How THC Tolerance Develops

Liz Filmer
19 Apr 2024

It's well known that regular cannabis use leads to “tolerance.” That is, you need to ingest more THC to get the same buzz. Over time you may find that it seems impossible to get high at all. If you stop using cannabis however the brain does recover impressively quickly, typically within weeks. 

 What is THC Tolerance”?

THC activates CB1 receptors to make you feel stoned. The high is an increase in the activity of CB1 receptors. Once THC has left the body however this activity usually returns to normal.

 If you repeatedly expose the brain to THC however over a matter of time, be it days or weeks, the brain is then spurred into action to minimize the increase in CB1 receptor activity. Essentially this means that the brain fights back so that regular CB1 activation patterns are maintained. For this to occur, CB1 receptors are diminished, their effects diluted, or their genetic presentation altered. These tools work to dampen down the impact of THC. This means that to achieve the same initial high, you need to consume more, resulting in tolerance.

How THC Tolerance Develops

THC causes tolerance through the repeated activation of CB1 receptors which initiates occurrences inside the brain cell that first lead to the weakening of the response to THC, followed by the removal of CB1 receptors from the cell’s surfaceAs a result, you will have to consume more THC to get high.

If you persist in consuming THC, it will have less of an effect on your brain functioning due to there being fewer receptors for it to act upon.

The desensitized receptors are still available for THC to bind to but when it does bind the effect is now lower than it once was. Because the CB1 receptors get activated so frequently, over time they become less associated with the elements that carry out the receptor's effects.

As the CB1 receptors weaken, proteins in the cell detect this and pull them from use meaning that if you continue to consume THC, it will begin to affect brain functioning as there are fewer receptors for it to act on.

The Tolerance Timeline

How quickly you become tolerant to THC depends on the amount and how often you consume it as well as your history of use and your DNA. These are all factors that vary greatly from person to person. Currently, our best understanding of tolerance development comes from studies performed on mice.

Mice that were given injections of THC at 10 mg/kg twice daily were found to develop tolerance to THC’s pain-relieving and sedative effects after just 36 hours or 3 THC injections. Tolerance to the sedative effects of THC was found to be stronger than its pain-relieving effects. This suggests that different regions of the brain or brain cells are more sensitive to tolerance than others.

More from Soft Secrets

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What is a Tolerance Break?

What to Check when Buying Cannabis Products

How to get high Without Smoking

Liz Filmer