Cannabinoid Cycling: The Weed Hack You’ve Never Heard About

Having a high tolerance can be frustrating and expensive. But, cannabinoid cycling can improve cannabis sensitivity without going cold turkey.

Sep 28, 2016

You may have heard that it is important to take tolerance breaks. Yet, for some, taking a complete break from cannabis seems like agony. Especially if you’re a medical consumer, you may worry about the resurrection of painful symptoms. Recreational consumers might be wary of withdrawal. Is there a way to make the process easier? Further, is there a way to prevent tolerance to begin with? There may be an answer to these concerns. Here’s the scoop on cannabinoid cycling: the weed hack you’ve never heard about. 

Cannabinoid tolerance

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When your body becomes too inundated with THC over a long period of time, you develop tolerance. When your body receives more THC than is necessary, the cell receptors that THC binds to begin to change. Specifically, the expression of these receptors becomes less dense and some of the receptor connectivity is lost.

These changes are not permanent. They are simply the body’s response to an excess of a certain unneeded compound. Cell receptors become less responsive to THC because there’s a lot of it in your system and you don’t need as much.

Believe it or not, some researchers suggest that there may be some instances when this tolerance is beneficial.  Different areas of the body seem to be more prone to developing tolerance than others.

Yet, these areas of research are still in preliminary investigations, and it is difficult to draw firm conclusions based on these observations.

In general, experienced cannabis consumers can tell whether or not the herb is working for them. If cannabis once stopped your pain and no longer seems effective, you’re probably tolerant to the herb.

Similarly, if cannabis caused a very heady high for you when you first started experimenting with the herb yet no longer does, you have tolerance to thank.

Thus far significantly less research has been done on CBD tolerance. Overall, building up a tolerance to higher levels of CBD is thought to be therapeutic. For example, in clinical trials of the experimental CBD pharmaceutical for epilepsy, Epidiolex, patients gradually worked up to a full dose to build a tolerance for the drug.

Additional research has suggested that CBD is not associated with the same form of tolerance as THC. Yet, as with any substance, there’s always a chance for decreased efficacy over time.

What do I do when I become tolerant?

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If tolerance is causing you trouble or giving you unwanted effects, there are  a couple of things you can do. First is to take a complete tolerance break. This means that you abstain from consuming any cannabis for a select period of time, typically about a week.

Unfortunately, tolerance breaks can be a bit rough. Especially if you’re a regular cannabis consumer. You can go through a bit of withdrawal during that period, which is uncomfortable and irritating. Of course, the more often you take breaks the less likely you are to experience negative symptoms when you wean off the herb.

Yet, there’s another option: cannabinoid cycling.

Cannabinoid Cycling between THC and CBD

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Cannabinoid cycling is when you simply switch dominant cannabinoids. Cannabinoids are the active components in cannabis. For example, if you typically use strains that are high-THC, low-CBD, you switch to a high-CBD, low-THC strain instead. The idea is that you want to try something as opposite as possible from what you have been using.

THC and CBD both have therapeutic effects. Yet, they each interact with the body in different ways. Switching from one dominant cannabinoid to another is sort of like trying a new medication when one ceases to work for you anymore.

However, temporarily switching your strain also gives you a type of “reset”. If you prefer THC to CBD, opting for the latter can give your body a breather and help maintain the effectiveness of the psychoactive. To help you understand why this might be the case, here’s a brief explanation of how these two cannabinoids work.

How THC works

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A major difference between the two cannabinoids is how they interact with cannabinoid receptors. THC is a partial cannabinoid receptor agonist. This means that it directly engages certain receptors on the surface of our cells, sort of like a key into a lock.

Cannabinoid receptors are part of a larger endocannabinoid system. The endocannabinoid system is a large communication network in the body. It helps the body maintain optimum balance. It does this by signalling the go-ahead to various hormones and neurotransmitters in response to certain conditions.

This system regulates all sorts of things, including mood, immune function, metabolism, sleep, and reproduction.

Our bodies naturally produce human versions of THC called endocannabinoids. These endocannabinoids bind to cannabinoid receptors. When we consume THC, the psychoactive takes the place of these endocannabinoids. It fits into the same receptors and causes a cascade of effects, including psychoactivity and hunger.

Simply explained, THC replaces the endocannabinoids that our bodies create naturally. It thus changes our biochemistry.

How CBD works

While THC directly takes the place of the endocannabinoids our bodies naturally produce, CBD acts differently. It has a low affinity to the most common cannabinoid receptors. This means that it doesn’t connect with them so well.

We still have a lot to uncover about CBD’s mechanism of action Yet, we do know that the compound regulates the release of endocannabinoids in your body rather than replace them.

So, instead of substituting cannabis for endocannabinoids,  you’re sort of tricking your body into making more or less of them depending on the circumstance. Simply stated, CBD modulates endocannabinoid tone.

Dr. Ethan Russo, neurologist and Medical Research Director at Phytecs explains this process best in a Cannabis Conversations interview:

[…] In its own right cannabidiol is an endocannabinoid modulator, in other words, when given chronically it actually increases the gain of system, which is, at its core, a homeostatic regulator. To explain that: homeostasis is a state of balance. Many diseases interfere with a balance in a given system and if we can bring that balance back to where it should be there’ll be improvement in the overall condition.

This is one reason that cannabidiol is such a versatile medicine because so many disorders operate on that kind of level. So, if there’s too much activity in a system homeostasis requires that it be brought back down. If there’s too little, it’s got to come up. And that’s what cannabidiol can do as a promoter of endocannabinoid tone, we call it.

Very simply put, when your endocannabinoid system is running a little too hot, CBD cools it down. If it’s sluggish, it will warm it back up. This trait gives the compound unique therapeutic potential.

CBD and receptor sites

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It was mentioned earlier that THC tolerance decreases the density of cannabinoid receptors. A 1993 study found that even a single dose of CBD administration increases receptor density. In the study, researchers treated rats with 10mg of CBD. The receptor density increased by 13% and 19% in certain regions of the brain.

Does this receptor density increase again in humans? We don’t have the research to say. Yet, it is safe to say that CBD and THC each have distinct effects on the body. THC replaces our own endocannabinoids and CBD regulates them.

How often should you cycle cannabinoids?

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“How often should you cycle” is really the million dollar question here. There is far too little research on cannabis in general, let alone pharmacological investigations on cannabinoid cycling. This is where anecdotal evidence, personal experimentation, a doctor’s help, and educated guesses come in.

One major area where cannabinoid cycling seems to be extra important is in cancer treatment. Though it’s always necessary to work with a doctor when using cannabis for cancer, it is common for patients to use cannabis medicines in 90-day stints. After these 90 days, many patients take a break and/or switch the type of cannabis you use.

Ed, who was diagnosed with liver cancer in 2012 has been using cannabis along with several other alternate treatments. On his blog, he and his wife write,

We have also learned that the cancer is smart and it is a good idea to reset the system by taking a break and also switching the variety of cannabis.

Other concerned consumers, too, have reported success with cannabinoid cycling. One user writes in a Grasscity forum,

I tried an experiment where I stopped using high THC strains entirely, and used a high CBD strain instead for a week. The high CBD strain I used was 15% CBD, 7% THC, so there was still some THC in there that may have diminished the effect, but indeed at the end of the week I think my tolerance to THC has gone back down, albeit less than if I had stopped altogether. I need to reproduce this experiment a few times, and I’d like to do it with a more pure CBD strain.

If you’re a medical consumer, you’ll want to ask your doctor about the appropriate time to switch cannabinoids.

Recreational consumers are more or less left to their own devices. However, we are not medical professionals and there is no evidence to say whether or not cycling for that duration is helpful or effective. The best thing you can do is listen to your body and seek the advice of a medical expert.

Have you tried cannabinoid cycling? Share with us on Facebook, Twitter, or in the comments below. We’d love to hear from you.

Sep 28, 2016