Is Taking a Tolerance Break a Good Idea?

Photo by Sergey Filimonov

There are some advantages to having a high cannabis tolerance. First, you can keep your cool while stoned in public settings. Second, you've probably been into cannabis for a while, so know your body well and how much medicine it needs. And, if someone gifts you with edibles, you can take one knowing that it won't render you helpless. However, a high tolerance also has downsides, such as making it harder to feel high and easier to spend money. As a result, cannabis consumers often take tolerance breaks, which can range from a few days to a week or longer depending on the individual. But what if, for some people, tolerance breaks cause more harm than good?

"When a person regularly consumes marijuana, their body builds up a tolerance to it," says Anthony Puopolo, MD, chief medical officer at RexMD. "A tolerance break can be a way to "reset" the body by returning it to a state of less enzyme activity." While cannabis doesn't tend to be addictive, like any substance, it should always be used responsibly. Aside from proving to yourself that you'll be fine without weed for a week or so, people take tolerance breaks to make feeling the effects of THC easier and less expensive.  

"I take a break when I've noticed I smoked a whole bowl and still am not feeling the calming, anxiety-reducing effects. So maybe once a year, I'll stop for a week to recalibrate."

"I [take a break] when I've noticed I smoked a whole bowl and still am not feeling the calming, anxiety-reducing effects. So maybe once a year, I'll stop for a week to recalibrate," says Zachary Zane, sex columnist and Editor-in-Chief of BOYSLUT. Zane uses cannabis primarily to soothe anxiety and enhance his sex life. "Cannabis helps me collect my thoughts so I can be more present in the moment and less anxious. I also feel much more connected to my partner (probably because I'm less in my head) when I have sex on cannabis and have much stronger orgasms."

In some ways, he finds himself more productive during a tolerance break. "I work more during that week off, and instead of my usual 45-minute workouts, I work out for an hour and a half." However, Zane does notice a resurgence of anxiety and therefore needs new avenues to relax. "I also have a Klonopin prescription. I prefer not to use them often, and at this point, I only take half a tablet twice a month. But the week that I'm off [cannabis], I rely more heavily on my Klonopin prescription to relax and get out of my head. I also find myself masturbating more because that can help calm me and get me out of my head!" 

For some people, cannabis isn't just a recreational drug; it's a medicine. Which begs the question—are tolerance breaks always a good idea?

While masturbating more is always fun, and a healthy way to reduce stress, prescription medications such as benzodiazepines can be more physically addictive than cannabis. So it begs the question—are tolerance breaks always a good idea? For some people, cannabis isn't just a recreational drug; it's a medicine. Unfortunately, this needs repeating, but it's true. Research shows that cannabis may treat chronic pain, glaucoma, cancer-related conditions, PTSD, and insomnia, to name a few. As research grows and legalization spreads, the list grows. For the estimated 5,461,491 medical patients in America, abruptly stopping their medical marijuana use is the same as suddenly discontinuing any prescribed medication, such as an SSRI antidepressant. "Each medical marijuana patient is different, and tolerance breaks should be discussed with your medical practitioner," Dr. Puopolo advises. And tons of people may not have an official medical card but use the plant therapeutically. That's the thing about weed. It walks the line between medical and recreational. If someone takes cannabis before a date, instead of a Xanax, to lower anxiety and have a good time, are they taking it recreationally or medically? Does it matter? 

That's the thing about weed. It walks the line between medical and recreational.

Melissa A. Vitale is a New York City-based publicist and founder of New York's first vice PR agency. She uses cannabis both recreationally and medically to treat her ADHD, bipolar disorder, and comorbid anxiety. "Tolerance breaks are not something I can consider unless I'm on vacation without the possibility of any fire to put out, which as a business owner, is near impossible. I can transition from smoking to edibles or flower to vapes, but the idea of cutting out cannabis completely would require a situation out of my control," she says. "I've been so proud of how I've regained control of my bipolar, with cannabis being a crucial part of that. Some influencer with no medical background telling me I can get higher if I go unmedicated for a week is probably not the best advice I want to trust for my health and wellness."

There are other ways to address a steep tolerance without totally giving up the green.

Just like Vitale switches up her method of intake, for some cannabis folks, there are other ways to address a steep tolerance without totally giving up the green. "To change it up, so I don't get my tolerance too high, I smoke a wide variety of different strains," says Brett Feldman, cultivator, and co-founder of Wonderbrett. "If you smoke the same strain all the time, your body will get used to that quickly, and it won't have the same effects. So that's why I'm always switching it up from Lemon, to Grape, to Strawberry, to Pineapple, and so on." Other ideas involve only taking cannabis at a certain time, or simply reducing the level of THC you consume. For instance, if you want to lower your tolerance but not go cold turkey, switch from a high-THC product to something with a 50/50 CBD to THC ratio

The great thing about cannabis is you're not going to overdose on it physically, so it's pretty safe to experiment to find what works for you. While any substance can be abused, taking a break or cutting back your marijuana intake won't be like benzodiazepines withdrawal, which can cause seizures and even death. The worst thing that will happen is that your symptoms come back, which is why it's so important to talk to your doctor before going on a tolerance break if you use it regularly to treat a medical condition. But this isn't the ‘80s, and the War on Drugs is finally starting to falter. There are worst things than having a high cannabis tolerance, so if you think it may be time for a break, and you're not using it for any medical conditions, by all means, put down the pipe, but don't be too hard on yourself.

Tips for Taking a Tolerance Break

1. Understand the science. In short, consuming THC depletes your CB1 receptors' ability to respond over time. Taking a break simply helps them reset to their previous levels.

2. Consider your own highs and habits. Do you need more weed to feel “high” than before? Do you feel like you’ve begun consuming out of habit instead of with intention? Let the answers be your guide. If you’re using cannabis to treat a chronic condition or terminal illness, consult your doctor first.

3. Set an intention. Take some time up front to commit emotionally and mentally to the change in routine. Acknowledge and accept that any change comes with challenges. 

4. Choose a timeframe. Some studies indicate that it may take just a few days to replenish your receptors, but other research indicates that it takes about three weeks (21 days) for THC to leave the body. You know your own physiology, tolerance level, schedule, and consumption habits best. Be prepared to experiment and be creative: Some people choose to take breaks in conjunction with other “detoxes” or during vacation, when their day-to-day routine is already different. 

5. Ease in. Some people find that gradually cutting back on the amount they consume per day is easier than quitting cold turkey. You might also consider consuming strains with higher CBD percentages or a 1:1 CBD:THC ratio; CBD doesn’t interact with CB1 and CB2 receptors in the same way as THC.

6. Replace your ritual. One of the easiest ways to change a habit is to replace it with something else you enjoy. Go for a walk. Take on a new project. And if you like the ritual of smoking, you can also try smoking hemp flower, which contains virtually no THC (usually less than .3%) and may still offer a calming or uplifting effect while also nurturing your endocannabinoid system.


Sophie Saint Thomas is a freelance writer based in Brooklyn originally from the US Virgin Islands. Her writing is published in GQ, Playboy, VICE, Cosmopolitan, Forbes, Allure, Glamour, Marie Claire, and more.