How Long Does It Take for CBD Oil to Work?
Almost everyone who has tried CBD oil has pondered: How long does this stuff take to work, anyway?
Unfortunately, the question doesn’t have a one-size-fits-all solution. The length of time required for CBD oil to take effect varies considerably, ranging from an instantaneous effect to a wait of more than two hours. A variety of factors, including how the oil was ingested and its quality, play a role in determining how long CBD oil takes to work.
How Is CBD Absorbed in the Body?
To understand why the length of time required to feel the effects of CBD oil can vary so wildly, it helps to understand how the body processes and absorbs CBD. In order to produce an effect, CBD must enter your bloodstream and break the blood-brain barrier. Completing both of these steps ensures that CBD is distributed throughout your body and brain, creating the calming, healing effect associated with CBD.
Perhaps not surprisingly, injecting CBD directly into the body produces the fastest effect (nearly instantaneous), as the CBD immediately finds its way into the bloodstream. Due to health and sanitation concerns, however, very few people choose to inject CBD. Instead, most CBD aficionados rely on intermediaries, such as the digestive or pulmonary systems, to pass CBD into the bloodstream.
In the case of edibles or capsules, CBD passes into your bloodstream much like the vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients you receive from food. The edible or capsule begins to break down in your stomach and continues to degrade in your liver and small intestine. While breaking down, your body metabolizes the CBD and passes it into the bloodstream.
Many people also choose to inhale or vaporize CBD oil. In this case, the vapors from CBD oil enter your lungs and finds its way to the alveoli. If you imagine the lungs as a tree, the alveoli are similar to leaves. Any chemicals you inhale, such CBD or oxygen, must pass through the alveoli to enter the bloodstream.
Though not as popular as oral ingestion or inhalation, many people choose to take CBD oil sublingually or beneath the tongue. CBD oil can also be applied topically by spreading it on the skin. In both cases, the CBD oil absorbs through the body's soft tissues, then passes into the bloodstream.
What’s the Fastest Method?
For many people, the best method of ingesting CBD oil is also the method that takes the least amount of time to take effect. Outside of injecting CBD, inhaling CBD oil via a vaporizer tends to produce the quickest effect, often requiring as little as a minute or two before you feel the effects. If you choose to inhale your CBD, we recommend using a high-quality vaporizer for the best possible experience.
It’s important to note that while inhaling CBD oil tends to produce the quickest effect, it also diminishes more quickly than other methods. The effects will be more pronounced, but they may only last for a couple of hours.
As mentioned in the previous section, when inhaling CBD oil, the vapors must pass through the alveoli in the lungs to reach the bloodstream. Considering this pathway, it makes sense that inhaling CBD oil takes relatively little time to produce an effect.
Consider breathing: each time you take a breath, around a liter of oxygen passes through the alveoli and into your bloodstream. When you exhale, some of that oxygen, along with carbon dioxide and other molecules, passes back through the alveoli and out of the lungs. This massive exchange of gasses happens multiple times a minute. CBD, when added to the mix, can be absorbed into the bloodstream through a similar process.
What About Oral Ingestion, Such as Edibles and Capsules?
If you choose to ingest CBD oil orally, such as in an edible or a capsule, it will take much longer for the CBD to produce an effect — you may even need to wait up to an hour or two before the effects become apparent.
If inhaling is a quick-burning road flare, then ingesting is a slow-burning candle; eating or drinking CBD oil allows it to stay in your system for a significantly longer period of time.
When ingested orally, CBD oil passes through your digestive system and into your liver. This means that it must first enter your stomach, where it begins to metabolize and break down. Next, it moves into the liver and small intestine, where it breaks down further.
Even on an empty stomach, this stage of the digestive process can take a while. When additional food or other substances enter your stomach, it can slow down the onset of the effect of CBD oil even further.
On the other hand, because the digestive process takes longer, it also keeps CBD in your system for longer, too. An ingested edible might take four hours or more to break down fully, releasing a steady stream of CBD into your system throughout the day. For this reason, along with the fact that CBD oil can be added to nearly any food or beverage, oral ingestion is a very popular method.
If you’re interested in CBD edibles and would like to decrease the amount of time it takes to kick in, consider adding it to foods with lower levels of lipids and fiber. Chicken, egg whites, and whitefish pass through your digestive system quicker than other foods, making them a good choice if you’re seeking a fast-acting CBD edible.
CBD-infused beverages can also pass through your digestive system faster than solid foods. CBD-infused beverages are also likely to coat the soft tissues beneath your tongue in a thin layer of CBD oil, offering both sublingual and oral ingestion.
How Long Do Other Methods Take?
Because of the popularity of CBD-infused products, companies are experimenting with topical CBD products. This method usually involves spreading a balm or salve on your skin. While skin is generally highly resistant to absorbing chemicals into the body, when applied in large amounts, CBD will reach your bloodstream.
However, this method can be unpredictable. Topical CBD products will likely take at least an hour before you’ll notice any effect, though in some cases it can take longer. A number of factors can impact this number, including the dosage, frequency, and location.
Considering the high degree of variability with topical application of CBD oil, you may wonder why anyone would choose this method. The reason is that topical application of CBD oil offers a more localized effect. If, for example, you’re seeking relief for elbow pain, CBD oil applied topically to your elbow will soothe your elbow specifically, rather than spreading throughout your body.
Another popular method of consuming CBD is sublingually, or beneath the tongue. Sublingual consumption of CBD takes on average 15-20 minutes to take effect, making it a happy medium between oral consumption and inhaling. When ingested sublingually, CBD passes through the soft tissue beneath your tongue, which provides direct access to your bloodstream. Another benefit of sublingual consumption is that CBD (and other chemicals) are not introduced to the lungs, bolstering respiratory health.
What Else Can Impact the Time It Takes for CBD Oil to Produce an Effect?
Besides the ingestion method, a handful of other factors play a role in how long it takes for CBD oil to work. The quality of the CBD oil has a major impact on its onset time. Because high-quality CBD oil uses less destructive methods of extracting the CBD from the plant, it typically affects you faster than low-quality oils.
Another factor to consider is whether your oil is a full-spectrum hemp oil or isolated CBD. Hemp contains hundreds of cannabinoids besides CBD, such as terpenes and flavonoids. Each of these chemicals impacts your system differently and at different speeds. While pure CBD oil might be easier to predict, full-spectrum oils offer an array of other medical benefits, which might make them a better choice for you.
Finally, a person’s individual habits can affect their bioavailability, or how quickly they’ll absorb CBD. A number of factors impact bioavailability, including weight, diet, fitness, and genetics. Your mind can also play an impact. If you’re more aware of how your body, you’re more likely to notice the impacts of CBD.
Clearly, a number of factors impact how long CBD oil takes to affect your system. Like all things CBD, the key is to start small and experiment with different methods. Soon, you’ll find something that works for you. Talk to your healthcare professionals about the best ingestion method for you, and consider how your diet, fitness, and lifestyle can impact your reaction to CBD.
Jackson Rockwell is a Los Angeles-based writer with 6+ years of experience creating content for numerous publications, such as Wirecutter and SOVO//Magazine. He specializes in covering travel, outdoors, and science-focused topics. Outside of writing, Jackson enjoys creating electronic music and wandering in the woods.