The concept of a drug holiday is standard medical practice for chronic users of pharmaceutical medications. Physicians use this abstinence tactic for a variety of reasons, including: limiting side effects of a medicine or allowing a patient to maintain sensitivity to a drug’s effect. When using cannabis, we often talk about tolerance: the need for greater and greater amounts to achieve the same desired effect, be it for pain relief or simply to get high. I would like to recommend the drug holiday concept for chronic cannabis users as a way to modulate the endocannabinoid system (ECS) and save the consumer some hard-earned cash.
The central piece of the ECS that is important to cannabis consumption is THC binding to the CB1 receptor. As previously discussed in CBE, this binding is what leads to the psychoactivity (or, the high) of cannabis consumption. With chronic cannabis use, the receptors are downregulated, or reduced in number, at the cell surface at sites of action. This reduced response means that over time it requires more THC to bind to the receptors for an equal effect, all the while spending more and more money.
So, how can cannabis users save money and still get the same high? Start taking a weekly cannabis break (or holiday, as they say in England)!
A scientific study of male volunteers who were either moderate, but chronic, cannabis users or non-users found that they had 15% less receptors expressed on their cells at baseline than the control group. Following a mere 2 days of abstinence, upregulation of the CB1 receptors was evident. This increase in receptor number was not statistically different from the control group, demonstrating the benefit of the drug holiday. There were, however, withdrawal symptoms noted in the chronic users at 2 days of abstinence.
In order to assess the effects of cannabis abstinence on consumption habits “in the wild,” we recruited two volunteers. Both users are males in their early 50’s who consume cannabis daily for anxiety- and stress-reduction, primarily by smoking flower or vape pens. They are utilizing a Sunday night to Wednesday morning abstinence period with unlimited cannabis consumption allowed during other times. They have been following this consumption schedule for three months and are finding substantial reductions in overall cannabis consumption. Both have maintained an 80% reduction in cannabis consumption compared with pre-implementation of the weekly cannabis holiday. They can achieve the psychoactive effects they desire, while saving money at the same time. While this is a pilot study with a small number of subjects, it suggests this method of abstinence has merit.
One of the questions discussed with the subjects was, “what methods of anxiety- and stress-reduction could you utilize during the periods of cannabis abstinence?” During the hiatus of cannabis use, other techniques such as meditation, yoga or deep-breathing exercises can be effective. If these or similar alternative modalities are effective during the cannabis holiday periods, lower cannabis consumption can be maintained indefinitely.
Lower the cannabis user’s tolerance over time, increase the effectiveness of the user’s cannabis consumption. Enjoy your holiday!