Lorena Cupcake, voted “best budtender in Chicago," has answered hundreds of questions from cannabis shoppers and patients during their time as a budtender. And now they're turning that experience into a monthly advice column, Ask a budtender. Got a question for Cupcake? Submit your questions to email@example.com.
I use edibles regularly. Over time, I've built up such a high tolerance that I feel like I'm wasting money on products that don't provide the benefits I'm used to. Should I be taking tolerance breaks? For how long?
Are there any other ways to get more bang for my buck?
— Not a Cheap Date
Life is easy when a standard 10-milligram THC gummy gets the job done, Cheap Date. Take them often enough, and you'll find the effects weaken over time as your sensitivity to THC decreases.
Taking a tolerance break is a tried-and-true method of restoring some of your body's original response to cannabinoids; but for those of us who have integrated cannabis into a daily routine, it's often easier said than done. To encourage and inspire you as you undertake a T-break, I tapped cannabis educator Emma Chasen, co-owner and operator of Eminent Consulting, a cannabis consulting business that works with brands, businesses, and industry professionals.
With a degree in Medicinal Plant Research, Chasen has the academic bonafides to inform her work creating educational training programs for new budtenders. Perhaps just as importantly, she has her own lived experience using cannabis to unwind and relax — a practice that includes hitting pause when necessary.
“I actually just finished a tolerance break of about 2 - 3 weeks," Chasen noted. “I took this recent tolerance break because I noticed that an edible that I often take was giving me symptoms of a panic attack. That was my sign that I needed to step away from cannabis for a little while, let my body reset, and then return when I felt ready to do so."
Why should you take tolerance breaks?
“With chronic use, the body can build a tolerance to THC's intoxicating effects," Chasen explained. “This is because the receptors in our central nervous system that THC binds to initiate the psychotropic effects (CB1 receptors) become desensitized over time with repeated exposure to THC. Tolerance breaks allow the CB1 receptors to restore and reset."
Saving money while stocking up at the dispensary is one reason to take tolerance breaks, but it's far from the only one. Daily use has drawbacks, like increasing your likelihood of developing Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome (CHS), a hard-to-diagnose condition that can cause severe nausea and vomiting as a reaction to cannabis consumption.
According to Chasen, the important role CB1 receptors and the endocannabinoid system play in modulating the gut-brain axis means that cannabis can have both positive and negative effects on nausea, appetite, and gut motility. “Therefore," she said, “a break from consumption of THC will not only allow your body to restore the intoxication you once felt from lower doses of THC but also regulate signaling among CB1 receptors without the influence of THC."
How long does a T-break take?
The good news is that even short tolerance breaks result in rapid changes in CB1 receptor availability. Dr. Adie Rae, resident subject matter expert in cannabis science and pharmacology at Weedmaps, suggests taking two days off each month to keep your endocannabinoid system sensitive to THC.
According to a 2017 study of frequent cannabis users, those two days of abstinence will result in significant upregulation of CB1 receptors. If you hold out for a full four weeks of abstinence, the tolerance you've built up will be mostly erased; however, you probably won't regain the sensitivity of someone who has never used cannabis.
How to save money when you have a high tolerance
While I think you could benefit from a brief reset, Cheap Date, you'll still likely have a tolerance on the higher end, meaning that you'd have to spend a small fortune on micro-dosed mints to catch a decent buzz. One way to save money is by trading commercial edibles for full-extract cannabis oil (FECO), a highly-concentrated, whole-plant extract similar to RSO (Rick Simpson Oil).
You might be familiar with the entourage effect, a term used to describe how cannabinoids (like THC and CBD) work synergistically with terpenes and other phytochemicals to increase therapeutic benefits. To help standardize effects and dosing, many edible manufacturers rely on distillates, which are highly-refined extracts that strip THC, CBD, or other cannabinoids of all extraneous compounds.
“Typically, products that have a diverse range of compounds in addition to THC are most effective for people with a high tolerance," Chasen recommended. “Even though a distillate might have 90% THC, the full-extract cannabis oil with 70% THC might result in a more intoxicating experience due to the wider range of compounds present in the product."
A one-gram syringe of FECO can contain the same amount of THC found in around seven packs of gummies, making your regular re-up much easier on your wallet. Since the active compounds are already decarboxylated, FECO is ready to be consumed orally. If you're not into the taste, try adding it to any recipe where a semi-solid, flavorful oil (like cold coconut oil) might disappear. While some heat can be necessary to loosen up the super-viscous, sticky goo, be careful; THC rapidly degrades into CBN at temperatures over 392°F.
“Other examples of product types with a diverse range of compounds are rosin, live resin, full-spectrum CO2 extract...and of course flower," Chasen said. With that many options available, there's likely a way to get high that works for your body and budget, even with an elevated tolerance.