After all, if there’s one thing that can be said about the wild west of CBD, it’s that experimentation is key—whether you’re looking for your perfect dose or your perfect delivery method.
Sublingual delivery isn’t always a better option for all substances, points out Dr. Birdsall—some B vitamins, for instance, need to be “activated” by the liver in order to do their jobs—but for certain vitamins and medications, it can be a super effective delivery method.
To find out—because there’s been relatively little rigorous research on CBD to date and I’m a skeptic by nature—I reached out to a doctor and a scientist for the 411. As I suspected, this isn’t a topic that has been studied in depth. Yet there is some reason to believe that certain CBD products may truly be more bioavailable when absorbed under the tongue than if taken through food or drink.
Even so, Kater says that “most of the literature supports the notion that CBD has better bioavailability when consumed sublingually versus orally. [and] MCT oil-based tinctures are thought to provide better uptake than a traditional oil.” But, again, there’s no evidence that this applies to the exact CBD oil or tincture that you, specifically, have in your cabinet. As mentioned before, every formulation is different, and those small differences matter when it comes to bioavailabilty.
How does this apply to CBD? Surprise, surprise: It’s hard to say. “There has been very little scientific research on the sublingual absorption of CBD,” says Dr. Birdsall. The research that does exist has some inconsistencies, adds Kater, since there are so many factors that affect absorption—such as the quality of the CBD or the pH and consistency of the formulation. Plus, many of these studies focus on formulas that contain both CBD and THC—a psychoactive compound found in cannabis that’s supposed to be absent from CBD-only products—so it’s unclear whether their findings would also apply to a product that contains predominantly CBD.
Long story short: You may as well try holding your CBD oil or tincture under your tongue before swallowing it—you could find that you feel it working slightly faster. Anecdotally, says Dr. Birdsall, experts recommended that you hold it there for at least 60 seconds. (A word of warning: There will be drool.) Your other option is to try a product that’s specifically created to be absorbed sublingually, like Kin Slips, which are kind of like those breath-freshening films that dissolve in your mouth.
According to Timothy Birdsall, ND—a member of hemp education platform Prima’s medial advisory group—when you take certain substances sublingually, they can enter directly into your bloodstream, where they’re immediately shuttled to your tissues. Think of it as a shortcut to digestion, which is a longer process in which the substance needs to be ingested, broken down by the stomach, absorbed by the small intestine, and metabolized by the liver. “Not only do many compounds lose potential bioavailability during [the digestion] process, but the time to onset is delayed,” adds chemist Jessie Kater, senior vice president of manufacturing for Curaleaf and Curaleaf Hemp.
Since CBD found its way into high street shops and online stores, the choices have improved. You can choose from products such as drops, sprays, capsules and gummies. You can also choose how to take it. CBD can be swallowed, placed under the tongue, vaped, rubbed into your skin or applied rectally.
Whether it’s CBD drops or CBD paste, placing it under the tongue is also known as “the sublingual method” and it is the most common way to take CBD. Despite its popularity, it is also the method that can cause the most confusion or raise questions.
CBD under the tongue – Fast facts
1. Stand next to a mirror or ask a friend to help you position the dropper correctly and count out the drops. Once you’ve tried it a couple of times it gets easier and becomes quick and convenient.
The word ‘sublingual’ refers to the large blood vessel found under your tongue. When liquids are placed there, they can cross the thin membrane and enter your bloodstream. The speed with which this happens has played a key part in this method’s popularity.
2. Alternatively, there are brands who have packaged their oils specifically to make them easier to use. CBD sprays are a great way to apply the oil directly under your tongue with no fuss. Others have specially designed droppers or have marked them in ways that make it easier to apply specific amounts without any guesswork.
As an emerging therapy, CBD has been shown to provide potential health benefits that help with everything from inflammation to pain to anxiety. Research is also ongoing with regard to the most optimum way to consume CBD. Bioavailability lies at the heart of the “best” method when it comes to consuming CBD Oil into the body. Bioavailability is calculated as the proportion of the active substance that enters the body and how much of it goes on to have a viable and active effect.
CBD Oil drops and/or CBD/THC oil drops can be swallowed directly or delivered sublingually – meaning the drops are held under the tongue for approximately 60 seconds to then be absorbed directly into the bloodstream.
That said, when the liver absorbs THC it is actually converting it from Δ-9-THC into 11-hydroxy-THC which is more psychoactive. Thus, the effects of THC-infused CBD oil is more intense if taken orally. THC is associated with the “high” from Marijuana, causing some patients to feel euphoric. Non-THC CBD is not psychoactive and is known for its anti-inflammatory properties. CBD can be added to a variety of ingestible food and drink, making it easy to dose. The other drawback to the longer until effect-onset is that making its way through the digestive tract, some CBD will degrade along the way.
Ideal CBD products for sublingual use make use of carrier oils which both improves taste and, more importantly, heightens the bioavailability of the CBD. These carrier oils also make it possible to produce a variety of concentrations of CBD. Popular oil products include olive oil, hemp seed oil and coconut.
In general, CBD greatly benefits from the presence of lipids when being absorbed by the intestinal wall. According to CBD Guru in the UK, the cells of the intestinal membrane interact with these lipids which allows for the absorption of CBD. Oral ingestion will result in about 10% absorption of cannabidiol while sublingual will yield in up to 20% absorption.