Routes of Administration of Cannabinoids

There are various routes of administration to choose from when taking cannabinoids. There are vapes, flowers, edibles, lotions, and more. As consumers it is important to understand how cannabinoids work in our bodies with our metabolism, or the pharmacokinetics of cannabinoids, to know the expected onset and duration of what we are consuming. Some routes of administration have the advantage of rapid delivery, while others have the advantage of lasting longer than others. Let’s review the various routes of administration we have with cannabinoids.  

Pharmacokinetics of Cannabinoids 

The absorbance of cannabinoids in the body can be influenced from a variety of factors including drug lipophilicity, bioavailability, and tissue differences which are all influenced by the route of administration used. There are four types of routes of administration with cannabinoids. They are inhalation, oral, topical, and suppository. Though the suppository is the least common method, it has one of the highest absorption rates.  


Administering cannabinoids by the route of inhalation by vaping or smoking is the most preferred method among the majority of consumers due to its rapid delivery of cannabinoids to the body. It also makes it an ideal option for patients looking for immediate relief from symptoms. Smoked and vaped cannabinoids have similar pharmacokinetics having an onset time of 5-10 minutes on average, with the effects lasting 2 to 4 hours dependent on the individual.  

Oral Administration  

Oral administration of cannabinoids typically by the way of tinctures or edibles is a popular choice of consumers. Many like them because they feel the dosing is more accurate, however when ingesting cannabinoids orally we only absorb an average of 6% of the cannabinoids. This is because orally ingested cannabinoids have an extensive first pass metabolism, unlike inhalation which completely bypasses it. First pass metabolism is a phenomenon where the concentration of a drug, specifically when taken orally, is greatly reduced before it reaches the systemic circulation resulting in lower peak plasma concentrations. 

Orally ingested cannabinoids have a longer onset time compared to the other routes, taking 60-180 minutes on average to feel the effects. However, they are favored among patients due to the fact the effects typically last 6 to 8 hours, and they often deliver a great level of relaxation to the body.  


The topical administration of cannabinoids works by allowing the cannabinoids to penetrate the skin and enter the bloodstream, usually through the way of lotions, patches, or bath soaks. When administering cannabinoids topically, they also bypass 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 components, meaning how the compound blends or doesn’t blend when exposed to water. If the compound fails to mix with water, it can lead to poor drug diffusion across the aqueous layer of skin, and in turn poor absorption of the cannabinoids.  

When using a topical, one should feel the effects within 20 to 30 minutes of applying the product. Topicals are a great way to target a specific area on the body.  

When choosing cannabinoid products, it is important to consider the pharmacokinetics of the cannabinoids. Utilizing all routes of administration can be beneficial, and the route necessary can vary dependent on the time of day and the individuals’ goals with their cannabinoids. Inhalation can be a great route to feel the effects quickly, as it achieves the most rapid delivery of cannabinoids to the body. Orally ingested cannabinoids can be great to manage overall health or symptoms one may have throughout the day, and topicals are great to target a specific area. When using cannabinoids, it is best to listen to your body, take note on how different products effect you, and overtime you will learn what your body needs.