Oral – Swallowed

Types: CBD oil, tinctures, edibles, capsules, powder

Pathway to targets: When CBD is ingested, it passes through the digestive tract, where it’s absorbed into the bloodstream and travels throughout your body.

Time-frame: While this is the slowest method for CBD to reach its targets, it is also the longest period of time that it remains active. The highest bloodstream levels are anywhere between 1-6 hours after ingestions. This is best for long-term supplementation.

Other considerations:

  • Food. Food can affect your body’s way of absorbing CBD, and more cannabinoids are absorbed on a fuller stomach. CBD is known to be fat-soluble, and consuming with a healthy dose of fats can and will increase the amount of CBD that reaches your bloodstream up to 3-times.  
  • Pay attention to THC. Swallowed substances are metabolized primarily first by your liver before circulating throughout your body (first-pass metabolism). If your CBD product that you’ve taken contains THC (i.e it’s a “full-spectrum CBD”), it could be converted to 11-hydroxy-THC, which is a strong intoxicant to some people. Many people find that CBD can help to counterbalance the “high” associated with THC, but if you’re sensitive to THC, look for CBD from a hemp source.
  • Interactions with prescription medications. As mentioned above, CBD can potentially interfere with the processing of specific drugs by cytochrome p450. Because cytochrome p450 can be found in concentrated amounts in the liver, when CBD is ingested it is more likely than inhaled CBD to cause drug interactions.
  • Duration in your mouth. All the above can be applied to CBD that is orally ingested immediately. However, while it is in your mouth, it is able to be absorbed directly into your bloodstream. See below for more info…

Oral – Sublingual or “Buccal”

Types: CBD oil, tinctures

Pathway to targets: CBD can be absorbed directly into your bloodstream from capillary-rich areas underneath the tongue, along the gums and cheek. From there, it avoids first-pass metabolism and it is then sent throughout the body.

Time-frame: This method gets CBD into your bloodstream even quicker than swallowing. Under the tongue (sublingual) is usually quicker than against the cheek(buccal). Since most of the CBD will eventually be swallowed by the user, peak bloodstream levels range from 30 min to 5 hours.

Other things to consider:

  • Food/Eating. When trying a spray that is administered orally, researchers have found that the total amount of absorbed CBD can increase up to 5 times if the person has recently eaten or had a meal. Chewing increases the flow of blood to your mouth, which can also increase the absorption of CBD.
  • Increase surface area contact. It’s suggested to keep the CBD oil inside of your mouth for about 1 1/2 minutes or longer before swallowing. Around this time, absorption is increased by swishing the oil around your mouth and even between the teeth — this can increase the surface contact between the oil and your capillaries. (If you have ever tried oil-pulling as a tooth-and-gums cleanser, this will be somewhat familiar to you.)

Inhaling / Vaporizing

Types: Vape pens, dabs, high-CBD cannabis

Pathway to targets: When CBD is vaped or inhaled, it is passed to the lungs where it is rapidly passed into the bloodstream. Inhalation avoids the “first-pass metabolism”.

Time-frame: This is the quickest way to get CBD circulating through your system, but it also is effective for the shortest period of time. Peak bloodstream levels are within 10 minutes.

Other considerations:

  • Inhalation technique. Based on studies with THC, inhalation can get anywhere from 2-56% of this molecule in your bloodstream depending on your technique of inhalation. Try this: use the vaporizer for the first half of your inhalation, then finish your inhalation with a deep breath of fresh air — get those molecules deep in there! (This technique can also minimize irritation if the vapor is a bit too hot, by mixing in cooler air.) Upon exhaling, any vapor that you can see is lost, so instead of exhaling fully, start a partial exhale until you see vapor — then inhale all the way back in and repeat a few times until you see less vapor on the exhale.
  • Vapor Pen Hardware. It is recommended to avoid cheap disposable vape pens, and watch out for any that list “propylene glycol” in the ingredients. Look for higher-quality vape pens with ceramic heating elements, for a cleaner vapor.

Topical

Types: Creams, lotions

Pathway to targets: Topical CBD is applied directly to your skin and reaches its local targets, such as muscles, inflammatory cells, and pain-perceiving nerves. Very little CBD, if any, enters the bloodstream.

Time-frame: Varies, depending on the target.

Other considerations:

  • Often paired with other products. Topicals can be great for on-the-spot treatment and arousal. However, for long-term health goals, people will oftentimes get the best results when pairing topicals with oral or inhaled CBD products as well.