Tolerance to marijuana

You know you’re developing tolerance to marijuana when you no longer feel its effects or need to use more marijuana to achieve initial effect. More on the phenomenon of tolerance here.

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Tolerance to marijuana is said to develop when the response to the same dose of marijuana decreases with repeated use. But how marijuana works in the body to provoke increased tolerance is not really understood.  You can develop tolerance simply by using marijuana over a length of time or by having a natural tendency to tolerate marijuana in the system. However, building up tolerance to marijuana does not mean that you are addicted to THC (Is THC addictive substance? Yes).

In this article, we discuss the difference between tolerance, dependence and addiction. And then we invite your questions about marijuana at the end.

Developing tolerance to marijuana

Tolerance is characterized by a need for a larger dose of a medication to maintain the original effect. While doctors still don’t understand WHY tolerance occurs, developing tolerance to marijuana can involve both psychological and physiological factors. So, what DO we know?

Tolerance to the behavioral and psychological effects of THC has been demonstrated in adolescent humans and animals in a number of studies conducted in the last 15 years. Gross tolerance to the major effects of marijuana does not ordinarily occur in people with moderate or intermittent use and if tolerance does occur, it is to certain aspects of the physiological responses to marijuana. The mechanisms that create this tolerance to THC are thought to involve changes in cannabinoid receptor function.

You may be concerned that as you start to develop a tolerance to marijuana, this means they are becoming addicted. This isn’t the case. To be clear, tolerance to marijuana does not necessarily mean that addiction or dependence will develop. Physical dependence is defined as development of withdrawalsymptoms when marijuana use is discontinued abruptly. Like tolerance, this is a normal physiologic response (expected after 2-4 weeks of continuous and frequent use daily). And drug addiction is the compulsive use of a substance, despite its negative or dangerous effects. Tolerance simply means that your body has adapted to the presence of marijuana in your system and does not react to its chemical cues.

Marijuana tolerance symptoms

Characteristics of marijuana tolerance include reversibility, differential development by person and differential rate of occurrence, depending on the particular drug, dosage and frequency of use. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association defines drug tolerance as having either or both of the following characteristics:

1. A need for markedly increased amounts of marijuana or THC to achieve intoxication or the desired effect

2. A markedly diminished effect on the user with continued use of the same amount of marijuana or THC

If you find that these marijuana tolerance symptoms apply to you, don’t worry. This doesn’t mean you are addicted to marijuana. Instead, these are only indicators that the effects of marijuana no longer work for you. While tolerance, dependence, and addiction can be present simultaneously, each condition is a separate and different entity.

Marijuana tolerance: How long?

Marijuana tolerance is different for everyone. Studies of marijuana tolerance suggest that with continuous, frequent daily use, a person can expect to build up a tolerance to marijuana over a 2-4 week period. However, time periods will vary from person to person. Additionally, individuals diagnosed with depression or anxiety may find that they build marijuana tolerance faster than those who use recreationally or those who use marijuana medicinally. Similarly, those who use marijuana in peer situations may find they build up a tolerance quicker because their use can be more frequent.

High tolerance to marijuana

There is plenty of speculation as to what constitutes ‘high’ tolerance to marijuana. It is suggested that each strain of marijuana has a different ceiling. That is to say, each strain of marijuana will only get you so high. Therefore, high tolerance is strain specific. High tolerance is also dependent on what the individual is hoping to achieve with use and if there are any underlying psychological or physiological conditions, as different people with experience tolerance to different aspects of the high.

While one person can adapt to the physical effects of marijuana use, others will adapt to the psychological effects. More research is needed in this area to better understand how marijuana tolerance is processed by the body and brain.   But if you’re looking to stay motivated to stop smoking weed, know that tolerance generally returns after a period of abstinence and that the best way to stop smoking marijuana is to stay stopped.

How to lower tolerance to marijuana

You can lower your tolerance to marijuana but little evidence is available to indicate if you could lower tolerance to your original base level. In other words, there could always be a level of maintained tolerance as long as you are smoking marijuana. If you want to lower tolerance to marijuan, the best way to do so is to cut back on the amount and frequency with which you use marijuana. Other suggestions include:

  1. Reduce the amount of marijuana used initially upon waking.
  2. Starting the day with a large dose of marijuana will reduce the effects of any marijuana used throughout the day.
  3. Alternate one week on, one week off to preserve effect. Some call this a “drug holiday”. That is, you stop taking marijuana for a while to give the body time to lower its tolerance.
  4. Incorporate regular exercise and a healthy diet into regular marijuana use. Keeping the body at a peak level allows the body to ‘flush’ the residual marijuana out of the system by lowering the number of fat cells to maintain potency.

Building up tolerance to marijuana questions

Do you still have questions about building up tolerance to marijuana? Please send use your questions, comments, and feedback in the comment form below. We try to respond to all questions with a personal and prompt reply. And if we don’t know the answer, we will refer you to someone who does.

Reference Sources: Drug and Alcohol Services South Australia
National Institute of Drug Abuse
Office of National Drug Control Policy
About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.
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