Sublingual: Cannabis Under The Tongue

Randy Robinson December 3, 2018 2 comments

Sublingual, or under the tongue, will give fast results.

Back in the day, before all this legalization stuff, most people got their cannabis by smoking flower or hash. Today, there are more options than most of can keep track of: from dabbing to vaping to candies to topical lotions and gels. One method of consuming cannabis that just may be the best bet for rapid response is sublingual application, or under the tongue.

Not many people know this is the proper way to take oil and tinctures, but as consumers become more educated and patients seek better options, sublingual cannabis products are becoming increasingly prevalent by the day.

Sublingual means “under the tongue.” Most sublingual cannabis products use a calibrated device to apply a liquid under the tongue, such as a dropper or spray.

But why would a patient choose to apply cannabis under the tongue instead of orally through an edible or a drink, especially since the latter method is simpler (and tastier)?

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Advantage 1: Faster Onset

Sometimes, you can’t wait an hour or two like one would with edibles. Whether its chronic pain or insomnia, there are always situations where relief is needed right now, no exceptions.

Cannabis applied sublingually bypasses the entire digestive system. Edibles must travel down the esophagus, into the stomach, then into the liver where these are metabolized by enzymes before finally entering the bloodstream.

Sublinguals, on the other hand, begin absorbing directly into the bloodstream through the mouth’s mucousal lining. This lining contains millions of capillaries (tiny blood vessels) that weave into the rest of the body’s circulatory system. Within five to ten minutes of sublingually taking cannabis, cannabinoids will begin interacting with the CB receptors to bring relief for your condition.

However, to get the full benefit of cannabis’s psychoactivity, your sublingual product should contain bioactive cannabinoids, that is – cannabinoids that have been heat- or chemically-treated to become decarboxylated. Otherwise, with non-bioactive cannabinoids, there will be no headiness.

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Advantage 2: Bypassing the Stomach

The second perk to sublingual cannabis is that it skips the stomach. The stomach contains strong acids that break down its contents, including your cannabis. A portion of the cannabinoids and terpenes will degrade (read: be destroyed) while digesting, meaning you lose some of the good stuff by eating or drinking it.

Fortunately, most cannabinoids will survive the stomach’s acidic environment. Terpenes, though, are much more volatile and fragile, and many will disintegrate once they’re in the gut.

Since cannabis taken sublingually doesn’t end up in the stomach, your dose will be more accurate than if you ate it. This is because of bioavailability. Bioavailability is a fancy term for how much of the dose actually reaches the target. Research suggests anywhere between 4 to 12 percent of the THC we eat in an edible actually becomes bioavailable. So if you ate 10 mg THC, you’re actually only getting anywhere between 0.4 to 1.2 mg THC after it goes through all the digestive channels.

Although sublingual cannabis hasn’t yet been thoroughly studied in humans, a 2006 study with rabbits found that roughly 10 to 15 times more THC became bioavailable through the sublingual route as opposed to the oral route. Take what you will from that.

Advantage 3: Bypassing the Liver Reduces the High

The liver can be a good thing or a bad thing. This depends on who you are and what you’re going for with your cannabis meds. If you’re looking for a potent high, then eating cannabis is a sure-fire way to get a powerful effect.

When THC enters the liver through the stomach, it becomes metabolized by special enzymes only found in the liver. These enzymes convert delta-9-THC (the one we all know and love) into 11-hydroxy-THC. (Caveat: smoking/combusting cannabis also converts some delta-9-THC into 11-hydroxy-THC; the liver doesn’t have the monopoly here.) The 11-hydroxy version of THC produces a much stronger high than delta-9, which is why people who eat too many edibles freak out and end up in the ER, whereas most folks who smoke too much just end up passing out on the couch.

What about patients who need high doses of THC, but would rather not spend the day in a state of euphoria? Under the tongue bypasses the liver. This means the body never metabolizes it into 11-hydroxy-THC.

We know the liver also metabolizes a whole host of other cannabinoids and terpenes. But, much of this research is still ongoing. So  ultimately we don’t know all of the metabolic details of what happens when we eat cannabis.

So, should you go with edibles or sublinguals? That’s ultimately up to you. Long story short, if you want fast, reliable effects, go with a sublingual. If you’re willing to wait, and you know you can handle the ride, then go with an edible instead.

Author avatar

Randy Robinson

As someone who wanted to know everything but couldn't decide on anything, Randy completed degrees in English, World History, and Molecular Biology. During their studies, they received an externship at the biotech firm Cannabis Science Inc., focusing on phytocannabinoids as anti-tumor and anti-cancer agents. Based in the Mile High City of Denver, Colorado, you can find Randy on Twitter, Instagram, and Medium @RanDieselJay

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  1. Will Kleidon

    The fat soluble compounds( decarboxylated cannabinoids) will not absorb through the mucosa membrane of the mouth even in ethanol due to the water layer. They end up being swallowed , however the ethanol will facilitate somewhat faster first pass 15-25min.

    The only way sublingual works is if the cannabinoids are encapsulated and made water compatiable.

  2. Roseanne Beckett

    I would love to be able to purchase cannabis, how am I able to do that? I have a very ill daughter