THC Tolerance: Why Do Cannabis Breaks Work So Quickly?

Cannabis, unlike methamphetamine, does not destroy brain cells. It does not, unlike alcohol, cause the connections between these cells to deteriorate. Instead, frequent cannabis usage leads to a lessened impact known as “tolerance” (insert frightening music).

The brain can recover if you stop smoking cannabis. And it does so in an amazingly short amount of time, usually just a few weeks.

Cannabinoid type I (CB1) receptors in the brain, which decrease with prolonged cannabis use, are thought to be the cause of a consumer’s tolerance to THC. To acquire a buzz, you’ll need to consume more of the high-inducing THC. It may appear impossible to get high at all over time and with repeated use.

But here’s the thing: the brain can recover if you quit. And it does so in an amazingly short amount of time, usually just a few weeks.

What Is “Cannabis Tolerance” and What Does It Mean?

THC makes you stoned by activating CB1 receptors. The high is caused by an abnormal increase in CB1 receptor activation. This activity normally returns to normal once the THC is gone.

However, if you repeatedly expose the brain to THC over a few days or weeks, the brain responds by fighting back against the increase in CB1 receptor activity, preserving normal CB1 activation patterns. CB1 receptors are lowered, their effects are lessened, or genetic expression is altered in order to achieve this. These processes work to reduce the impact of THC, requiring more consumption to obtain the first high. This is what tolerance is all about.

How Does THC Tolerance Develop?

THC creates tolerance by activating CB1 receptors repeatedly. When CB1 receptors are activated repeatedly, actions occur inside the brain cell that lead to desensitization, or a weakening of the THC response, followed by internalization, or the removal of CB1 receptors from the cell’s surface. Because you’ll need to consume more THC to get high, you’ll be able to notice when these processes occur.

Because there are fewer receptors for THC to operate on, it will have less of an effect on brain activity if you continue to take it.

The distinction between the two is that desensitized receptors are still available for THC to bind to, but the effect is lessened than before. Because internalized receptors are taken into the brain cell from the surface, where they stay or are broken down into smaller portions, THC can no longer connect to them.

THC triggers these reactions by activating CB1 receptors. CB1 receptors become less connected with the components that carry out the receptor’s functions as they are activated more frequently. CB1 receptors are similar to a pitcher that throws a lot of pitches in baseball. The pitcher’s muscles eventually become incapable of throwing the ball as hard as they once could. The coach notices the pitcher’s deteriorating strength and removes him from the game.

Similarly, proteins in the cell work as coaches, detecting weak receptors and removing them from the game. Components within the cell that tag the receptor with a phosphate group detect desensitized CB1 receptors. This is similar to a pitcher telling the coach to remove them from the game. This phosphate group sends a signal to other parts of the cell, telling them to remove the receptor from the cell’s surface. Both the pitcher and the CB1 receptor are no longer active at this stage.

As a result, because there are less receptors for THC to act on, it will have less of an effect on brain activity if you continue to use it.

The Tolerance Timeline

How rapidly you develop tolerant to THC (which indicates CB1 receptor internalization) depends on the quantity and frequency you take, your usage history, and your DNA if you’re a habitual cannabis user. Because these characteristics vary so much between people, studies in mice have provided us with the finest understanding of the time course for tolerance development.

Mice given 10 mg/kg THC injections twice a day for 36 hours developed tolerance to the drug’s pain-relieving and sedative properties (i.e., 3 THC injections). Tolerance to THC’s calming effects was higher than tolerance to its pain-relieving properties, implying that tolerance is more receptive to certain brain regions or brain cells than others.

The THC injections were withdrawn after a week of THC exposure, and the pace of recovery was monitored. In less than two weeks, behavior returned to normal, and tolerance to THC’s sedative impact recovered faster than its pain-relieving effect. As a result, the brain systems that promote faster tolerance are also the most resilient and recover from abstinence faster.

Abstinence from THC causes tolerance to disappear quickly

Cannabis is unique among recreational drugs in terms of how quickly the brain “recovers” after a period of abstinence. Although recovery is notoriously difficult to quantify, changes in behavior, brain function, and brain chemical receptor levels can be used as proxies.

According to a study of daily cannabis users, users had lower CB1 receptors than non-users, which returned to normal after just two weeks of abstinence. It’s worth noting that this study didn’t look at whether CB1 receptors remained desensitized after the treatment. Additional research has shown that withdrawal is more severe when there are fewer CB1 receptors available for THC to bind, implying that tolerance is the internalization of CB1 receptors.

Because internalization of CB1 receptors is a common side effect of heavy THC usage, it helps to explain why cannabis withdrawal leads to speedier brain recovery than many other drugs of abuse. In the worst-case scenario, CB1 receptors get internalized and broken down, in which case they must be replicated and transported back up to the cell’s surface to restore normal brain function (it should be mentioned that extensive use on other brain chemical systems can have further ramifications).


When compared to alcohol, cannabis does not appear to be as bad. Excessive alcohol use can be harmful to the brain, resulting in brain cell injury or death. While abstaining from alcohol can lead to some recovery, it takes longer and is frequently less comprehensive than abstaining from cannabis.

Even after a year of abstinence from methamphetamine, brain functioning in important brain regions involved in reward processing shows little improvement. To make matters worse, meth is poisonous, and chronic use can fool the brain into thinking it’s been harmed, resulting in continual activation of repair cells that impede brain function. Meth has the ability to harm brain cells.

It’s best if you stick to cannabis.

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