Tolerance and Medical Marijuana

Tolerance and Cannabis

No Tolerance For Tolerance

A common problem many cannabis patients have is becoming tolerant to their cannabis medication.  Patients describe the need to use more and more cannabis but failing to get the same level of relief originally found.  They describe the need to completely stop using cannabis and wait for the body to “reset itself.”  Afterwards effective relief is found again.  What exactly is going on and how do you break the tolerance cycles you may be stuck in?  Let’s take a look at what is happening inside the body when drug tolerance happens.

A drug tolerance is what occurs inside the body over time with repeated use of a medication.  The human body is programmed to try to remain in a state of balance or “homeostasis.”  Any upset such as illness, trauma, or medication effect pushes the body out of balance.  Our bodies work hard to return to normal by controlling the effects of these substances in the body through a process called downregulation. This is where the brain puts the brakes on the number of these medication receptors being made inside the body (as well as  their sensitivity).  With less receptors available to stimulate, the medication becomes less effective.  Other cellular processes within the body probably contribute to tolerance development, but more studies are needed to fully understand these potential factors.

I think of tolerance as a “supply and demand” situation…

If the body gets too much cannabis, it will work to fix the imbalance by decreasing the number and sensitivity of your endocannabinoid receptors.  If the body has a need for cannabinoid stimulation, our bodies will work to accommodate that situation as well by producing more receptors.

Thankfully, if you develop a tolerance it is easily remedied.  Studies have found that the body increases cannabinoid receptor production after just two days of abstinence.  After 28 days receptor numbers almost completely return to normal. This means that even chronic users only need to take a month-long break to completely lose their tolerance.  

Abstaining from marijuana needs strategy

To successfully abstain from cannabis, it’s important to use a strategy.  A successful sensitization protocol can help lower your cannabis tolerance as well as find your optimal dosage.  Patients can potentially see a 60% decrease in monthly cannabis costs and use, an increase in medical benefits, and less negative side effects.  This type of plan works because most people only know how to increase the effects of cannabis by using more and more.  This is not sustainable because tolerance develops quickly and high doses can actually make your symptoms worse.  Finding your optimal dosage gives you the opposite experience of tolerance building (known as sensitization).  Clues to this effect have been provided by animal studies where THC is shown to trigger the body to produce more cannabinoid receptors, increase the receptors’ sensitivity, and increase the production of natural cannabinoids.  On the other hand, high THC doses is shown to have the opposite effect, decreasing these receptor numbers.

Cannabis tolerance breaks do not have to be a totally negative experience.  Next time you find yourself needing to take a break from cannabis, work on a sensitization protocol with a trained professional to lower your tolerance and find your own individual therapeutic range.  Less CAN be more in cannabis with the right steps. 

Written By: Melissa Cornwell

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