Do You Develop a Tolerance to CBD?

Author: Jason Beverly

Thanks to the surge in popularity of cannabis-based products such as cannabidiol (CBD), there has never been a better time to consider botanical therapies for myriad conditions and symptoms, or for general health purposes. Because of a shift in public sentiment along with growing political momentum, legal cannabis-based products no longer carry the same magnitude of stigma as in prior generations.

That said, the same concerns and reservations that people have toward any material that they put into their body applies to cannabidiol. And one of the biggest questions that have risen from botanical newcomers is the possibility of developing a tolerance to CBD-infused products. Typically, most people develop a tolerance toward medication, whereby extra doses are needed to achieve the same impact of the prior introductory dosage.

woman using a dropper with cbd oil in it

It’s a logical concern primarily because CBD products aren’t exactly cheap. While increased competition has made the price point increasingly accessible, high-quality cannabidiol remains a sizable health investment. Moreover, certain products, such as CBD isolates or especially broad spectrum CBD are usually pricier than their “native” full spectrum counterpart. Thus, developing a tolerance to CBD can start hurting the wallet, especially if higher dosages are required.

Additionally, the cannabinoid tetrahydrocannabinol or THC is known to create issues with dosage tolerance. As end-users smoke, vape or consume THC-laced materials, they receive a “high.” But to get the same effect over frequent uses requires a heavier total material load, making recreational marijuana an expensive form of expression.

Since CBD and THC are both cannabinoids of the cannabis sativa plant, they have incredible similarities. In fact, both CBD and THC share the same molecular structure: 21 carbon atoms, 30 hydrogen atoms, and 2 oxygen atoms. The only difference is in the arrangement of the atoms. But that makes a world of difference, as you’ll learn below:

CBD versus THC Tolerance

Despite the similarities between CBD and THC, the one key area where they differ is how they react to our bodies’ endocannabinoid system. Inside our central nervous system, along with the peripheral nervous system (and various organs) are endocannabinoid receptors, called CB1 and CB2. The former is found mostly in the central nervous system while the latter is commonly found in the peripheral nervous system.

THC is amazingly potent – in fact, it’s the most potent cannabinoid – because it binds directly to CB1 receptors. As a result, THC changes the chemistry in the brain, resulting in among other factors the stereotypical high. Too much THC and you suffer from what end-users colloquially refer to as a “bad trip.”

But that’s not the only reason why many seeking the cannabis plant’s medicinal benefits eschew THC for non-psychoactive cannabinoids like CBD. Frequent or excess THC use or consumption may impose a deleterious effect on the number of CB1 receptors. Therefore, addicted users must indulge in larger doses to achieve the high they used to experience on their maiden hit.

On the other hand, CBD binds to CB1 receptors in a different, “less intensive” manner. Furthermore, CBD has been demonstrated in many cases to increase the number of CB1 receptors. This suggests that fewer doses are required for frequent users of cannabidiol.

But how can this possibly make sense?

CBD and “Reverse Tolerance”

Explore the topic of CBD tolerance and you’ll eventually come across the concept of “reverse tolerance.” Seemingly taking a page out of a science fiction novel, reverse tolerance suggests that as end-users continue to use CBD-infused products, their tolerance for the organic compound declines.

In other words, the more CBD you take, the less dosage you’ll need to receive the same maiden health benefits. Is this merely crazy talk? It turns out that this isn’t as fantastical as you might initially assume.

As mentioned above, THC has a deleterious impact on endocannabinoid receptors, either reducing their numbers or their effectiveness over time. On the other hand, CBD has the exact opposite effect, increasing endocannabinoid receptor numbers or efficacy. In part, this helps explain why many exclusive CBD users experience reverse tolerance.

Interestingly, when CBD binds to endocannabinoid receptors (particularly CB1 receptors), this transmission prevents THC from binding to the affected receptor. And that’s one of the reasons why people can take full spectrum CBD – or CBD that contains all cannabinoids, including a trace amount of THC (less than 0.3% content) – without getting a high.

Yes, the overwhelming volume of CBD and other non-THC cannabinoids “overwhelm” THC. But in addition, the CBD prevents whatever THC is “roaming free” from impacting your central nervous system. CBD’s ability to essentially blockade THC may also be a contributing factor for this phenomenon known as reverse tolerance.

Lastly, with CBD heightening the overall efficacy of endocannabinoid receptors, the cannabinoid not only improves the immediate effect but also promotes sustained activity. As a result, you don’t need to take additional doses of CBD: your endocannabinoid receptors are already in motion after frequent use, hence reverse tolerance.

Can You Have Your Cake and Eat It Too?

From the above experiences of many end-users, cannabidiol appears like the best of both worlds: you get the effectiveness and confidence of using naturally sourced organic therapies while reaping the (financial) benefits of progressive efficacy of CBD dosages.

However, does that mean you should jump aboard the cannabidiol wagon? We believe that CBD-infused therapies offer tremendous benefits, primarily because of their organic properties but also because they’ve delivered strong evidence of their effectiveness. So yes, CBD as a platform for holistic benefits is an attribute for which we stand.

That said, we don’t suggest buying CBD solely for the reverse tolerance effect. Like any claims involving cannabis-based therapies, scientific quantification is only starting to take place. As such, federal entities like the Food and Drug Administration don’t make claims of specific treatment cures and will strictly enforce this mandate against any manufacturer or retailer who suggests otherwise.

Put another way, more research needs to be conducted – including extensive peer reviews – before anyone can say for sure whether the reverse tolerance concept is valid science.

More importantly, CBD impacts individuals differently. In part, this is because some individuals have more active endocannabinoid receptors than others. Thus, manufacturers recommend that first-time botanical users start slowly with their CBD dosages, then ramp up accordingly.

For reverse tolerance of CBD, the same concept applies: some folks may experience while others may not. Indeed, some might experience normal tolerance dynamics toward CBD. It truly depends on the individual’s internal constitution. Therefore, as with any CBD regimen, slow and steady is the best course of action.  We recommend that users educate themselves through CBD Guides and documented studies as the industry continues to progress.

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About Jason Beverly

Jason Beverly is the Digital Marketing Director of The CBD Benefits, an informational website helping people learn about CBD. He's been researching, developing and writing about CBD & other cannabinoids for over 5 years. Jason uses CBD daily to treat for pain, anxiety and depression.

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