Cannabidiol (CBD) has exploded into the mainstream health and wellness arena over the past 5 years. What makes CBD so promising as a natural healing therapy is its ability to treat a wide variety of ailments. Folks everywhere are seeking out this supplement to provide relief for conditions such as chronic pain, depression, anxiety, seizures, and insomnia, even swapping out their existing prescriptions in favor of the natural remedy.

The availability of CBD can be a blessing for those who prefer more natural methods of healthcare, but it can also be a curse due to the wide variety of CBD products to choose from out there. This article aims to educate consumers on how CBD products work by how it’s administered.

How CBD is Absorbed

In order for CBD to work, it has to get into the bloodstream. From there, it’s transported throughout the body and interacts with cannabinoid and serotonin receptors.

How much, or the percentage, of the CBD you take that actually gets into the bloodstream is known as its “bioavailability.” This is different from how quickly it gets to your bloodstream, which is known as the rate of absorption or onset.

For example, injection of CBD would have a 100% bioavailability rate, but that route of administration is not actually used by regular laypersons. There are currently four popular ways consumers can self-administer CBD: oral ingestion, inhalation, topical application, and suppositories.


One of the most popular ways to consume CBD is by mouth. Swallowing a capsule or eating an edible is as simple as it can get. However, it has the lowest bioavailability since it has to go through the digestive system. The liver then metabolizes the CBD, which reduces its concentration even further before it actually makes it into the bloodstream.

The good news is there’s a way to increase the bioavailability of orally-ingested CBD. Like fat-soluble vitamins, supplemental forms of CBD are best taken with fats to increase its bioavailability. CBD that uses a carrier oil, such as medium-chain triglycerides (MCT), is one of the best ways to ensure that CBD is metabolized directly by the liver.

Bottom line: oil-based capsules and edibles can take anywhere from 30-90 minutes to feel its full effects, and it can last for up to 7 hours in duration. On the flip side, water-soluble CBD only takes 15-45 minutes to hit the bloodstream, but it also has a shorter duration of just 5 hours.


Sublingual, or under the tongue, applications of CBD has a much higher bioavailability when compared to the capsules. It bypasses metabolism by the liver entirely and is absorbed directly into the bloodstream via the mucous membranes. In terms of how quickly it works, sublingual methods are far superior to oral ingestion methods.

Unfortunately, sublingual routes of administration come with one downside – taste. It needs to be held under the tongue for 60 to 90 seconds in order to reach the bloodstream. Swallowing the spray or tincture too soon means that it will get digested rather than directly absorbed. It’s worth taking the time to find a sublingual that has a flavor you enjoy.

Bottom line: oil-based sublinguals can take anywhere from 20-40 minutes to feel CBD’s full effects, and can last for up to 6 hours in duration. Water-soluble sublingual’s have a higher bioavailability, and only takes 10-20 minutes to feel its effects, but it lasts a mere 4 hours tops.


Inhaling CBD through vaping or smoking methods is less common, but it’s gaining popularity among users who are used to dabbling in recreational or medical marijuana use. There are a growing number of inhalation products available, such as concentrates and hemp flowers.

Vaping or smoking has five times more bioavailable than oral ingestion, thanks to the large permeable surface area of the lungs. Although inhaling CBD is the quickest way to get CBD into the body, even more so than sublingual’s, it also comes with the shortest duration. The other downside is that it carries the usual risks associated with vaping, and is not suitable for all users.

Bottom line: inhalation methods hit the bloodstream in as little as 2-5 minutes, but will only last up to 3 hours.


Applying lotions, creams, and so forth directly to the body is another popular way to get CBD into the bloodstream, especially for those seeking relief from aching joints and muscles. The skin is the body’s a largest organ, and it turns out that there are plenty of CBD receptors in the skin.

Unlike other methods, topical application of CBD tends to have a localized effect. In other words, it can reduce pain and inflammation directly to the areas in which its applied. Studies have shown that it may also be beneficial for treating skin conditions such as psoriasis or eczema.

Bottom line: topical applications of CBD can take 60-90 minutes to feel the onset, but it can be used to “spot treat” conditions like arthritis and post-exercise soreness. It also has one of the longest durations at 6 hours.


This is by far one of the least popular methods of CBD administration for obvious reasons. But, it has the highest bioavailability, meaning it’s the one method that ensures you will get the most amount of CBD into your system.

Suppositories are generally used by consumers who have serious medical conditions or chronic pain that are seeking to alleviate.

Bottom line: CBD suppositories have the highest bioavailability as well as a speedy onset of only 10-15 minutes. This method also has the longest duration at 8 hours.

Chart comparing top 4 ways to take CBD

Which Type of CBD is Most Effective?

The decision on which CBD product to try will vary by consumer and their individual needs. Each method has its pros and cons, but no matter what your personal situation, there is a CBD product out there that is best suited for you.

Now that you understand how the different methods of CBD application methods can affect bioavailability, onset, and duration, it’s time to start shopping for some CBD!