The ins and outs of smoking CBD

Smoking cannabidiol (CBD) might not be the only way to consume this increasingly popular cannabis compound, but believe it or not, there's reason to believe that it is one of the most effective ways to experience the benefits of this non-intoxicating cannabinoid. 

The method of consumption plays a critical role in how long it will take to feel the effects of CBD. Inhalation is considered an effective method of delivery for CBD because of how quickly it's absorbed in the body. When CBD is smoked or vaped, cannabinoids are sent directly to the lungs and are rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream and put into circulation throughout the body.

It reaches peak concentrations in plasma within 3 minutes of consumption.

A 2007 study states that CBD can be detected up to 72 hours after smoking. In another study, volunteers were given soft-gelatin capsules containing cannabis extract containing 2.5 milligrams of THC and 1.35 milligrams of CBD. The research team found that CBD was only detectable in the blood for up to 6 hours after ingestion.  

There is mounting research on CBD's potential medical benefits, including scientific evidence for its effectiveness in the treatment of epilepsy by reducing seizures. CBD is also commonly used to alleviate depression and anxiety, as well as for those suffering from insomnia.

While some consumers and patients prefer to take their CBD through oral administration or topical application, others have found inhalation to be the most effective consumption method. 

cbd vape
Many consumers typically prefer consuming or smoking CBD through a pipe, joint, or a vape pen.
Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps

Many consumers typically prefer consuming or smoking CBD through a pipe, joint, or a vape pen. Of course, CBD can also be consumed by swallowing in pill form or administering through a lotion or tincture, but vaping or smoking CBD provides unique benefits that other forms of consumption generally lack.

The difference between smoking CBD and THC

To be high, or not to be high? That is a question that may appeal as the easiest illustrate the difference between smoking high-CBD flower and THC-heavy flower.

But it's a bit more complex than that.

Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and CBD are the most prevalent among the 113 identified cannabinoids in cannabis plants. In fact, CBD is the second-most-abundant cannabinoid found in the plant. CBD is often touted as “non-psychoactive,” however this statement is somewhat misleading — and a more accurate way to describe CBD is as a non-intoxicating substance. Any substance that has a direct effect on the function of the brain, which CBD does to a certain extent, is considered to be psychoactive.

Both THC and CBD interact with the body's endocannabinoid system (ECS).
Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps

Both THC and CBD interact with the body's endocannabinoid system (ECS). The endocannabinoid system is a group of cannabinoid receptors found throughout the body. These receptors are located in the central nervous system, the peripheral nervous system, and the immune system.

THC binds with the CB1 receptors in the brain to produce a high, while CBD has shown to have the opposite interaction with CB1 receptors, acting as an antagonist. Therein lies the main difference between the two cannabinoids.

In other words, CBD, which can be extracted from either the marijuana or hemp plant, is a non-intoxicating compound, meaning it does not produce a high when used by itself or in tandem with other non-intoxicating compounds.

Is smoking CBD safe?

While more research into the effectiveness of CBD consumption methods is needed, most evidence suggests that vaping or smoking CBD itself will not cause intoxicating side effects. The primary concern for users is getting unadulterated CBD and, for those who prefer smoking, the potential long term effects on the lungs. 

It's important to note that the act of smoking cannabis, even high-CBD strains, could potentially lead to respiratory issues.  A 2007 study published in the Harm Reduction Journal examined self-reported respiratory symptoms in participants who used cigarettes and cannabis, and discovered that using a vaporizer could decrease respiratory symptoms in regular cannabis users who smoke.   

Smoking has been shown to increase bioavailability, which is the proportion of a drug when it enters the body's circulatory system.
Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps

An often-cited study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, published in 2017, found a disturbingly wide range of CBD concentrations when testing products purchased online. Of the products tested in the study, 26% contained less CBD than labeled, which could negate any potential positive clinical response, according to the study.

Some issues have to public attention with CBD vapes, but those problems may stem over poor regulation of the vaping market.

A patient in Illinois on Aug. 23, 2019, became the first known to die of a mysterious lung illness linked to vaping. The death occurred as doctors and hospitals nationwide are reporting an increasing number of vaping-related respiratory illnesses over summer, with 193 reported in 22 states, the New York Times reported.

The benefits of smoking CBD

So, what does smoking CBD do? Are there benefits to this method in comparison to oral ingestion or topical application, for example? 

For starters, smoking has been shown to increase bioavailability, which is the proportion of a drug when it enters the body's circulatory system. When medications are administered in ways other than intravenously, the bioavailability rate naturally drops. This is due to incomplete absorption and what's known as first-pass metabolism — when the concentration of a drug is reduced before it reaches the circulatory system.

Smoking has been shown to increase absorption. One study, Human Cannabinoid Pharmacokinetics published in 2017, states that “smoking provides a rapid and efficient method of drug delivery,” although the bioavailability can vary broadly based on how the CBD is smoked (duration, spacing of puffs, hold time, and inhalation volume).

When smoking or vaping CBD, the cannabinoids are sent directly to the lungs before being rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream and put into circulation throughout the body. It reaches peak concentrations in plasma within 3 minutes after consumption, meaning the effects can be felt almost directly after use.  

When smoking or vaping CBD, the cannabinoids are sent directly to the lungs before being rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream and put into circulation throughout the body.
Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps

With ingestion, CBD is first sent through the digestive tract and metabolized in the liver, where it is broken down before finally being sent into the bloodstream. This process, known as the “first-pass effect,” takes place when cytochrome P450 (CYP450) oxidases enzymes in the liver, reducing CBD concentration and sending the remainder to the bloodstream and eventually throughout the body. On the other hand, the permeability of CBD is tenfold higher than THC when topically applied to the skin, peaking after 90 minutes. 

Some evidence from clinical trials suggests that one among the numerous benefits of CBD is an aid to those who wish to quit smoking cigarettes. A 2013 study by researchers at the University College of London showed CBD significantly reduced the number of cigarettes smoked by study participants by roughly 40%. 

How does smoking CBD feel?

The effects of smoking CBD will vary depending on the product and the individual who is consuming the CBD. For example, dabbing a pure CBD isolate will likely cause different effects than hitting a high-CBD vape pen that also contains some THC.  

While CBD doesn't get you high or intoxicated, it has been known to provide a sense of calm, relaxation, and well-being. CBD can make some people feel sleepy, relaxed, generally at easy, happy, or even energetic. While there are no serious side effects reported with CBD, overconsumption can cause nausea, fatigue, and irritability. 

In addition to a feeling of relaxation, smoking CBD has been noted to provide quick relief of swelling and pain.
Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps

While THC binds with the CB1 receptors in the brain to produce a high, CBD affects multiple sets of receptors throughout the body by exerting indirect influence on these receptors, thereby increasing the levels of endocannabinoids produced naturally by the body. In addition to a feeling of relaxation, smoking CBD has been noted to provide quick relief of swelling and pain.

Can you smoke CBD oil?

CBD can be infused into a variety of products, including vape juice, edibles, capsules, and CBD oil tinctures. CBD tinctures are strictly for ingestion, while CBD oils are made for inhalation.

CBD vape juice, sometimes referred to as CBD vape oil, may vary in concentration depending on state-specific laws. It is legal in 30 states. Another 17 states have CBD-specific laws that enable some level of use or consumption.

weed cbd oil concentrate vape pen
CBD can be infused into a variety of products, including vape juice, edibles, capsules, and CBD oil tinctures.
Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not stepped in to regulate CBD products, but the FDA approved the prescription use of Epidiolex in 2018, a purified form of CBD oil for treating epilepsy.

Rick Simpson Oil, named after its Canadian developer, who claims he cured his own skin cancer with a custom blend of cannabis oil, is a popular form of CBD oil that is commonly smoked.

CBD oil derived from industrial hemp plants only contain CBD, while marijuana-derived products, such as Rick Simpson Oil, have a high concentration of THC and the full range of cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant.

Does CBD kill your high?

The answer isn't clear, but CBD has demonstrated the ability to moderate a high produced from THC by preventing the body from breaking it down. Some people say they use CBD when they get too high to reduce the effects. Evidence suggests CBD actually interferes with the activity of the CB1 receptor, especially in the presence of THC.

So, when THC and CBD work together to affect CB1 receptor activity, users tend to feel a more mellow high and are said to have a reduced chance of experiencing paranoia compared with the effects felt when CBD is absent in a product. This synergistic relationship is often referred to as the “entourage effect,” which explains why certain combinations of cannabinoids and terpenes seem to enhance the benefits of cannabis. 

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The information contained in this site is provided for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as medical or legal advice. This page was last updated on August 4, 2020.