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Don’t Knock a Strong Cannabis Tolerance, It Could Help You Heal

Cannabis Tolerance
Photo Laura Notini

Cannabis

Don’t Knock a Strong Cannabis Tolerance, It Could Help You Heal

Cannabis tolerance — the gradual acclimation to the sensory impacts of use — is usually framed in a negative light; something to be avoided or remedied. But being able to handle larger doses of cannabinoids can actually mean increased medical benefits.

Cannabis has a bad reputation when it comes to building up a tolerance. Countless articles describe the problem: you start using cannabis and it works great, but after a few weeks you find you need more. You increase your dose, only to soon find that this new dose is also insufficient — it just doesn’t get you ‘high’ the same way.

The prescription for this problem is usually to go on a tolerance break, a few weeks where you stop using cannabis and let your system reset. When you go back to using cannabis again, your tolerance will be back down to where you started. The message being communicated is clear: tolerance isn’t something you want to have.

But developing a cannabis tolerance isn’t all bad. For many, especially medical patients, it is a crucial factor in their cannabis use. Many medical patients starting cannabis worry about side effects like difficulty thinking, problems with memory or lack of coordination.

One of the great benefits of developing a tolerance to cannabis is that many of these side effects go away: Studies show chronic cannabis users do not suffer from the same disorienting effects that leave occasional users unable to do everyday tasks, such as driving).

I saw this firsthand as a cannabis patient. For me, cannabis was always disorienting. It wasn’t a bad thing, but it did make it impossible to get much done while under the influence.

I remember marvelling at a close friend and classmate who could smoke throughout the day while remaining completely normal. He would go to class, have complex conversations about analytic philosophy, work on his doctorate — all while using cannabis.

When I asked him about it he explained that he had a high tolerance. He was just used it.

At that time, I was dealing with intense chronic pain and missing a lot of school and work due to these struggles. Cannabis helped, but I was only using it at night when I didn’t have any work to do. It was like a time-out from the pain, but it didn’t help me with the real problem — my inability to work when I was in pain.

My friend suggested something that ran counter to everything I had read  — I should build up my tolerance.

“Smoke right before you write that paper” he suggested. “It will be weird for a few days, but then you’ll be used to it”.

Time to build up a cannabis tolerance

To my surprise, he was right. Within a week of starting to use cannabis during my regular work and school activities, I was no longer feeling the disorienting side effects. I was free. While I still had relief from my pain and anxiety, I was thinking clearly and felt… normal.

While I worried my cannabis tolerance building would lead to continual increases in use, at a certain point my tolerance increases seemed to plateau: I have been on a relatively stable dose for the last five years. If I use the same strain of cannabis for too long, I develop a tolerance to that strain and need to switch it up to keep getting relief. Otherwise, I haven’t experienced any tolerance-related problems and always avoid taking tolerance breaks now.

While tolerance breaks are fantastic for recreational users or those with occasional medical needs, I never suggest them for medical patients who have chronic issues they are managing. Just like you would be unlikely to have a doctor suggest you take a few weeks off from an antidepressant or a heart medication if you are using cannabis for daily medical needs, interrupting this can be disruptive and confusing for your body. And of course, any symptoms you were managing will no longer be getting the help they need.

Still, last summer, I was forced to take a tolerance break: I got a lung infection (unrelated to the cannabis) which was aggravated by smoke, so I spent months unable to use my medicine.

When I started to smoke again a few months later, my cannabis tolerance was back at its starting point and I experienced tolerance free cannabis use again. I was totally useless! So, I spent the next few weeks building my tolerance back up. Only then was I able to again use cannabis effectively as medicine.

I thought I might be able to use a lower dose after such a long break, but I quickly found myself back at that stable dose I had been using for years. For all the discomfort of the break, it turned out that I did best on the dose I had already been on.

While tolerance breaks are great for some (and there are certainly medical and recreational users alike who swear by them), for others developing and keeping a certain level of tolerance may be the better route. This can vary drastically from person to person based on their needs and biochemistry.

As a patient consultant, I often work with clients to track their cannabis experiences in a journal. Looking back over a few weeks of entries, many of them are able to better understand what is working for them and what isn’t.

TELL US, has tolerance affected your cannabis experience?

14 Comments

14 Comments

  1. Rory Gordon

    May 29, 2019 at 9:08 am

    I’ve been a long-time sufferer of MS- cannabis therapy has literally saved my life. My use of it is effectively perpetual (due to the vicissitudes of my condition), and so I have a pretty ridiculously high tolerance for it.

    It’s also been my experience that smoking it is an “instant relief” mechanism. Using CBD oil or RSO provides a steadier and gentler effect (once tolerance to this means of absorption is achieved). Vaporizing also changes how long the effects of it last. Edibles are usually too potent for me to use without feeling the effects… but those effects are mostly sedative, which is something I try to avoid (MS leaves one perpetually exhausted).

    It’s all about how you use it, and the type of relief you’re seeking.

  2. Pat

    May 28, 2019 at 7:09 pm

    I too have smoked weed for 51 years. I make my own butter and edibles. Smoke oil and good weed. Now that I’m retired it doesn’t really matter how much and when I smoke or ingest. I am pain free and loving life!

  3. Not legal in my state yet

    May 27, 2019 at 12:22 pm

    It’s refreshing to hear my experience put so plainly online. I’m a regular and mild user of very mild marijuana, but I frequently use it at early stages of my writing process (I’m a professional writer) and to lubricate conversations for particular “meat”. I also struggle with Major Depression and while I’m very careful in HOW I self-medicate (I’m unwilling to use marijuana to “escape”) I find that casual usage can be much more effective than some of the anti-depressants I’ve previously taken to treat my depression.

    Similar to the author, my tolerance increases have plateaued (though they continue) and I can absolutely identify with the description of the early stages of disorientation with re-acclimatization. After a little bit of re-familiarization I find I’m perfectly lucid to write my hard hitting stories or final papers for my Masters courses.

    It’s sad to me that Marijuana has been so stigmatized given how positive the substance’s influence on my life has been. I’m an advocate for legalization and for use in general and I hope that articles like this help to further both causes. Thanks for that!

  4. Karen C

    May 27, 2019 at 7:45 am

    I have been using Cannabis for 45 years. I am always “high” however, I am not running around crazy with ADHD or taking ANY prescription medication. I feel like I drive fine,(knock wood), and, if I’m not stinky, most folks wouldn’t know that I use. I am still recovering for over 40 years of hiding. I took breaks for pregnancy, nursing, and when the kids were toddlers. But if there’s someone in the crowd smokin’, it’s me, come ask for a hit!

  5. Netha

    May 27, 2019 at 6:13 am

    I did not realize because of course all this stuff was not talked about the when I started using heavily back in 2004 after falling down a flight of cement stairs and hurting my back and neck I found much relief and yes I went through many tolerance breaks now I don’t think I’ve taken a tolerance break and 4 years 5 years and I probably consumed between smoking and edible anywhere from an eighth to a quarter a day I drive I’m a painter and artist so many things I have started after smoking that I did not ever do beforehand so for me this has been a healing and life-altering Grace

  6. James Kenny

    May 24, 2019 at 7:06 am

    Since when has cannabis reduced anxiety? I mean the euphoric effect removes immediate anxiety but still causes long term deeper rooted anxiety

  7. Steve Chavez

    December 8, 2017 at 2:08 am

    I find it interesting that an article written by a cannabis consultant is discussing “smoking” cannabis for building tolerance and healing pain.
    In most of the ground breaking research and my own personal experience of healing stage IV pancreatic cancer ingesting high THC and CBD cannabis oil is the best way to medicate for an optimal endocannabinoid regimen.
    Smoking anything while immune or otherwise health compromised is not a good idea, however smoking cannabis is a great remedy for the blues, it should be replaced with oils for optimum nutrient uptake.
    So many of the trace cannabinoids that are responsible for healing are incinerated at temperatures above 300 degrees fahrenheit that smoking is actually counterproductive and wasteful when trying to get a medicinal dose of cannabinoids.
    We are all looking to educate ourselves with regards to dosing properly for serious illness lets make sure to spread the correct information.

    • Robert Rafferty

      October 31, 2018 at 7:46 am

      My experience, inhaling enable me to expand my line capacity. Living with multiple sclerosis for over 35 years, I do notice an increased capacity for a length of time after smoking, but understand that ingesting DOES have great benefits as well. It is all about creating your own prescription! This is a plant that only you can regulate, everyone will be different!

      • Bryant

        May 27, 2019 at 12:22 pm

        No it doesn’t. It keeps it under control just like xanax would. That’s because weed is a bronchial diolater

  8. Amazoncube

    April 23, 2017 at 10:45 pm

    Love it!!! Thank you so much. “difficulty thinking, problems with memory or lack of coordination”- We found that all of these issues go away with tolerance.- We dose ourselves to maximize efficiency and we build tolerance to minimize temporary side effects.
    “Cannabis doesn’t alter logic, but rather perceptions are altered instead, while logic works to make sense of the perception. Logic alters perception, changing it into meaning by deriving reason from it’s non-sensical state; logic works to find reason from an altered mind.” -Donna Thompson
    “The illegality of cannabis is outrageous, an impediment to full utilization of a drug which helps produce the serenity and insight, sensitivity and fellowship so desperately needed in this increasingly mad and dangerous world.” -Carl Sagan

  9. Sonja Copley

    April 23, 2017 at 2:08 am

    I have always smoked weed, think I started when I was 13, so its been 50 years. With a few breaks through out the years. I to, never cared to smoke during the day.
    Got my medical card 2 years ago. I had a problem with the variety and knowing that certain strains helped with pain better than others. Medical marijuana in Az is very expensive and buying something to discover that its not working for you is unacceptable. Especially when you start getting a tolerance for it. Sorry to say I went back to street weed and buy edibles instead.

  10. Vinvinvinwuwuwu

    April 22, 2017 at 9:31 pm

    I have many friends who are the same as you

  11. Marty

    April 22, 2017 at 1:36 pm

    Why didn’t you just eat it when you had s lung infection?

    • Karen C

      May 27, 2019 at 7:39 am

      I’m with you!

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