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What is a Tolerance Break?

Does your typical cannabis routine feel less effective lately? You may have built up a tolerance to THC. To help increase sensitivity to cannabinoids and decrease the amount you’re consuming for that desired effect, you may want to take a “tolerance break.” 

We connected with Ethos’s head medical professional William McLay, PharmD, to learn more about why THC tolerance builds up and how to improve sensitivity through strategic breaks in consumption.

What is a tolerance break?

A tolerance break – sometimes called a “T break” – is a short period in which you reduce or cease consumption of THC. Tolerance breaks can last for a few days or a few weeks. During this time, your body typically rebalances and adjusts to the reduced levels of THC. As a result, tolerance levels should return to normal and lower levels of THC should offer the experience you previously expected from your typical cannabis consumption routine.

“Utilizing too much cannabis could cause [patients to reach] a tolerance level where it doesn’t have an effect anymore,” Dr McLay said. “That said, some people are genetically different and need higher amounts of THC.”

Who should take a tolerance break?

Prolonged consumption of high amounts of THC could build your tolerance to the point where it’s less effective at relieving your symptoms or achieving the desired effect. If this sounds like your experience, it may be time for a T-break.

McLay noted that consumers who regularly vape or consume concentrates are most likely to need a tolerance break. Because inhalants are highly potent and fast-acting but also short-lived, Dr McLay said frequent consumption of these high-THC products can quickly ramp up tolerance.
“I see most patients coming into this situation who either have long-term use with flower or concentrates at a very high amount of THC,” he said. “They use it all day and most of the night, and their tolerance reaches a point where it doesn’t work anymore.” Learn more about the high-THC myth.

How long should you take a tolerance break?

For most consumers, tolerance breaks are usually short-lived, ranging from two days to four weeks, Dr McLay said. While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to a tolerance break, it doesn’t take long for your body to adjust and tolerance levels to return to normal.

“Everybody is different and it’s very individualized, so there isn’t much of a roadmap,” Dr McLay said. “It strongly depends on the amount they’re used to consuming, so I need to understand their daily consumption and rate of consumption. Then we cut back incrementally.

“When consumers get to that high tolerance level and need to taper off, I tell them it’s going to take time and they may feel their symptoms a little more readily,” Dr McLay added. “We can manage that with non-intoxicating cannabinoids and terpenes, but that intoxication just won’t be there.”

What to do during a tolerance break

For medical cannabis patients in particular, a tolerance break could mean a flare-up of symptoms that THC typically dampens. Whether you consume cannabis for pain or anxiety, McLay said, there are a few things consumers can do to make their tolerance break manageable.

McLay recommended products that are easier to control in terms of amount of THC consumed like topicals, tinctures, and edibles for longer-lasting relief, adding that inhalants like vape cartridges could be used intermittently as needed to address any symptoms that remain noticeable. Additionally, he added that some of these product types offer low- or nearly no-THC options, which can help patients find relief without intoxication.

“We can modify a patient’s regimen and try other product forms alongside inhalants that are absorbed by the body in different ways,” Dr McLay said. “Finding relief isn’t just about seeking high THC, it’s the other terpenes and cannabinoids in these products too. Myrcene and beta-Caryophyllene can help the pain, for example; you don’t necessarily need super high intoxication to lower your pain.

“Would you rather use something that takes away your pain for a small amount of time before it comes back, or take something that you use once and it lasts for hours?” he added. “You will still have the effects and relief you need with different product forms and dosages, and you can use inhalants to deal with breakthrough pain without bottoming out and getting to the point where it’s not working.”

End your tolerance break with a plan

When your tolerance break comes to a close, it’s important to begin your cannabis regimen anew with a thoughtful, deliberate plan to avoid the same situation down the line. 

“To do so, I’d recommend consulting with a cannabis pharmacist about the best path forward,” Dr McLay said. A big part of the process, he added, is helping patients find alternatives that provide relief and advising them on how to identify the lowest effective amount of THC. These two elements can help consumers avoid building their tolerance once again.

Dr McLay advised consumers who want to find alternatives to high-THC or cannabis products to supplement their existing regimen to schedule a consultation with an Ethos pharmacist. A pharmacist can help you develop an individualized plan that supports your needs. When you’re ready to reintroduce THC to your regimen, slowly add it back in. Take note of the lowest possible amount needed to elicit the desired effects. 

“I tell patients not to jump back in and use the amount they were using before,” he said. “Using  the lowest effective amount possible means you don’t come up against tolerance issues later on.”

For some patients, microdosing cannabis products — the act of consuming very low amounts of THC — may effectively offer relief without driving tolerance levels back up, Dr McLay said. After a tolerance break, introducing microdosing to your regimen could help manage your tolerance for the long-term.

Making the most of a tolerance break

Just because you’re taking a tolerance break from THC doesn’t mean you can’t use cannabis for relief. There is a wide range of low- or nearly no-THC cannabis products available at your local Ethos dispensary. Just ask an Ethos associate what the best option is for your goals, and they can help you find the relief you need without the excessive levels of THC.

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