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By Molly Muhs
If you’re like most people who’ve used cannabis products over time, whether medically or recreationally, you’re probably familiar with somewhat diminishing THC effects – that is, the more you use it, the less effect it seems to have on you.
This phenomenon, known as “THC tolerance,” is not always a bad thing! For example, many regular users report decreases in anxiety, tachycardia, confusion, and poor attention as a result of cannabis consumption, regardless of any THC tolerance effect.
Unfortunately, though, regular medical cannabis users also report a decrease in the effectiveness of THC for pain management and symptom control over time. And recreational users find themselves needing an increasingly higher dose of THC to achieve the same level of intoxication.
So what causes THC tolerance, and can it be effectively managed?
There are no one-size-fits-all answers. The onset and intensity of THC tolerance depends on a variety of factors, including serving size, potency, frequency of use, history of use, and personal physiology. So a “one size fits all” way to control THC tolerance is nearly impossible.
While a period of abstinence from THC is typically most effective, it’s not always an available option, especially for those using cannabis to control pain and other chronic symptoms. But a basic understanding of the internal response our bodies have to cannabis can help you to more efficiently control your THC tolerance to achieve the results you want to achieve. Read on!
Physiological Response of Cannabis Tolerance
THC works in our bodies by binding to and activating CB1 and CB2 receptors, which is what causes physiological effects. The effects of THC binding to these receptors are stronger than those that result when endocannabinoids bind to these same receptors, which causes the “high” you experience following THC consumption.
In order to counteract the increased activation that can result from regular THC consumption, CB1 And CB2 receptors make their active sites less available for binding. This isn’t a permanent change, as the receptors in our bodies are constantly adjusting in an attempt to maintain homeostasis, or an even or balanced internal state. But it does explain why some regular users can feel decreased effects from THC over time.
There are several things you can do to help manage around any THC tolerance you may be experiencing:
1. Switching strains or modalities may help slow THC tolerance. As our bodies begin to recognize the chemical makeup of specific products, they can learn to down-regulate our CB receptors, physiologically lessening the effects of THC in order to maintain homeostasis in our bodies. Using a variety of products containing THC is one way your body is less able to ‘learn’ and respond via the receptor downregulation that leads to increased tolerance. Variety really is the spice of life!
2. Incorporating CBD for pain or symptom management whenever possible may also slow THC tolerance effects. According to the WHO Expert Committee on Drug-Depence review of CBD, no THC tolerance was observed in their review of experimental data. In fact, some evidence shows that CBD may be a negative allosteric modulator of CB1 receptors, meaning CBD binds to a secondary site and changes that receptor’s response to stimulus.
One study showed that cannabidoil prevented the internalization of CB1 receptors. When receptors are internalized, they are less available for activation, as they retract inside of the cell. That means you may experience less of a diminished effect from THC when you incorporate CBD!
3, Exercise has been shown to increase plasma THC concentrations in regular cannabis users. In a process called fat utilization, fatty tissues absorb and store THC, then slowly diffuse it back into the blood. When you exercise, you effectively speed up this process and eliminate excess THC from your system. In fact, exercise induced a greater increase in plasma THC concentrations than fasting when fat utilization was compared. That means exercising can increase the effect of THC when consumed because it efficiently reduces the levels of THC stored in fatty tissues, giving the body a fresh supply of THC to which to react.
We hope this explains why you may experience some reduced effects of THC over time, and gives you some ideas about different ways to manage your THC tolerance.
We’re always happy to answer any questions you may have, suggest a different strain or modality that may give you the effects you’re looking for, or suggest products with higher levels of CBD that may increase the effect of THC when taken.
Let us know where you are with any THC tolerance you may be experiencing, and let us help you find alternatives that can help you keep living your best life!