Learn the difference between two primary cannabis application methods: sublingual versus edible cannabis consumption, and how they each can impact you and your body very differently with different bioavailability rates, onset and duration times, and overall experiences.
Different Consumption Methods Will Affect You Differently
I wrote this post in response to a question I receive often in my Well With Cannabis Facebook Community.
"I had a question about which would the fastest method be for the "high" to come on. Say are brownies taking longer than gummies? Or if you just dropped the oil under your tongue direct, would this speed up the process?"Well With Cannabis Facebook Community Member
Yes, the way you consume cannabis will definitely influence how soon you feel the effect and how strong you may feel it.
For example, you may feel the effects with a tincture in as little as 15 minutes when left under the tongue, but it may take 1-3 hours to feel the effect if you swallow it.
The difference here is the absorption and bioavailability rates, onset, and duration times of each method.
Bioavailability refers to "to the extent a substance or drug becomes completely available to its intended biological destination" (1).
We will review both the sublingual and edible consumption methods in detail below, explaining how and why each method can affect you differently so you can pick the one that's right for you.
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General Cannabis Application Methods
There are many different ways to consume cannabis, from eating and drinking cannabis edibles to smoking and vaping to transdermal patches and suppositories.
Many people quickly realize that eating cannabis edibles affects them much differently than smoking or other consumption methods.
This can be a good or a bad thing, depending on your desired experience.
There are 4 main cannabis application methods:
- Sublingual Application – oil-based tincture, alcohol-based tincture, or FECO held under the tongue for absorption
- Edible Consumption – cannabis edibles, cannabis drinks, pills, and capsules, orally consumed via swallowing
- Topical Application – topical cannabis products applied directly to the skin
- Inhalation Consumption – inhalation via vaping cannabis oil, smoking flower, or using a dry herb vaporizer
Like all things in cannabis, choosing a perfect application method is highly unique to each person because we all respond to cannabis differently based on our unique endocannabinoid systems.
Additionally, each strain of cannabis flower is likely to induce variable effects depending on the specific cannabinoid and terpene profile.
You will want to choose an application method by evaluating the pros and cons of each method's bioavailability, onset and duration times, and benefits and effects and then compare them to your personal lifestyle needs.
I recommend that you try all types of consumption methods to find which one is best for you.
Sublingual vs. Edible Consumption
Here, we will explore sublingual vs. edible cannabis consumption because the two methods often get confused but can have a big difference between them.
This is the difference between holding an oil or tincture under your tongue vs. simply swallowing it.
While the difference is small, the different effects can be quite noticeable.
1. Sublingual Application (Under the Tongue)
Sublingual, meaning under the tongue, involves holding oil or tincture under your tongue to be absorbed by our mucous membranes into the body.
There is a dense concentration of capillaries under the tongue and around the mouth, so products held in the mouth are delivered directly to the bloodstream, making sublingual administration quick and easy (2).
Some people prefer this method due to the quick absorption rate and high bioavailability rate of around ~30%, producing a quicker, more effective absorption into the bloodstream.
For this application method, it is recommended to hold the oil or tincture under your tongue or inside your cheek for as long as possible for the best results and most efficient absorption.
Many people like this method because the typical onset time starts fairly quickly, between 15-30 minutes. The typical duration time lasts for an average of 2-4 hours.
The cannabinoids in the oil or tincture are then absorbed into the bloodstream and circulate throughout the bloodstream, affecting the whole body.
This method bypasses digestion and the first-pass metabolism in the liver, unlike with edibles.
Sublingual Pros & Cons
- Bioavailability rate: ~30%
- Onset time: 15-30 minutes
- Duration time: 2-4 hours
- Effects: systemic (circulates through the whole body)
- Pros: higher bioavailability rate, quick absorption times
- Cons: taste and or burn can be a problem for some people
2. Edible Consumption (Swallowing Cannabis)
Edibles, also known as oral cannabis consumption, involves eating cannabis that is ingested and then processed through the gastrointestinal tract.
Edible Pros & Cons
- Bioavailability rate: ~6-10%
- Onset time: 30-90 minutes
- Duration time: 4-8 hours
- Effects: systemic (circulates through the whole body), passes through the digestive system to produce 11-OH-THC
- Pros: long-lasting, convenient & delicious
- Cons: lower bioavailability rate means that you may need to take more milligrams to achieve the desired effect
Eaten THC Becomes 11-OH-THC
Unlike sublingual absorption, edible consumption is a bit more complicated.
This is because the ingested cannabinoids pass through the digestive system.
Once the cannabis is eaten and digested, the THC is absorbed into the bloodstream and travels to the liver, where it undergoes the hepatic first-pass metabolism.
During this process, enzymes hydroxylate THC (Δ9-THC) to form 11-hydroxytetrahydrocannabinol (11-OH-THC), a potent psychoactive metabolite that readily crosses the blood-brain barrier (3).
This means that eating cannabis can provide stronger, more potent, or intoxicating effects in some individuals.
There are even anecdotal reports of people experiencing hallucinogenic effects when too much THC has been consumed.
This potent intoxicating metabolite, 11-OH-THC, causes potentially unwanted (or wanted) side effects for many unknowing cannabis consumers.
This is why with edibles, it is so important to be careful of accidental excess cannabis intake by overeating.
Because edibles affect the body differently than sublingual application, you must exercise caution when initiating dosing.
It is recommended to start with the lowest amounts possible and titrate until you determine how the edible affects you.
Because dosing of edible products varies considerably among individuals, start low, and go slow!
Edibles Have a Delayed Onset
It can be difficult, potentially dangerous, and time-consuming for you to find your ideal cannabis edible dosage.
It is even more difficult to determine how the consumed product will affect you and how long the effects will last.
One reason is that the delayed onset time of cannabis consumption makes it difficult to know when the desired effect is produced.
Orally ingested cannabis is slower to take effect, with the typical onset time ranging anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours, or even longer, depending on the individual.
While the effects of consumed cannabis are delayed because of the passage through the liver, they tend to manifest stronger and last longer with a peak onset of noticeable effects setting between 1 to 3 hours post-consumption.
The lasting effects of cannabis edibles can last anywhere from 6 to 8 hours or more and vary gratefully from person to person.
Other Factors That Impact Oral Absorption
Individual physiological factors, such as absorption rates, rates of metabolism and excretion, and body weight, can affect the bioavailability of cannabinoids that also vary from person to person.
THC degradation in the stomach:
- Stomach acidity degrades a portion of ingested THC
- A highly acidic stomach will degrade more THC
- A less acidic stomach will degrade less THC
- Stomach acidity decreases with age
- Affected by frequently prescribed oral pharmaceutical antacids – H1 blockers: cimetidine, or Tagamet; proton pump inhibitors: omeprazole, or Prilosec; + OTC antacids (Tums)
Note: Some People Do Not Feel The Effects of Edibles
It is important to note that a portion of the population report feeling no effect from cannabis edibles at all.
This may be because they lack the enzyme (or enough of the enzymes) needed to convert Δ9-THC → 11-OH-THC or due to digestive differences.
Conclusion and Comparison Chart
In conclusion, sublingual vs edible consumption can have some pretty big differences when it comes down to how they will make you feel.
Sublingual, or holding something under the tongue, will act more quickly and have a higher bioavailability rate.
On the other hand, edible consumption can be a bit more unpredictable, with longer onset and duration times, and a potential for the THC to be turned into 11-OH-THC by the liver.
Ultimately, I recommend giving both a try to see which method is right for you!
|Bioavailability Rate:||~30%||~10% (but can be more potent)|
|Average Onset Time:||15-30 minutes||30-90 minutes|
|Average Duration Time:||2-4 hours||4-8 hours|
|Effects:||Systemic, circulates through the whole body||Systemic, circulates through the |
whole body, passes through the digestive system to produce 11-OH-THC
|Potential Pros:||Higher bioavailability rate, quicker onset times||Long-lasting, discrete convenient and delicious|
|Potential Cons:||Taste and burn can be an issue for some||Lower bioavailability rate means you may need to consume more|
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