Tolerance & Absorption: How Cannabis Interacts with the Body

Posted by Amber on Jan 13th 2024

Tolerance & Absorption: How Cannabis Interacts with the Body

Tolerance & Absorption

If you feel like the cannabis medicine you use isn’t as effective as it once was, it may be time to take a break. You could have a higher tolerance, leading you to consume more. If you have been using cannabis medicine for a while and think you might have developed a tolerance to cannabis, read on to learn more.

For those who are new to consuming cannabis, you may find the section on absorption to be helpful.

How Cannabis Interacts with the Body

In order to understand how cannabis interacts with the body, we first need to know about receptors and the endocannabinoid system.

Endocannabinoid system: a complex system that signals cells that carry out a wide range of functions.

  • Our bodies produce two endocannabinoids, anandamide (AEA) and 2-arachidonoylglyerol (2-AG).
  • This system allows for the human body to process chemicals from the cannabis plant called cannabinoids like THC and CBD.

Receptors are what the cannabinoids bind to and are responsible for creating signals for the endocannabinoid system to create a response. There are two main kinds of endocannabinoid receptors:

  • CB1, found in central nervous system
  • CB2, found in the peripheral nervous system.

These can be found all over the body with CB1 receptors being mostly located in the brain on nerve cells and spinal cord but also over areas like digestive, urinary, reproductive and endocrine systems. On the other hand, CB2 receptors are located in white blood cells (although CB1 receptors are sometimes found there as well). CB2 receptors are important for the immune system and are also part of the tonsils and spleen. Endocannabionds will signal to these receptors what is happening in the body.

By supplementing cannabinoids, we can help these systems in our body work better but over time receptors may lose their sensitivity. This is more so true with THC use than CBD, as CBD has a lower binding ability with our receptors compared to THC.

Taking a Tolerance Break

If you are a consistent cannabis user and the products you use aren’t affecting you in the same way anymore, then it may be time to give your receptors a break. Taking as little as a three day break from supplementing cannabis medicine could be enough to see some of the effects return. Although, if you want a true restart, three weeks without may be needed. Additionally, you may want to reduce your rate of consumption or change what products you use.

Things to keep in mind when taking a tolerance break are to keep well hydrated and active. If you are consuming a higher amount of THC, you may experience some withdrawal symptoms.


Absorption is a factor to consider when understanding how cannabis affects your body.

There are many ways that someone can use cannabis like as an edible, sublingually, by smoking and with topical products. Each has a different onset time and duration. Additionally, individuals may find one works better for their body than the others.


Edibles refer to food products that cannabis has been infused in. Gummies are a popular choice along with other candies and even coffee and teas. The type of food may change the effect slightly but in general, edibles take around an hour to absorb in the body and can last for several hours. The duration will vary depending on the person. Some individuals may naturally have a digestive system that is sensitive and absorbs things easily while others may find that taking edibles does not work as well for them. Some of the other methods are preferred in this case or if a fast onset is needed.


Sublingual absorption takes place under the tongue and refers to tinctures or oils. The terms tincture and oil are often used interchangeably in conversation but are technically different. Tincture is technically used to describe extracts that have been made by steeping something (like cannabis) in alcohol.

When we use a product for sublingual absorption, it is meant to be held under the tongue for a minute or two before swallowing. This allows the active ingredient of that product to pass through the tissue there and into the bloodstream.

One benefit of using a product sublingually is the faster onset time they have as effects will start to take place 15-30 minutes after use. Sublingual products don’t last as long in the body as edibles and may need to be used a few times a day. For some people, this method is preferred if they wish to break up the amount they are taking.


Inhalation is the absorption type with the fastest onset. When someone smokes or vapes, the active ingredient of that product gets into the bloodstream from the lungs in a matter of minutes. With smoking, you are burning plant matter and inhaling. With vaping, a substance is heated to create vapor that is breathed in. Vaping is safer than smoking but can still cause harm. Despite potential impacts on lung and heart health, many people still choose to smoke or vape because of their efficiency. Additionally, products that are inhaled wear off faster than edibles so those with a lower tolerance may prefer to consume this way.


Topical products come in a range of applications including lotions, creams, balms, salves and oils. Topicals are helpful for pain relief and skin conditions. Cannabinoids in topical products bind to receptors in the skin, providing relief for targeted areas. Topicals can be used by themselves or can be used in addition to one of the other methods listed above. Also, they are a great option for those who are hesitant to use other kinds of cannabis products.


Whether you have been using cannabis medicine for a long time, or are just getting started it is important to listen to your body. We recommend checking in with yourself; keeping a journal can be helpful to understand how these supplements work with your body. If your rate of consumption has increased over time, a break might be in order. When you start up again, consider switching up the products used and work to find the lowest effective dose for you. At Happy Trails, we are happy to answer any questions you have and consult with you on new products.


My name is Amber. I am a cannabinoid consultant and columnist for Happy Trails. I have a Bachelor of Science in Biology, I enjoy learning about things I have passion for, and my family lovingly calls me a “human encyclopedia”. 

FDA Disclosure The statements made regarding these products have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The efficacy of these products has not been confirmed by FDA-approved research. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.