Should You Consume Cannabis and CBD on an Empty or a Full Stomach?
Cannabis, CBD and Stomach Status
When you use cannabis or CBD with specific wellness goals in mind, for example to accelerate muscle recovery after a workout, does how full or empty your stomach is affect the outcome? Our data indicates that it might.
If you aren’t familiar with how Jointly helps you fine tune your cannabis experience to get the results you want, head over to Achieving Your Wellness Goals with Cannabis and CBD to get an overview of how the Jointly app can help you get the most out of the legal cannabis world.
Should You Take Cannabis on an Empty or a Full Stomach?
It turns out that it depends on your goals. Anecdotally, people have observed that consuming weed edibles on an empty stomach seems to increase the potency. Orally ingested cannabinoids are absorbed through the small intestine, so eating an edible on an empty stomach means that there is less material in the small intestine competing for absorption, which hypothetically could increase the effects. Of course, increasing the potency could be good or bad depending on the individual and her goals.
For some people, increased potency could lead to undesirable side effects like anxiety or sleepiness. But if a cannabis user has a tolerance, consuming edibles on an empty stomach could allow her to feel a stronger effect from a smaller dose, minimizing the cost of her wellness protocol.
There aren’t many scientific studies on this topic due to nearly a century of federal prohibition of cannabis, but one element that has been studied in some depth is the relationship between cannabis, CBD and dietary fats. Cannabinoids are fat-soluble, meaning that if you ingest cannabis or CBD as an edible, your body needs fat to absorb it. One of these studies was a 2016 study out of University of Nottingham, which found that taking cannabis or CBD with some form of dietary fat dramatically increased the bioavailability.
In 2012, there was a Phase 1 clinical study that compared the effects of ingesting Sativex in a fed versus fasted state. Sativex is an alcohol-based cannabis extract spray with a 1:1 ratio of THC to CBD, so some portion of the cannabinoids will be “eaten”, while the rest will be absorbed through the mucous membrane lining the mouth. In the fasted state, subjects had no food for ten hours prior and four hours after their Sativex dose. In the fed state, subjects ate a high-fat meal 30 minutes prior. The study found that THC and CBD were rapidly absorbed into the blood stream in a fasted condition, reaching peak plasma concentrations in 1.5 hours. In a fed condition, peak plasma concentration did not occur until 4 hours after dosing. However, the fed subjects absorbed a much higher total peak plasma concentration, which means that the cannabinoids were much more bio-available after eating a high fat meal.
But what about other methods of ingestion such as smoking, vaping or topicals—could your stomach status affect the experience? Jointly has not found any scientifically rigorous studies that examine this question, but we have gathered some early data from our users indicating that stomach status does affect their experience.
Jointly users have been ranking cannabis and CBD products on scale of 1-10, based on how successful the product is at inducing their goal state. Jointly users are also tracking if they are consuming these products on an empty, partially full or full stomach in order to learn what factors affect their cannabis experience. You can compare the average ratings for products across goal states and stomach status with the table below.
When Jointly users consumed a cannabis product on empty stomach to relax, they rated the product an average of 8.0/10. But when they consumed the same product with a full stomach, they rated the product an average of 8.9/10. That’s an 11% difference in rating for the same product, depending on the user’s stomach status.
The graph below presents the percentage difference in product ratings based on goal state, depending on if Jointly users consumed the product on a full stomach versus an empty stomach.
For Relieve Stress, our users rated cannabis or CBD products 13% higher if they ingested on a full stomach versus an empty stomach. For Reduce Anxiety, there was a 9% increase, and an 8% increase for Improve Sleep.
For Escape, there was a 2% increase in average product rating when our users consumed cannabis or CBD on a full stomach compared to an empty stomach. For Enjoy Social Experience, there was no difference in average product rating between an empty and full stomach.
For Focus or Create, our users rated their products 29% lower if they consumed cannabis with a full stomach versus to an empty stomach. Similarly, our users rated products 21% lower for Recovery when consuming them on a full stomach, and 15% lower for Manage Pain with a full stomach.
For Replace Drinking, our users rated their products 29% higher when they consumed them on a full stomach.
While we don’t know the mechanism of action behind these findings, we can hypothesize why we might be seeing these data. Breathing, digesting and the other unconscious processes that keep us alive are regulated by the autonomic nervous system, which is divided into the parasympathetic nervous system (“rest and digest”) and the sympathetic nervous system (“fight or flight”). Eating stimulates our parasympathetic nervous system. When our parasympathetic nervous system is activated, our heartbeat slows, our blood pressure lowers, blood flows to our digestive system, and we often experience subjective feelings of calm and peace. If you are consuming cannabis or CBD to relax, relieve stress or improve your sleep, perhaps eating a meal before dosing could stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system and lead to a synergistic effect.
Or it could be the opposite. When you have an empty stomach, the levels of key nutrients in your blood are at their lowest, creating subjective feelings of being “hangry” and possibly preventing you from relaxing or falling asleep.
On the other side, ingesting cannabis or CBD on an empty stomach could be beneficial for certain wellness goals like Focus or Create. While there are limited human studies, numerous animal studies have shown that being in a fasted state can boost levels of norepinephrine and orexin-A, neurotransmitters involved in focus, memory and attention, as well as a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). BDNF plays a role in learning and memory, boosts neurogenesis (the growth of new neurons), and makes neurons more resistant to stress. It could be that consuming cannabis or CBD on an empty stomach could create a synergistic effect for goals that involve focus or attention. Or it could be the opposite: that being full makes us lethargic and relaxed.
What about pain relief and recovery? Jointly users found better success with these wellness goals when ingesting on an empty stomach. This finding may seem counterintuitive as recovery and pain management seem like the realm of the parasympathetic nervous system, but perhaps our users were ingesting edibles. We know from the Sativex study that ingesting cannabinoids on an empty stomach can lead to rapid peak blood concentration, so maybe this effect created a greater subjective degree of pain relief or recovery in our users.
We don’t yet have enough data to break it down further into ingestion method or cannabinoid type, but that is on the horizon for Jointly. We will be publishing new editions of this report as we gather more data and can draw new insights about how stomach status affects a cannabis user’s experience.
Curious about tracking and optimizing how you use cannabis and CBD? Create a Jointly account and start setting wellness goals, tracking your experience, and adjusting how you use cannabis to achieve the results you want! By recording your sessions on Jointly, you are also contributing valuable information that other members of our community can use to improve their cannabis or CBD experience. The more people that use Jointly, the more useful and reliable the data becomes. Download the Jointly app, join the community, and begin your cannabis wellness journey today!