Does Taking CBD Too Often Cause Tolerance?
We all know that taking too much THC produces tolerance—but can the same be said for CBD? CBD has a wide range of medical applications, and it’s important to know whether these become less effective over time. To find out, we’ll dive into the effects of CBD on CB1 receptors, and examine the research in question.
These days, CBD is more and more being seen as a wonder drug, and has shown effectiveness at treating epilepsy, alleviating anxiety, improving symptoms of arthritis, and reducing the risk of diabetes  . Whether you take it in a tincture, smoke it in flower form, or swallow it in pills, CBD is a wonderful addition to any health-conscious person’s repertoire. But is there such thing as too much CBD? Can ingesting this cannabinoid too often build tolerance to its positive effects?
To answer these questions, we’ll begin with a brief overview of tolerance formation.
WHAT IS TOLERANCE?
Tolerance is the process by which one has to increase one’s use of a drug to get the same effects one had to begin with. Tolerance is distinct from addiction or dependence, which is the compulsive use of a drug, or the need to keep taking a drug to feel “normal”. Tolerance can form through multiple mechanisms: cellular, where the cell becomes less responsive to the substance; metabolic, where less of the substance reaches the site of interaction; behavioural, where the user becomes accustomed to the substance’s effects.
A LOOK AT THC
As pot smokers will attest, regular use of THC builds tolerance—seasoned smokers will find themselves consuming many times as much as new users. Further, tolerance develops unevenly and also varies depending on individual physiology. As such, the full experience of getting high will be different the more one smokes. Many regular users take “T-breaks” or switch strains to recharge their tolerance after heavy use.
THC tolerance happens mainly through the cells. THC works by binding with CB1 receptors in the brain. When this happens repeatedly, the cells try to reverse the effect and maintain normal CB1 activity. They accomplish this through two main methods: the first is called desensitisation, where CB1 receptors start binding to cannabinoids less easily. The second method is called internalisation, and it’s the process by which CB1 receptors are pulled from the surface of the cell into its interior; unlike desensitised receptors, which can still be activated by THC, albeit to a lesser degree, internalised cells become entirely unresponsive.
CBD, however, is a different beast. Unlike THC, it doesn’t get you high, but can encourage a relaxed feeling. CBD is responsible for many of the health benefits associated with cannabis. It also has different effects on your endocannabinoid system, and a very different tolerance profile to THC.
CBD AND YOUR ENDOCANNABINOID SYSTEM
CBD has a different relationship to CB1 than other cannabinoids, acting as an antagonist. Through a form of activity called negative allosteric modulation  , CBD reduces the binding affinity of the CB1 receptors, making them less responsive to other cannabinoids. As such, the effects of CBD work in the opposite direction of THC—instead of over-activating your endocannabinoid system, it gives it a break. And in fact, many issues with the endocannabinoid system may stem from it being overactive—causing issues like anxiety and overeating.
CBD also increases the body’s natural endocannabinoids, since it competes with them for binding proteins which break them both down. CBD can be thought of as a kind of endocannabinoid-reuptake inhibitor.
This combination of antagonising CB1 receptors and increasing natural endocannabinoids produces CBD’s characteristic relaxed, focussed, and “flow state” effects. But can this effects profile be tolerance-forming?
Studies  seem to suggest  that CBD is not tolerance-forming, and may in fact have reverse-tolerance effects; in other words, taking CBD regularly may result in users needing less of the cannabinoid to achieve the same results. It would seem CB1 cells don’t resist negative allosteric modulation in the same way they resist direct intense stimulation. Further, given CBD’s specific relationship to CB1 receptors, it likely helps modulate the tolerance-forming pattern of THC. Pot smokers concerned about tolerance would be wise to add some CBD to their cannabinoid diet.
More research is needed to confirm the “reverse tolerance” hypothesis, but the evidence suggests that CBD users probably don’t need to worry about tolerance. This really is remarkable, especially given CBD’s wide range of medicinal effects; many of the issues it addresses are currently being treated with heavy pharmaceuticals that are themselves tolerance-forming. CBD’s lack of tolerance-building is yet another compelling point in favour of this miracle cannabinoid.
CBD has an incredible range of health benefits, but does taking it too often cause tolerance? We'll compare possible tolerance-forming effects of CBD and THC.
Can I Build up a Tolerance to CBD?
“I’m using CBD on a regular basis, kind of like a vitamin, but will I start to build up a tolerance and eventually need to take more CBD to get the same benefits?” For the savvy person using CBD for therapeutic benefits, concerns about CBD tolerance is a fair one given that THC (the psychoactive component in marijuana) is well-known for building up tolerance in users. But when it comes to CBD, the answer is a straight-up “no”.
“ I’m taking CBD products on a regular basis but will I start to build up a tolerance and eventually need to take more CBD to get the same benefits? ” For the savvy person using CBD for its powerful benefits, concerns about CBD tolerance is a fair one given that THC (the psychoactive component in marijuana) is well-known for building up tolerance in users. But when it comes to CBD, the answer is a straight-up “no”.
In fact, when it comes to CBD, in some cases the opposite is true (known as reverse tolerance ). It’s crucial to have all the facts on hand so you can continue to take CBD with confidence and assurance so let’s break this down:
Tolerance? Reverse Tolerance? Huh?
Tolerance occurs when you start to see less benefits with a previously effective amount. The result of developing a tolerance is that you start to need more of something to get the same desired effect.
Reverse tolerance, also called drug sensitization, means that less of something is needed to get to the same end point. This is the opposite of tolerance. A smaller dose is needed and, in some cases, continues to slowly decrease.
Why Does THC Cause Tolerance?
Research shows that long-term and regular use of THC results in users building up a tolerance because of the way that it binds directly to the body’s endocannabinoid receptors . These receptors are part of the endocannabinoid system which controls the immune system, nervous system, and mood. In particular, THC binds strongly to the CB1 receptor in the brain (hence the mind-altering experience) and chronic THC users have fewer cannabinoid receptors over time, therefore needing more THC to get the same result.
Why Doesn’t CBD Cause Tolerance (When THC Does)?
Even though CBD and THC come from the same cannabis plant species, CBD does not cause tolerance because it doesn’t work by binding to the cannabinoid receptors in the same way that THC does. CBD avoids the problem of tolerance altogether and, unlike THC which reduces cannabinoid receptors over time, CBD actually promotes increased receptor activity. In fact, some people have reported that after a few months of CBD with desired results, they find that they don’t need as much, and decrease their dose without the loss of effects (hello, reverse tolerance!).
OK, So Where Does This Leave Me? How Much CBD Should I Take?
Everyone’s body is different depending on your genetic makeup—which is why figuring out the correct dosage of CBD requires some personal experimentation. Now, assuming you’re using a high-quality CBD product (and not fake CBD ), take a look at our helpful CBD dosage post to begin to work out your CBD “sweet spot”.
Understanding tolerance and reverse tolerance when it comes to CBD is another crucial part of your wellness journey. Having all the facts to hand, being able to troubleshoot when needed, dispelling CBD myths , and ultimately getting to know your body’s unique set of responses will continue to put you in the power seat to wellbeing and, ultimately, peace of mind.
Learn about CBD reverse tolerance and find out why you don't need to increase your CBD dosage to get the same therapeutic benefits over time.