Whether you think of it as a wellness experiment or a reset button, a tolerance break, or T-break, could help you resensitize your body’s response to cannabis. While hitting the brakes on cannabis might sound tough, the good news is that T-breaks are completely self-determined — you decide just how long and how much to cut back. You don’t have to stop consuming cannabis completely and for all time to help reduce unwanted symptoms such as fatigue, forgetfulness and anxiety.
Think of a T-break as just that — a break. The pause in your cannabis routine is meant to restore your cannabinoid receptor sensitivity. If you find that you’re depending on cannabis products more than you’d like, or you want to reduce some unwanted symptoms, a T-break might help.
Of course, this comes with considerations. Dr. Daniel Bear, a drugs policy researcher and Professor in the Faculty of Social and Community Services. at Humber College in Toronto highlights that: “If you’re a frequent cannabis consumer and you’re considering taking a T-break, you should know that research has shown frequent consumers experience far fewer cognitive effects from cannabis than infrequent consumers.”
Dr. Bear continues: “While a T-break can be beneficial, it might actually lead to a reduction in both your ability to process ideas and your coordination once you start consuming cannabis again. This could negatively affect you if you’re used to engaging in certain activities after consuming cannabis and you try those same activities after a T-break.”
Read on to find out how to take a T-break, why it could be beneficial, and what happens when you abstain from cannabis.
What is tolerance?
Medically speaking, tolerance is your reduced response to any substance, whether that’s THC, a prescription drug, or even caffeine. When you build up a tolerance, you’ll need more of a given substance experience the same effects.
Cannabis tolerance typically occurs when you consume cannabis regularly, and your body adapts to a continuous stream of cannabinoids. Not only can this result in your receptors becoming less sensitive, but a cannabis tolerance could also affect the functioning of the entire endocannabinoid system, which regulates your states of sleep, body temperature, hunger and memory.
How does tolerance to THC develop?
With frequent consumption, most people will develop a tolerance to cannabis over time. Tolerance has to do with a widespread network of bodily receptors called CB1 receptors, which are highly concentrated in the brain.
When consumers build up a tolerance to THC, it means CB1 receptors in the body have become desensitized. This often means the number of active receptors has been reduced, which is known as “downregulation.” Not only does downregulation affect the signalling efficiency of these receptors, but it also reduces the number of active CB1 receptors. Fewer receptors and slower signalling mean more cannabis is needed to achieve the same effect. With more cannabis comes increased downregulation, which then requires more cannabis — and on and on.
What are T-breaks?
A tolerance break, or T-break, is a pause in your cannabis routine to bring your body back into a state of sensitivity and restore cannabinoid receptor sensitivity. In other words, it can be a break to reset your cannabis tolerance. A T-break may or may not mean cutting out cannabis completely, and the length of a T-break is self-determined. The length of a T-break can fall somewhere in the middle, or it can last much longer, depending on your goals.
Do T-breaks work?
The research is still limited; however, recent studies have found tolerance breaks an effective way to restore cannabinoid receptors to their normal state. One human trial showed that CB1 receptors reset after four weeks of abstinence from cannabis use. A second human trial echoed these findings. Experts now say most cognitive difficulties associated with long-term cannabis use, such as poor memory, attention, problem-solving and concentration, can generally dissipate after abstaining from cannabis for several days to a month.
When and why might a T-break be useful for frequent consumers?
Frequent cannabis consumption can increase the risk of developing cannabis use disorder. Tolerance breaks may help reset your body and consumption patterns and help mitigate risk if you are concerned about your consumption or find that it is disrupting your day-to-day activities. According to Health Canada, approximately one in 11 cannabis consumers develop a cannabis use disorder. If consumed daily, Health Canada notes the risk of cannabis use disorder for consumers is between 25% and 50%. (If you think you may be overusing cannabis, click here for resources.)
Other adverse effects of frequent, long-term cannabis consumption may also improve from a tolerance break, namely impaired memory, poor concentration, and an inability to think and make decisions. A T-break can be done at any time, for almost any amount of time.
What should you expect when taking a T-break?
Most people will need a period of adjustment when starting a tolerance break. There may be some discomfort with temporary changes to sleep, appetite, feelings of anxiety or irritability. It’s essential to keep yourself busy, especially at the time(s) of day you typically consume cannabis.
The good news is withdrawal symptoms from cannabis are usually mild. One study noted increased hostility among subjects abstaining from cannabis but no other typical withdrawal symptoms. That said, everyone is different. If going cold turkey is uncomfortable, then a step-down approach — reducing your consumption over time — could be a better way to lead you into a full T-break.
If and when you return to consuming cannabis, start low, go slow and consider the effect cannabis may have once your body has reset. Activities you could do with cannabis before the T-break may become riskier because of your renewed sensitivity to THC.
How to create a T-break schedule
Start planning your T-break by deciding when to stop consuming cannabis, for how long, and whether you’re completely omitting cannabis or taking a step-down approach. It’s a good idea to plan a tolerance break when not much is happening; for instance, when you don’t have to attend any family events or meet big work deadlines.
Prepare for withdrawal, anxiety, sleep issues and boredom while on a tolerance break. A guide, such as the University of Vermont’s T-Break Guide, could help you plan and stay on track. A recent study found young adults aged 18 to 29 who used the guide were more likely to complete a 21-day abstinence period than those who didn’t use the guide.
Here are a few more tips to help you get started:
- Remove all products and accessories from your home.
- Ask friends or family to join you. There’s strength in numbers.
- Avoid people who may not support you or pressure you to consume.
- Plan hobbies and activities to keep yourself occupied.
- Establish good sleep hygiene (regular bedtime, no screens, wind-down ritual) to help you rest without cannabis.
- Plan your meals so you don’t become overly tired and irritable.
- Journal your reactions to notice any patterns, sensations or big feelings that come up.