I had never heard of “reverse tolerance” before, but apparently it’s a real thing. It describes a condition in which some habitual users of a drug will, over time, require less of the drug (instead of more) to achieve the same effect. It’s most often discussed with reference to marijuana, but sometimes alcohol also.
One theory is that marijuana accumulates in the body for a long time and that’s what produces the effect — i.e. you think you may be having just a little, but you’ve already got a lot in you. Another theory is that it’s just a psychological illusion. As users become more familiar with how to smoke it, they do so more efficiently and learn to identify the effects earlier. Therefore, they think they need less to achieve the same effect.
When people develop a reverse tolerance to alchol, it’s usually because of liver damage. They lose the ability to break down alcohol, so a little bit produces a big effect.
Minneapolis Star Tribune – Dec 18, 1970
St. Cloud Times – Feb 17, 1973
Paul Di Filippo
Paul has been paid to put weird ideas into fictional form for over thirty years, in his career as a noted science fiction writer. He has recently begun blogging on many curious topics with three fellow writers at The Inferior 4+1.
Posted By: Alex – Wed Mar 22, 2017
Reverse Tolerance I had never heard of “reverse tolerance” before, but apparently it’s a real thing. It describes a condition in which some habitual users of a drug will, over time, require less
How to Reset Your Cannabis Tolerance
Feel like cannabis isn’t working for you the way it used to? You might be dealing with a high tolerance.
Tolerance refers to your body’s process of getting used to cannabis, which can result in weaker effects.
In other words, you need to ingest more to get the same effects you once did. This can be particularly problematic if you’re using cannabis for medical reasons.
Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to reset your tolerance.
Cannabis tolerance develops when you use it regularly.
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the psychoactive compound in cannabis. It works by affecting the cannabinoid type 1 (CB1) receptors in the brain.
If you ingest THC often, your CB1 receptors are reduced over time. This means the same amount of THC won’t affect the CB1 receptors in the same way, resulting in reduced effects.
There’s no strict timeline for how tolerance develops. It depends on a range of factors, including:
- how often you use cannabis
- how strong the cannabis is
- your personal biology
One of the most common ways to lower your cannabis tolerance is to take a break from using cannabis. These are often called “T breaks.”
Research shows that, while THC can deplete your CB1 receptors, they can recover over time and return to their previous levels.
The length of your T break is up to you. There’s no solid data on exactly how long it takes for CB1 receptors to recover, so you’ll have to experiment a bit.
Some people find that a few days does the trick. Most online forums advise that 2 weeks is the ideal time frame.
If you’re using cannabis for medical reasons, taking a T break might not be feasible. There are a few other strategies you can try.
Use cannabis products with a higher CBD-to-THC ratio
Cannabidiol (CBD) is another chemical found in cannabis. It doesn’t seem to lead to depletion of CB1 receptors, meaning it doesn’t cause you to develop tolerance the way THC does.
CBD won’t give you a “high,” but it does seem to have several potential health benefits, such as reducing pain and inflammation.
At many dispensaries, you can find products ranging from a 1-to-1 ratio to as high as 16-to-1.
Tightly control your doses
The less cannabis you use, the less likely you are to develop a tolerance. Use the minimum you need to feel comfortable, and try not to overindulge.
Use cannabis less often
If possible, use cannabis less frequently. This can help to both reset your tolerance and prevent it from coming back again in the future.
Many people who have developed a high tolerance do go through cannabis withdrawal when taking a T break or using less cannabis than usual.
Cannabis withdrawal isn’t necessarily as intense as withdrawal from alcohol or other substances, but it can still be quite uncomfortable.
You might experience:
- mood swings
- cognitive impairment
- diminished appetite
- stomach problems, including nausea
- intense, vivid dreams
To help with these symptoms, make sure to get plenty of hydration and rest. You can also try using over-the-counter medications to deal with headaches and nausea.
Exercise and fresh air can help you feel alert and reduce any slumps in your mood.
The withdrawal symptoms might make it tempting to continue using cannabis. To keep yourself accountable, tell your loved ones that you’re taking a break.
While the symptoms are uncomfortable, the good news is that cannabis withdrawal symptoms usually only last for 72 hours.
Once you’ve reset your tolerance, keep the following in mind to keep your tolerance in check moving forward:
- Use lower-THC products. Since it’s THC that leads to the depletion of your CB1 receptors, it’s wise to opt for products that are a bit lower in THC.
- Don’t use cannabis too often. The more you use it, the higher your tolerance will be, so try to only use it occasionally or as needed.
- Use a lower dosage. Try consuming less cannabis at a time, and try to wait a bit longer before re-dosing.
- Use CBD instead. You may want to consider giving CBD-only products a try if you’re looking to reap the potential health benefits of cannabis. However, THC does have some benefits that CBD doesn’t seem to have, so this switch isn’t viable for everyone.
Keep in mind that tolerance might be unavoidable for some folks. If you find that you’re prone to developing a high tolerance, consider coming up with a plan to take regular T breaks as needed.
It’s pretty normal to develop a tolerance to cannabis if you use it often. In most cases, taking a T break for a week or two will reset your tolerance.
If that’s not an option, consider switching to products that are lower in THC or reducing your cannabis consumption.
Keep in mind that cannabis tolerance can sometimes be a sign of cannabis use disorder. If you’re concerned about your cannabis use, you have options:
- Have an open and honest conversation with your healthcare provider.
- Call SAMHSA’s national helpline at 800-662-HELP (4357), or use their online treatment locater.
- Find a support group through the Support Group Project.
Sian Ferguson is a freelance writer and editor based in Cape Town, South Africa. Her writing covers issues relating to social justice, cannabis, and health. You can reach out to her on Twitter.
If you've been consuming weed for a while, you've probably developed a high tolerance along the way. Here's how to reset it and keep it from happening again.