Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the main psychoactive component that is responsible for the cannabis plant’s characteristic “high”. THC works by interacting with the endocannabinoid system, a network of receptors in the body that regulate various physiological processes. While many people enjoy the effects of THC, repeated use can lead to the development of tolerance, which is a reduction in the response to a given dose of the substance.
In this article, we will explore how THC tolerance works, the factors that influence its development, and the implications for those who use cannabis regularly.
What does “tolerance” mean?
When it comes to THC, tolerance refers to the reduction of the desired effects over time, due to repeated use. This means that as a person continues to consume THC, they may need to consume more of it to experience the same level of euphoria, relaxation, or other effects like feeling stoned. This can occur because the body adapts to the presence of THC and modifies its normal functions, leading to a decreased response to the substance. Tolerance can have significant implications for those who use cannabis and THC regularly, including increased risk of adverse effects, decreased enjoyment of the substance, and increased cost due to the need for larger amounts to achieve the same effects.
How does THC tolerance build?
The development of tolerance to THC involves complex changes in the endocannabinoid system, particularly in the CB1 receptors that interact with THC. CB1 receptors are expressed in various regions of the brain and are responsible for mediating the psychoactive effects of THC. Research has shown that repeated exposure can lead to a reduction in the expression and density of CB1 receptors, as well as changes in their function. This can result in a decreased responsiveness to THC and the need for higher doses to achieve the same effects.
In animal studies, it has been observed that chronic THC administration can lead to desensitization of the CB1 receptor and downregulation of the receptor’s signaling. This leads to a decrease in the potency of THC and the development of tolerance. Furthermore, studies have shown that tolerance to THC can be accompanied by changes in the expression of other genes involved in endocannabinoid signaling, further contributing to the development of tolerance.
It is important to note that the development of tolerance to THC is a complex process that is influenced by multiple factors, including genetics, frequency and amount of use, as well as individual differences in endocannabinoid signaling. Despite the significant progress made in understanding the underlying mechanisms of THC tolerance, much remains unknown and additional research is needed to fully understand this phenomenon.
How to lower your THC tolerance
There are several ways that a cannabis user can reduce their tolerance to THC. Here are some strategies that may be helpful:
- Take a break: Taking a break from using cannabis, even for a short period of time, can help reset the endocannabinoid system and reduce tolerance.
- Reduce frequency of use: Reducing the frequency of use can also help to reduce tolerance. This can mean using cannabis less frequently or reducing the amount used during each session.
- Experiment with different strains: Trying different strains of cannabis with varying THC levels can also help reduce tolerance. Using strains with lower THC levels or strains that contain other cannabinoids, such as CBD, can help to balance the effects of THC and reduce tolerance over time.
- Microdosing: Microdosing involves taking smaller doses of THC more frequently instead of larger doses less frequently. This approach can help reduce tolerance and prolong the effects of THC.
- Consider other cannabis products: Switching from smoking to edibles, tinctures, or vaporizing can also help reduce tolerance, as the onset and duration of effects can be different with each method of consumption.
So what does it all mean?
In summary, tolerance to THC, the primary psychoactive compound in cannabis, occurs as a result of changes in the endocannabinoid system, particularly the CB1 receptors that interact with THC. Chronic exposure to THC can lead to downregulation of CB1 receptors and changes in their function, resulting in a decreased responsiveness to THC and the need for higher doses to achieve the same effects.
While abstinence is one option to reduce tolerance, other strategies include reducing frequency of use, trying different strains, microdosing, and switching to different methods of consumption. It’s important to note that these strategies may not work for everyone and that individual results may vary.
References and additional reading
- Russo, E. B. (2011). Tolerance to the effects of high-dose Delta9-tetrahydrocannabinol and cross-tolerance to other cannabinoids. Handb Exp Pharmacol, 201, 97-121.
- Solowij, N., & Battisti, R. (2008). Cannabis and cognitive functioning. Cambridge University Press.
- Cheng, D., Sparling, P. B., & Cameron, L. P. (1986). Δ9-Tetrahydrocannabinol tolerance and dependence: studies in two rat strains. Psychopharmacology, 90(1), 19-24.
- Pertwee, R. G. (1997). The pharmacology of cannabinoid receptors and their ligands: an overview. International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders, 21 Suppl 1, S3-S11.
- Huestis, M. A. (2007). Human cannabinoid pharmacokinetics. Chem Biodivers, 4(8), 1770-1804.
- Jones, R. T. (1976). Cannabis tolerance and dependence. An experimental study. Lancet, 2(7977), 1297-1300.
- Foltin, R. W., Fischman, M. W., Byrne, M. F., & Kelly, D. H. (1988). Behavioral analysis of marijuana effects on food intake in humans. Pharmacology, Biochemistry and Behavior, 29(2), 347-352.