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Suck or chew? With cannabis edibles, method matters

November 5, 2019
sublingual vs edibles dosing; woman holding candy on tongue
Jesse Milns/Leafly

When it comes to edibles, there are different ways to dose, and we’re not talking about cookies versus brownies. Edible cannabis products can be consumed orally, meaning they are swallowed, or sublingually, meaning they are held under the tongue to be absorbed directly into the bloodstream.

Typically, food products containing cannabis are intended for oral dosing, while sprays, tinctures, and oils may be used sublingually or orally. Some companies are even producing purpose-built sublingual cannabis strips.

The method of delivery can affect the onset, duration, and intensity of the effects of cannabis. Sublingual dosing offers a fast onset, shorter duration, and lower intensity than traditional oral cannabis edibles, while also offering a discreet, smokeless experience.

What is sublingual administration of cannabis?

Sublingual administration is a method of delivery for many common pharmaceuticals. One of the most well known of these is Ativan, a fast-acting benzodiazepine used to treat acute anxiety. Sublingual administration involves holding the active substance under the tongue for a certain amount of time, usually until the tablet or strip dissolves. Another related drug delivery method is buccal administration, where the active substance is held against the cheek.

The area under the tongue (and the cheeks) can absorb various active substances into the bloodstream. This is similar to inhalation methods, which allow the active compounds to enter the bloodstream through the lungs. This is why sublingual delivery is fast-acting. Importantly, the substance has to be held under the tongue—not on it—and for long enough for its active compounds to dissolve into the bloodstream.

When dosing cannabis sublingually, people usually use products intended for this route of administration, such as sprays, tinctures, oils, or sublingual strips. You could try holding a chewed up cookie under your tongue, but results may vary.

The pharmaceutical cannabinoid medicine Sativex is delivered sublingually via spray. Sprays, tinctures, and oils may also be absorbed orally if they are swallowed. Some people like to hold a product under the tongue and then swallow it for maximal effect.


Do cannabis sublingual strips really work? Yes—here’s how

What is oral administration of cannabis?

Traditional cannabis edibles—foods and drinks infused with cannabinoids—are usually consumed and processed orally. This means that a person swallows the cannabinoids, which are then absorbed in the intestine and processed by the liver.

Many people report edible cannabis to be a more intense experience than inhalation. Researchers believe this is because when THC is eaten, it is converted into 11-hydroxy THC, which is “particularly effective in crossing the blood-brain barrier, resulting in a more intense high.” A 2016 review on cannabis edibles calls 11-hydroxy-THC “a potent psychoactive metabolite,” especially compared with delta-9-THC, the converted form of THC that cannabis consumers experience by smoking, vaping, or sublingual absorption.

“11-OH-THC is more potent than Δ9-THC and appears in blood in higher quantities when Δ9-THC is ingested than when it is inhaled; hence, it may be responsible for the stronger and longer-lasting drug effect of edibles vis-à-vis comparable doses of smoked cannabis,” the review explains.

For some, 11-hydroxy-THC offers a way to stretch the effects of cannabis without having to consume more. For others, the effects might be too intense and undesirable.

Orally-consumed edibles take a while to kick in, because they have to be digested and processed in the gastrointestinal system before entering the bloodstream. If you’ve just had a large meal, it may take even longer for the cannabinoids to begin to affect you. This might mean up to 90 minutes before an edible starts to work, and even longer before it reaches peak effect.

The effects of edibles are also known to last longer than the effects of inhalation methods, and the same is true when compared to sublingual administration.


Less Is More: Why Low-Dose Cannabis Is Important

Sublingual vs. orally ingested cannabis: Pros and cons

Sublingual administration is a convenient, discreet, fast-acting, and smokeless option for both recreational and medical cannabinoid use. Sublingual administration might appeal to someone who is looking for an alternative to edibles that is less intense, shorter, and that kicks in faster.

There are, of course, some downsides to sublingual administration. Consuming cannabis sublingually means a person must purchase specialized products designed for this method of administration, like sprays, tinctures, oils, or sublingual strips. The consumer must also hold the substance under the tongue for a certain amount of time, which may be uncomfortable if they dislike its taste.

In the end, traditional oral cannabis edibles are simpler to consume. But for those who want a smokeless option while avoiding a potentially intense and long-lasting high, or those who need something fast acting, sublingual administration might tick all the boxes.

Learn more about cannabis edibles

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Laura Tennant's Bio Image

Laura Tennant

Laura Tennant is a Toronto freelance science writer. She has an Honours B.Sc. in Neuroscience from the University of Toronto. She hopes her writing will help others make better-informed choices about their health and lifestyle.

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  • Slim2none

    They arrest you if you’re not white in Wisconsin’s dumb punitive gop laws

  • okpkpkp

    I have four tincture bottles sitting on my nightstand right now and had dosed with one right before I came across this article. (I’m in northern California) After 20 years with the same doctor, he retired. Two new ones will absolutely not allow my cannabis use along with opiate use, so I chose the cannabis and a non-opioid pain reliever. After a dozen years on opiates and 53 years (Minus the time I spent in the army) using cannabis, I felt I could get along. Am in my first month of weaning and will have 8 more months before I am off. Can’t wait. Thanks for the info. I learned something.

    • ilcannadad

      Never thought I could get behind tinctures due to the taste and mouth feel. Glad to have found out that not all tinctures are created the same! Highly recommend checking out The Root Of It All tincture line. Tastes great, is all natural and doesn’t have a weird after effect. My tolerance is a little high, so I usually use more than the recommended 3 droppers full (equivalent to about 9mg edible) and still found it tolerable to hold under my tongue for the 1-2 minutes required to absorb. I have their whole product line and love it for everyday usage when I don’t want to feel completely baked. My favorite is the Unwind. Great body high and provides much needed relief from general back/neck pain and a minor knee injury I sustained over the summer.

  • FlunkedAgain

    It’s Winter again. Time for Peppermint Schnapps.

    My Peppermint Schnapps will be Golden Peppermint Schnapps due to the addition of some cannabis tincture.

    • Aprildawn Hale

      That sounds divine!