by Sarah Mann, MD

CBD is a versatile cannabinoid that can be used to treat hundreds of illnesses and does so without giving the user the well known “high” that comes with most varieties of cannabis extracts. This is true no matter which of the 6 ways you can use CBD: inhalation, ingestion, oral, topical, transdermal, or

However, the list of effects that come from CBD can vary greatly depending on how you take the CBD and how sensitive you are to it. Everyone is different and is going to have a slightly different reaction. This is important to consider when you start to use CBD so you are prepared to use it properly and

I should issue a quick warning:
There are those that claim to feel a “high” when they consume CBD. This is possibly due to CBD being a serotonin balancing agent which allows the body to relax and calm down. Patients that have been in constant pain or stress their whole lives, like those suffering from fibromyalgia, have never felt so relaxed that they believe they are “high” when, in reality, their body is just experiencing pain relief for the first time in years. This is especially important to consider among geriatric patients that have never been exposed to cannabis or any of its constituents.

There are 3 main differences between these different ways of using CBD:

  1. How long it takes for the CBD to take effect (Onset)
  2. How long the effects of the CBD last (Duration)
  3. How much of the CBD enters the bloodstream and can bind to CB receptors (Bioavailability)

The onset, duration and bioavailability can be used to determine which way to best use CBD for your particular ailment. The needs of each patient and the way that their illness effects them vary from case to case. Hopefully, this will serve as a guide and help you find the best way to use CBD to treat yourself.


CBD concentrate

Rig for vaporizing cannabis and CBD concentrates.

A popular way of using CBD is by smoking or vaporizing the cannabinoid. This is mainly done using a CBD isolate or concentrate that looks like wax or a buttery substance that is burnt or vaporized at a high temperature and then inhaled. This is done by using either smoking it in a joint or bong, or using a vaporizer, a device used to heat up the oil to a specified temperature, or a dab rig (bong) that has a special glass “bowl” called a banger that’s heated up to be red-hot and then cooled a little to achieve the same effect as the vaporizer.

Vaporizing CBD oil.

The effects of inhaling CBD are immediate. The smoke or vapor fills the lungs and saturates the alveoli (tiny air sacs in the lungs responsible for rapid gaseous exchanges which allows CBD to enter the bloodstream). This form of CBD is becoming very popular among those with chronic nausea and muscle spasms because they can take a quick puff of some CBD and have immediate relief.

Smoking and vaporizing CBD is the least efficient way to medicate because of how short the effects last and how little of actual CBD gets absorbed into the bloodstream. The effects from smoking or vaporizing CBD can last anywhere from 2 to 4 hours and is only 10-35% bioavailable.

CBD Edibles

A variety of commercial CBD products.

Another common way of medicating with CBD is by using what are called CBD edibles. Most people have heard of THC edibles (pot brownies) but a lot of people don’t know you can do the exact same thing with CBD! Just like THC, CBD can be baked or cooked into just about any kind of food that’s high in fats and be eaten to achieve the desired results.

The number one downside to eating CBD is that it takes 30 minutes to 2 hours to take effect and is only 8-15% bioavailable. Edibles take so long to take effect because our body’s need to produce a hormone called Cholecystokinin or CCK for short. This hormone is secreted in the small intestine and has the sole purpose of slowing down our digestive system in  order to break down the fats in proteins that we eat.

Because the CBD doesn’t start getting broken down until it gets to the small intestine, it has to survive the stomach. The stomach is filled with highly acidic bile so a large portion of the CBD is destroyed long before it reaches the intestines where it can then be absorbed into the bloodstream. This makes CBD edibles only 8-15% bioavailable.

Orally (Tincture/Lozenge)

CBD oil extract.

Taking CBD orally is one of the oldest methods of medicating with CBD. This method includes using a mainly alcohol-based liquid or lozenge that has a concentrated amount of CBD that is placed under the tongue or around the gums to be dissolved and absorbed through the mucous membranes in the mouth.

CBD oil concentrate, which averages 1000 mg per syringe. This product goes by a number of names, including RSO, drizzlers and Dragon’s Tears.

Because of the lingual artery located in the tongue, CBD is easily absorbed into the bloodstream within 15 minutes but can take up to an hour. The effects last between 4-6 hours and is 6-20% bioavailable.

It should be noted that this method (tinctures) has proven to be one the most effective ways to use CBD and is one of the few forms of CBD that is totally legal everywhere. Tinctures are one of the easiest forms of CBD to travel with and can be used to treat most ailments. They can also be used topically if needed and will still be effective.


One of countless CBD lotions that have entered the market in recent years.

Topicals are a great way to use CBD if you don’t want to have any cannabinoids in your body at all as topicals don’t penetrate the skin. Topicals are lotions and creams that are applied directly to the affected areas and they are great for local relief but only local relief. This means that the CBD doesn’t enter the bloodstream and doesn’t have a chance to affect other systems and areas of our body’s.

Topicals are most effective against problems that are on the surface of the skin such as rashes, infections and bug bites. Because CBD is an anti-bacterial, it can be used to clean wounds while it also possesses natural analgesic properties! This gives topicals a wide range of uses and can even be safely used on pets with skin irritations.

It only takes about 15 minutes for topicals to take effect and can last between 2-4 hours. Because topicals can’t penetrate the skin it is 0% bioavailable.


Transdermals are patches or gels that are designed, like their name suggests, to go through the skin. Unlike topicals, transdermals are designed to penetrate all 7 layers of the epidermis and is absorbed into the bloodstream. This provides a systemic rather than localized effect so this method of using CBD with have effects on your whole body and not just one specified area.

When using a transdermal, it’s best to know how you can use them and where to place it on your body so that you can get the best effects. The best locations for one of these patches or gels is going to be on an area of your body that has thin skin. This includes areas like the ankle, under the arm, on the top and sides of the foot, and wrist. Those areas allow the transdermal to penetrate the skin easily and enter the
bloodstream in the quickest way possible. This also means that transdermals are 100% bioavailable.

Transdermal gels and patches are going to start taking effect within 15 minutes and last between 4 to 12 hours. The gels only last about 4 hours because they get completely absorbed into the bloodstream once they are rubbed onto the skin. The patches, however, are designed to slowly release the CBD so they last much longer and, on average, will be effective for at least 12 hours.


There are a few companies out there that make CBD suppositories and they are one of the most effective ways to treat your body with CBD. This method of medicating was used for centuries and allows the CBD to bypass the stomach and the liver, which prevents any loss of CBD, and allows the colon to absorb the medicine. This method is more popular among those that can’t use orally administered CBD like those with facial or oral injuries and people that can’t smoke or swallow pills. Using CBD suppositories has also shown great promise at treating many forms of gastrointestinal cancers including pelvic, rectal, colon, prostate,
and ovarian cancer.

Suppositories can last anywhere from 4 to 14 hours and they are 100% bioavailable. Like transdermals, suppositories also work systematically and not locally.

CBD is very effective at treating a wide range of illnesses and problems. The method and ways you use CBD have an even bigger impact on those effects and how well they can treat those ailments. Taking the time to learn the proper way to use CBD for your particular illness is going to help you not only feel better, but it’ll guarantee that your medication is providing you with the most relief possible!