As an experienced CBD user, you’ve noticed that CBD products come in various shapes and forms. From your run-of-the-mill smokables and edibles, all the way down to CBD vapes, oils, lotions, creams, soaps… heck, there are even CBD sanitizing hand gels (and suppositories) on the market now.

Each of these different types of CBD products has a purpose — some are used to treat systemic issues (such as anxiety, tremors, or depression). Others are used to treat localized problems (skin conditions and similar). But, there’s another way these products differ, and that’s bioavailability.

If you’ve ever wondered which type of CBD product would be best for you (as in, the best bioavailable CBD), and how you should dose it once you settle on it, you’re in the right place. 

In this post, we’ll explore what CBD bioavailability is, and which intake methods deliver the most active compound into your bloodstream.

Let’s dig in!

Hey, What’s Bioavailability Anyways?

Fair question.

Let’s see how Wikipedia defines bioavailability: “…in pharmacology, bioavailability (BA or F) is a subcategory of absorption and is the fraction (%) of an administered drug that reaches the systemic circulation.”

That’s a mouthful, eh?

It helps if you think of bioavailability as the percentage of the active compound in your CBD medicine that ends up in your bloodstream. So if the bioavailability is 50%, that means that only half of the active ingredient ended up in your blood (the rest got lost on the way there due to intestinal absorption and first-pass metabolism).

In the context of CBD, bioavailability is important because it determines the effect and intensity it will have on your body, which varies with the percentage of CBD in the product and the method of consumption. 

The only way to get a 100% bioavailability out of CBD is by intravenous administration (injected by a needle), but people are not usually too keen on injecting themselves unless completely necessary. Also, we don’t know enough about CBD to recommend direct injections — you should never use yourself as a guinea pig.

Keep in mind: if you see a product in the form of anything other than injectable CBD which states that it has 100% bioavailability, it’s a hoax. Every method of consumption has a bioavailability threshold, and when things have to go through skin or stomach, a big chunk of the active compound goes to waste.

CBD Bioavailability for Different Methods of Consumption

Bioavailability of a CBD method of intake is important for two reasons:

  • it allows you to figure out your correct dosage without having to worry about under or overdosing (especially for symptoms such as anxiety or depression); and
  • it saves you money in the long-run — using the best bioavailable CBD method means that you’re getting the most bang for your buck and not wasting medicine.

We dug around and found CBD bioavailability studies that will give you a better idea of which method would be the best for you.

Sublingual CBD Method

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Sublingual consumption means that you place a couple of drops of CBD oil under your tongue and hold it there as it absorbs. The sublingual CBD method is comfortable — the taste might be a bit strong (depending on the type of oil you’re using), but it takes less than a minute and you can just carry one with whatever you were right after administration.

Sublingual CBD bioavailability is a toss-up — studies put it anywhere between 12 and 35%. That’s because it depends on a lot of factors: the quality of CBD, the health of your mucous membranes, and how long you hold the drops under your tongue. 

It’s recommended to hold the CBD drops under your tongue (without swallowing) for around 60 seconds. That way, you give them time to absorb through the mucous membranes and into the bloodstream, avoiding the first-pass metabolism. If you swallow the drops, it counts as oral ingestion, which, as you’ll see below, has a much lower bioavailability percentage.

Oral CBD Method

Ingesting CBD orally in the form of chocolate, cookies, gummies, capsules and concentrated foods is probably the most common way of CBD consumption since people are much more accustomed to it.

However, as popular as it is, oral consumption of CBD has been shown to be the least effective in terms of bioavailability. According to one limited study, the amount of CBD that actually enters your bloodstream with edibles is just around 6%. Another study puts it at around 15%

The reason for this low level of bioavailability is simple – in order for the CBD to enter your bloodstream from oral ingestion, it must first make its way through your digestive system. This process is slow and with a lot of losses (due to the first-pass metabolism). However, there are ways to improve the bioavailability of capsules and CBD edibles. For example, you can add the powdered CBD to oils and other long-chain fatty acid foods, which will allow it to bypass the liver and enter the bloodstream through the intestinal lymphatic system.

Intranasal CBD Method

A slightly trickier method of CBD consumption is via intranasal delivery. Common for some medication (for example, for treating sinus infections), nasal delivery is pretty new for CBD. However, research shows that it enhances bioavailability significantly — for example, one study done on guinea pigs puts intranasal CBD bioavailability between 36 and 46%, which is significantly higher than with other methods.

Unfortunately, there might be some issues with this type of delivery. Nasal passages can get used to sprays and become less responsive to them by limiting absorption. Still, it doesn’t hurt to try this if you can, especially if you are trying to treat localized problems, such as sinusitis.

Inhalation CBD Method

In terms of both bioavailability and the ease of use, CBD inhalation takes the case. Judging from the research done on THC, inhalation beats every other method of CBD intake, with the possible exception of nasal sprays (CBD and THC inhalation are comparable because both substances have the same lipophilicity).

The high bioavailability with this method is down to the fact that the lungs have high permeability, a large absorptive surface area and a good blood supply for CBD to enter the systemic circulation.

With this method, the CBD is inhaled through vaporizers and vape pens directly into your lungs, from where it enters your bloodstream. One study puts the bioavailability of inhaled CBD at around 31%. Other studies are even more optimistic, placing it anywhere between 34 and 46%.

Topical CBD Method

Apart from the three methods we talked about in the paragraphs above, there is an alternative way of taking CBD, and that’s through your skin. Products such as CBD creams and lotions, lip balms, serums, transdermal patches have all been created to take advantage of the fact that we love to have smooth and healthy skin.

Topical CBD application has a low bioavailability threshold — in fact, due to the innate impermeability of the skin, very little CBD actually makes it to the bloodstream when applied topically. However, because the skin is rich in certain CB receptors, creams and ointments are effective when it comes to localized symptoms, such as rashes, joint pain, or psoriasis.

If you’re looking to relieve systematic symptoms or things like anxiety or depression, topical CBD application is not the most effective way to do it. Stick to capsules or inhalation in these cases, and use topicals only for skin conditions and aches located close to the treatment surface.

Rectal CBD Method

True, nobody even wants to envision a health scenario that would require them to use CBD suppositories — it’s not pleasant and it’s definitely not practical. However, this type of CBD administration has its uses, especially for certain subsets of patients.

For example, if you have trouble keeping food down or you vomit frequently, or you have a sensitive stomach, rectal CBD application might be the best solution for you.

Rectal CBD use also works better when used for certain medical conditions, such as colon cancer or inflammation. Its bioavailability still hasn’t been sufficiently researched, but some studies show that it might be double that of oral usage. This limited study puts it at 13.5%, which fits with the above comparison with oral CBD.

What’s the Best Bioavailable CBD Option of Intake?

Let’s rephrase that a bit, shall we, because now that you know more about CBD bioavailability, it’s obvious this isn’t the question you should be asking yourself.

A good question is what’s the best bioavailable CBD option for me?

And the answer to that is that it depends. It depends on your condition, and it depends on the quality of CBD you’re taking.

Generally, you’ll want to stick to fast-acting CBD that has high bioavailability. This would be CBD inhalation through vaping or smoking. This way, most of the active ingredient finds its way to your bloodstream and the endocannabinoid system. Vaping on CBD is especially effective for those symptoms that require immediate resolution, such as depression, anxiety, or pain.

On the other hand, local symptoms tend to react better to localized treatment. For example, an ointment will be helpful with scrapes, bruises, or skin conditions; a nasal spray will be effective when used for sinusitis, and suppositories should be looked at by those people who suffer from different colon diseases.

Ready to Choose Your CBD Treatment?

While not all CBD products have the same bioavailability and efficacy, they are all useful in their own way (and depending on how they’re used).

From a cost-effectiveness side of things, oral and sublingual CBD solutions score the least points, as you’ll spend more to get the same level of effects as with vapable CBD. However, don’t dismiss capsules and drops as they are the most convenient method of CBD intake (and sometimes, it makes sense to sacrifice bioavailability for convenience and discretion).

If you can forgo those two things, and want to save money, make sure to try out CBD vapes. Whatever you decide, don’t hesitate to contact our team here at the Kind Hemp. We’re always happy to help through advice and recommendations!