How Long Does it Take for CBD to Work?

Written by Laura Komkov
Scientifically Reviewed by Kyle Hammerick, PhD
July 9, 2019
Fact Checked

With a new story about CBD popping up each day, people across the country are becoming more and more open to and interested in trying cannabis-derived products. With the growing interest in CBD and its fellow cannabinoids, there has also been an increase in questions about CBD. One question that regularly rises to the top is: how long does it take for CBD to work? Unfortunately there’s not an easy answer to that question - here’s why.

How Does CBD Work?

Typically, CBD cream can be felt within a matter of minutes after application if you’re experiencing a superficial ache or pain. Other form factors, like CBD oil, may take days or weeks to notice the effects since the goal is more of a systemic reset. In general, a daily regimen of CBD is recommended to achieve the best results.

How does CBD work?

CBD’s health benefits are related to their ability to manipulate the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS). When something throws us out of homeostasis, or a state of balance, the ECS helps course-correct so that we can operate at the best possible level.

Diving in a bit deeper, in order to understand how long it takes to notice the benefits of CBD, you have to understand how CBD functions within the human body. Each of us has an Endocannabinoid System -- this is not disputed -- it was discovered in 1992, and while it seems strange that a system within the human body is named after a plant, we didn’t know it existed until Raphael Mechoulam and his team in Jerusalem began extracting molecules from cannabis plants to determine how they interact with the human body. They discovered that certain cannabis molecules fit almost perfectly into receptors in our bodies - hence the name for those receptors and the system they support - the Endocannabinoid System.

This system is comprised of cannabinoid receptors, endocannabinoids, and enzymes that break cannabinoids down. On a very basic level, typically when your body has a need (for example if you’re having trouble sleeping, feeling anxious or experiencing pain), a cannabinoid receptor will send out a message that an endocannabinoid needs to be created. The body then creates an endocannabinoid and it locks into the receptor, satisfying that need and allowing the body to return to homeostasis.

However, as modern life keeps us in constant states of stress, sometimes the body can’t keep up with making enough endocannabinoids to meet the messages that receptors are sending. This is where phytocannabinoids come in. Phytocannabinoids are plant-derived cannabinoids that fit remarkably well with the cannabinoid receptors in the human body, which means they can be used to supplement our Endocannabinoid Systems.

Because any phytocannabinoids you use have to be absorbed and distributed through the body, there’s not a great way to predict how long it will take to start feeling the impact. A few factors contribute to that length of time, including the form factor of the CBD, the quality of the CBD, your weight, your metabolic rate and your general body composition.

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Does It Matter How I Take CBD?

It does! Each form factor of CBD (i.e. topicals, oils/tinctures, gummies, capsules, etc.) allows for different rates of absorption and therefore different levels of bioavailability, as they all pass through different systems within the body that break molecules down. Keep in mind that no matter the dosage you take, you’ll never achieve 100% bioavailability of that dose - at least a bit of the CBD will be broken down or filtered by your body, so the goal is to find form factors that allow for the best bioavailability (for example, if you eat a CBD-infused Carl’s Jr. cheeseburger, you’ll likely absorb extremely low quantities of the CBD, whereas if you take a CBD oil or tincture and let it dissolve under your tongue, you’ll absorb a much higher percentage of that CBD so that your body can actually put it to use).

Consumption methods that avoid the digestive system result in higher bioavailability, because our digestive systems are quite efficient at breaking down molecules. Vaping is the most bioavailable method of consumption, but the potential downsides are high, as we all know it’s not great for your lungs to inhale any form of smoke or vapor.

The next option for higher bioavailability would be a sublingual form factor. Sublinguals involve holding CBD under your tongue for a couple of seconds (a minute if you can tolerate it) -- this allows your mucosal tissues to absorb some of the CBD content before you swallow and the remainder of the liquid is processed by the digestive tract, similar to how you might put a zinc lozenge under your tongue to get the optimal effects.

Edibles can be a tasty and easy option, but they are pretty heavily processed by the digestive tract. This means that less of the CBD you’re consuming will be usable by your body. A 2009 study found that only between 4%-20% of the CBD included in an edible is bioavailable.

Topicals are a bit different than the other form factors - since a topical application tends to be in a specific place, they’re more likely to help a small area instead of having a systemic effect. If you’re having specific or targeted issues, like joint pain or inflammation, a topical might be the best answer for you, but look for a topical that can permeate the skin (or a transdermal application). If the CBD included in the topical just sits on top of your skin in a waxy salve, that means less of it makes its way into your bloodstream where it can then be used by the ECS.

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Does Cream Take More or Less Time Than CBD Oil?

More research needs to be done to fully understand processing times, and considering every person’s Endocannabinoid System is different, this is a tough question to answer. Typically, a cream is not absorbed as quickly as an oil, but at the same time, the reasons one would use a cream tend to allow for quicker relief. The reason for using an oil or tincture is typically because there’s a deeper issue happening regarding stress, anxiety, trouble sleeping, etc -- these issues often require repeated use of CBD to saturate the ECS before the effects become apparent.

If you choose to use an oil/sublingual, the mucosal membranes in the mouth tend to be highly receptive and permeable, and there are a lot of capillaries and blood vessels in gum tissue that can absorb CBD, so try to hold the oil under your tongue until most of it dissolves before swallowing. Meanwhile, if you’re using a topical application, it has to make its way through the dermal barriers to feel the effects, so look for an option that can penetrate beneath the skin’s surface, ideally to a depth of at least 1cm.

Depending on the person, each method of consuming or applying CBD can result in different absorption times from person to person.

Quality of CBD

An additional factor to consider is that the quality of the CBD can impact the time it takes to feel the effects. If the ingredients included in addition to CBD/hemp in a product are difficult to digest, known irritants, GMOs, or if the product has been compromised by exposure to UV light, that can impact how the body processes and uses the CBD molecules.

Keep in mind that hemp is a remedial plant (which means it absorbs toxins out of the soil), so it’s also important to choose a CBD/hemp product that has been grown using organic practices and has been tested for residual toxins and heavy metals.

Each Person is Different

Every person is unique. We each have a different rate of metabolism, different sizes, different responses to certain ingredients, different lifestyles, etc. Because of this, it’s incredibly difficult to predict how a person will react to a CBD product. The general consensus is to start slow with a product that does not contain any known irritants to you, and then gradually work your way up until you begin to feel the effects you’re looking for.

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How Long Does the CBD Effect Last?

Again, this varies from person to person, similar to the way that a single alcoholic beverage impacts each person in different ways. In general, if you think about how CBD and cannabinoids work, they’re supplementing molecules our bodies already create. This means that anytime your body can’t quite keep up with the demand you’re putting on it, an external cannabinoid (like CBD), can help you stay balanced. Because of this, many experts say that you should regularly use CBD supplementation to help your body fill any needs that might arise.

Conclusion

As you’ve probably figured out, there’s still a lot to learn about cannabinoids and how they interact with our bodies. The good news is that there do not seem to be many negative side effects to using CBD in lower doses. In extremely high doses, there have been reports of nausea, stomach upset, dry mouth, reduced appetite and drowsiness, but the bigger issue with CBD products is that there’s very little regulation right now to ensure that the products on the market are using high quality hemp that has been tested for potency, toxins, heavy metals, etc.

Each person is unique and, until more research is done on how phytocannabinoids interact with our bodies, should start slowly and observe how their body reacts to CBD/cannabinoid supplementation.

Prior to use, consult a doctor if you have any medical conditions, take any medications, or are pregnant or breastfeeding. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. This content is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, mitigate, or prevent any disease or condition. Not for sale to persons under the age of 18.

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