Many long-term consumers of cannabis develop higher tolerance over time. And with the array of higher potency products on the market today, higher tolerance can also indicate that a person’s endocannabinoid system, a regulatory system that helps control functions like mood, appetite, sleep, sex drive, and more, has gotten a bit lazy. After all, when we are consistently hitting our endocannabinoid receptors with phytocannabinoids (cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant) it may not work as effectively or efficiently. Taking a break from cannabis completely, or reducing the amount of THC one is consuming by changing up products and/or consumption methods, can ensure that the endocannabinoid system is working at its best.
Thinking about taking a break? You’re not alone. According to the Cannabis Consumer Survey from New Frontier Data, 56% of consumers report taking at least sporadic yet intentional breaks from cannabis consumption. And nearly half (49%) have taken a break for a year or longer since they first started consuming. So, let’s dive a little deeper into t-breaks (i.e. tolerance breaks), why they are important, and what to expect if you decide to try it out.
Cannabis is an amazing plant that has so many benefits, from helping with sleep, anxiety, and treating a myriad of health issues, to making everyday life a little more interesting. Our bodies have endocannabinoid receptors that send signals in response to the binding of endocannabinoids. Cannabinoids that come from the cannabis plant, or phytocannabinoids, mimic these chemicals and also bind to our body’s endocannabinoid receptors.
However, when we constantly bombard our receptors with phytocannabinoids through frequent consumption, our tolerance increases, and our own production and functioning of endocannabinoids may be affected. When regular consumers stop using cannabis, they may experience withdrawals. Withdrawal symptoms like trouble sleeping, loss of appetite, and irritability occur because the endocannabinoid system is rebalancing. Symptoms usually last for anywhere between a few days to a few weeks, until the endocannabinoid system can rev up and start working effectively and efficiently again.
According to the Cannabis Consumer Survey, lowering tolerance was the number one reason that consumers reported taking breaks (34%) but it’s not the only reason. Even infrequent consumers may need to take breaks because of social or environmental reasons. Twenty-five percent of consumers reported taking a break because they were subject to drug testing, and 24% did so due to social obligations. Only 16% reported taking a break because of health concerns. And, if you think pressuring someone in your life to take a break will work, it likely won’t, as only 10% said their break was the result of peer pressure.
The act of taking a break also varies by age and gender. Younger people ages 18-34 were more likely to report taking regular breaks compared to those 55+ (23% vs. 19%), while older people were more likely to report taking sporadic breaks than younger people (40% vs. 36%). This could be because older people are more likely to be using for medical purposes, where complete breaks are not possible. Luckily, even reducing the amount of cannabis you consume can help get your endocannabinoid system back in the game. Women were more likely to say they never take a break compared to men (23% vs. 18%) but this could be because, overall, men consume cannabis more frequently than women, so women may not feel as much need to stop consuming.
Interestingly, those who identify as medical-only consumers were much more likely to report regular breaks compared to those who identify as only recreational consumers (35% vs. 19%). This could be because those who only use cannabis as medicine may only be using when symptoms occur and not otherwise, making their use more sporadic than those who consume for recreational purposes. Indeed, looking at the most common reasons that people report using cannabis (such as relaxation, stress, sleep, anxiety, and pain), 27% of people who use cannabis for sleep more regularly take breaks, and 15% of them do not. However, only 12% of those who shared that they use cannabis for relaxation say that they take breaks, and 26% reported that they never take a break.
Taking a break or reducing cannabis consumption is important for developing a balanced, long-term relationship with the cannabis plant. Cannabis is usually most valuable in older age as medical conditions become more prevalent, and maintaining a healthy and active endocannabinoid system is vital for maintaining good health. Our relationship with cannabis should be a marathon and not a sprint. Regular breaks or reductions in use can stave off mindless habits and contribute to healthier consumption long term.
This article was originally published in the May 2023 issue of High Times Magazine.