How to Take CBD Oil – December 2020

  • The best way to take CBD oil varies for each individual. The intake goals, necessary potency, and individual biology are vital considerations when choosing a delivery method.
  • Popular methods for consuming CBD oil include holding it under the tongue before swallowing, inhaling it, ingesting it, or applying it onto the skin as a cream or patch.
  • CBD oil can be taken at home or when traveling, making it easy to incorporate CBD oil into anyone’s daily routine. However, people trying CBD oil for the first time may get overwhelmed at the variety of delivery methods available.
  • Understanding what CBD is and what it can do for the body also helps determine the best method and dosage for taking CBD oil.

What is CBD?

Cannabidiol (CBD) is a cannabinoid found in cannabis plants, including industrial hemp. CBD is nonintoxicating, unlike tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive cannabinoid that induces a high in consumers.

Cannabinoids are compounds found to affect the body’s endocannabinoid system, which helps regulate sleep, the immune system, and other body functions.

CBD oil is extracted from the stalks, leaves, or flowers of hemp plants. CBD oil contains terpenes and other cannabinoids, including trace amounts of THC. The low THC content allows consumers to take CBD oil without the fear of getting high.

Studies have shown CBD to provide therapeutic effects for physical and neurological medical conditions. For example, CBD has shown promise in improving one’s quality of life and sleep after reducing chronic pain symptoms(1).

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the use of Epidiolex, a drug containing cannabidiol to treat epilepsy seizures caused by Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome(2).

Defining CBD Intake Goals

It is essential to first define CBD intake goals before considering different consumption or delivery methods.

CBD has many purported therapeutic and wellness benefits, ranging from alleviating muscle and joint pain to improving anxiety and stress(3).

Interested consumers need to ask themselves what concerns they want the CBD to address. Focusing on one or two problems helps narrow down where in the body the CBD needs to go and how fast it needs to take effect.

The best method of taking CBD should address both considerations.

Consider the Target Location

Most health-related concerns have a specific CBD target location.

For instance, external health concerns, such as skin issues or muscle pains, may benefit CBD’s direct application more. It may be best to introduce the CBD through creams, balms, patches, massage oils, or other topicals when dealing with such issues.

Meanwhile, internal health concerns, such as anything related to mental health and the immune system, may benefit more from ingesting or inhaling CBD so that it is absorbed into the bloodstream quickly.

Consider the Time Frame

The bioavailability of CBD is another essential factor to consider when deciding on how to take CBD oil.

Bioavailability refers to how easily a substance or compound can be absorbed into the body’s circulatory system and reach its target location to begin taking effect.

CBD oil that is absorbed directly into the bloodstream has a shorter time frame before taking effect.

Health concerns that require immediate relief would benefit significantly from fast-acting consumption methods, such as vaping CBD.

Different Ways to Take CBD Oil

The CBD delivery method determines how fast and how much CBD is absorbed into the body.

CBD oil that goes through the first-pass metabolism, which means it passes through the body’s digestive system and is metabolized by the liver, takes longer to work.

The first-pass metabolism also reduces the concentration of CBD absorbed by the body.

Delivery methods that avoid the first-pass metabolism allow the body to directly absorb a higher concentration of CBD, which leads to faster results.

Vaping CBD

Inhalation is a common way to take CBD, using vaporizers or vape pens with CBD-infused e-liquids.

Vaping CBD is also extremely fast-acting and effective, contributing to its popularity as a delivery method for CBD oil.

A study found that the average bioavailability when inhaling CBD ranges between 34% to 46% within 10 minutes of intake(4). The CBD oil is absorbed into the bloodstream after passing through the lungs.

One thing to note when vaping is ensuring the compatibility of the CBD oil tinctures with the vape pen. Some CBD oils are too viscous to work with vaping.

Additionally, fractionated coconut oil or medium-chain triglycerides (MCT), a standard CBD carrier oil, may contribute to acute lung problems(5).

CBD e-liquids and vape CBD oils may come in assorted flavors or added ingredients. However, use CBD e-liquid or vape juice without MCT oil to avoid potentially destroying CBD vape pens.

One disadvantage of inhaling CBD, however, is that it offers the shortest period of effectiveness, with the effects of CBD lasting around two to three hours(6).

Also, vaping CBD poses lung health risks due to potentially dangerous solvents in vape oils(7), which present greater risk for people with existing lung conditions, such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Sublingual CBD Drops

Taking CBD sublingually means holding the product under the tongue for at least a minute before swallowing it.

The area underneath the tongue contains many blood vessels that allow the CBD to permeate directly into the bloodstream. Swishing the oil around the mouth helps increase the amount of CBD that is absorbed(8).

As the CBD oil is not metabolized after going through the digestive tract, the body is able to absorb a greater concentration of CBD in a short amount of time.

When taking CBD drops sublingually, the general recommendation is to start with a dropper-full or 1ml of CBD tincture or oil under the tongue and increase the dosage as needed.

Note that during sublingual intake, some of the CBD oil or tincture may be swallowed accidentally and absorbed orally, which may affect the total bioavailability(9).

Aside from using droppers to measure CBD oil and tinctures, CBD tinctures can also be sprayed directly onto the area(10).

CBD Capsules

Oral CBD intake is the slowest-acting method for ingesting CBD. The bioavailability of CBD capsules and other oral CBD products is also low, estimated at 6% at the lowest(11).

CBD may take between one to six hours to pass through the digestive system and get absorbed into the blood vessels.

It is better to take CBD oil capsules on a full stomach to lessen the chance of the CBD losing most of its efficacy upon passing through the liver. High-fat meals, in particular, help maximize CBD absorption in the body(12).

An advantage of oral ingestion is having the CBD active in the body for a prolonged period. CBD capsules, tablets, and other edibles are recommended for people who need long-term daily use of CBD.

Moreover, the standardized amount of CBD per capsule makes it easier to follow prescribed dosages than oral solutions, where users have to measure their CBD by the dropper.

CBD Gummies and CBD-Infused Edibles

CBD gummies and other edibles are another way of ingesting CBD oil orally. Like capsules, gummies contain a set amount of CBD per serving size, making it easier to consume a consistent amount of CBD per day.

CBD gummies and edibles also have a variety of flavors that can mask the natural, earthy taste of cannabidiol.

Additionally, children who are advised to take CBD due to health concerns may find it easier to take CBD in the form of colorful, flavored, and fun-shaped gummies.

CBD edibles also come in a wide range of products, including chocolates, honey, and mints.

While some states may restrict the sale of food and beverages with CBD, it is possible to add CBD oils to homemade cooked dishes, baked goods, and drinks for ease of consumption.

A disadvantage to edible CBD products is the reduced amount of CBD that the body can absorb. Findings of a 2018 study showed that the body only absorbs 20%-30% of CBD from oral ingestion(13).

CBD Topicals

CBD topicals are ideal delivery methods to address localized skin conditions and body pain concerns. Examples of CBD topicals include creams, lotions, balms, salves, transdermal patches, and oils.

Topical products allow CBD to be placed directly on concentrated locations, such as joints and muscles, that need immediate pain relief.

A study found that CBD gel can help reduce joint pain due to arthritis and other inflammatory conditions without visible side effects(14).

Topicals only diffuse CBD across the top of the skin. Only small amounts of CBD enter the bloodstream, as CBD is hydrophobic(15) and does not tend to permeate the skin’s water barrier.

It is recommended to use CBD topicals with high CBD concentrations and apply it generously to ensure it takes effect.

Combining CBD Delivery Methods

Two or more different CBD consumption methods can also be combined.

For example, some people may take an oral CBD supplement, such as capsules or gummies, together with vape CBD products for anxiety.

Sublingual CBD intake may also be combined with a CBD topical and CBD edible for more than one health concern. The three delivery methods may answer different issues that may be medically related, such as sleep problems, muscle pain, and anxiety.

The combination of CBD delivery methods depends on the health issues that an individual wants to address.

Consumers should consult with a doctor before using any CBD product to get advice on the best CBD delivery method for their situation.

Checking CBD Sources and Quality

Finding high-quality CBD products that work is a process that may involve some trial and error.

Switching between CBD products changes the source of the hemp plants, the quality of the CBD oil, and the formulation. Different sources of CBD may lead to different effects.

Trying a new CBD product or source may also mean changing the delivery method or dosage to ensure its maximum efficacy.

It is also important to inspect product labels carefully. Take note that the term hemp oil is often used synonymously with CBD oil but is vastly different from hempseed oil, which barely contains CBD and THC.

Moreover, switching from full-spectrum to broad-spectrum or to CBD isolates can significantly impact the amount of CBD the body gets.

Full-spectrum CBD and broad-spectrum CBD products contain a wide range of cannabinoids that work synergistically together to produce an “entourage effect” and enhance CBD benefits.

CBD isolates, meanwhile, is pure CBD and may produce limited benefits in comparison.

Figure Out How Much CBD Oil to Take

Getting the right dose is key to maximizing the benefits of CBD oil.

Medical professionals and experienced CBD users recommend starting with a low dose and going slow.

Experts recommend first-time vapers to start with one inhalation and waiting for 15 minutes before taking another hit(16).

It helps to keep in mind the length of time before CBD takes effect to avoid taking too much CBD out of paranoia that it is not working with a single or small dose.

CBD oil and product sellers also often provide dosing recommendations. However, CBD dosing is a case-to-case matter, as the best CBD dosage depends on each person and their needs.

It is always better to talk with a doctor for guidance and a tailored CBD dosage for individual concerns.

How Much CBD Is Considered Safe

The human body tolerates a substantial amount of CBD. While it is almost impossible to overdose from CBD oil, taking the wrong dosage may cause minor side effects.

Research results published in 2017 have shown no harmful side effects from the chronic intake of 1,200mg to 1,500mg of CBD per day(17).

However, it is always best to consult with a health care practitioner before taking CBD oil. A doctor can offer medical advice regarding CBD dosage and frequency and possible interactions with prescription drugs.

Take note that CBD oil may cause adverse interactions with other medications, such as HIV antivirals and antihistamines(18).

Does CBD Oil Have Possible Side Effects?

The increasing potential health benefits of CBD does not negate the fact that CBD research is still in its infancy. More studies are needed to ensure the benefits of CBD oil and recognize potential side effects.

A study reported exhaustion, diarrhea, and decreased appetite as possible minor side effects of taking CBD oil(19).

The promising effects of CBD in lowering blood pressure(20) may also cause adverse effects.

While CBD may help people with hypertension or high blood pressure, further reducing the blood pressure of individuals with hypotension (low blood pressure) may increase dementia and cardiovascular disease risks(21).

The FDA also strongly advises pregnant and breastfeeding women against using CBD oil due to the possible harmful effects for the developing fetus or baby(22).

The confusing state of CBD’s legality may dissuade potential customers from purchasing and taking CBD oil.

The 2018 Farm Bill legalized industrial hemp and hemp-derived CBD at a federal level in the United States. However, certain restrictions still apply, particularly concerning CBD legality at a state level.

Hemp-derived CBD products need to contain less than 0.3% of THC on a dry weight basis to remain federally legal.

Some states, like Idaho and Iowa, still consider CBD illegal state-wide. Meanwhile, other states, such as New York and California, do not allow CBD in food or beverage.

It is best to check with state laws before purchasing CBD oil and before traveling anywhere with a CBD product.


Before taking CBD oil, consumers should understand their needs and consider their health condition.

Vaping or inhaling CBD, taking CBD capsules and gummies orally, and applying CBD topicals are the most common ways to take CBD oil.

Each method has its pros and cons that can help address specific concerns in varying swiftness.

Consulting a health care practitioner helps in deciding on the best delivery method and CBD dosage.

  1. Argueta, D. A., Ventura, C. M., Kiven, S., Sagi, V., & Gupta, K. (2020). A Balanced Approach for Cannabidiol Use in Chronic Pain. Frontiers in pharmacology, 11, 561.
  2. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2018, June 25). FDA approves first drug comprised of an active ingredient derived from marijuana to treat rare, severe forms of epilepsy.
  3. Hazekamp, A. (2018). The Trouble with CBD Oil. Med Cannabis Cannabinoids, 65-72. doi: 10.1159/000489287. Retrieved from:
  4. 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.
  5. Muthumalage, T., Lucas, J., Wang, Q., Lamb, T., McGraw, M., & Rahman, I. (2020). Pulmonary toxicity and inflammatory response of e-cigarette vape cartridges containing medium-chain triglycerides oil and vitamin e acetate: Implications in the pathogenesis of EVALI. Toxics, 8(46). 10.3390/toxics8030046
  6. Devitt-Lee, A. What is the best way to take CBD?. Project CBD.
  7. Gill, L. L. (2020). Is it safe to vape CBD?. Consumer Reports.
  8. Tomida, I., Azuara-Blanco, A., House, H., Flint, M., Pertwee, R. G., & Robson, P. J. (2006). Effect of sublingual application of cannabinoids on intraocular pressure: a pilot study. Journal of glaucoma, 15(5), 349–353.
  9. Lucas, C. J., Galettis, P., & Schneider, J. (2018). The pharmacokinetics and the pharmacodynamics of cannabinoids. British journal of clinical pharmacology, 84(11), 2477–2482.
  10. Millar, S. A., Stone, N. L., Yates, A. S., & O’Sullivan, S. E. (2018). A Systematic Review on the Pharmacokinetics of Cannabidiol in Humans. Frontiers in pharmacology, 9, 1365.
  11. Lucas, C. J., Galettis, P., & Schneider, J. op. cit.
  12. Birnbaum, A. K., Karanam, A., Marino, S. E., Barkley, C. M., Remmel, R. P., Roslawski, M., Gramling-Aden, M., & Leppik, I. E. (2019). Food effect on pharmacokinetics of cannabidiol oral capsules in adult patients with refractory epilepsy. Epilepsia, 60(8), 1586–1592.
  13. Bruni, N., Della Pepa, C., Oliaro-Bosso, S., Pessione, E., Gastaldi, D., & Dosio, F. (2018). Cannabinoid Delivery Systems for Pain and Inflammation Treatment. Molecules (Basel, Switzerland), 23(10), 2478.
  14. 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.
  15. Ibid.
  16. Lee, M. A. (2019, April 1). CBD & cannabis dosing. Project CBD.
  17. Iffland, K., & Grotenhermen, F. (2017). An Update on Safety and Side Effects of Cannabidiol: A Review of Clinical Data and Relevant Animal Studies. Cannabis and cannabinoid research, 2(1), 139–154.
  18. Brown, J. D., & Winterstein, A. G. (2019). Potential Adverse Drug Events and Drug-Drug Interactions with Medical and Consumer Cannabidiol (CBD) Use. Journal of clinical medicine, 8(7), 989.
  19. Iffland, K., & Grotenhermen, F. (2017). Op cit.
  20. Looking for Trouble: Identifying and Treating Hypotension. (2019). P & T : a peer-reviewed journal for formulary management, 44(9), 563–565.
  21. Ibid.
  22. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2019, October 16). What you should know about using cannabis, including cbd, when pregnant or breastfeeding.

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