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Cannabis Fundamentals: Your Guide to Onset Times

There are so many forms of cannabis medicine on the market: vapes, edibles, tinctures, topicals, capsules, and oral solutions, just to name a few. Exciting though these products and their capabilities are, they raise a number of important questions about how we take our medicine. And one of the most pressing is: what is cannabis’ onset time?

Confused? That’s just another way of saying “how long before the medicine takes effect?” And as you might expect, it’s a crucial number to be aware of. If you’re using a medicine with pronounced cerebral effects—for example, a high-THC edible—it’s important to know the window of time before activities (such as getting behind the wheel) are off-limits.

Guide to Onset Times

So with that in mind, we’ve prepared a quick guide to onset times. One thing to know: These cannabis onset times are averages. Because everyone’s physiology is a little different, it’s important to observe the full range of onset times, especially when you’re first trying to determine your tolerance. Keep in mind as well that consuming ingested cannabis medicines—edibles, topicals, capsules, and tablets—around the same time as foods will tend to reduce the onset time, particularly if the foods are rich or fatty.

With that important information out of the way, let’s dive into our list of cannabis onset times!

Flower and Vapes

For many of us, cannabis flower—what some people call “bud”—is the most familiar form of cannabis medicine. While there are important differences between consuming cannabis by inhaling burned flower or with a purpose-made vape, they’re similar in one very important regard: They both deliver the fastest onset time of any cannabis medicines:

  • Cannabis Onset Times for Flower and Vapes: 1 – 10 minutes
  • Duration of Effect for Flower and Vapes: 2 – 6 hours, though one study showed no difference in placebo versus cannabis inhalation after four hours
Guide to Onset Times

Tinctures and Oils

These typically come in small bottles with a dropper cap. You can swallow the tincture or cannabis-infused oil, in which case the effects may take up to two hours to reach full strength.

  • Duration of Effect for Tinctures and Oils: 4 – 12 hours 

Topicals

These products are designed to be applied directly to the skin. Note: Many topicals are designed to not be intoxicating at all, so it’s important to read the label carefully. 

Topicals may provide many cannabis patients with safe, sustainable, and long-lasting relief from soreness, inflammation, or strain.

  • Cannabis Onset Times for Topicals: 30 – 60 minutes
  • Duration of Effect for Topicals: 4 – 6 hours 

Capsules, Soft Gels, and Tablets

Although they come in different formats, the cannabis medicine in these products isn’t functionally different from that contained in tinctures or oils. However, the onset time may be longer than for a tincture or oil, depending on the time it takes to dissolve. That’s one reason we always recommend you wait at least 3 hours before taking another dose.

Consuming fatty foods or beverages around the same time may reduce the onset time and increase the medicine’s duration.

  • Cannabis Onset Times for Capsules, Soft Gels, and Tablets: 1 – 3 hours
  • Duration of Effect for Capsules, Soft Gels, and Tablets: 4 – 12 hours 
Guide to Onset Times

Edibles

This class of cannabis medicines includes foods, candies, and beverages infused with cannabis. Although the cannabis medicine they contain functions in a similar way as with tinctures, oil, capsules, or tablets, it’s especially important to pay attention to dosage and portion size. Read the label carefully: Is the product a chocolate bar meant to be broken off into smaller portions and eaten over time, for instance? Is a bottle of cannabis-infused tea meant to be a single serving or several? Note: Be sure to keep any cannabis-infused foods out of reach and away from children who may not understand the written warning on the packaging! 

  • Cannabis Onset Times for Edibles: 1 – 3 hours
  • Duration of Effect for Edibles: 4 – 12 hours

Have any other questions about what factors can affect your experience of cannabis? Please don’t hesitate to reach out

Please note that qualifying conditions vary by state, and the information relating to qualifying conditions may not apply to cannabis patients in all states.

Product availability also varies based on state program restrictions and rules, so the products discussed may not be available in all states. Be sure to check with your local Green Goods location about the products available in your state!