Clearing the smoke: Sublingual cannabis sprays as an alternative consumption option

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      Think back to an episode of That ‘70s Show or the Cheech and Chong cinematic classic, Up in Smoke. Usually, a giant joint or blunt is passed leftward around a circle, or while hotboxing a 1964 Chevrolet Impala SS coupe, and the scene slowly hazes under plumes of smoke. The images of characters coughing, spluttering, and smiling their way into the ‘high’ is a common depiction of cannabis consumption in modern pop culture. But is it accurate? Not really.

      While many sing the praises of a joint, bong, or pipe as their preferred form of consumption, there are many turned off by its harsh throat-feel and lack of discretion. Just the idea of ‘lighting up’ can be stressful and inconvenient. The worry of the smell clinging to clothing or hair can be enough to dissuade individuals who feel stigmatized and isolated by cannabis use. There also exists a large number of Canadians—72 percent according to Health Canada’s latest research—who believe regularly smoking cannabis poses a moderate to great risk to their overall health.  

      In short, there is a high demand for smoke-free and discreet products. Earlier this year, a report on consumer trends outlined projections for the legal Canadian cannabis market. Around 35 percent of current users and 43 percent of likely consumers said they didn’t want to smoke or vape cannabis products.  

      Currently, there are smoke-free alternatives that allow consumers to explore cannabis in a dose-controlled manner. As cannabinoid-infused edibles and topicals are not yet available through legal channels, many licensed producers (LP) like Hexo Corp have tasked their research and development teams with developing innovative options. These LPs have explored capsules and tinctures, but one interesting development is the sublingual spray.

      What is it? 

      Sublingual literally means “under the tongue”. These sprays differ from a cannabis tincture or oil presented in a dropper or capsule format in that the product is placed under the tongue where the salivary glands and mucous membrane absorb the cannabinoids quickly. Swallowing the product means the compounds are processed through the stomach and liver which can produce unreliable, inconsistent results and a slower onset time.

      While the effects of the cannabis are not altered, sublingual delivery systems mean compounds enter the bloodstream at a faster rate, and the spray is a more reliable method of controlled dosing. Sprays are appealing for consumers looking for a discrete and effective method of consuming cannabis. 

      Sublingual ingestion generally carries an onset time of between half an hour and 45 minutes. It is recommended that consumers wait between one to two hours after their first dose to fully allow for the effects, both perceptual and sub-perceptual, to manifest. 

      The sprays available through legal channels—on provincial websites, through licensed producers, and in licensed retail hubs—come in a variety of formulations. Generally, consumers have the option to choose between a tetrahydrocannabidiol (THC) forward product, which is often preferred by those interested in cannabis’ perceptual therapeutic effects, or a cannabidiol (CBD) rich product with small amounts of other cannabinoids. The latter is great for those looking for less intoxicating effects but still wanting to maintain the plant’s entourage benefits. Some companies also offer a balanced hybrid formulation, with a one-to-one ratio of both THC and CBD, for consumers looking for the equal presence of both cannabinoids.  

      The flavour of a sublingual spray is another consideration when comparing products available in the legal market. Some companies use a plain or bland carrier, usually MCT oil, while others use mint or citrus oil blends for taste. Health Canada has regulated against added synthetic flavours and sweeteners in many cannabis products to reduce the risk of appeal to youth.

      While smokeless cannabis-infused edibles and topicals are projected to hit legal shelves in December, these sublingual sprays are readily available now and offer a discreet, pocket-sized, and convenient way to consume cannabis.

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