For frequent consumers of cannabis, it’s not uncommon to build a tolerance to the effects of delta 9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. Over time, more is needed to reach the same level of pain relief, same high, etc. Unfortunately, with the advent of high-THC everything, it’s easy to build up a tolerance. These days it’s not uncommon for strains to contain over 20% THC. So, even if you only spark up joints, it could soon take more to reach your desired high. In response, many people are taking what are called “tolerance breaks” from cannabis, in order to reach that elusive virgin-level tolerance. The definition of a tolerance-break, or “T-break” is just a period of reducing or abstaining from cannabis use. It’s a way of rewinding your internal cannabis clock and starting fresh.
Resetting tolerance is just one of the reasons you may be interested in taking a break from your bud. Some jobs require drug tests, as well as certain types of court-mandated probation, or even some types of education like pharmacy school. Other reasons could be you’re travelling to a place where you won’t have access to cannabis or where it’s illegal. Maybe you have a hospital stay coming up and while in recovery, you won’t be able to medicate. Some people simply want to take a break to “clear their head”. It’s even said to improve your overall relationship with cannabis, particularly if you find yourself to be a compulsive consumer. Whatever the reason, tolerance breaks can beneficial, but be prepared to deal with some of the symptoms you may experience while you’re on break.
How long should a tolerance break last?
According to this study, two days should result in a reduced tolerance, even a virgin tolerance. However, by most anecdotal accounts around the web, a break of about four days brings tolerance down noticeably. In addition, there is some evidence to suggest a month's worth of abstinence will bring you back to pre-smoking tolerance levels, giving credence the old stoner rule of thumb about abstaining from weed for a month to be certain you’ll pass a drug test (we don’t suggest taking this “rule of thumb” too seriously though. Not when your career is on the line!)
Of course, the length of time it takes to regain tolerance or have THC leave your system depends on several variables like your weight, level of daily use, metabolism, etc. You can always try smoking at certain checkpoints during your tolerance break say, quit for two days then light up and see if you need to abstain longer.
What to expect during your tolerance break
Perhaps you’ve noticed when you don’t smoke you feel off, maybe you can’t concentrate or sleep well. Unfortunately, this is due to the tolerance we develop from recurring cannabis use, which can be difficult to curb. According to a 2012 study:
“Tolerance to cannabis can occur in relation to mood, psychomotor performance, sleep, arterial pressure, body temperature, and antiemetic properties. The critical elements of cannabis dependence include preoccupation with its use, compulsion to use, and relapse or recurrent use of the substance. Over 50% of cannabis users appear to have ‘impaired control’ over their use. Symptoms such as irritability, anxiety, craving, and disrupted sleep have been reported in 61-96% of cannabis users during abstinence”. 
So, during your tolerance break you can expect to possibly feel grumpy, have a harder time eating and sleeping, and you might even feel anxious due to a drop in certain neurotransmitters like dopamine. Don’t worry though, the symptoms are mild, and most find them manageable. These side effects of cannabis abstinence can be hard to deal with, though weaning off of cannabis does seem to help a lot of people. Be forgiving of yourself though, and if you return to hit the bong even when you promised yourself you wouldn’t, regroup and try again tomorrow! Sometimes you just need a different plan to quit effectively.
Tips for tolerance breaks
We didn’t want to just leave you hanging! Here are a few tips we’ve put together that may help make tolerance breaks as smooth as possible.
- Start Slowly
There’s no rule saying you have to quit cold turkey. Many people choose to start with eliminating concentrates. These are the highest in THC concentration and can quickly build tolerance to ridiculous levels. Foregoing that daily dabbing alone could reduce your tolerance a little. As for smoking flower, many people recommend reducing your weekly routine by half until you’re basically smoking nothing.
- Eat Your Edibles
Low-dose edibles can be a great way to get your hit of THC and break your dabbing and/or smoking habit. They’re more subtle and can be a great oral distraction for those who love to toke a joint while they sit and relax.
- Put Away Paraphernalia
Stash your stash accessories. Put away all pipes, bongs, dab rigs, nug jars, and even lighters! All of these things will only trigger thoughts of smoking, making temptation all the stronger. If you have a friend you can trust, ask them to keep your accessories until you’re ready to take them back. In the same vein, don’t keep any cannabis in your house: use it up or give it up!
- Stay Busy
For many, cannabis is a hobby. It can take up a lot of time and is often a group activity (or at least it was before we were all quarantined up). So, if you’re trying to take a tolerance break, chances are that you’ll have some extra time on your hands. Fill it. Even if it means Facetiming your parents, taking an online class, or just working out at home. Anything to keep your mind off cannabis.
- Save Your Money
One of the many reasons people take a break from cannabis is to save money. Now that you’re not spending all your extra cash on Mary Jane, you can start that nest egg you always knew you should. Or pay down some credit card debt.
So, the opposite of the above, but still in option. If splurging is something that you’re interested in, then “treat yo’ self”! Get those new shoes or that new video game you’ve been thinking about. Just don’t let it get out of control. Make yourself “earn” these “rewards” by staying true to your tolerance break.
- Get your physical health right
You’ve got time on your hands now and you’ve already taken the first step to “refreshing” yourself mentally. Why not channel some of that into your physical health as well? Even though gyms are iffy these days, there’s always the option to workout at home. For anyone who has done the “at home workout” thing before, this approach is also known as the “ultimate display of dedication”.
After the T-break
If you plan to return to smoking after your break remember this golden rule: start slowly. If you’ve done even just two days without any cannabis, your tolerance will be different. There are many stoner horror stories about getting way too high after a t-break.
Also, don’t forget all the hard work you’ve done to bring your tolerance back down! No need to consume a ton of cannabis. Do yourself a favor and smoke like a rookie. Don’t forget the days of hundreds of dollars gone to weed. Above all, remember, a tolerance break is no easy feat, and you should feel proud of what you’ve accomplished.