Cannabis Tolerance, Part III: How Does CBD Affect Cannabis Tolerance?

“Cannabis tolerance,” in most contexts, is a misnomer. What recreational users are really experiencing is a THC tolerance, which develops when the body becomes accustomed to a regular influx of cannabinoids from cannabis and reduces its production of endocannabinoids. This keeps the endocannabinoid system in balance, but it means that users will need to consume more THC to achieve their desired effects. Fortunately, this process can be reversed surprisingly quickly. 

CBD is a cannabinoid, like THC, but its method of interaction with the endocannabinoid system is very different. THC is a CB1 receptor agonist, which mean that it can bind with those receptors and create its psychotropic effects. CBD is a CB1 receptor antagonist. This means that rather than fitting into those CB1 receptors, CBD blocks the molecules and compounds that are able to fit into those receptors. This keeps the CB1 receptors open and available, and increases the efficiency of the endocannabinoid system. But what does this mean for cannabis tolerance? If CBD works so differently from THC, do users still build a tolerance to the compound? And if CBD inhibits some of THC’s functions, could CBD prove useful in reducing or moderating THC tolerance? Keep reading to find out.

Do CBD Users Develop A Tolerance?

Medical Marijuana

The short answer is “probably not.” The scientific studies that have so far been conducted have shown that their subjects did not develop a CBD tolerance. However, anecdotal evidence is all over the board. Some users claim that they experience an “inverse tolerance” where after they’ve been taking CBD for a while, they eventually are able to transition to a lower dose. This could possibly be explained by a buildup of a certain level of CBD in the body. On the other hand, many users state that after a few months, they experience a lessening of CBD’s effects and need to increase their dose.

Despite what the research says, I would have to say that this evidence is inconclusive; it’s likely that CBD does not cause tolerance, but I can’t say that with 100% certainty. CBD can have interactions with neurotransmitter receptors other than the CB receptors, so its relationship to the human body is complicated. Perhaps the CBD tolerance that may develop is due to CBD’s effects and interactions outside the endocannabinoid system, if it develops at all. Individuals’ reactions to CBD can likely vary, too, based on factors like age and the current state of their endocannabinoid systems, among other things. In any case, the best scientific information currently available states that CBD is not tolerance-forming. Hopefully, more long-term studies into CBD will turn up a more thorough and conclusive answer.

Can CBD Help Lower My THC Tolerance?

Medical use of cannabis

CBD is known to work opposite THC, in some ways. For example, it can lessen the severity of some of THC’s negative side effects, such as anxiety and a reduced short-term memory. Can it also help lower cannabis users’ THC tolerance? Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find any research results on that specific topic. But, let’s think about how THC tolerance works, and how CBD might affect it. 

THC tolerance occurs when, in order to maintain the endocannabinoid system’s equilibrium, CB1 receptors downregulate by first desensitizing, and then by retreating under the surface of cells. CBD works to keep the CB1 receptors open and available to bind with anandamide, endocannabinoids, or (if they are available) cannabis-sourced cannabinoids. CBD helps the endocannabinoid system function more efficiently by increasing the availability of endocannabinoids, by stopping them from binding to CB receptors. Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean that it will encourage CB1 receptors to reemerge from within their cells any more quickly, so your tolerance will decrease at a normal rate. However, by making sure that CB receptors are available for whatever endocannabinoids are present, CBD might reduce the severity of THC withdrawal symptoms.

CBD probably doesn’t do anything to help recreational cannabis users reduce their THC tolerance faster, but it might prevent tolerance from increasing as quickly. More research is required before we know for sure. In the meantime, if you’re worried about a THC tolerance creeping up on you, aim to use strains that have a mix of both CBD and THC, and cycle through several different strains. 

This is the end of Calm Collectiv’s three-part “Cannabis Tolerance” series. If you missed the first two parts, dealing with the mechanics of THC tolerance development and tolerance breaks, you can check them out here and here.

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