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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  1. I have been using cannabis for the past 30 years. I smoked it for the majority of that time but about 5 years ago the effect stopped working. I began to increase the dosages by using hash and keif on the flower but neither worked. I began making my own cannabis edibles which were awesome for the first week. Now they do nothing for me. My tolerance is at, or near, 500mg of thc per dose. Anything less deliveres no effect. I took a break 3 years ago for two months. The first high after the break was epic. All other attempts after, not so much. If I was using it recreationally it would be easy, stop using it. I don’t use cannabis socially, I use it to function at a “high” level. I am taking a break as of now for a month. I am hoping to stabilize the levels in my body so an increase is not needed. If not, here comes the 1000mg cannaoil ?

  2. I am in my late 60’s and have reached a point where I don’t get high no matter what the strain is (my friend gets different strains from Colorado) or no matter how long I go between smoking.
    Some times as long as a month. It doesn’t matter whether I smoke just a few hits or a couple of joints. I remember years ago when I got out of the service, I tired getting my older brother to get stoned with me. He always said he never got a buzz or anything(he wondered why I even smoked the stuff). Is it possible to just reach a point where it just doesn’t do it for me any more? I don’t really mind…the price of the stuff is getting ridiculous.

    1. Hi Michael. You have probably reached that point if you have been a long-time user. And maybe it’s time to take a break.

  3. I was wondering if you were using marijuana for pain management if over time you have to increase your dose to get the same benefit? Basically do build a tolerance to marijuana for pain management?

  4. I was a high user of cannabis smoked every day for 18 years so how long would you say the affects would last on me

  5. Hi, I have become less and less tolerant over 3 months. This is a huge issue since I use it medically for sleep. If I take a week off of it then I simply won’t sleep that week. I use more and more, used to take a 10mg pill of thc now its up to 90mg of thc. Any advise would help. Anyone experience this issue, what did you do? No one responded to my last question either., I need some REAL answers, asap.

  6. I’m curious if you can have a naturally high tolerance if you were around marijuana a lot as a kid and are just now trying it as an adult?

  7. Still sooooo much unknown about the marvelous cannabis plant and it’s constituents …
    the web is loaded with conflicting information from germanation to growing , drying , curing ,
    ingesting .. ad nauseum ..
    As far as i know … when a tolerance is built up … the “drug holiday ” is effective and might
    just be 2 days …
    no doubt that different strains come into play ..
    I recently ready a study (i trust the source) stating that unlike most other receptors in the
    brain , the cannibinoid receptors will refuse TCH molecules after a certain point , which
    is why there have been no known overdoses from cannabis , when taken without
    any other drugs or alcohol …
    There is also delivery method to be considered .. is there a tolerance level for oral ingestion
    of cannabis ????
    We just don’t know very much at all about this plant , other than it grows everywhere and
    there is history of it use going back thousands of years on every continenent … garce

  8. Smoking how much is considered to be a high tolerance level? An “expert” has said that someone who smokes more than 3grams a day is unable to function e.g. hold down a job

  9. I have a few questions. I seem to have a very weird relationship with marijuana. I had to smoke it a good dozen times before I felt it, then I really felt it. I had an anxiety attack the ‘first time’. I’ve been off and on with it. The last few times I’ve quit using it and came back, it seems as though abstaining actually increased my tolerance. I had to take a lot more to get high. I had to smoke a few times again before I had my first major ‘breakthrough’ where I was knocked on my ass. One time I quit for like 4 months and smoked and it wasn’t anything like I remembered. It was as if I simply wasn’t able to ‘process’ cannabis. I got a mild buzz but I was surprisingly sober after. My second guess is that maybe I expected something and as a result I didn’t see it even though it was there. This happened a few times, where I’d quit for awhile and come back and wouldn’t get as high as the last few times or so before going on a ‘break.’ So my question is this, can you build a ‘permanent tolerance’ to weed after enough use? Where no length of time, no amount you smoke, you will not get high?

  10. To build a tolerance for medical reasons such as cancer i’d assume you’d be taking thc pills which would be 100% thc and would completely knock you on your ass & If you’re not someone who smokes recreationally I can see that being really annoying. I’d recommend smoking as much weed as you can in the morning as it will lower the effect from other weed throughout the day as well as i’d recommend dabs which are more potent than normal thc but not as potent as the pills you would be taking, also try to smoke before going to bed it’ll just help put more thc into your body. Also if you don’t like the effects of weed there are two different strains indica & sativa, indica will give you body high & in my opinion a much nicer calmer high where sativa is psychological and more so plays with your head.

  11. Hi
    how do we build up a tolerance for THC in order to treat cancer and reduce stomach pain?

    how much a time, a day, in between meals or together with meals?

    any adwice pl. let me know , thanks in advance

  12. I am waiting confirmation of 2 autoimmune diseases. Scleroderma and PBC -liver disease
    This has been ongoing for 1 yr now. Trying to self medicate as Drs keep telling me to wait for the specialist which is still a month away. pain and ache in gut area. Finally managed it with more pot. But finding having to take more now. Vaping, smoking, cookies, oil and Rick Simpson oil. How does the oils get processed in our body. Am I doing more harm to my liver with oils? Thanks

  13. Hey all, good looking. I smoke all day, every day. I smoke dabs now, rather than weed, as my tolerance is so damn high. I smoke a gram of dabs in 2 or 3 days, and even what I smoke doesn’t get me high anymore. I still get red, watery eyes and a dry throat, but feel no mental effects of the THC whatsoever. I have been regularly smoking for a year now, to help with my severe depression. I took a one month break, and my tolerance lowered slightly, but rose incredibly fast as soon as I started smoking again. Although it doesn’t get me high anymore, I get quite depressed when I don’t smoke as I don’t feel I have any other release, so to speak. What can I do to at least lower my tolerance enough to get high? And why do I feel nothing at all mentally when I smoke, even huge dabs? Thanks for any feedback!

  14. I guess I’m lucky, I’ve used it daily for a few years and have hardly noticed any difference over time. I think the thing about not smoking in the morning is pretty key. I also wonder if some of it is purely the perception of the user and not a true physical tolerance.

  15. I have gone a week without smoking and I was supposed to get bud today however I was unable to. I was curious as to whether or not smoking the little that I have left would ruin the high I would get if I waited until I got a substantial amount of bud?

  16. I have a question. My boyfriend smokes a lot of marijuana. Like more than I’ve ever seen anyone smoke ever, all day long. He seems to act pretty normal, can drive, hold a conversation etc. He does have moments of temper or anger or general moodiness that concern me. Is that normal for someone who smokes marijuana a lot? Would he ever be able to quit without any withdrawal symptoms?

  17. Hi,
    Thank you for writing this interesting article.
    I used to smoke marijuana almost every evening. Last year I quit weed for three months and I remember experiencing terrible withdrawal symptoms in the first two weeks: I couldn’t sleep, anxiety attacks and severe sweating at night.

    Nowadays I smoke weed only once or sometimes twice a week and my tolerance is very low compared to when I was a daily user. But, can I sustain this level of tolerance when using only once ore twice a week? I am asking because I don’t want to experience the same withdrawal symptom again in case I decide to lay off weed once more in the future.

  18. does tolerance ever stop growing? so like if i smoke more and more to eventually an ounce a day, will i soon not feel the effects of an eighth?

    1. Hi confused. Yes, tolerance keeps on growing for drugs that don’t have a ceiling effect (some medications do). The risk is that as your tolerance grows, you cannot get the same effects as you once did. So, you keep on increasing doses to get the same high again…but the new dose also gets weaker for you. The more you take of a drug, the more damaging effects it has on your body and you put yourself under greater risk. Although OD can’t really happen with marijuana, tolerance is one of the greatest reasons people overdose on other illicit drugs.

  19. i have been regularly smoking cannabis for ages usually about 2 grams a day but earlier this week i had two spliffs .5 in each as i normally do, and i threw up i don’t know if this mean there’s something wrong or its just what happens sometimes :/

  20. Hello anselmo. Psychological dependence on marijuana is a very personal and individualized issue. Anxiety can be treated with lifestyle changes instead of psychoactive substances (even Rx drugs like Xanax, Valium, etc. can become habit forming). If you’re interested in an alternative way to relax, I’d suggest that you look into mediation, exercise, or changes in diet.

  21. I was wondering when using marrijuana recreationaly smoking every two three days once a day during that time can u become addicted ? A bowl takes me two days to smoke its just to relax and to help me sleep because i have trouble sleeping please if u have an answer let me know

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