
For many cannabis users, taking a break could seem like torture. Even though no one likes to be deprived of their favorite things, there are still certain conditions where users may benefit.
Cannabis users could likely benefit from a tolerance break if some of the following conditions are present:
- It takes more cannabis to get the desired effects it once produced, even as consumption becomes more frequent.
- Cannabis use becomes more necessary in order to perform normal tasks and daily activities.
- Cannabis use becomes habitual and behaviors surrounding its consumption become more compulsive and start to bear a closer resemblance to the characteristics of nicotine addiction.
- The feeling of being “too high” is occurring too often and everyday function is inhibited.
- Using cannabis is being prioritized over other activities or responsibilities.
- The quest to find an effective strain, dosage, and consumption method is becoming frustrating.
Despite some of these points, choosing to take a tolerance break doesn’t mean that someone is necessarily having a negative experience with cannabis; it is merely a tool recognized by the community as helping its members experience positive results.
It’s just a matter of abstaining, right?
The biggest component of undertaking a cannabis tolerance break is indeed abstaining from use and making sure that the body is given time to function without cannabis, but that’s only one part of it.
When making a big change in the body’s chemistry by depriving it of the cannabis it was once accustomed to, the user should focus on other aspects of self-care in order counteract any feelings of deprivation that may stem from the break.
First, acknowledge that the tolerance break will be difficult and that self-care is important during this time. Second, remove cannabis from the environment to help keep the temptation away (this includes accessories). Third, seek the support of the people who you usually enjoy cannabis with, and make them aware that you’re taking a break would appreciate their support.
Physically, there are some incredible ways to make a tolerance break a little less shocking to the system:
- Embrace the herbal cleanse: health food stores offer customers gentle herbal cleanses that allow the body to rid itself of substances and toxins, flushing out some of the cannabinoids that the body has built up a tolerance against.
- Embrace other herbs and essential oils: if you’re feeling a bit anxious without cannabis, chamomile is an excellent herb to help promote relaxation and the feeling of sedation. One of the neat things about chamomile is that it can also be vaped, so users can still get the feel of a session without the cannabis. Using essential oils like lavender and peppermint are also excellent for promoting a sense of calm.
- Keep exercising: part of the reason why cannabis makes the body feel good is that it boosts the production of serotonin, producing a sense of euphoria that keeps people going back for more. Regular exercise also helps increase the production of serotonin in the brain, mimicking the good feelings that are usually provided by cannabis use.
- Listen to the body and let it rest: abstaining from cannabis can cause feelings of withdrawal, slothfulness, and fatigue. The body is undergoing changes, which can make it feel exhausted. Allow yourself the rest you crave, even if it means sleeping more than usual. Your body knows what it needs.
- Keep the nutrients and water flowing: those experiencing cannabis withdrawal may find they have a loss of appetite, especially if cannabis was used to tackle appetite issues. While food may be a turn-off, it’s important to keep providing your body with essential nutrients and sufficient hydration in order to support a full reset.
How long should a tolerance break last?
Surprisingly, science shows that the endocannabinoid system begins to reset itself almost immediately after a user ceases to use cannabis on a regular basis. It has been suggested that a detox could be effective after just 48 hours of abstinence, with tolerance continuing to lower over a longer period of time.
Start with a goal in mind and an approximate length for your tolerance break. Take time to pay attention to how you feel each day. When you reach the end of your chosen length of detox, assess whether it’s truly time to go back to cannabis, or whether extending your tolerance break may be beneficial.
When you’re ready to reintroduce cannabis into your body and lifestyle, act as though it is being used for the very first time. Try new things to fully embrace the possibilities of cannabis consumption. What strains provide the desired effects? How can microdosing help you get more from your experience? What does dosing look like? How often will you use cannabis during the day? For what purposes exactly?
Taking a tolerance break every once in a while can help ensure that users are consistently getting the best out of their cannabis use, supporting the community’s ideals of safe consumption and ensuring that cannabis use always provides positive experiences for users.
Anne-Marie is a freelance cannabis writer and educator dedicated to cultivating and disseminating important knowledge about cannabis as legalization spreads across the globe. After earning her BA and Masters, she followed an exciting career in the research and education field, finding innovative ways to create collaborations between community needs and research and academic pursuits. Based in Canada, she is a full time writer for the world’s best cannabis companies, advocates and organizations.