Daily cannabis use is not without its consequences, and tolerance plays a big role in this. Taking a t-break can reset your relationship with weed while allowing you to enjoy it like you used to
Cannabis is the most widely used illicit drug in England and Wales, and has been for going on 30 years. It’s also one that is used quite frequently: according to government data, more than a third of adults who admit to using weed do so at least once a month, with more than 10 per cent using it daily – and it’s likely that the real figures are much higher than this.
If you’re a regular cannabis user, you’ll know how habitual it can become. You’ll also know how different it feels to smoke now than it did when you first started. As your tolerance builds, it’s easy for weed to lose its magic, and it’s also easy for it to become a crutch (as well as a drain on your bank account). Despite its many benefits, daily cannabis use is, annoyingly, not without its consequences.
Enter the tolerance break – AKA, a chance to reset both your tolerance and relationship with this innocent little plant. What’s a tolerance break, you ask? DW, we’ve got the answers. (As a disclaimer, the advice given in this column is for recreational cannabis users, and not those who have been medically prescribed cannabis to help deal with physical and mental health issues.)
WHAT IS A TOLERANCE BREAK?
A tolerance break, explains Paul North, an ex-drug treatment worker and director of the harm reduction advocacy site Volteface, is like “pressing the reset button” on your body, allowing it to get back to a “standard level of functioning”.
“The more you use a drug, the more your body gets used to breaking it down and dealing with it,” he says. “With cannabis, and many other drugs, after using it for a period of time, you start to develop a level of tolerance, and the more you use, the more your tolerance increases.” A tolerance break is a chance to get the drug either partially or completely out of your system before reintroducing it into your routine.
The point is that, when you do smoke again, your tolerance will be lower, and you’ll get the same effect from less. It’s also a good way to reset your relationship with cannabis and make sure you aren’t using it problematically.
HOW LONG DOES THE BREAK NEED TO LAST?
While it varies from person to person, North says that it takes around 21 to 30 days for THC – the psychoactive compound in cannabis – to leave your system. “It's worth noting that your body gradually gets cannabis out of its system, so some people might notice a difference in just one week, but it won’t fully leave your system for at least 21 days,” he adds.
However, there is some research that suggests that for people who use a high quantity of cannabis daily, it may be detectable in the body for several months after stopping.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS?
The general consensus among cannabis smokers is that weed is completely harmless. For the most part, that’s true, but – let’s be real! – prolonged use is not without consequences.
First of all, it’s true that smoking cannabis, even recreationally, can reap some medicinal benefits, like reduced pain and anxiety. But, says North, if someone is smoking cannabis every single day and they haven’t been medically prescribed it, it’s likely they’re using it as a crutch. “One of the consequences of doing it all the time is that it becomes a habit, and it can be very easy to use cannabis as a way of stopping you actually dealing with and processing something else,” he says. “I think that is a little bit of a trap that people fall into and why tolerance breaks are really important.” Essentially, tolerance breaks can be a good way to find out if you actually are using cannabis to avoid dealing with something and, if you are, you can figure out a way to address it without smoking.
‘Once someone’s got a high tolerance, it just becomes a routine, a habit, and they’re not doing it or using the drug for the initial reason as to why they came across it’ – Paul North
For North, the number benefit of taking a tolerance break is that it allows users to reconnect with the reason they’re using cannabis in the first place. “Once someone’s got a high tolerance, it just becomes a routine, a habit, and they’re not doing it or using the drug for the initial reason as to why they came across it,” he says. Taking a break can give you some perspective, and will help to inform how you want to use cannabis going forward.
Another benefit of taking a t-break is that you can probably save a decent amount of money if you aren’t picking up every three days. “Once someone starts using a drug every day, and their tolerance starts to increase, for that person to get the same level of enjoyment or pleasure out of using that drug, they have to start using more,” says North. “It can become very expensive”.
Plus, if you smoke with tobacco, taking a break from cannabis is a great way to cut down on nicotine, which is up there as one of the most harmful drugs to consume, especially regularly.
HOW DO I KNOW IF I NEED A TOLERANCE BREAK?
If you’re a regular cannabis user and you’ve never taken a tolerance break, you definitely should, says North: “It’s just good to check in with yourself and see how it feels.”
That said, there are some good indicators for when it’s time to take a tolerance break. Firstly, if it’s stopped being fun, and you’re just using it for the sake of using it, that’s probably a good time to stop. This also goes for when you aren’t really feeling the effects anymore. “If you know you’re stoned, but you don’t really feel stoned, that would suggest that your use is quite high, and it’s a good time to take a break,” says North. Similarly, if you find yourself using more and more cannabis in the same amount of time, that’s a good reason to take a break, not least because of the costs you’ll be accumulating.
‘If you know you’re stoned, but you don’t really feel stoned, that would suggest that your use is quite high, and it’s a good time to take a break’
Importantly, if you feel that your mental health is being negatively impacted by your cannabis usage, that’s a really good indicator that you need to take a break. “Regular THC use can cause anxiety and paranoia in some people and create quite negative experiences,” adds North. “If someone starts to feel paranoid or worried about their mental health, that’s a really good sign to take a break.” Essentially, if the cons start outweighing the pros, you may need to reevaluate your use.
DEALING WITH CANNABIS WITHDRAWALS
It’s important to note that the evidence on cannabis withdrawals is extremely mixed, and while some people will swear they can quit cold turkey with no real issues, others have a much different experience.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), which serves as the principal authority for psychiatric diagnoses in the USA, the withdrawal symptoms associated with long-term cannabis use may include irritability and anger, nervousness or anxiety; sleep difficulty, decreased appetite or weight loss, restlessness and depressed mood. There are also the withdrawals from nicotine that could occur if you only smoke tobacco with cannabis, which are pretty much the same as cannabis withdrawal symptoms.
To deal with things like mood swings and sleep issues, make sure you have people in your life with who you can talk about the emotions you’re feeling. Try also to implement a healthy nighttime routine and practise basic sleep hygiene (like no screens 30 minutes before bed, for example) to make things easier.
If you’re a heavy cannabis user, Paul recommends potentially taking a gradual approach to your tolerance break. “I’d always advise gradual reduction and an implementation of a different routine – different set of rituals and behaviours to partake in,” he says. “Things like exercising, eating well, hanging around with people you trust and enjoy being with, alongside a reduction in use, will help to create the smoothest possible transition.”