Updated: Jan 8
What to look for in a product
No matter how you take CBD, there are a few things you’ll want to look for when shopping.
Full or broad-spectrum
Be sure to look for products made with full or broad-spectrum oil — rather than distillate or isolate — to get the full scope of health benefits. Full-spectrum oils contain all cannabinoids in the cannabis plant, including both CBD and THC. Broad-spectrum oils contain most cannabinoids, but generally don’t contain THC.
Research has found that THC and CBD may work better when taken together than they do when taken alone. This is referred to as the “entourage effect.”
Full and broad-spectrum products are also less processed, which helps preserve some of cannabis’s volatile organic compounds, like terpenes. Terpenes affect the taste and smell of the product, and they have medical benefits of their own.
Since CBD products aren’t currently regulated by the FDA, it’s important to ensure whatever you’re buying has been lab-tested by a third party. This will allow you to see exactly what you’re putting into your body, and verify that the product contains what the packaging says it does.
U.S.-grown, organic cannabis
Look for products made from organic, U.S.-grown cannabis. Cannabis grown in the United States is subject to agricultural regulations and can’t contain more than 0.3 percent THC. Organic ingredients mean you’re less likely to consume pesticides or other chemicals.
Edibles are a great and discreet way to try CBD. You can find a variety of CBD edibles including gummies, truffles, or even mints that do a great job of masking any “weedy” taste.
There are a few caveats with edibles, however. Research shows that eating CBD subjects it to something called the “first pass effect.” During the first pass effect, CBD is partially broken down by the liver and digestive tract. This means that the CBD can take up to two hours to kick in, and you’ll absorb about 20 to 30 percent of it.
Many edibles contain sugar and preservatives, so if you want to avoid additives, you might want to try a sublingual product. These are designed to be absorbed under your tongue. They include tinctures — solutions made by soaking cannabis flower in oil or alcohol — sprays, oils, and lozenges.
Letting the product absorb under your tongue rather than subjecting it to the digestive tract preserves more of the CBD, and you’ll feel results faster.
CBD topicals are designed to be applied directly to the skin. You can find CBD-infused lotions, balms, creams, salves, and transdermal patches. Topicals are a great choice when it comes to treating localized pain or skin conditions like eczema in a discreet fashion.
A 2015 study done on rats found that CBD gel applied to the skin greatly reduced joint swelling — promising results for people with conditions like arthritis.
While studies on topicals haven’t given an estimate of bioavailability, we do know a couple of things:
Topicals aren’t subjected to the first-pass effect, so they’ll provide concentrated relief to a particular area.
The permeability of your skin is pretty poor relative to mucous membranes, like sublingual tissue. That means when using a topical product, you’ll want to choose one with a high amount of CBD and apply it generously.
Using a product that contains additional analgesics including menthol, camphor and capsaicin may bring even more therapeutic potential to the mix.
Vaping and Smoking
You can smoke high-CBD cannabis flower in a joint, use a vaporizer with a cartridge that contains CBD oil, or even inhale CBD concentrates such as sugar waxes with any vape pen that has a chamber for concentrates.
Vaping and smoking allow the CBD to go directly into your bloodstream, so you’ll feel effects much faster than you will with other methods. In 10 minutes or less, you’ll absorb 34 to 56 percent of the CBD.
Keep in mind that smoking cannabis can expose you to carcinogens. While vaping circumvents this by heating cannabis up to just below the point of combustion, the jury’s still out on how safe it is, so it may not be the best choice.
If you do decide to vape, avoid CBD vape cartridges made with thinning agents or carriers such as fractionated coconut oil (MCT), propylene glycol, or vegetable glycerin. A 2017 review found that these compounds can cause damage to lung tissue.
Talk to your doctor
While there are many ways to take CBD, there’s no one right or best way. It’s important to try different methods and see what works for you.
Before trying CBD, you should also talk to your doctor, especially if you’re currently on any medication. CBD may interact with prescription medications such as antibiotics, antidepressants, blood thinners, and more.