As the cannabis industry continues to expand, entrepreneurs are developing products that cater to the needs and desires of highly discerning consumers. Some innovations aim to make cannabis use more convenient, while others are aimed at making it more healthful. Sublingual cannabis strips seem to tick both boxes, which is why they could become a significant part of the future market.
Sublingual strips are usually made with cannabinoid oil, another oil or flavoring to make the taste more palatable, and emulsifiers to bind the oil to the strip. Once the ingredients are combined, the mixture is baked in an oven and cut into strips.
Using them is simple: just place a strip under the tongue and leave it in place for a minute or more. Beneath the tongue lies the oral mucosa, a highly permeable membrane that absorbs the strips’ cannabinoids straight into users’ bloodstreams like smoking or vaping, instead of navigating the gastrointestinal system like edibles do. This translates to a faster onset and more consistent effect than other smokeless options.
What’s more, gastric acids and enzymes sometimes convert delta-9 THC into 11-hydroxy THC, which can lead to more intense intoxication. Josh Kirby, CEO of California-based sublingual strip brand Kin Slips, believes that this difference is the strips’ trump card, contributing to their viability on the smokeless market.
“More often than not, [first-time cannabis users] will try a cookie or a gummy and they’ll have a very intense experience that scares them off of cannabis. And then we lose that participant in our industry,” he told Leafly. “Sublingual strips avoid that by going directly into your bloodstream through that membrane underneath your tongue. It doesn’t pass through your digestive system and it doesn’t interact with those enzymes and digestive fluids that can convert it to that hydroxyl-11. So you get a pure delta-9 experience, which feels just like smoking or vaping. This is why it’s so much more controlled and clear.”
There’s an obvious appeal here, and while Kin Slips may have been one of the first companies to take advantage of it, they’re not alone. Their quickly-growing crowd of competitors include health-oriented brands like CannaStrips, celebrity-endorsed companies like Chong’s Choice (whose products bear the likeness of cannabis culture icon Tommy Chong), and artisanal outfits like Olo, which offers a number of specially-formulated varieties for specific purposes that come with names like Active, Social, and Chill.
According to their proponents, sublingual strips solve many of the problems typically associated with edible cannabis. As Kirby told Forbes, “The problem with traditional edibles is that they can sometimes be unpredictable. We wanted to create something that was not only practical and discreet but was also able to offer a consistent experience every single time. After lots of research, a sublingual strip just made the most sense.”
Accurate dosage is one of the strongest selling points for sublingual strips, with accuracy rivalling metered vape pens. Another benefit is that no cannabinoid content is lost when exhaling. However, they can still be lost when swallowing, which lowers their bioavailability to between 4 and 12 percent — well below the levels available through smoking or vaping.
The way to ensure that the cannabinoid content is absorbed through the oral mucosa is to keep the strip under the tongue, mouth closed and tongue locked in place, for 3 to 5 minutes. While this seems like a small drawback, for a product priding itself on convenience and discretion it’s less than ideal.
Still, as long as you’re not using a sublingual strip in the middle of a dinner or business meeting, they are quite discreet. This inconspicuousness manifests in an obvious way compared with smoking or vaping, but the strips also have advantages over edibles. When in storage, they appear more like dental hygiene products than food, making them less attractive to children. And since they don’t have the visual appeal of treats like cannabis cookies or gummies, they won’t elicit the same curiosity or requests for sharing that even well-disguised edibles might.
Their taste is something to be reckoned with, though. As the binding of cannabinoids to the strips is something of a chemical feat, not much room is left for taste enhancers, an issue that many strip makers address through the use of aspartame. This can leave a sort of “diet soda” aftertaste, as Kirby put it.
The use of sublingual strips is also complicated by concerns common to many cannabis products, like the origin of the raw material, the extraction process used, and third-party lab testing. Some established brands make it easy to discover this information through their websites or even via scannable codes on the product packaging, but right now they’re the exception to the rule.