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How Your Body Absorbs CBD: The Science of Bioavailability

Are you just dipping your toes into the world of CBD products? 

You might decide to make cannabidiol a regular part of your wellness routine after that first CBD capsule or cup of CBD-infused tea. It doesn’t take savvy consumers long to figure out that cannabidiol is fascinating — and that there’s always more to learn. 

This guide is devoted to uncovering the mysteries behind the bioavailability of cannabidiol. Understanding how the body absorbs different CBD products can help you learn which form of cannabidiol is right for you. 

What Is Bioavailability, and Why Does It Matter to CBD Consumers?

In plain English, “bioavailability” covers two related concepts:

  • The time required before a substance — like a medication or nutritional supplement — takes effect
  • The percentage of an administered substance that reaches the cells

High bioavailability means that a substance is absorbed well and quickly. In contrast, low bioavailability means that the substance takes longer to kick in — and a higher percentage of its active components is lost along the way.

A substance’s bioavailability depends on a range of factors. The two main ones CBD consumers need to consider are the product’s composition and the route of administration (how you take your CBD).

Learning about the bioavailability of different CBD products can help consumers decide which forms of cannabidiol are most appropriate for them. Of course, there are some trade-offs — people who want to achieve the desired effect as quickly as possible may have to sacrifice some convenience.

Which CBD Products Offer the Best Bioavailability?

The Cannabidiol Primer for Healthcare Professionals published by the (US) National Library of Medicine 2020 reveals which CBD products have the highest bioavailability. 

Ready to hear which CBD products came out as winners? Here goes:

  1. CBD vape liquids or vape pens
  2. CBD suppositories (anal or vaginal)
  3. CBD oil and CBD tinctures, when administered sublingually (by holding your chosen product under your tongue)
  4. CBD nasal sprays
  5. CBD capsules
  6. Topical forms of CBD, like creams or lotions
  7. CBD edibles, including gummies or CBD oil (when used as a culinary ingredient)

Let’s get real and admit that no research is required to take a solid guess at the most popular products on this list. People who incorporate CBD products into their daily wellness routines may value products with higher bioavailability, but they also enjoy convenience.

Nasal sprays and suppositories aren’t most people’s idea of a relaxing time, and the Cannabidiol Primer for Healthcare Professionals readily notes that most CBD enthusiasts prefer to take their CBD orally or use creams. 

Sublingual vs Oral CBD Consumption: Why Holding CBD Under Your Tongue Is Faster

Sublingual administration (using a product or medication by holding it under your tongue) causes the desired effect to kick in substantially faster than oral administration (swallowing or eating the product). 

That’s because the mucus membranes in your mouth are rich in blood vessels and provide an easy way for your body to absorb substances, including CBD oil and tinctures. 

People who use CBD oil under the tongue still swallow it after holding their chosen cannabidiol product under their tongues for 60 to 90 seconds, so the desired effect can partially be attributed to that route of administration. However, holding CBD under your tongue lets your body absorb much of it very quickly.

CBD gummies and other edibles have to pass through the digestive system, where some of the active components are lost. All in all, research estimates that around six per cent of the CBD you consume orally reaches the bloodstream. 

What About CBD Creams and Other Topicals?

Topical CBD products, like creams and lotions, work differently. Unlike CBD oil, gummies, and other edibles, CBD creams don’t enter your bloodstream. 

It’s not clear how the body absorbs these topical products yet. It is, however, interesting to note that the endocannabinoid system (which plays a vital role in helping the body maintain balance) has receptors all over the body. That includes the skin, the largest organ we have.  

How to Choose the Best CBD Products for Your Needs

We’ve already seen that CBD vape liquids, sublingually-administered CBD oils and tinctures, CBD capsules, topical CBD products applied to the skin, and CBD edibles have the highest bioavailability — in that order. 

You may care about how fast your CBD starts working and how much it reaches your system, but other factors also matter. Those include convenience and personal preference. 

Many people prefer CBD gummies or capsules over CBD oils taken under the tongue, for example, because they’re portable and easier to use. Others might like the bioavailability that vaping offers, but they don’t want to vape. 

Bioavailability is just one of many factors to consider when you choose the right CBD products for your needs. 

Learning that only a percentage of the cannabidiol you take orally shouldn’t lead beginners to up their doses, either. It’s always best to build up slowly. Start with the lowest possible dose, and wait to see if you achieve the desired effect. You can then gradually up your dose over time until you are satisfied with the results. 

Bioavailability and CBD: A Quick Recap

Bioavailability refers to the speed at which a substance gets into your system and the percentage of the substance that reaches its final destination. Numerous factors impact bioavailability, and the route of administration (how you use a product) is among the most vital. 

The most bioavailable CBD products (besides nasal sprays and suppositories, which are less user-friendly) are:

  • CBD vape liquids
  • CBD oils and tinctures, when held under the tongue
  • CBD capsules
  • Topical CBD creams and lotions
  • CBD edibles, including gummies and CBD-infused meals you may cook yourself

CBD enthusiasts who value fast-acting products may want to choose vape liquids or sublingually-administered oils or tinctures. Those who don’t mind waiting a little longer to experience the desired effect and who prefer especially portable products are likely better off with CBD edibles, capsules, or creams. 

No matter which kind of CBD product you choose, start with the lowest possible dose. Build up gradually from there, until you have the experience you’re after.



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