The cannabis plant contains dozens of molecular compounds known as “cannabinoids” that can boost all aspects of your health—sleep, mood, appetite, and even pain. Unfortunately, some of these compounds get less and less effective the more you use them. For example, people who take THC-high cannabis to treat pain find they have to keep on increasing the dosage just to feel the same amount of relief. In some cases, they have to take regular “tolerance breaks” to reset the effects back to normal.
This is something that’s concerning to new CBD users. They wonder: is CBD really a good long term solution? Will I need to keep increasing the dose just to feel the same effects? Actually, the opposite is true. The longer you take CBD, the less of it you need to feel its effects. So how does this “reverse tolerance” work? And what does it mean for you? Here’s what research tells us about the relationship between CBD and tolerance.
What is CBD stand for?
CBD stands for cannabidiol. It’s a molecule classified as a “cannabinoid” that can be found in certain types of cannabis plants.
These molecules have a very special effect on the human body. They can bind to receptors of the endocannabinoid system (ECS) to boost its activity. This biological system is responsible for regulating pain, inflammation, stress management, mood, and many more body functions.
With a direct effect on the ECS, CBD is able to treat quite a few symptoms from different conditions. For example, we’ve found that it can:
- Lower the frequency of seizures in people with epilepsy
- Give relief to those with irritable bowel disease (IBD)
- Fight depression, anxiety, and psychosis in those with mental health conditions
- Lower blood pressure
- Help those with arthritis and other joint diseases
Non-prescription CBD products are not currently approved by the FDA. However, research suggests that this molecule is effective in treating a number of conditions. We recommend consulting with a medical professional to see if prescription CBD could help your condition.
Does CBD cause tolerance?
In 2017, two scientists put together years of study into a scientific review called “An Update on Safety and Side Effects of Cannabidiol.” This review taught us some important things about CBD. For example, it showed us that CBD becomes more bioavailable the higher the dose you take. It also showed us that CBD had few side effects and can be considered a safe substance. Finally, it made an important discovery: none of the studies reviewed showed that CBD caused tolerance. After over a decade of researching the effects of CBD on animal and human populations, not one study showed that it created any tolerance.
In fact, CBD may cause something called “reverse tolerance.” The longer you take CBD, the more your body is receptive to the molecule. As a result, you can get away with using smaller and smaller doses, while still experiencing the same benefits.
Some people claim that CBD causes “reverse tolerance” because taking it fixes an endocannabinoid deficit. We know that some people have lower levels of cannabinoids in their bodies. This can lead to a deficiency that makes the endocannabinoid system malfunction. So when these people start taking CBD, they get their stocks of cannabinoids back to normal and experience a quick improvement of their symptoms. With time, they don’t need as much CBD to feel the same effects because their stocks of cannabinoids are less depleted. This is how cbd reverse tolerance occurs, and means they are able to progressively lower the dose while keeping the effects.
The benefits of CBD “reverse tolerance”
Reverse tolerance is one of the things that make CBD so useful as a substitute for many types of medicines. For example, CBD can replace some painkillers as it’s effective in treating inflammatory and neuropathic types of pain. But while conventional painkillers often become less effective with time, CBD can keep on providing the same relief year after year. This is very good news to chronic pain sufferers who often have few good options: they’re usually prescribed products that cause tolerance, that cause addiction (like opioid-based medicines), or that cause liver damage. CBD is a better option as it doesn’t have any of these negative effects.
The same is true for using CBD as a sleeping aid. A lot of sleeping pills traditionally prescribed against insomnia only work for a while. If you take them every night for years, they become less and less effective. So something like CBD that aids sleep but causes no tolerance could be a better alternative.
And in a much more practical sense, CBD oil tolerance is good news because it could save you some money. CBD isn’t cheap, especially if you need to use large quantities of it. But it’s good to know that the longer you take it, the more you are able to reduce the dose. In time, you may be able to keep feeling the health benefits of CBD oil with just a few milligrams a day.
Why does THC cause tolerance but not CBD?
THC is another cannabinoid found in the cannabis plant which also has a lot of health benefits. In addition, THC is the “psychoactive” compound in cannabis, meaning it can make you “high”. People who take THC, for medical or recreational reasons, often find that they need to keep on increasing doses if they want to maintain the same effects. So how come certain cannabinoids like THC cause tolerance while CBD doesn’t? Part of the answer is in the way that these molecules bind to our receptors.
Research has found that THC causes tolerance because using it regularly lowers the sensitivity of CB1 receptors. With time, fewer and fewer CB1 receptors are triggered by THC, which makes the same dose less potent.
CBD binds to the same receptors as THC but in a slightly different way. The two molecules have a structure that’s almost identical, except for one major difference: CBD has a hydroxyl group where THC has a cyclic ring. We think this difference in structure explains why they have a different action on CB1 receptors.
As a result, THC has the ability to lower the sensitivity of CB1 receptors while CBD doesn’t.
It seems that the more we study CBD, the more we realize how beneficial it is compared to conventional synthetic drugs. Today, research is showing that CBD doesn’t cause tolerance, even when it’s taken daily. In fact, many people report experiencing a “reverse tolerance” from taking CBD. For those who need relief from a chronic condition, this makes CBD an attractive option.
Study on CBD and tolerance
2017 study on the safety, side effects, and tolerance caused by CBD
2016 study on the potential role of endocannabinoid deficiency in common syndromes
Study on THC and tolerance
1976 study on the mechanisms of THC tolerance
CBD for pain
2012 study on the effects of CBD for pain management (inflammatory and neuropathic)
CBD for insomnia
2019 study on CBD for anxiety and sleep