CBD Timeline - how long does it take to work?

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While there is a whole range of different medicinal cannabis products currently on the market, almost all of them will contain CBD to some extent. CBD is the focal point of the medicinal cannabis industry thanks to the wide range of benefits it provides and the ease of which it can be consumed.

If you haven’t heard of CBD before or just wanted a refresher on what it is and how it works, then don’t worry - we’ve got you covered. CBD is an abbreviation of cannabidiol, one of the molecules found within cannabis and hemp plants that are known as cannabinoids. There are over 120 different cannabinoids that can be found within these plants, with CBD being one of the most clinically relevant.

The cannabinoids found within the cannabis plant are known as phytocannabinoids. These are different to endocannabinoids, which are naturally produced within the body by the endocannabinoid system (ECS). Rather than binding to the receptors that comprise this system, CBD interacts with the ECS by stimulating the production of endocannabinoids and by dampening the activity of some receptors.

Because CBD doesn’t bind to these receptors directly, it doesn’t contribute towards any potent psychoactive effects or the infamous cannabis “high”. Another cannabinoid known as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is responsible for these effects. While CBD does produce some psychoactive effects, it is non-intoxicating so consumers won’t feel any cognitive impairments.

The mild psychoactivity is one of CBD’s biggest selling points, as it allows consumers to enjoy a lot of the therapeutic benefits of cannabis without any of the high. This greatly enhances CBD’s applicability as it can be taken multiple times daily without any major adverse effects.

One of the major reasons consumers are turning towards CBD is because of its ability to relieve pain. Some of the pain conditions that CBD can treat effectively are chronic pain, neuropathic pain and inflammatory pain. Inhibiting the release of inflammatory proteins is thought to be the main mechanism behind how CBD mitigates pain. This gives CBD some applications in treating things such as minor or major aches, joint pain, muscle spasms, headaches, migraines and arthritis.

CBD also has some applications for individuals suffering from anxiety and insomnia. There is research to suggest that CBD has some anxiolytic properties and that it may cause a reduction in anxiety symptoms. CBD’s effects on sleep are not yet fully understood, but some consumers have found it to be an effective sleep aid. A reason for this might be that CBD is effective in treating conditions that are comorbid with insomnia, such as pain and anxiety.

There is also lots of research and clinical evidence that supports the use of CBD as a treatment for different types of epilepsy. While the exact mechanism of action is unclear, CBD has displayed the ability to reduce the frequency and duration of seizures. Currently, the only FDA-approved CBD medication on the market is Epidiolex, which is used in the treatment of two seizure conditions, known as Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome.

There are also plenty of other potential benefits of CBD consumption that have appeared in other studies. Some of these include tumour inhibition, management of acne and some neuroprotective effects.

Another major reason why CBD is becoming increasingly popular is due to the variety of CBD products available on the market. This diversity of products enables consumers to find the product that is exactly right for their needs or the one they find most effective.

Full-spectrum extracts refer to products that contain CBD in conjunction with other compounds that are collected in the extraction process, such as terpenes, flavonoids and other cannabinoids. These additional compounds contribute to a wider range of therapeutic benefits due to a phenomenon known as the “Entourage Effect”. These full-spectrum extracts mostly come in the form of CBD oils, tinctures and topicals.

CBD isolate is CBD in its purest form with no additives. It comes in powder or crystal form and is usually ingested or used as a food additive. You can find CBD isolate sold by itself or infused into a range of vape juices, drinks and edibles, such as chocolates or gummies. CBD isolate is also popular for people who want to make their own CBD-infused products at home.

Factors that can affect the absorption of CBD

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One of the biggest questions asked by individuals interested in taking CBD is how long will it take for the effects to kick in after consumption? Well, the answer is that how CBD affects you and how long it takes depends on the individual.

Some consumers find that their CBD is taking longer than they expected to work or they conclude that it’s not working for them at all. In these instances, they could be tempted to re-dose and end up consuming too much. While you can’t overdose on CBD, taking too much could increase the risk of encountering unpleasant side-effects, such as diarrhoea and fatigue.

To avoid any unwanted occurrences, it is important to understand the various different factors that can influence your body’s response to CBD. For CBD to exert its effects, it must interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS). However, not all the CBD that is consumed will make it into the bloodstream, and even less of this amount will reach the ECS.

The amount of CBD absorbed into the bloodstream and available to the ECS is known as bioavailable CBD. As such, the rate at which CBD is absorbed into the blood is known as CBD bioavailability. This term also refers to the amount of CBD in a product that is ready and available for absorption.

Excess CBD that isn’t utilised by the ECS is normally deposited and stored into fat cells. If there is a sufficient amount of CBD stored within these fat cells, it can be dispersed throughout the body in small amounts, which can deliver therapeutic effects over the course of a few days or a week.

There are several factors that can affect the bioavailability of CBD, and the severity of them can vary between different individuals. For example, biological factors such as gender, age, weight, health, metabolism and blood circulation can all influence how your body reacts to CBD. Weight has a major impact on metabolism and circulation, as people who weigh more tend to have more fat cells. This means that they can absorb and store more CBD, which can prolong its effects.

CBD dosage is also an obvious factor that can influence absorption, as a higher dose will result in increased CBD bioavailability. Though as mentioned earlier, increasing your dose by too much could increase the risk of adverse effects. While there is no universally accepted recommend dose, newcomers to CBD are always advised to start small. The general recommendation is to start at 5mg per day and increase this amount incrementally every five to seven days.

The concentration and quality of any particular CBD product also play a role in CBD bioavailability. Products that contain high concentrations of CBD are considered more potent, and lower doses are recommended. In terms of quality, some CBD products can contain impurities, additives and carrier oils (e.g. MCT oil, hempseed oil, etc.), which can all affect how CBD is absorbed, processed and metabolised within the body.

While all these factors play an important role in how long it takes for CBD to act, the method of consumption seems to have the largest impact on effectiveness. This is because the method by which CBD is administered into the body can have a huge impact on its bioavailability.

Method of consumption

As a consumer, knowing what to expect from your chosen method of consumption is beneficial in understanding how your CBD product will affect you and how long it will take to act. This can also help you to determine whether you should take another dose or wait for the CBD to be metabolised.

The only way to achieve a CBD bioavailability of 100% is through intravenous (IV) administration. This is because the CBD is injected directly into the systemic circulation. However, this method of consumption is neither comfortable nor practical for consumers who are seeking to use CBD in their daily life. Instead, there are four more popular ways to consume CBD, with each having a different rate of absorption.

  • Oral

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Oral consumption (via swallowing) is the preferred method of many CBD consumers. The major reasons behind this are the ease of consumption and the range of available products. Orally administered CBD can come in the form of a powder (CBD isolate), oil, tincture, capsule, edible, drink or basically anything that you can swallow.

When administered orally, CBD has a low bioavailability of 13-19%. The reason for this is that oral CBD has to travel through the digestive system and is processed in the gut and liver before reaching the bloodstream. The process by which CBD is metabolised by gut and liver enzymes is known as “first-pass” metabolism.

The CYP450 enzyme system is the key pathway for drug metabolism, and CYP3A4 is the enzyme responsible for the metabolism of CBD. The extensive metabolism of this particular enzyme is what causes the poor bioavailability of many orally administered medications.

Regardless of whether you consumed CBD oil, a capsule or an edible, you can expect the CBD to start taking effect after 90 minutes, with peak blood-CBD levels occurring over the course of the next 6 hours after consumption. This process can be accelerated if CBD is consumed on an empty stomach and can take longer if consumed after a large meal.

Although this is the case, consuming CBD in conjunction with a high-fat meal can increase the effectiveness of orally-administered CBD. The lymphatic system plays an important role in the process of absorbing fats and fat-soluble nutrients. CBD is a lipophilic molecule that can be transported by the lymphatic system.

The lymphatic system can then deliver these absorbed fats, along with the CBD, in the lymph fluid and directly into the venous blood circulation. Studies have shown that when CBD is ingested with other lipids, it is better absorbed by the lymphatic system and can therefore bypass the liver and its first-pass metabolic processes.

While this method of consumption takes the longest amount of time to produce any effects, it can also produce the longest-lasting effects. While other delivery modes may only produce effects for a few hours, CBD’s effects after oral administration can last up to 6 hours, making this a useful method for individuals that are looking for long-term therapeutic effects or supplementation.

  • Sublingual

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Sublingual consumption involves applying CBD directly under the tongue. Sublingual preparations either come in the form of a tincture or spray. This is another popular method of CBD consumption as it is easy to re-dose throughout the day and the effects can be felt quickly.

The reason that the effects come on so quickly is due to the vast network of capillaries that are located underneath the tongue. These capillaries can absorb compounds quickly and deliver them into the bloodstream. Any CBD placed under in the tongue is transferred into the bloodstream via these capillaries in addition to mucous membranes within the mouth.

This allows the CBD to bypass the digestive system and the liver, therefore skipping “first-pass” metabolism. The sublingual consumption of tinctures and sprays has a CBD bio-availability between 13-35%, which has a much higher upper boundary than oral consumption. One dropper of a tincture can be classified as one dose (25mg-100mg). This dose can take effect 30 minutes after consumption and last for up to 5 hours.

  • Inhaled

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Inhaled consumption involves administering CBD either by smoking or vaporising it. The latter is the more popular method of inhaled consumption, with a whole range of CBD vape products available on the market. The CBD is infused into vape juices or cartridges and inhaled through the use of an e-cigarette, vaporiser or vape pen.

This is the fastest method of consumption, with consumers typically feeling the effects of CBD within minutes. The inhalation of CBD has rapid absorption rates because the lungs can transfer CBD directly into the bloodstream, bypassing the digestive system and liver.

Compounds inhaled via this method enter the systemic circulation in mere seconds after consumption. The CBD vapour travels down into the lungs and enters the bloodstream through the network of capillaries that cover the alveoli. This results in a CBD bioavailability that ranges between 34-46%. The effects are almost instantaneous or can be felt within 5-10 minutes after consumption at the latest.

CBD consumed via this method is rapidly absorbed and fast-acting, but this also means that the effects are short-lasting. You can expect that these effects will wear off within 2-3 hours. In a 2018 review, the highest plasma concentrations observed were 110mg/ml three minutes after smoking a cigarette that contained 19.2mg of CBD. These CBD concentrations dropped to 10.2 mg/ml an hour after the initial administration.

  • Topical

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Topical application involves applying CBD directly to the skin or a localised area. CBD topicals come in a range of products, including CBD-infused gels, lotions, salves, creams, and balms. These products are utilised best for the treatment of localised symptoms, such as inflammation and pain. When these topicals are applied directly onto the skin, the CBD diffuses across the skin surface and targets inflammatory cells, spasmic muscles, and painful nerve centres.

Topical CBD works on human sebocytes, which are cells that make up the sebaceous gland. This gland is responsible for the oily secretions that coat the skin, known as sebum. CBD that is applied topically accumulates in the sebaceous gland after entering through hair follicles on the skin, in order to produce localised effects. Almost none of the CBD that is applied topically enters the bloodstream, due to the skin acting as a barrier.

The period of time it takes for these CBD topicals to produce their effects depends on the CBD content in the product. There is typically no recommended amount to apply on to the skin and how much you use depends on the symptoms you’re trying to treat. For example, if you want to treat a headache, you most likely use a smaller amount of a CBD lotion than you would if you were trying to treat muscle spasms.

While absorption of CBD topicals can take a while, some products produce their effects instantaneously. The duration of these effects can also be long-lasting, with therapeutic benefits being felt up to 5 hours after application.

CBD bioavailability

As was mentioned earlier, any excess CBD is usually stored in fat cells. This is because CBD is lipophilic, meaning that it isn’t soluble in water. This CBD reserve is then gradually released into the bloodstream where it is distributed to the ECS and other parts of the body.

The amount of time it takes for the effects of CBD to be felt is dependant on absorption, but the amount of time it stays in your system will depend on your body’s fat content. A higher number of fat cells results in the increased storage of CBD and the length of time in which it stays in your system. It is generally regarded that CBD can take around one week before it is metabolised completely in your body.

A common measurement for determining the amount of time it takes for 50% of the starting dose of a drug to leave the body is known as the elimination half-life. Each half-life results in proportionally less elimination.

Assuming the half-life of 20mg of CBD is 3 hours, the CBD will reach a peak concentration of 20mg an hour after consumption. After the first 3 hours, there will be only 10mg of CBD left in the body. After 6 hours there will only be 5mg left, after 9 hours there will only be 2.5mg left, and after 12 hours there will be 1.25mg of CBD left.

The half-life of CBD can change depending on the method of consumption and the amount of time it is used. Inhalation of CBD has a half-life of 31 hours, and oral administration of CBD has a half-life of 2-5 days.

CBD side-effects

While increasing your dose of CBD can enhance its bioavailability, and therefore its therapeutic effects, too much CBD can result in some undesirable side-effects. These side-effects are typically only mild, minimal and temporary but their severity can be exacerbated by high doses of CBD.

For example, high doses of CBD can cause a small drop in blood pressure. This can be problematic for individuals who have been diagnosed with hypertension or are taking antihypertensive medications. This side-effect is also linked to feelings of lightheadedness or dizziness.

At low doses, CBD can improve focus and have an uplifting effect on mood. On the other hand, high doses can have a sedative effect on some individuals and can induce drowsiness. These effects typically occur at doses of 100mg or higher, but not every CBD consumer is affected in this way.

Nausea and diarrhoea are two other common side-effects of high-dose CBD consumption. However, these side-effects are more likely caused by the additional ingredients in CBD products, as CBD itself has gastroprotective effects. Carrier oils, such as MCT oil, have the potential to irritate the stomach lining and cause diarrhoea when consumed in large amounts.

CBD-drug interactions

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Another important consideration when learning about the side-effects of CBD is how it interacts with other medications. As CBD is both a substrate and an inhibitor of CYP450 enzymes, it can interfere with the metabolism of other drugs. In turn, these drugs can also speed up or prolong the time it takes for CBD to be excreted from the body.

CYP3A4, the enzyme responsible for metabolising CBD, as well as CYP26D can also be inhibited by CBD. As CYP3A4 is a vital enzyme for the metabolism of other drugs, not just CBD, inhibiting it will increase the concentrations of these drugs in the bloodstream. An increased concentration of these drugs in the blood can prolong their effects, even adverse ones.

Grapefruit and grapefruit juice act in a similar manner to CBD, by the way they inhibit CYP3A4. Therefore, it is safe to assume that any medication which comes with a warning about grapefruit consumption may interact with CBD in a similar way. These medications include blood thinners such as warfarin, anti-convulsants, anti-depressants, cholesterol-lowering statins, some hypertensive drugs and certain anti-cancer agents, amongst others.

If you want to begin consuming CBD and you are taking any form of medication, then consult with a medical practitioner to see if taking CBD is suitable for you.

Tips when consuming CBD

When it comes to purchasing CBD, always make sure to purchase a product with the correct potency. You must first decide what it is that you want to use the CBD for. If using CBD to manage symptoms such as chronic pain, inflammation, arthritis or anxiety, consider purchasing a CBD product with high potency.

Also make sure to be careful where you’re sourcing your CBD from and which additional compounds are present in your desired formulation. It is imperative that prospective CBD consumers do research prior to purchasing a product to ensure its legitimacy and safety. Only products that come from third-party tested brands with licensed and reputable labs should be considered.

When it comes to consuming CBD for the first time, patience is a virtue. If you’re not feeling anything straight away, wait an appropriate amount of time before re-dosing. Understanding how different methods of consumption affect the onset of CBD effects is helpful in deciding whether or not you should take another dose.

Patience with CBD is also important if you are using it as a long-term solution. CBD interacts with the ECS by maintaining homeostasis throughout the body, so effects may not always be immediate but cumulative instead.

When dosing, it is important to maintain consistency. Daily doses are recommended for maximum results, as missing a dose can reduce the amount of CBD within your body, thus reducing its efficacy. If you are taking large doses of CBD, it may work best to spread the doses throughout the day rather than administering all the CBD at once.

Lastly, if you haven’t found a CBD product that’s just right for you, then don’t be afraid to try different delivery methods. Experimenting with different products will help you figure out what works best for you. We all react differently to CBD, so different methods work for different people. Some consumers even use a combination of delivery methods to get the most out of their CBD. Do your own research and experimentation, be careful, listen to your body and you will most likely find a CBD product that benefits you.

The bottom line on CBD

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While these guidelines will provide a frame of reference for how long it takes CBD to start affecting you, we cannot stress enough that everyone reacts to CBD differently, based on the aforementioned variables. Understanding how factors such as weight, metabolism, concentration and dose can impact bioavailability is important in giving consumers a general idea of a CBD timeline.

On average, you will start to feel the effects of most CBD products within the first 30-60 minutes after consumption. A single dose of CBD will not stay in your system for longer than a week, even if it is a large dose. Long-term relief for symptoms that CBD can treat could take up to 30 days. This is because CBD concentrations build up over time in the bloodstream and fat storage if it isn’t cleared from your body after every use.

Ultimately, how long CBD takes before you start to feel any effects depends on the individual. Experimentation is key for getting the most out of your CBD. If you feel like it isn’t working for you, try adjusting your dose or using a new delivery method. You can choose to do this on your own or with help from a medical practitioner. Just remember to do some research before purchasing or consuming any CBD products, and you should have realistic expectations of how it can benefit you.

Verified by a Healthcare Professional

Anastasiia Myronenko

Anastasiia Myronenko

Anastasiia Myronenko is a Medical Physicist actively practicing in one of the leading cancer centers in Kyiv, Ukraine. She received her master’s degree in Medical Physics at Karazin Kharkiv National University and completed Biological Physics internship at GSI Helmholtz Centre for Heavy Ion Research, Germany. Anastasiia Myronenko specializes in radiation therapy and is a fellow of Ukrainian Association of Medical Physicists.