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Time For a Tolerance Break?

If you’ve been using cannabis for a long time, you will know that after a while of regular use, your body becomes tolerant to the effects of THC. No matter how much you consume, you just can’t seem to reach that same level of euphoria and relief you did at the beginning. Thankfully, a tolerance break can help to reset your system. By abstaining from cannabis for a while, your endocannabinoid system has the opportunity to rest and regain its original sensitivity to THC. 

When your body is continuously exposed to THC, your CB1 cannabinoid receptors become downregulated, which means that they become less responsive (desensitized) to THC (Collizi 2018). Heavy cannabis use also reduces the amount of CB1 receptors on the surface of your cells, as they withdraw into the cell membrane to protect themselves against sustained activation. With less CB1 receptors being available, there are fewer sites for THC to activate. Therefore, despite consuming more and more cannabis, you will notice that its effects become progressively weaker over time. This is known as tolerance.

A tolerance break, also known as a “T-break,” is a deliberate period during which you abstain from using cannabis to restore your body’s sensitivity to THC. While it sounds pretty simple, taking a break from cannabis can be quite challenging, especially if you use it regularly. To minimize cannabis withdrawal symptoms (eg. cravings, mood swings, irritability, anxiety, sleeping problems, cold sweats, stomach issues, muscle pains, headaches and decreased appetite) you need to engage in activities that support your endocannabinoid system. Since frequent cannabis use is associated with decreased endocannabinoid signaling, activities such as exercise, singing, dancing, and eating foods that boost your endocannabinoid levels, can help to support your body during this time.

Research has shown that regular, moderate intensity exercise like running and cycling significantly increases the levels of Anandamide, one of the main endocannabinoids produced in the human body (Stone 2018). Anandamide, also known as our “bliss hormone”, is the natural ligand for our CB1 receptors, and is responsible for that euphoric feeling we get after exercise (also known as “runner’s high”). Besides boosting our Anandamide levels, exercise also increases the expression and sensitivity of CB1 receptors in the brain (de Chiara 2010, Charytoniuk 2020). Therefore, by exercising daily and drinking lots of water, you can support your endocannabinoid system and accelerate the removal of THC from your body. 

In addition to exercise, engaging in activities like singing and dancing can also help to boost your endocannabinoid levels. In fact, a recent study found that singing for a duration of 30 min can increase your Anandamide levels by as much as 42% (Stone 2018). Other strategies that can help to manage cannabis withdrawal symptoms include getting enough sleep, managing your stress, avoiding stimulants such as caffeine, and eating plenty of Anandamide boosting foods such as dark chocolate, maca root powder, aromatic ginger, turmeric, black pepper, chili and vanilla (Russo 2016, Smalheiser 2019). CBD supplements can also help to alleviate withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety and sleeplessness (Crippa 2013, Shannon 2015). 

Although the optimal duration of a tolerance break will be different for everyone, the figure below can be used as a general guide:

When you start using cannabis again, remember not to consume as much as you did before your tolerance break, otherwise you might get overwhelmed and experience negative side effects. While cannabis withdrawal can be challenging, just remember that it won’t last forever. It’s important to be kind and patient with yourself as your body recovers. Before you know it, you will be able to once again enjoy the full spectrum of effects that this magical plant has to offer.