By Spencer Brooks
In the last few years, cannabidiol (CBD) has become one of the most promising compounds in medical cannabis. Patients report that CBD helps them with pain, inflammation, anxiety, sleep, and more, and as new studies continue to come out, it seems like we’re just beginning to understand how valuable CBD can be.
But if you’ve been taking CBD orally -- in capsule or edible form, for example -- you may not be getting as much of it as you think.
Oral CBD absorbs quite poorly: in most cases, your body uses less than 20% of the CBD you eat[*,*,*]. However, new research suggests that with a couple adjustments, you can increase your oral CBD absorption by 300-1300%. There are also a few other good delivery methods to make sure your body is actually using the CBD you take.
This article will cover the different ways to take CBD, how well each one works, and what you can do to make sure you get the most out of your CBD.
How you consume CBD matters
Ideally, when you take CBD, most of it makes it into your bloodstream. Once it’s in your bloodstream, CBD can travel throughout your body and go to wherever you need it (your brain, your muscles, etc.).
But not all forms of CBD reach your bloodstream equally. Your liver is excellent at breaking down CBD -- in fact, it will metabolize more than 80% of any CBD it gets its hands on. If the CBD you take goes through your liver, you’re left with very little of it for your body to actually use.
Anything you swallow goes through your liver before it reaches your bloodstream. As a result, oral absorption for CBD is very low -- somewhere between 4-19%[*,*,*]. When you take CBD as an edible, tincture, or capsule, you don’t absorb the vast majority of it. If you’re taking 100 mg of CBD orally, you may only actually get the benefits of 10 mg. That means less relief for you, as well as a lot of wasted money.
But if you’ve been taking CBD orally, don’t despair! New research suggests that there’s a simple way to significantly increase your oral CBD absorption.
Take oral CBD with a high-fat meal
In a 2019 study, researcher gave CBD to epilepsy patients to help them manage their seizures. The patients took CBD either without food or with a high-fat meal.
The results were quite clear: when patients took their CBD with a high-fat meal, they absorbed 300-1300% more of it[*]. This study builds on previous research, which found that patients absorbed 300% more of a CBD mouth spray when they took it with a normal (not high-fat) meal[*].
These studies are small, and we’re still learning about the best ways to make sure you absorb CBD. However, the results seem promising. If you use a CBD tincture, oil, mouth spray, pill, edible, or other form of CBD that you swallow, taking it with a higher-fat meal may make it a lot more effective.
Other good ways to take CBD
You have several other good options when it comes to taking CBD.
Inhaling CBD has an average absorption rate of 31%, and can be as high as 45%[*]. That makes smoking or using a vaporizer pen (vaping) a good option for consuming CBD. The other benefit to inhaling is that you feel CBD’s effects almost immediately, because the CBD goes into your lungs and then straight into your bloodstream. If you want to go easy on your lungs, vaporizing may be a better option than smoking.
Topical CBD may work well too. Creams, gels, rubs, and topical oils all absorb through your skin, and many patients report that using topical CBD is especially good for relieving muscle and joint pain. There aren’t any studies in humans, but animal studies have found that about 45% of topical CBD absorbs through the skin[*].
- Nasal CBD shows promise in animal studies as well, with about a 40% absorption rate[*]. Again, though, there aren’t any studies in humans yet.
Get the most out of your CBD
To get the most out of your CBD, your best bets are either taking CBD orally with a higher-fat meal or vaporizing/smoking CBD. Topical and nasal CBD options look promising in animal studies, although there isn’t research in humans on how well they absorb.
If you aren’t sure which type of CBD to use, you may want to try a few options and see how each one makes you feel. Everyone's a little bit different; see what gives you the most relief.