With the CBD explosion of the past few years, you may have noticed the wide variety of different forms that CBD products come in. Having many different forms allows people to tailor their method of use to their individual needs. In addition, each method has a differing level of bioavailability.
Bioavailability is the degree and rate at which a substance gets absorbed into the bloodstream in order to perform its physiological process. Bioavailability is important because it determines how much of the substance will actually get absorbed by the body and how much will get filtered out through other processes, like the digestive system. Bioavailability depends on the amount and strength of what was consumed and the method of introduction to the body.
Below are the most common forms of CBD and how bioavailable they are in each form.
The Different Types of CBD Products
CBD Oils and Tinctures
One of the most common and popular ways to consume CBD is in oil or tincture form. Oils and tinctures are taken orally and are a good option for those who have trouble taking pills. Oils and tinctures will contain a base oil, commonly hemp seed oil or coconut oil, which is infused with CBD. Many tinctures have an added flavor for taste, usually from an essential oil. Typically they will come in a glass container with a measured dropper. The dropper gets placed underneath the tongue and the CBD is administered into the mouth and held underneath the tongue for up to two minutes before swallowing. The sublingual gland underneath the tongue is full of capillaries that absorb the compound very quickly, sending it directly into the bloodstream.
Sublingual consumption is direct, works quicker than oral consumption, and has high bioavailability. A small amount of CBD degradation will naturally occur from enzymes within the saliva. The bioavailability of sublingual consumption is reported to range from 12%-35%, with a higher percentage being attributed to a higher quality product.
For perspective, for CBD to be 100% bioavailable it would have to be 100% pure and unadulterated, and then injected directly into the bloodstream through the veins. Thankfully, intravenous administration is not a delivery option for CBD. The bioavailability for sublingual products like oils and tinctures is considered to be one of the highest, making it a very effective method of administration.
CBD Capsules and Pills
CBD capsules and pills are preferred by those who don’t like the taste of tinctures or oils. The benefit of capsules is that they are portable, convenient, and offer consistent dosing. Many people prefer to take capsules when traveling because of the convenience factor. Others prefer the method as it resembles taking a supplement or medication. Capsules are taken by mouth and swallowed, and usually contain another base oil, such as hemp seed oil or olive oil. They may be encased in gelatin or a vegan-friendly form like plant cellulose.
While oral consumption does have its benefits, one of the drawbacks has to do with its bioavailability. Any substance consumed orally (but not sublingually, such as a tincture) will have to pass through the metabolic and digestive systems, which significantly filters out a large portion of the CBD. Bioavailability estimates range between 4% and 20%, with 20% being the more optimistic scenario. When taking CBD in pill form, expect to lose around 75% of the CBD to your digestive system.
To get the most out of CBD in pill form, you could increase your dosage or take the capsule at more frequent intervals.
An “edible” refers to CBD that comes in food form, with the most popular being gummy candies. Some people may prefer gummies because they are easy to consume, feel like a “treat,” are portable, and discreet. Edibles may also include CBD-infused foods, such as chocolate bars, and beverages. As you can imagine, these are a popular form of CBD delivery due to the ease of consumption and novelty-factor, but these methods may not be the most potent or offer the most therapeutic benefits of CBD.
As is the case for capsules and pills, edibles, too, must pass through the digestive system, which will filter out the majority of CBD. Furthermore, the amount of CBD in these products can be very low, and in conjunction with other filler ingredients, it makes the bioavailability even lower.
Edibles, while they may feel like a fun treat, will not allow you to experience the full range of benefits from CBD. In addition, many of these treats are loaded with inflammation-causing sugar which may negatively counteract the therapeutic effects of CBD. If choosing an edible, look for those with very low, or no sugar content.
Vaping is a popular way to take CBD and other cannabis products in general, like marijuana. “Vaping” refers to the vapor produced by heating up the compounded oils in a vape pen or vaporizer device, and then inhaling it. The vapor goes into the lungs and then is absorbed directly into the bloodstream. There is a variety of CBD vaporized mixtures, including those with flavor or essential oils.
Because of its quick delivery into the bloodstream, vaping provides one of the fastest onsets of CBD’s effects. There are few bodily systems for the vapor to pass through before entering the bloodstream, with little breakdown rates, leaving the CBD as highly bioavailable. Studies report the bioavailability rates are between 34% and 56%, making it one of the most effective ways to consume CBD.
However, even with increased bioavailability, the effects of vaping CBD tend to not last as long as oral ingestion, requiring more frequent dosing. In addition, there is little research on safety and whether vaping causes damage to the delicate lung tissues.
CBD Creams and Lotions
CBD creams and lotions also called “topicals,” are used to treat muscles and joints, and to relieve certain skin issues. Creams and lotions usually fall under two categories, the first being for pain-relieving purposes, and the second being for beautifying or targeting problematic skin areas. CBD in skin care can help reduce the visible signs of problematic skin, like redness, irritation, and damage from free radicals.
When using CBD-infused creams and lotions by rubbing it directly onto your skin, the CBD never enters the bloodstream due to the skin barrier. Topical products are not bioavailable since the CBD does not enter the bloodstream at all. Instead, topical products are meant for targeting certain areas for isolated relief and can be extremely effective if administered correctly. Topical CBD works by interacting with cannabinoid receptors located in the top layers of skin. Because skin has low absorption rates (as a preventative way to block foreign substances from entering the body), for topical CBD products to be effective, they should be applied generously and the amount of CBD in milligrams within the product should be high. If the application is liberal, the pores will absorb CBD to affect the targeted areas.
To increase absorption into the skin, CBD can be mixed with Omega 3 and 6, found in hemp seed oil or other oils that contain at least 50% polyunsaturated fats. These oils get quickly absorbed by the skin and help to enhance the overall effects of CBD.
How to Increase CBD’s Bioavailability
For each method of delivery, typically you can increase CBD’s bioavailability by increasing the dosage amount. However, one of the most effective ways to increase the bioavailability of CBD is to harmonize it with other ingredients that naturally increase bioavailability and absorption. Natural bio-enhancers such as hemp seed oil (rich in polyunsaturated fats) and the extracts of active botanicals such as clove, hops, black pepper, jujube, or rosemary all increase CBD’s absorption into the body and enables the compound to be more efficiently processed. To get the most benefit out of CBD, look for products such as tinctures or creams that are blended with these natural CBD-enhancing ingredients and bioavailability boosters.