How Long Does It Take for CBD to Work?

If you take a dose of cannabidiol (CBD) for anxiety, insomnia, or any other condition, don’t be concerned if you don’t feel the effects immediately. The onset time can be influenced by a number of factors that go much deeper than just tinctures vs. edibles. To bring some clarity to how long it takes CBD to work, we spoke with Dr. Thomas G. O’Brien, a certified medical marijuana physician and the author of Medical Marijuana – Real Life Success Stories.

CBD Onset Time by Preparation

Cannabidiol is big business. A full 14% of Americans claim to use CBD products, most commonly for pain (40%), anxiety (20%), and sleep (11%). If you take CBD for these or another condition, you want to be certain that you’re getting prompt relief. But how quickly you notice the effects will depend, first and foremost, on the delivery system.

According to Dr. O’Brien, vape products have the fastest onset of action. Edibles, like CBD gummies, take the longest to work. Sublingual tinctures (those drops that you place under your tongue) work relatively quickly without requiring any special equipment.

So how long does it take for CBD to work? The approximate onset times are as follows:

  • Vape Products: Less than 2 minutes
  • Sublingual Tinctures: 20 minutes
  • Topicals: 30-60 minutes
  • Edibles: 60 to 90 minutes
  • Pills/Capsules: 60 to 90 minutes

These delivery systems have different onset times because they behave differently in the body.

CBD Vape Products Take About 2 Minutes to Work

How are vape CBD products able to take effect so quickly? According to Dr. O’Brien, it all has to do with the entry into the lungs. “CBD oil is heated by a coil in the vapor pen which turns the oil into a steam. The steam is inhaled and enters the lung. Gaseous exchange occurs, and the chemicals enter the bloodstream immediately…This makes for a very fast onset of action.”

Dr. O’Brien notes that unhealthy lungs, like those with a medical pathology such as asthma or COPD, will have a slowed gaseous exchange, resulting in a slighter slower onset of action.

CBD Tinctures Take About 20 Minutes to Work

Sublingual tinctures take effect reasonably quickly because they aren’t subject to digestion. According to Dr. O’Brien, “Swishing the sublingual tincture around your mouth and allowing it to sit under your tongue will allow the chemical to enter the bloodstream faster. This bypasses the liver.”

However, Dr. O’Brien adds that “immediately swallowing the sublingual tincture defeats the purpose of sublingual onset of action and now will have an onset of action similar to edibles.” In other words, if you want the fast response time with sublingual tinctures, keep the liquid under your tongue for about 30 seconds to a full minute. Don’t just swallow it.

Topical CBD Products Take 30 to 60 Minutes to Work

Topicals have the largest window of possible onset times (between 30 and 60 minutes), and much of it has to do with the health of the user. According to Dr. O’Brien, “Skin is a biological barrier. A healthy barrier with no medical pathology will have a quick onset of action. An unhealthy barrier (dermatitis) will have a slowed onset of action.”

Edible CBD Products Take About 60 Minutes to Work

Edibles must be digested and metabolized by the liver, and that means a slower response time. As noted by Dr. O’Brien, “The function of the liver is to detoxify and process chemicals before they are released into the bloodstream.” Before the product can even reach the liver, though, it must be partially digested.

The exact onset time will depend on a few factors, such as whether the edibles are taken with or without food. According to Dr. O’Brien, “With food, absorption will be slower. Why? Competition for absorption in the small intestine.” In addition, “Faster metabolism will have a quicker onset while a slower metabolism will have a slower onset.

Finally, Dr. O’Brien notes that people with liver damage or poor liver health may take longer to notice a result from CBD, as a healthy liver processes chemicals absorbed in the small intestine more quickly than an unhealthy liver.

CBD Gel Capsules & Pills Take 60 to 90 Minutes to Work

Pills and capsules have a slower onset time that’s similar to edibles. This is because they’re processed in a manner much like food. They must be partially digested, metabolized by the liver, and released into the bloodstream.

Other Factors That Influence CBD Onset Time

As noted by Dr. O’Brien, it’s not just the delivery system that impacts the onset time:

  • Body Weight – Just like with alcohol, a person with more body mass will require a greater amount of CBD in order to feel the effects. CBD is absorbed into the fat cells, and the more of these cells you have, the lower the concentration of CBD in your body. While dosage doesn’t specifically impact the onset time, it can potentially influence the cannabinoid’s effectiveness. So if you’re not feeling anything, try increasing the dosage gradually.
  • Metabolism – Metabolism doesn’t just regulate your ability to lose weight; it also determines how quickly your body is able to synthesize compounds. Slower metabolism means a slower CBD onset time.
  • The Condition You’re Targeting – Based on how the CBD interacts with the body’s endocannabinoid system, some effects may be noticeable faster than others. For example, someone seeking CBD oil for pain relief may notice the desired effect more quickly than someone using the product for insomnia relief.

The Longer CBD Takes to Work, the Longer the Effect

There’s at least one reason why a longer onset of action may be a good thing. It seems to result in a longer duration of action—in other words, you feel the effects longer.

For instance, Dr. O’Brien notes that with vaping, the effects are noticeable almost instantly but can fade within 3 hours.

But with edibles and capsules, the effects take much longer to become noticeable but can last between 4 to 6 hours on average. According to Dr. O’Brien, “Times are approximate and can vary slightly…An empty stomach and a healthy liver will have a faster onset of action.”

What to Do If CBD Isn’t Working

If you’ve waited beyond the expected onset time and still haven’t noticed any effects, there are a few possible issues at work:

Wait and take another dose later. If it’s your first time using cannabidiol, the product may not be as effective. According to Dr. O’Brien, “CBD binds to adipose (fat) cells, which means CBD is stored in the body. Fat cells slowly release CBD. Thus, less CBD is required after the initial loading dose.”

Increase the dosage. As previously noted, different users have different dosage requirements. If a low dosage isn’t working for you, try gradually increasing the dosage by 5 to 10 milligrams at a time. Just make sure to be gradual with your dosage increases, as too much CBD may cause side effects like diarrhea and fatigue.

Confirm that you’re using a high-quality CBD product. Because cannabidiol products aren’t regulated by the FDA, there’s very little oversight into their quality. That’s why it’s so important to purchase products that include a certificate of analysis from a third-party lab. Ensure that your product always has a certificate confirming that the CBD concentration is as advertised.

Try using a full-spectrum CBD product. If your current CBD product is labeled “CBD Isolate,” try switching to a product labeled “Full Spectrum” or “Broad Spectrum.” Isolate products contain only CBD. But full-spectrum and broad-spectrum products contain a full range of cannabinoids. They’re believed to be more effective because the different cannabinoids work in concert for greater potency—a principle referred to as the entourage effect. If you want to experiment with different cannabidiol products and find the one that works best for you, you can save money by using CBD coupons.

How to Choose the Right CBD Product for You

If you’re looking for the fastest onset time, vaping is your best bet, followed by tinctures. If you don’t mind waiting a bit longer in exchange for longer-lasting results, edibles are the way to go. The quality of the product is even more important than the delivery method, so always do your homework before buying.

You may find that a slower onset time is worth the wait if a particular product gives you more noticeable results. Or you may find that a quick hit is just what you need for sudden bouts of pain, inflammation, or anxiety. Try exploring different options, and see which one is best equipped to give you the relief you’re looking for.

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