If you’ve ever smoked a lot of marijuana over an extended period of time, you’ve probably noticed a strange effect. Sometimes, even after years of accumulated tolerance, a new strain or smoking method can knock you over like you’d never toked a joint before in your life.

Marijuana JointThis is not how drug tolerance usually works. If you’re a chronic alcoholic, you build up tolerance over many years of use, so that even large quantities of any kind of booze will barely effect you. The tolerance only drops if you stop drinking, and it doesn’t vary from one type of liquor to the next. So why doesn’t weed work this way?

First, whether you’re talking about marijuana or meth, tolerance is a pretty simple idea, even if it’s much more complicated at the cellular level. As you expose your body to repeated doses of an intoxicating drug, your brain adapts to its presence. If it didn’t, you would be high constantly and wouldn’t be able to feed yourself, let alone hold down a job.

Tolerance is costly

The end result is that it takes more and more of the drug to get you stoned – or even to give you a minimal buzz. For reasons no more complicated than a freshman algebra class, this can be a real problem for users. The more it takes to get high, the more you use. The more you use, the more you risk – and the more it all costs.


Thankfully, the negative consequences of tolerance are very limited when it comes to marijuana. In fact, aside from cost and potential legal troubles, there really aren’t any, unless maybe you count the disappointment of diminished effects.

But it’s still important to keep an eye on your tolerance. If it gets to be too powerful, it may be a sign that you’re using more than is wise. On the other hand, if you’re a medical patient who uses heavily, your tolerance can tell you something about your condition and its treatment.

Heavy marijuana users seldom experience ill effects

green marijuana leafThankfully, there’s an upside to cannabis tolerance. Infrequent users tend to experience more severe side effects when they do toke, whether paranoia, dizziness, or dry mouth. Heavy users, on the other hand, can consume large quantities of marijuana without becoming anxious or experiencing otherwise negative effects.

From a 1993 study on the issue: “Experienced users are capable of consuming enormous quantities of the drug with few or no obvious ill effects. Scores in cognitive tasks, both in human and non-human primate studies, show a paucity of measurable effects associated with chronic use . . . tolerance to most psychoactive and physiological effects does occur in humans when high doses are administered daily.”

And there’s one critical fact to keep in mind: Marijuana tolerance goes away when you stop using. In fact, if you talk to any longtime stoner, they’ll tell you it’s sometimes fun to take a break for a few weeks so you can feel the full effects again when you return.

And while there’s little scientific evidence a change up in supply will affect tolerance – THC is what really matters – many users swear they get a fresh blast when they switch from an old cannabis strain to a new one. Variety, as they say, is the spice of life.


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