Sublingual absorption cannabis products, like mints, breath strips, and gummies, are cannabis edibles that are dissolved under the tongue. They’re becoming increasingly popular in states where cannabis is legal for adult use for their fast onset and potent effects, but how do they work?
You might be wondering where this word comes from. “Sublingual” comes from Latin; it means “under the tongue” and refers specifically to those products which diffuse into the blood through the tissues that are under the tongue – mainly mucous glands.
Usually, people mention sublingual products when they are talking about pharmacological substances. Nonetheless, several cannabis products are also sublingual, and we will tell you about them here.
Traditional edibles, like brownies or any kind of baked good or snack, are digested by the body slowly. The cannabinoids in these edibles have to go through the stomach, intestines, and liver before they’re absorbed into the bloodstream. That’s why edibles don’t take effect until one to three hours after consumption.
Many complain that the effects of edibles are hard to predict; one day a 20 mg cookie makes them feel great, while another day they don’t the effects of the same dosage at all. That’s partly because there are many factors that can affect how you digest and absorb cannabinoids, including metabolism, sleep cycle, and what else you’ve eaten that day.
Photo by Vane Nunes / Adobe Stock Photo
That’s how sublingual absorption products are superior: they absorb straight into your system through the mucosal membrane under your tongue, allowing the cannabinoids to bypass all the hassle of the gastrointestinal system. That way their effects are both much faster and more predictable. They kick in after only 15 minutes or so.
“Sublingual absorption delivers cannabis directly into the bloodstream, bypassing the digestive system and avoiding first-pass metabolism, this means that it only takes 10-15 minutes to feel the effects,” says Joshua Kirby, Chief Product Officer of Kin Slips, artisanal breath strips that dissolve under the tongue and contain 5 to 20 mg of THC or CBD.
“Additionally, by bypassing your harsh stomach acids, sublingual products are able to maintain sensitive plant compounds like terpenes, giving the consumer a richer and more predictable experience.”
The bioavailability of cannabis has become a hot topic lately and refers to how much of a drug is absorbed into the bloodstream. Different modes of cannabis consumption have different rates of bioavailability, as do different cannabinoids, and you might be surprised to learn the bioavailability of some of your favorite modes of consumption.
For example, inhaling cannabis smoke or vape is thought to have a THC bioavailability of 18 to 54 percent. It can vary and different studies have come up with varying results, but according to a 2005 study, the average seems to be around 30 percent.
That same study found ingesting cannabis edibles only has a bioavailability of about 4 to 12 percent and is “highly variable.” That’s because, as we mentioned before, things like your body’s metabolism and what you ate prior to the cannabis edible will affect the cannabinoids’ bioavailability.
Photo by Артем Кожемякин / Adobe Stock Photo
Bioavailability is also the reason sublingual absorption products are the most reliable; their bioavailability is the highest, up 75 percent for THC and 25 percent for CBD. Therefore, they’re more likely to produce the same experience time after time, as long as you don’t swallow too much of the intended sublingual absorption dose.
Kirby from Kin Slips explains that’s why they decided to create a sublingual absorption product, in the first place:
“A pervasive issue with cannabis use is the level of unpredictability with certain cannabis products, specifically edibles,” Kirby explains. “It’s important for consumers to trust that every time they have one of our products, they’ll have the same experience”.
“This is why, after exhaustive research, we determined that the only way we could truly deliver on this promise was through sublingual absorption. After experimenting with various sublingual formats, we found that a strip could be easily placed under the tongue, and when blended with all-natural ingredients, dissolved fast and delivered a precise dosage efficiently.”
Sublingual absorption cannabis products are the future of edibles. Their fast onset, short lifespan, and precise dosing make them the most reliable and effective edibles on the market. For medical and adult-use, expect to see a lot more sublingual absorption weed products.
Photo by Aleksandr / Adobe Stock Photo
Dosing of sublingual cannabinoids, as for any form of consumption, is very dependent on each person’s body. Routes of administration like sublingual application, inhalation, ingestion, topical application, or suppositories each have their times of onset, peak, and duration of effect, so don’t take any other form of consumption you use as a guide.
That said, for sublingual use, in particular, the effect lasts an average of 2.5 hours, from one to up to four, and it has a peak at 45 minutes after placing the cannabis products under your tongue, with an onset of about 15 minutes (notice how much faster this is than your average smoke or edible).
The longer you leave the oil, spray, tablet, strip, or tincture under your tongue, the faster and stronger the effect will be.
There are several ways in which you can administer cannabis products sublingually. This manly vary in their format, all of them usually contain significant amounts of cannabinoids, especially the favorites CBD and THC.
Let’s walk through the types of sublingual cannabis products you can find in the market:
Photo courtesy of Kin Slips
The first thing I will say about sublingual strips will come as a warning: they look exactly like those breath strips you used to get at CVS. Do those things still exist? Anyway, don’t treat them as such; it is essential to put these strips under your tongue and leave one there for around four minutes until the strip dissolves.
Due to them being so thin and lightweight, strips tend not to have any chance of fitting in flavors or masking agents, dedicating all their capacity to THC and CBD. I prefer when they have no additives since I can’t risk my allergies getting activated by sweeteners or colorants in the mix.
Speaking of preference, I always want to know where the hemp comes from and how it was manufactured, so make sure before purchasing that you have checked out all this information, be it for strips or any other form of cannabis products!
Photo by Octave / Adobe Stock Photo
You might not know this, but all cannabis tinctures have better results if they are taken sublingually. Many are sometimes swallowed directly or mixed with some drink or food, but I recommend always putting the droplets under your tongue.
Alcohol-based tinctures might feel a little uncomfortable under your tongue since the high-proof alcohol can produce a burning sensation. If this is happening to you, try out a glycerin-based tincture and see how that feels.
If you have been drinking your tinctures directly, you will notice that dosing a cannabis tincture sublingually effects will start quite sooner and last longer, not as long as an edible but still better than a joint or vape.
Photo by Fukume / Adobe Stock Photo
This form of sublingual cannabis is convenient for beginners. I say this because it is ideal for measuring the dose that does it for you. These small tablets, resembling aspirins or breath mints, can be split into pieces that will allow you to measure the effect the dosage increase has on you with high precision.
Although you can compare this to tincture drops, this is – in my opinion – cleaner and easier to visualize, making it super comfortable if you are still looking for the level of THC that is perfect for you.
They also tend to come in refreshing and yummy flavors, which is a nice plus to your average “weedy” tasting cannabis product.
Photo by MysteryShot / Adobe Stock Photo
Last but certainly not least, we have sublingual sprays. Just like with the strips, make sure you don’t confuse one of these with a breath freshener! The sublingual cannabis spray should be sprayed under your tongue, not on it. They do come in minty flavors, though, making them free of any cannabis taste whatsoever.
Like cannabis tinctures, cannabis sprays tend to be made with alcohol, so you can check out the oil-based alternatives if you also get this burning feeling when consuming the product. Another resemblance with cannabis tinctures is that it might be hard to hold the substance under the tongue without mistakenly swallowing it, leading to uncertainty on the impact of your dose.
That is: what you have swallowed will take longer to absorb and be processed than what is under your tongue, so you might feel the need to take some more before you are under the full effect of what is already in your body.
All this said, it is worth mentioning that sublingual sprays tend to have the fastest onset amongst all cannabis sublingual products, so the effects should not be something that suddenly surprises you all at once, but a quick and noticeable sensation of being high.