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Methods of Ingesting CBD: Optimizing Bioavailability & Effectiveness

CBD Product Being Used

As cannabidiol (CBD) explodes into the mainstream, so do the number of products available to consumers. The versatility of this and other cannabis-derived compounds creates a wide range of possible applications. Today you can find CBD in nearly anything - supplements, body care products, coffee, bath bombs and beyond.

As a consumer, the wide range of available products is great, but without some basic education choosing the right product can be difficult. When discussing the various types of CBD products out there there are some very important concepts and technologies at play that have an impact on the overall effectiveness of a given product.

This article helps outline the various ways that CBD products can be 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 cannabinoid receptors (CB1 & CB2) in our endocannabinoid system 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 consume a CBD product will govern how quickly it will come on, how much of the substance becomes active in the body, and how long the effects will last.
  2. The process of absorption is the transfer of CBD from the site of application into the bloodstream. This concept is called bioavailability but could also be referred to as simply the effectiveness. This term is defined as the rate and total amount of a product that has an active effect once consumed or applied. This concept is measured as a percentage. This number represents the total amount of a given substance that was absorbed and put to active use - ie 10%. This is an important concept because many popular routes of administration suffer from low bioavailability.

CBD Products by Method of Ingestion

There are many popular methods of consuming CBD oil, 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 choose the type(s) of products you purchase based on the factors outlined below:

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 enters the digestive system before being absorbed. The hemp extract in the product must pass through the portal vein into the liver which metabolizes the CBD and other molecules. This process is called first-pass metabolism.

The big issue with this method of consumption is that the enzymes in the liver reduce the concentration of the CBD compounds before passing on what remains to the bloodstream. This passage through the liver reduces the efficiency of CBD absorption. One study reported that a dismal 6% bioavailability was observed when CBD was ingested directly. (R)

Bioavailability Issues with Oral Products

This issue of low bioavailability for oral products has driven the CBD industry to find solutions which increase the amount of a product that is absorbed by the body, reducing waste. The following methods are commonly used:

Carrier Oils

Cannabinoids like CBD are fat-soluble. This means they break down to be stored in fat - not water. When consumed with fat, these compounds can be more effectively processed by the body. For this reason, many products utilize an oil carrier that is mixed with the hemp extract.

Today, MCT oil is the most commonly used carrier. By combining CBD-rich hemp extracts with MCT, your body burns these fats and puts them and the cannabinoids they hold to use immediately. The result is a marginal increase in the overall amount of CBD and other cannabinoids absorbed by the body.

Products utilizing this method are commonly traditional oil-based formulas. They are low cost, easy to make, and have dominated the early years of the hemp market. The downside is these products don't increase bioavailability much. Luckily an answer to this significant problem has arrived.

Significantly Increased Bioavailability with Water Soluble CBD

Graphic comparing oil, liposomal microemulsion and nano-sized microemulsions

Significant technological improvements in the area of hemp extract processing have created a new breed of product which addresses bioavailability issues. Products often called 'water-soluble' have entered the market. These products use new technologies to break up the oil particles into tiny pieces and then suspend them in a liquid form.

The result is greatly increased surface area and more ready absorption by the body due to the tiny particle size. The result is anywhere from a 200-500% increase in effectiveness compared to traditional oil-based products. The duration of the effect may be slightly shorter. You'll find these products utilizing various technologies like liposomes and nanoemulsions. This technology has been studied over the last 20 years with positive results and is utilized in many other oral supplements and medicines.

These water-soluble products are more costly to produce, but thanks to a maturing industry they are becoming widely available. We sell both water-soluble capsules and water-soluble tinctures right here at Big Sky Botanicals. For more information on this technology, see our article on the topic.

Sublingual: Concentrates, Tinctures & Sprays

CBD Oil Tincture

Sublingual application is when a tincture or spray is administered under the tongue. The solution is held there for 60-90 seconds before being swallowed. This method carries with it a slightly higher bioavailability than simply swallowing these same compounds.

When CBD oil is held under the tongue, some of the hemp extract compounds are directly absorbed into the mucous membranes. The remaining compounds that are swallowed, then pass through the liver as any swallowed product does. The compounds absorbed by the mucous membranes absorb more rapidly and effectively, reaching the bloodstream without being broken down by first-pass metabolism.

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.

Inhalation: Vaporized, Smoked & Dabbed

CBD Vape Pen

Inhaling CBD is becoming one of the most popular methods of consuming the substance thanks to it's quick time to onset and high effectiveness. Today there are a growing number of products available including CBD-specific vape products, hemp flower, and concentrates used for dabbing.

Inhaling CBD has a very high bioavailability 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 with a shorter period of effectiveness.

Though this method of ingesting hemp compounds is highly effective, it still carries the same risks associated with regular vaping and may not be suitable for all users. We've put together an extensive guide for new users looking to begin vaping  CBD. There are some new types of products minimalizing risks by creating filler-free options.

Topical: Lotions, Balms, Salves & Patches

CBD Oil Plus Balm

Administering cannabidiol directly to the skin is another popular way to utilize hemp extracts. There are a wide variety of lotions, balms, and salves available to serve this need. These products are designed to alleviate symptoms including aches and skin issues. This method of application is viable because there are cannabinoid receptors found in the skin.

Anecdotal feedback has caused topical CBD products to become increasingly popular. Products range from at-home balms and salves to professional-grade massage oils. For more information, see our topical CBD guide.


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. These will show noticeable effects after less than 15 minutes and the effects can last for nearly 8 hours - longer than all other forms of taking CBD.

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 data.

Method of Ingestion Bioavailability Onset Duration
Oil-Based Oral (Capsules, Edibles) Lowest 30-90 Minutes Up to 7 Hours
Oil-Based Sublingual (Tinctures, Sprays) Mid 20-40 Minutes Up to 6 Hours
Water Soluble Oral (Capsules, Edibles) High 15-45 Minutes Up to 5 Hours
Water Soluble Sublingual (Tinctures, Sprays) High 10-20 Minutes Up to 4 Hours
Inhalation (Vape, Smoke) High 2-5 Minutes Up to 3 Hours
Topical (Lotions, Balms, Patches) Low 60-90 Minutes Up to 6 Hours
Suppositories High 10-15 Minutes Up to 8 Hours

Now that you understand how the different methods of ingesting hemp oil can influence bioavailability, jump on over to our shop to browse our line of high-value products today!

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