How to Avoid a High Tolerance to Cannabis

Medically Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian, MD on May 28, 2023
3 min read

Cannabis is used both recreationally and medically. But not much is known about tolerance to the effects of extended high-dose cannabis use.

Early studies show that long-term use of cannabis can reduce the effects of its intoxication. So you can develop a tolerance for the drug.

Taking a “tolerance break” may help you avoid or reduce a high tolerance for cannabis.

“Cannabis” and “marijuana” are often used interchangeably. But they don’t mean the same thing.

Cannabis refers to all products derived from the plant Cannabis sativa. It contains about 540 chemical substances.

Marijuana refers to parts of or products from the plant Cannabis sativa that contain amounts of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). THC is responsible for the intoxicating effect of marijuana.

People use cannabis for two primary reasons.

Recreational use. Apart from alcohol, marijuana is the most commonly used drug in the U.S. Some states have legalized marijuana for medical or recreational use.

The sought-after and positive effects of recreational marijuana use include:

  • Feelings of happiness and relaxation
  • Increased awareness of senses such as sight, hearing, and taste
  • Increased appetite

Medical use. Cannabis sativa has an almost 2,000-year history as a medicinal plant. Cannabis sativa was a licensed medicine for about 100 years in America before it was removed from the 12th edition of the U.S. Pharmacopeia. 

Pharmaceutical companies were first allowed to begin developing THC therapies in 1985. Medical conditions that are treated with Cannabis sativa include:

Marijuana addiction is a chronic disorder that is becoming more common in the U.S. It has the potential for addiction or dependence like any drug. Other effects of chronic or heavy use cannabis include:

  • Altered brain development
  • Chronic bronchitis (for those who smoke cannabis)
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Risk of chronic psychosis disorders (including schizophrenia)

The adverse effects of short-term Cannabis sativa use include:

  • Altered judgment
  • Anxiety or paranoia
  • Impaired motor coordination
  • Short-term memory impairment

Cannabis dependence is associated with cannabinoid receptor type 1 (CB1R) downregulation. The more CB1R in your system, the more dependent on and tolerant of cannabis you are.

In one study, peoples’ CB1R receptor density returned to normal levels after about 4 weeks of not using marijuana. The study showed how your brain uses the CB1R receptors to increase your cannabis tolerance.

Reducing your CB1R receptor density is as easy as taking a cannabis break. This is also known as a T-break. The “T” stands for tolerance. This is the best way to lower your cannabis tolerance.

It takes approximately 3 weeks for THC to leave your system. So your cannabis tolerance break should be at least 21 days long.

You may experience withdrawal symptoms if you use cannabis regularly. These typically peak within the first week and can last for up to 2 weeks. Avoiding alcohol and drugs, eating healthy food, exercising, and staying hydrated can help prevent withdrawal. The most common symptoms include:

  • Irritability
  • Mood changes
  • Sleep difficulties
  • Decreased appetite
  • Cravings
  • Restlessness 

A tolerance break can reduce your Cannabis sativa tolerance. But you may need additional resources to quit if you’re struggling with marijuana addiction.

Adults seeking treatment for marijuana addiction have typically used it for 10 years or more and have attempted to quit at least six times. Treating the addiction with treatments like medications and behavioral therapies is effective. This is especially the case for heavy cannabis users who have other mental disorders.

The following behavioral treatments can help treat marijuana addiction:

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT is a form of therapy that can help you identify and correct undesirable behaviors through self-control and coping strategies.

Contingency management. Contingency management is a behavioral therapeutic management approach. It aims to replace unwanted behaviors like marijuana use with more desirable behavior. Positive reinforcement rewards you when you use the replacement behavior.

Motivational enhancement therapy (MET). MET is a systematic form of intervention that aims to produce “rapid, internally motivated change.” MET has been successful for adults dependent on marijuana when combined with cognitive-behavioral therapy.