Bioavailability (absorption rates) of CBD products

by Janelle Lassalle October 14, 2018

Bioavailability of CBD Products-for the Ageless

CBD browniesFrom brownies to dog treats and beyond, CBD, or Cannabidiol, is cropping everywhere. While shopping for CBD products can be great fun, it’s worth noting that each type of CBD product can affect your body in different ways.

Curious about CBD? Say no more. We’re here to tell you all you need to know about CBD’s bioavailability, or how various CBD products are absorbed by the body. Because bioavailability varies depending on what form of CBD you use, it’s a good idea to learn how various routes of administration will affect you. This information can then help you determine what your “just right” dose will be.

We’ve already done all the heavy lifting for you so grab a chair, put your feet up and get ready for some good ol’ fashioned science.

1. Eating CBD-rich products like hemp tea or gummies (oral ingestion)

CBD gummiesOral ingestion of CBD subjects it to what’s known as the “first-pass effect”. This means that CBD will go through your liver and digestive tracts, breaking it down in the process (Huestis, 2007). It’s a process that can take anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours, yielding a less potent version of CBD as a result.

Don’t fear, though: a recent study suggests that taking CBD with long-chain triglyceride fats can help protect it from the first pass effect (Zgair A, Wong JC, Lee JB, et al, 2016). Also, many edibles come with ingredients to increase their bioavailability, such as turmeric, which has been shown to increase CBD's absorption by up to 500%.

2. Taking CBD drops under your tongue (sublingual method)

CBD Sublingual applicationOne of the most commonly available forms of CBD is a tincture, an extract made by dissolving plant material in alcohol. Taking a tincture is as convenient as it gets: you measure out a dose and administer it under your tongue with a dropper. Let it absorb for a minute and voila!

This is called the sublingual method of administration, and it’s one of the better ways to ingest CBD. Taking CBD sublingually means it’ll be directly absorbed into your bloodstream, bypassing further breakdown of CBD in your liver and digestive system. The end result is a much faster onset time of about 20 minutes compared to the standard 2 hours it takes for oral consumption.

It’s also more readily absorbed: oral consumption of CBD yields an absorption rate of 4-20% (Huestis, 2007) while sublingual administration comes in at the 12-35% range (Schoedel & Harrison, 2012).

3. CBD creams and balms (topical application)

CBD creamTopical applications are a great way to get CBD curious folk to join the party. They bypass first-pass metabolism to provide relief directly to the affected area and allow for a more consistent concentration of CBD in the bloodstream (Hammell et al, 2016).

4. CBD suppositories (rectal application)

Because CBD suppositories work in a manner similar to sublingual administration (absorption through a mucosal membrane), they’re surprisingly effective, with the bioavailability of the rectal route performing twice as well as oral administration, yielding bioavailability rates of 12% (Huestis, 2007).

5. Vaporising CBD e-liquids or dry CBD-rich herb (vaping or inhaling)

Dry herb CBD vapeDon’t let anyone tell you otherwise: vaporising, or combusting plant matter without producing smoke, is brilliant.

It’s a gentler alternative to smoking that also happens to provide the widest range of benefits. Vaping is also the most effective and fastest-acting method of consuming CBD. With an average onset time of 10 minutes or less and a 34-56% absorption rate (Paudel et al 2010), it’s no wonder why vaping CBD is becoming more and more popular across all age groups.


How to increase CBD bioavailability

CBD Oil BioavailabilityThe best thing you can do to determine your ideal CBD dose is through a little trial and error. CBD is highly variable and can affect everyone very differently, so there’s no one size fits all cure. It also means CBD isn’t purely a numbers game, either. A well-made CBD tincture that’s a full-spectrum extract could work far better than a CBD isolate with a higher percentage of CBD. Start small and keep an eye on your dosage, increasing only whenever necessary. Source your CBD with the kind of care and attention you put into making a nice cuppa.

Since CBD applications vary so widely—and studies aren’t quite there yet—it’s always interesting to hear other folks’ stories about CBD. Have you used CBD yet? Got a specific method to try? Let’s hear your thoughts in the comments below.

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References for Bioavailability of CBD Products

Challapalli, P. V., & Stinchcomb, A. L. (2002). In vitro experiment optimization for measuring tetrahydrocannabinol skin permeation. International Journal of Pharmaceutics, 241(2), 329-339. doi:10.1016/s0378-5173(02)00262-4
Hammell, D. C., Zhang, L. P., Ma, F., Abshire, S. M., McIlwrath, S. L., Stinchcomb, A. L., & Westlund, K. N. (2016). Transdermal cannabidiol reduces inflammation and pain-related behaviours in a rat model of arthritis. European Journal of Pain (London, England), 20(6), 936–948.
Huestis, M. A. (2007). Human Cannabinoid Pharmacokinetics. ChemInform, 38(47). doi:10.1002/chin.200747256
Paudel, K. S., Hammell, D. C., Agu, R. U., Valiveti, S., & Stinchcomb, A. L. (2010). Cannabidiol bioavailability after nasal and transdermal application: Effect of permeation enhancers. Drug Development and Industrial Pharmacy, 36(9), 1088-1097. doi:10.3109/03639041003657295
Schoedel, K. A., & Harrison, S. J. (2012). Subjective and Physiological Effects of Oromucosal Sprays Containing Cannabinoids (Nabiximols): Potentials and Limitations for Psychosis Research. Current Pharmaceutical Design, 18(32), 5008-5014. doi:10.2174/138161212802884708
Zgair A, Wong JC, Lee JB, et al. Dietary fats and pharmaceutical lipid excipients increase systemic exposure to orally administered cannabis and cannabis-based medicines. American Journal of Translational Research. 2016;8(8):3448-3459.

Janelle Lassalle
Janelle Lassalle


Janelle is a lifestyle and cannabis writer based in Portland, OR. An expert on all things cannabis and CBD, you can find her work featured in publications like Leafly, Forbes and DOPE Magazine. She's also an aspiring filmmaker, an avid Nutella addict and enjoys cooking long, fancy meals on the daily.

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