How to Choose A CBD Product: Methods of Ingestion & Bioavailability

CBD Product Being Used

Over the last 5 years, cannabidiol (CBD) has exploded into the mainstream. The cannabis-based compound has been shown to provide a wide range of health benefits. This makes CBD a promising medication for a wide variety of conditions and diseases. As awareness grows, so do the number of companies and products on the market.

As a consumer, the wide range of available products can be a blessing and a curse. This article helps outline how these products are consumed and how the various consumption methods vary in terms of effectiveness. This will help you answer the question: Which type of CBD product is right for me?

How is CBD Absorbed in the Body?

CBD Oil Bubbles

When you use any CBD product, it must be transferred from the administration site into the bloodstream. From there it is transported throughout the body to interact or influence our cannabinoid receptors (CB1 & CB2) and other non-cannabinoid receptors like our serotonin receptor (5-HT1A). There are two important concepts to understand here:

  1. The path that any CBD product is consumed or applied to the body is defined as the route of administration. This has a direct effect on the uptake, distribution, and elimination of the compound. In practical terms, the way you apply or consume a CBD product can govern how effective and beneficial it will be.
  2. The process of absorption is the transfer of CBD from the site of application into the bloodstream. This is called the bioavailability. In practical terms, this is the amount and rate at which CBD is absorbed into the bloodstream. If injected directly into the bloodstream, CBD would have a 100% bioavailability. Other routes will suffer some loss in percentage.

CBD Products by Method of Ingestion

There are four primary methods of consuming CBD, with specific products created for each application. Below we take a look at the five primary methods of CBD administration and the related products for each. As a user, you'll want to balance your preferred method(s) of consuming CBD with the effectiveness of absorption into the bloodstream.

Oral Ingestion: Capsules & Edibles

CBD Oil Capsules

The most common method of using CBD is to take a product by mouth. This means swallowing capsules or eating CBD containing edibles. When CBD is swallowed, it is ultimately absorbed by the digestive system. The compound passes through the portal vein into the liver which then metabolizes the CBD molecules. This process is called the first pass effect. The enzymes in the liver reduce the concentration of the CBD compounds before passing on what remains to the bloodstream.

While ingesting CBD is one of the easiest methods, this passage through the liver reduces the efficiency of CBD absorption. One study reported only a 6% bioavailability when CBD was ingested. (R) While it is disheartening to know such low amounts of CBD are actively used in the body, but there are ways to increase the bioavailability of orally administrated CBD.

Increasing Effectiveness of Ingested CBD

Cannabinoids like CBD are fat soluble. This means they break down to be stored in fat - not water. This means that when consumed with fat, their bioavailability is increased. Saturated fats are important carriers for cannabinoids like CBE. These fat cells help the CBD move through the body and result in faster processing and use.

When talking fats as carriers for CBD, medium-chain triglycerides (MCT) are often highlighted. When using an MCT oil carrier, CBD is directly metabolized into energy by the liver. The result is that your body burns these fats and puts them and the cannabinoids they hold to use immediately. As a CBD user, this means that an extracted CBD concentrate held in MCT oil is ideal.

Sublingual: Concentrates, Tinctures & Sprays

CBD Oil Tincture

This method of consuming CBD likely comes in second in terms of comfort for most users. Sublingual application is when a CBD concentrate, tincture, or spray is administered under the tongue. The CBD is held there for 60-90 seconds before being swallowed. This method carries with it a higher bioavailability but does include taste in the mix.

When CBD is held under the tongue, it is directly absorbed into the mucous membranes. This bypasses the need to pass through the liver as ingested CBD does. The result is the compound reaching the bloodstream more quickly without being broken down. In simple terms, sublingual administration is more effective than oral ingestion.

Users who are not comfortable with the flavor of cannabis may be turned off by sublingual administration. There are some companies out there using flavor additives to mask the cannabis taste. For those looking for maximum benefit, it is worth the effort to find a CBD product that you are comfortable with taking via sublingual application.

Inhalation: Vaporized, Smoked & Dabbed

CBD Vape Pen

Inhaling your CBD is one of the less common methods, though it is growing in popularity. This ingestion method is rooted in recreational marijuana use and has been slow to transition over to CBD users. Today there are a growing number of products available including CBD-specific vape products, hemp or marijuana flower, waxes, and concentrates used for dabbing.

Traditional marijuana smokers may find CBD-heavy strains of marijuana are a great way of getting the cannabinoid into their system. The downside for most users is these strains almost always include enough THC to produce at least a mild high. This is not desirable for many CBD users. There are a growing number of low/no THC vaporized products which will satisfy this need.

Inhaling CBD has up to a 5x higher bioavailability than oral ingestion with a bioavailability of 31% based on one study. (R) This is thanks to the large, highly permeable surface of the interior of the lungs. Inhaling also has a consistently quick onset in only a few minutes. (R) The comparison against inhaled vs oral did show that oral ingestion has a slower onset with the effects of the CBD lasting for a longer period of time. Inhaling CBD has a faster onset with a shorter period of effectiveness.

Though this method of ingesting CBD is highly effective, it still carries the same risks associated with regular vaping and may not be suitable for all users.

Topical: Lotions, Balms, Salves & Patches

CBD Oil Plus Balm

Administering cannabidiol directly to the skin is another popular way to use CBD products. There are a wide variety of lotions, balms, and salves available to serve this need. These products are designed to alleviate symptoms including aching joints, muscles, and skin irritations/issues. This method of application is viable because there are cannabinoid receptors found in the skin.

Topically applied CBD has a localized effect and has been shown to reduce inflammation and pain in the area applied. (R) There are also some additional studies out there pointing to full spectrum cannabinoid use as beneficial for treating skin conditions like psoriasis. (R)

This research and anecdotal feedback have encouraged more and more topical CBD products to flood the market. These products are being used by people with specific conditions like arthritis to athletes suffering from post-exercise soreness. No matter the reason, topical CBD's have a wide range of uses and are easy to apply.


CBD Suppository

This final application method is by far the least popular of all 5 we cover here. Your average person is going to choose to swallow or inhale medicine long before they choose a suppository. Despite this, suppositories are proven to be highly bioavailable and thus a highly effective means of using CBD.

Using a CBD suppository has the best of both worlds when it comes to onset and length of effects. Anally or vaginally inserted suppositories will show noticeable effects after less than 15 minutes. These effects can then last for nearly 8 hours - longer than all other forms of taking CBD.

Despite the effectiveness, few users will still likely choose this route - so who are CBD suppositories for?

In short, these products will likely be used by people who desperately need the benefit of CBD including those with serious chronic pain or other symptoms that CBD helps alleviate. For example, people with cancer who are going through chemotherapy and have a hard time swallowing capsules.

There are also products being designed for vaginal applications to combat the symptoms of a woman's monthly cycle. There are vaginal suppositories and even CBD-soaked tampons that help reduce cramping and menstrual pain for women.

Which Type of CBD Products are Most Effective?

CBD Product Types

With an understanding of the various ingestion methods available, it's time to decide which CBD product is right for you. This decision will vary from person to person based on your needs and how comfortable you are with each administration method. For example, you may be fine with vaping but aren't happy with the short duration of the effects. Sublingual may be preferred for the quicker onset and long duration, but the taste isn't something you can handle.

No matter your situation, our advice is to try different products until you find the one for you! Use the following chart to compare the onset and duration associated with each application method:

You may scroll this table left and right to view the entire thing.

Method of Ingestion Bioavailability Onset Duration
Oral (Capsules, Edibles) Lowest 30-90 Minutes Up to 7 Hours
Sublingual (Oil Tinctures) Low-Mid 20-40 Minutes Up to 6 Hours
Inhalation (Vape, Smoke) Mid-High 2-5 Minutes Up to 3 Hours
Topical (Lotions, Balms, Patches) Low 60-90 Minutes Up to 6 Hours
Suppositories (Anal, Vaginal) Highest 10-15 Minutes Up to 8 Hours

Now that you understand how the different methods of ingesting hemp oil can influence bioavailability, jump to our product types article to see all the various CBD products available on the market today. If you're ready to start shopping see our or CBD brands section where you'll find a list of recommended companies and customer reviews.

Originally Published: June 2, 2018 | Last Updated: October 23, 2018

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