CBD Delivery Methods

As CBD’s popularity and mainstream acceptance continues to grow, the market is being flooded with all types of CBD-infused products from bath bombs to water to hair and beauty products. For now, I’m going to focus on the tried and true delivery methods but will follow up with some thoughts on everything else at the end.

There are five basic delivery methods for CBD; sublingual, inhalation, ingestion, topical and transdermal. An important consideration that most consumers don’t necessarily think about is bioavailability as each delivery method will affect the body’s use of the CBD as well as how much is actually getting used. Research is still ongoing and there are many other factors that will affect the bioavailability so consider this the 10,000 foot view.


When considering what products I wanted to bring to the market, sublingual tinctures seemed like a no-brainer to me. Behind inhalation, it has the second highest bioavailability, goes directly into the bloodstream when held under the tongue so it bypasses the digestion and liver metabolism steps, doesn’t cause lung irritation, and has a little bit longer onset than inhalation (think 15-30 minutes versus minutes) and the affects are generally longer lasting than inhalation. Once in the bloodstream is it distributed directly throughout the body. There is also more versatility with CBD tinctures as they can also be ingested by simply swallowing or added to smoothies, coffee, tea, etc. CBD as well as other cannabinoids are fat-loving compounds so for Sunshine Extracts’ products, I chose to use MCT oil as the carrier oil which helps increase the bioavailability of the CBD in the body. There aren’t too many drawbacks to this delivery method other than maybe if you needed an immediate symptom relief.


There are two basic forms for this delivery method; smoking and vaping. While both cause some lung irritation, vaping seems to be easier on the lungs than smoking. Inhalation also bypasses the digestion/liver metabolism steps and is absorbed directly into the bloodstream through the lungs. Like the sublingual method, this means that the bioavailability is much higher. While the internal route is much simpler for the sublingual delivery method (bloodstream to body), the inhalation route is a little more complicated. From the lungs it goes to the heart then the brain then the body. While vaping is generally more gentle on the lungs than smoking, it has a higher chance of causing irritation due to the thinners used, flavorings, and other additives that can break down into carcinogens. As always, know what is in your products! If you’re smoking pre-rolls or straight flower, make sure there is a certificate of analysis that you can view. If you’re vaping, same advice but also avoid liquid CBD with propylene glycol, polyethylene glycol, vitamin E acetate, flavorings or other additives. The one advantage that inhalation has over sublingual is its almost immediate onset which is great for those times when you need immediate relief from symptoms.


When you think of ingestion, think of the term edibles like gummies, chocolates, capsules, etc. Any form of CBD that is directly swallowed and passes through the digestive tract is considered ingestion. Once out of the stomach, the CBD is absorbed by the intestines and processed through the liver before being set free in the body. This is probably the least bioavailable method to choose and other than its popularity, has little benefits over sublingual or inhalation. So much of the CBD is lost in digestion that there is little left as it continues its long journey. If there is a bright spot here then it is probably in its helpfulness with IBS and other inflammatory conditions as it is absorbed at the point that it is most effective. Also, ingestion’s onset can be anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours so finding that sweet spot in your dosing can be challenging. 


This is another popular delivery method and the only one that does not enter the bloodstream. The symptom relief or effectiveness of the CBD is localized only to the part of the body to which it is applied. The CBD is picked up by CB2 receptors in the skin and does not spread to the rest of the body. The market is being flooded right now with all types of topicals from lotions, skin care, pain balms, etc. Here again, the research is ongoing and there is some positive nods to CBD being helpful to some skin conditions including acne, psoriasis and dermatitis as well has alleviating arthritis pain, muscle pain, inflammation, etc. Once more, make sure you are using a high quality product.


Lastly there is transdermal. It is often lumped in with topical but I separated it out because there are some differences. First and foremost, the transdermal method does enter the bloodstream so it is used throughout the body. Transdermal patches are good at providing relief over a long period of time as the goal is to release a steady supply of CBD over time. The onset is pretty quick and the effects are stopped once the patch is removed. Worth noting is that while the technology is not new, there is little trusted information to suggest the effectiveness of this method. Here again, know what is in your product as some of the adhesives used are probably not what you want being absorbed into your body along with the CBD.

Okay, those are the delivery methods in a nut shell. As far as what is being pushed out into the market right now, I would just ask everyone to not get swept up in the hype. CBD is being added to literally everything which just adds to the confusion for consumers. With all your new-found knowledge, just give a little thought to what is being presented. CBD infused clothing is just silly. Take note of how much CBD is in that drink and then remember how much is lost through ingestion. Is it going to be worth the high price? Probably not. Understand why you are taking CBD in the first place and them choose what is right for you.