Cannabinoids are a great addition to your health and wellness routine. They provide a wide range of therapeutic benefits and help to sustain health over time. Since the legalization of cannabinoid products derived from hemp in the 2018 Farm Bill, many are raving about the benefits. In fact, it is estimated 1 in 7 adults currently use a CBD product daily. There are many products to choose from and the options can be overwhelming for consumers to navigate. In this guide, we will discuss the three main routes of administration to choose from with cannabinoids to help you have a better understanding of what cannabinoid-based product may be right for you.

There is a vast amount of cannabinoid products available with each having a specific route of administration. They can be administered orally by the way of edibles or tinctures, inhaled when smoked or vaped, or applied topically. As consumers, it is important to understand how cannabinoids work in the body with the metabolism, or the pharmacokinetics of cannabinoids, to know the expected onset and duration of what is being consumed. Let’s take a look at the three main routes of administration:

Oral Administration

Oral administration of cannabinoids is favored among consumers due to their long-lasting effects, and many feel the dosing is more accurate. However, when ingesting neutral cannabinoids, such as CBD or CBG, the body only absorbs an average of 6% of the cannabinoid. When taking acidic cannabinoids, such as CBDA or CBGA, the absorption is greatly increased. Though, both are hindered due to the extensive first-pass metabolism of orally ingested cannabinoids. The first pass metabolism is a phenomenon where the concentration of a drug is greatly reduced before it reaches the systemic circulation and is able to have an effect. This means that though the edible may be 20mg, the body is only absorbing a fraction of that. Orally ingested cannabinoids have a longer onset time compared to other routes, taking 60 to 180 minutes on average to feel the effects. On the other hand, the effects last the longest as one could potentially feel the effects for 6 to 8 hours dependent on the individual.

Orally ingested cannabinoids are great for those looking to feel extended effects throughout the day of cannabinoids. They are also great for patients to help manage their baseline symptoms throughout their days.


Unlike orally ingested cannabinoids that have an extensive first-pass metabolism, inhalation completely bypasses it, allowing for the most rapid delivery of cannabinoids to the body compared to all other routes. When vaping or smoking cannabinoids, one should feel the effects within 5 to 10 minutes, and the benefits felt can last 2 to 4 hours dependent on the individual. Due to the effects being felt almost immediately, smoking and vaping is ideal for those looking to feel the effects quickly, such as patients needing relief from an immediate symptom.

Topical Administration

Topical administration also bypasses the first-pass metabolism as inhalation does. However, absorption through this route is dependent on the quality of the formulation and the hydrophobicity of the cannabinoid’s components, meaning how the compound blends or does not blend with water. If the compound fails to mix with water, it can lead to poor drug diffusion, and in turn, poor absorption of the cannabinoids applied.

Topical administration, typically through lotions, bath soaks, or patches, take 20 to 30 minutes to feel the effects after application. Topicals allow one to target a specific area on the body that needs relief and are great allies for aching muscles and joints.

When choosing cannabinoid products, it is important to consider the various routes of administration available and how each will affect you. The products needed can vary on the specific time of day, and in some cases, all routes may be necessary throughout the day. When using cannabinoids, it is best to listen to your body, and keep notes on how products affect you. Over time you will learn exactly what cannabinoid products are best for your individual health goals.