If you’re just starting to explore all of the different options available for medicating with cannabis (or using it recreationally), you may be wondering what you can expect. How soon will you feel the effects, and how long will they stay in your system? To get the full answer, we must talk about all the different delivery methods available for cannabis. The way you introduce cannabis into your system will determine what kind of experience you’ll have while using it. Here’s everything you need to know.

Cannabis Delivery Methods

When we talk about delivery methods, we’re talking about the way you introduce cannabis into your system. For many, the first one that pops into your head is inhalation, via smoking, dabbing, or vaping. However, you can also ingest cannabis, take it orally or sublingually, apply it to the skin, and even use it as a suppository. Each delivery method takes a certain amount of time to kick in and will last in your system anywhere between 15 minutes to 8 hours.

Types of cannabis delivery methods

There are 5 main types of cannabis delivery methods. Each one includes a variety of cannabis products that can be used to treat medical conditions or enjoy recreationally. Here’s a quick rundown of each delivery method with a few examples of each.

  • Inhalation - The inhalation delivery method introduces cannabinoids to the body through (you guessed it) inhalation. By inhaling cannabinoid-rich vapors or smoking cannabis flower you can get the fastest relief. Inhalation is the fastest acting delivery method since it uses your lungs to push the cannabinoids through your blood and to your brain in just a few seconds. Inhalable products include dabbable cannabis concentrates, vape cartridges, and cannabis flower.
  • Ingestion - The ingestion delivery method utilizes your stomach and liver to metabolize and absorb cannabinoids like THC. Once the cannabinoids are absorbed, they make their way through your bloodstream and to your brain. However, ingestion takes a while for the effects to kick in. While it may take up to two hours to feel the effects of an ingestible product, they tend to be the longest-lasting, allowing for all-day relief and effects that can last up to 8 hours depending on the dosage. Ingestible products include cannabis edibles, like gummies, chocolates, and brownies as well as THC-infused beverages and drinks.
  • Oral/Sublingual - Unlike the ingestion delivery method, oral delivery introduces cannabinoids through the salvatory glands under the tongue and not through swallowing and digestion. By holding a cannabinoid-rich oil or tincture under the tongue, you can absorb the cannabinoids and begin feeling their effects in just a few minutes. Oral products are also very long-lasting, leaving the effects of the cannabinoids in the system for up to 24 hours. Oral and sublingual products include cannabis oils, tinctures, and hash capsules.
  • Topical applications - Topical delivery is all about absorbing cannabinoids through the skin. Most topical products only penetrate the topmost layer of skin, soothing sore muscles on the spot where the topical was applied without making it into your blood and causing you to feel intoxicated or high. Some topicals, such as transdermal patches, however, can penetrate deeper. They allow the body to absorb the cannabinoids into the bloodstream, making the effects more prevalent in the body and causing a slight high. Topical products include lotions, creams, balms, salves, and transdermal patches or compounds.
  • Suppositories - Suppository delivery usually includes anal or vaginal suppositories like tampons. This delivery method allows you to absorb cannabinoids in the lower body and GI tract, making them a good choice for people experiencing menstrual cramps or managing the symptoms of IBS or Chron’s Disease. They are absorbed pretty quickly, allowing for quick relief that lasts for a couple of hours.

How soon will I feel the effects of cannabis?

As we mentioned above, how soon you’ll feel the effects depends on what kind of method you use to introduce those cannabinoids into your system. We’ve itemized each one below.

  • Inhalation: Nearly instantly.
  • Ingestion: 45 minutes to an hour
  • Oral/Sublingual: 10  minutes
  • Topical applications: 5 minutes
  • Suppositories: 5 minutes  

How long will I notice the effects of cannabis?

How long you’ll feel the effects of cannabis also depends on how you introduce it to your system. Some effects fizzle out fast while others provide heavy-handed, all-day relief.

  • Inhalation: Effects typically peak around 15 minutes and fade between 45 minutes and 3 hours, depending on the size of your dose.
  • Ingestion: Effects of an edible typically peak about 2 hours after you start feeling the effects. Edibles can last up to 8 hours depending on your dose
  • Oral/Sublingual: Depending on your dose, sublinguals can usually be felt for about 8 hours, though they can stay in the system for up to 24.
  • Topical applications: Topicals are usually felt for about 2 hours. After that, they need to be reapplied.
  • Suppositories: Suppositories are usually good for about 4 hours.