Cannabis Made Clear

Consuming Cannabis: Oral Absorption

Cannabis can be consumed in many ways, each with its own pros and cons. Discover how consuming cannabis orally affects the way it works in your body.  

Not to be confused with ingesting edibles, consuming cannabis orally means absorbing the plant’s cannabinoids through the mucous membranes in your mouth, specifically under your tongue (sublingually) or in your cheek (buccally). Oral consumption influences the way your body interacts with cannabis, so read on to learn how much you should consume, the timing of effects and ways to reduce the risks.

Oral Absorption
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Method

Oral absorption of cannabis involves taking cannabis by mouth, such as by holding oil under your tongue or sucking on a dissolvable tablet. This is different from ingesting cannabis by consuming an infused baked good or beverage, for example, or by swallowing a capsule. When absorbed orally, the cannabinoids travel through the mucosal layer under the tongue or in the cheek and into the bloodstream. Absorbing cannabinoids orally is said to be sometimes slow and erratic.

Dosage

When considering how much to take, it’s always best to start low and go slow. Begin with a low dose, such as about 0.2 mL of oil, and wait 30 minutes to two hours to determine the effects before consuming more. Consider recording your reactions and monitoring them to fully understand how much cannabis to use to achieve the desired effect. You might also opt for an oil with low THC (Health Canada suggests 2.5 mg per dose).

Timing

When consuming cannabis orally, the effects can be felt slowly and irregularly — within 30 minutes or up to two hours. Effects generally peak after about two hours and can last up to 24 hours.

When shopping for cannabis products for oral absorption (like ingestible extracts), keep an eye out for products with phrases like “fast-acting” or “quick-onset”. These products are sometimes formulated through nanoemulsification to produce effects sooner than in standard edibles — potentially within 10 minutes. Keep in mind that different products will affect everyone differently, and these are only guidelines.


WHAT IS A NANOEMULSION?

A nanoemulsion refers to cannabinoids that are broken down into microscopic molecules that are suspended in a lipid, or fat, allowing them to travel to their desired destination in the body more quickly and in greater quantities (scientifically, this is called having “higher bioavailability”). Instead of being gradually metabolized in the liver and stomach, these tiny cannabinoids move directly into the bloodstream, producing a faster onset of effects. It’s important to note that research into the nanoemulsification of cannabinoids and the potential effects is ongoing.


Reducing risk

Consuming cannabis orally is not without risks. Avoid combining cannabis with other substances, such as alcohol and tobacco. Doing so could lead to unwanted effects, and mixing alcohol and cannabis can compound the risk of impairment.

When the effects of cannabis take time to be felt — as in the case of cannabis that’s ingested or consumed orally — it is recommended to avoid driving for at least six hours, as residual effects such as drowsiness may be felt for up to 24 hours after consumption.


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Sources
Consumer Information — Cannabis
Health Canada

7 Things You Need to Know about Edible Cannabis
Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse and Addiction

Evidence statements, Monitoring Health Concerns Related to Marijuana
Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment

Canada’s Lower-Risk Cannabis Use Guidelines (LRCUG)
CAMH

Health effects of cannabis
Health Canada 
Cannabinoid Formulations and Delivery Systems: Current and Future Options to Treat Pain
National Library of Medicine
Nanoemulsion is the process that will make edibles hit you faster
Herb
The Bioavailability of Different Forms of Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid)
Oregon State University

 

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