Knowing what to do when you realize that you have built up a tolerance to THC is a big problem for many patients in the medical cannabis community. I know this because I have seen many posts on the Medical Cannabis Community FB page addressing this concern. So, when I saw an article about something called Cannabinoid Cycling which provides a simple solution to dealing with THC tolerance, I knew I had to share that information with my readers.
Most of you may already know that one recommendation for overcoming tolerance to THC is to take tolerance breaks. That means taking a complete break from using cannabis for some days. For some patients, that is a daunting prospect, especially for those who enjoy relief from painful symptoms due to their daily cannabis usage.
First things first. Here is the explanation about why you build up a cannabinoid tolerance.
Your body builds up a tolerance to THC over a period of time when it receives more THC than is necessary; kind of a THC overload. It actually causes a change in the cell receptors with which THC binds. That translates into a less dense expression of the receptors and a loss of some of the receptor connectivity. This is a temporary change. Put simply, because you have too much THC in your body which is unnecessary, your cell receptors become less responsive to it. You no longer feel the effects, the relief of symptoms, that you previously felt from the THC.
Here is an interesting aside to the THC tolerance situation. Different areas of the body seem to develop a tolerance at different rates. There may be circumstances where a tolerance is beneficial. But, I will leave that one for now until there is more conclusive research on why that may be the case.
I have to briefly mention CBD tolerance. There is much less research available on CBD tolerance. What research there is suggests that building up a tolerance to CBD is actually therapeutic. Clinical trials for the epilepsy pharmaceutical, Epidiolex, were conducted in which patients gradually increased their intake of CBD to a full dose in order to build tolerance for the drug. Other research supports the notion that CBD tolerance is very different than THC tolerance. Although with any substance, building up a tolerance suggests the possibility of a decrease of potency.
Cannabinoid Cycling between THC and CBD
Besides taking a tolerance break, which is not a welcome option for many medical cannabis patients, a much better option is known as cannabinoid cycling. That is when you exchange high-THC, low-CBD strains for high-CBD, low-THC strains; a switching of the dominant cannabinoids. So, why does this work, you may ask?
While THC and CBD both have a myriad of therapeutic effects, they interact with the endocannabinoid system in very different ways. By changing from one dominant cannabinoid to the other, it is like using a new medication when the previous one stopped working for you. It resets your system to a lower tolerance level of psychoactivity. When you resume using high-THC strains, you will experience its full effectiveness again. The reason for this is the way in which THC and CBD interact with cannabinoid receptors.
THC is a partial cannabinoid receptor agonist which means that it acts like a key to unlock our endocannabinoid system (ECS) into maintaining homeostasis. THC interacts with specific cell receptors on the surface of our cells by signaling the initiation of various hormones and neurotransmitters in response to certain conditions. The ECS regulates our mood, immune function, metabolism, sleep, and reproduction. Our bodies produce endocannabinoids which are the natural version of THC. Some cannabis researchers are now referring to many diseases as the result of an “Endocannabinoid Deficiency.” THC replaces the natural endocannabinoids that our bodies may be lacking, thereby returning our body systems to homeostasis.
While THC replaces the deficiency of our endocannabinoids, CBD regulates the release of the endocannabinoids in the body. CBD does not connect well with our cannabinoid receptors. Instead, it modulates our ECS so that it runs efficiently at optimal balance. If you have an endocannabinoid overload, CBD acts to decrease them. If you have an endocannabinoid deficiency, it will act to increase them.
Here is the 64,000 dollar question…I hope some of you got that reference.
How often should you cycle between THC and CBD dominant strains? There is virtually no research on cannabinoid cycling, so it is currently entirely anecdotal. As with everything cannabis related, each individual’s cannabis experience is unique. What works for you may not work for anybody else. In some cases, cycling from high-THC to high-CBD for a week was enough to reset their system to a lower tolerance level.
One area where cannabinoid cycling is proving crucially important is with cancer patients. The protocol calls for a 90-day cycle of a specific cannabis medicine after which patients take a break or switch to a different variety of cannabis. Anecdotal evidence supports this regimen as the most effective way to treat cancer.
Good luck if you try cannabinoid cycling! I hope you have success!
Herb.com, Cannabinoid Cycling: The Weed Hack You Never Heard About, Anna Wilcox, Sept. 27, 2016.