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Does Taking CBD Too Often Cause Tolerance?

We all know that taking too much THC produces tolerance—but can the same be said for CBD? CBD has a wide range of medical applications, and it’s important to know whether these become less effective over time. To find out, we’ll dive into the effects of CBD on CB1 receptors, and examine the research in question.

These days, CBD is more and more being seen as a wonder drug, and has shown effectiveness at treating epilepsy, alleviating anxiety, improving symptoms of arthritis, and reducing the risk of diabetes [1] . Whether you take it in a tincture, smoke it in flower form, or swallow it in pills, CBD is a wonderful addition to any health-conscious person’s repertoire. But is there such thing as too much CBD? Can ingesting this cannabinoid too often build tolerance to its positive effects?

To answer these questions, we’ll begin with a brief overview of tolerance formation.

WHAT IS TOLERANCE?

Tolerance is the process by which one has to increase one’s use of a drug to get the same effects one had to begin with. Tolerance is distinct from addiction or dependence, which is the compulsive use of a drug, or the need to keep taking a drug to feel “normal”. Tolerance can form through multiple mechanisms: cellular, where the cell becomes less responsive to the substance; metabolic, where less of the substance reaches the site of interaction; behavioural, where the user becomes accustomed to the substance’s effects.

A LOOK AT THC

As pot smokers will attest, regular use of THC builds tolerance—seasoned smokers will find themselves consuming many times as much as new users. Further, tolerance develops unevenly and also varies depending on individual physiology. As such, the full experience of getting high will be different the more one smokes. Many regular users take “T-breaks” or switch strains to recharge their tolerance after heavy use.

THC tolerance happens mainly through the cells. THC works by binding with CB1 receptors in the brain. When this happens repeatedly, the cells try to reverse the effect and maintain normal CB1 activity. They accomplish this through two main methods: the first is called desensitisation, where CB1 receptors start binding to cannabinoids less easily. The second method is called internalisation, and it’s the process by which CB1 receptors are pulled from the surface of the cell into its interior; unlike desensitised receptors, which can still be activated by THC, albeit to a lesser degree, internalised cells become entirely unresponsive.

CBD, however, is a different beast. Unlike THC, it doesn’t get you high, but can encourage a relaxed feeling. CBD is responsible for many of the health benefits associated with cannabis. It also has different effects on your endocannabinoid system, and a very different tolerance profile to THC.

CBD AND YOUR ENDOCANNABINOID SYSTEM

CBD has a different relationship to CB1 than other cannabinoids, acting as an antagonist. Through a form of activity called negative allosteric modulation [2] , CBD reduces the binding affinity of the CB1 receptors, making them less responsive to other cannabinoids. As such, the effects of CBD work in the opposite direction of THC—instead of over-activating your endocannabinoid system, it gives it a break. And in fact, many issues with the endocannabinoid system may stem from it being overactive—causing issues like anxiety and overeating.

CBD also increases the body’s natural endocannabinoids, since it competes with them for binding proteins which break them both down. CBD can be thought of as a kind of endocannabinoid-reuptake inhibitor.

This combination of antagonising CB1 receptors and increasing natural endocannabinoids produces CBD’s characteristic relaxed, focussed, and “flow state” effects. But can this effects profile be tolerance-forming?

THE EVIDENCE

Studies [3] seem to suggest [4] that CBD is not tolerance-forming, and may in fact have reverse-tolerance effects; in other words, taking CBD regularly may result in users needing less of the cannabinoid to achieve the same results. It would seem CB1 cells don’t resist negative allosteric modulation in the same way they resist direct intense stimulation. Further, given CBD’s specific relationship to CB1 receptors, it likely helps modulate the tolerance-forming pattern of THC. Pot smokers concerned about tolerance would be wise to add some CBD to their cannabinoid diet.

More research is needed to confirm the “reverse tolerance” hypothesis, but the evidence suggests that CBD users probably don’t need to worry about tolerance. This really is remarkable, especially given CBD’s wide range of medicinal effects; many of the issues it addresses are currently being treated with heavy pharmaceuticals that are themselves tolerance-forming. CBD’s lack of tolerance-building is yet another compelling point in favour of this miracle cannabinoid.

CBD has an incredible range of health benefits, but does taking it too often cause tolerance? We'll compare possible tolerance-forming effects of CBD and THC.

Ask Miss Grass: Why Can’t I Get as High As I Used To?

Photo by Stocksy

No shame in taking a short tolerance break from THC—especially since CBD and terpenes can help you get to a new and improved high. Here’s how to do it, and for how long.

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Dear Miss Grass,

I’m a long time daily weed user—edibles, joints, you name it. Big fan of this plant! But lately I just can’t get as high as I used to. Like, my highs aren’t as high, or maybe I can barely tell the difference between being high and not being high. Have I built up a mega tolerance? What do I do? I miss that head-y, stone-y feeling.

Oof, that’s a bummer. Losing your high is a bit like losing your orgasm. Sure, you can live without it, but…why would you want to? Life’s a whole lot better when we’re able to fully enjoy all its pleasures. And, as you’re well aware, the benefits of a good ol’ blaze session go far beyond the physical; getting high allows the mind and spirit a chance to explore, expand, and re-center. In these times of stress—and let’s be real, things are *stressful* lately—we gotta embrace every chance we get to go inward, slow down, and connect. We’re not binary like computers; creativity and innovation thrives in the free spaces, in the nuance of humanity. And that’s the very space that weed so sweetly helps us unlock.

So, yeah, losing your high sucks. Luckily, it’s absolutely and totally fix-able.

But before we get into the how, it might be helpful to know the why. Tolerance to weed (and other substances) all comes down to the body’s unending mission to achieve homeostasis and the built-in receptors in our brains that get turned-on when they meet an activating substance. The receptors and the substance have a grand time playing together—creating dopamine, driving euphoria—but then our bodies realize they need to put energy into other functions. So, it starts to turn off and decrease the amount of those receptors. “Tolerance is how our body and systems self-regulate. When we add too much of one thing, we throw our systems off balance,” says Samantha Miller, cannabis scientist and President of Pure Analytics. It’s kinda like when you’re in a long-term relationship: At first, you and your boo stayed up all night, but now you both have to handle your lives, so you go to sleep at a normal time. Checks and balances.

In the case of cannabis, the receptors are called CB1 and the substance—duh—is THC. Right now, your CB1s are on a vacay. But they’re not out of the office forever; they’re just taking on sabbatical: “Research shows that once the usage has stopped, the receptors generally re-populate themselves to previous levels,” says Miller. “Taking a break from THC is the most reliable way to see regeneration of the CB1 receptor populations.”

So, how long of a tolerance break should you take? There’s really no hard and fast rule. A study conducted in 2016 found that CB1 receptors resumed their normal activity levels after participants took a 28-day THC break. If that sounds like an unrealistically long time to go without bud, keep this in mind: there’s a whole host of other factors to consider—and even taking just a few days off can have a positive impact on regeneration. “Tolerance is influenced by how often you use, the strength of the cannabis you use, and your own biochemistry,” advises Miller. She says that just lowering your dosage, switching up the time of day, and changing the type of weed you consume might also help. “Using multiple strains with varying terpene profiles can do a lot towards keeping your usage down and your satisfaction up. It’s important that the strains you are trying have terpene profiles that are unique from one another.”

Not getting high? Taking a short tolerance break from THC can help you fly to new weed highs. Terpenes and CBD can help—but how many days off do you need?