Become Fluent in Cannabis Sublinguals

Danna Windsor/Thrillist
Danna Windsor/Thrillist

As we enter this new era where weed is a wellness thing, sublinguals are on everyone’s tongue -- or under, as the case may be. They’re the DL alternative to edibles and vaping. Although stigmas over cannabis are breaking down every day, many people want to keep their usage to themselves. Maybe you live with family or in an apartment building with a strict manager or, ahem, nosy neighbors, so you don’t want to light up. But discretion isn’t the only perk.

So what are sublinguals, and how do they work?

The word sublingual may sound like something out of a humanities course catalog for an obscure ecological phenomenon, but it simply means something placed under your tongue, where it dissolves immediately. In fact, that’s all this term means, under the tongue. Our mouths’ mucous membranes are quite permeable, which makes them a rapid delivery system for substances. If you’ve ever had one of those extremely potent Listerine PocketPack strips, you have an idea of what a sublingual is. When it comes to cannabis, a sublingual acts in the same way.

Generally strips or little tablets, these magical weed-delivery systems help cannaisseurs steer clear of smoke, but also take effect faster than edibles and tincture-infused drinks (though you can take some tinctures sublingually). You’ll typically feel the effects of sublinguals within 15 to 30 minutes, compared with edibles, which take closer to 60 to 90 minutes, depending on the ingredients. Smoking and vaping are, of course, almost instantaneous.

Also unlike edibles, sublinguals bypass the gastrointestinal tract where enzymes can transform delta-9 THC (the primary active ingredient of cannabis) before you absorb it, converting it into 11-hydroxy THC, which is more psychoactive. That’s why your bad trips are more likely to result from edibles rather than from smoking or vaping. 

Sublinguals get around this by dissolving in your mouth, avoiding the breakdown, and giving you a more controllable high. You usually get an "I can still do things and I'm feeling really lovely about it" high with sublinguals (sleep aid-type varieties are the obvious exception here). It’s a similar vibe to vaping, but with an often slightly heightened body high, though that varies by factors like dose and brand.

Cannabis sublinguals allow for dosing control in addition to their speedy efficacy. For example, Kin Slips, a popular California brand, come in microdoses of 5 milligrams per strip or standard 10-milligram doses, with various formulations that all have different intended effects (energizing, relaxing, pain-relieving, etc.). dosist, known for its medicinal, single-use vape pens, recently got into the sublingual business with its “dose dial” devices. The dial dispenses one dissolvable 3.7-milligram tablet at a time (the dials come with 30 tablets). Colorado-based SUM Microdose makes a similar product, sublingual tablets with a maximum 2.5 milligrams of THC. 

Part of why companies offer lower potency sublinguals isn't just for harm reduction; it's also because it’s hard to pack a standard 10-milligram dose or more into a little strip without getting a strong taste. Lower-dose strips taste more like mint (or other flavoring) and less like cannabis. That being said, the flower taste of a 10-milligram sublingual is comparable to a strong edible. Sublingual tinctures offer the least pleasant mouthfeel, but that's mostly because they're often oil-based for better absorption. In the case of sublingually-applied tinctures, however, you get the benefit of feeling like a mad scientist using the little dropper to deliver a mellow high.

In general, as long as the sublingual product is placed under your tongue (not on the top), you should feel the effects within 15 minutes. Flavors vary from brand to brand, but they tend to taste either fruity or minty, so a final word of warning: don’t confuse the latter with your mouthwash strips!

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J. Fergus is a lifestyle writer known for food, alcohol, cannabis, and tech coverage — the modern rhombus of vices. Their words have graced the likes of Foodbeast, Tastemade, The Manual, and Chowhound. Their words have also been known to disgrace Twitter.