Today you’re going to learn the most effective forms of CBD.
Since 2015, we have tried and tested every form of CBD, including:
- Water-soluble CBD;
- Nano-emulsified CBD;
- CBD vape products;
- Full-spectrum products;
You name it, we tried it.
In addition, we analyzed over 40 scientific studies related to the effectiveness of different forms of CBD.
Based on our tests and various studies, some forms of CBD are up to 10-times more effective than others.
Let’s dive right in!
Table of contents:
How to Determine the Effectiveness of CBD
There are two different ways to determine the effectiveness of a specific form of CBD:
- The unscientific way, and;
- The scientific way.
At Herbonaut, we test the effectiveness of different forms of CBD in an unscientific way. However, we also take the results of scientific studies in our final rating of effectiveness. And often, the scientific studies serve as a basis for our own tests.
Just keep in mind our tests or highly subjective because we don’t have the tools to determine the bio-availability of a specific form of CBD.
That being said…
We express ‘effectiveness’ in terms of how much CBD (in milligrams) you need to achieve your desired result.
The Unscientific Way
After reviewing hundreds of CBD products, we have developed a system to review the effectiveness of CBD products.
This system consists of the following steps:
- Whatever form of CBD, on the first day of testing take a dose that equals 25mg CBD between two big meals. On the second day, take a dose that equals 50mg of CBD between two big meals.
- Try to make sure that the meals on days of testing are similar in terms of calories and fat amount;
- Document the impact of the product. Answer questions like “Describe what I feel”, “How fast did I feel the effects”, and “How long did the effects last”. Describing the effects we do mostly within the context of exercise-induced inflammation relief, feelings of calmness, and sleep.
Using this system, we have documented what were the most effective forms of CBD for us.
The Scientific Way
Dozens of scientific studies have looked at various metrics to quantify the effectiveness of a specific form of CBD.
The most important metric in this measurement is the measurement of ‘bioavailability’ and ‘CBD blood concentrations.’ But there are also studies that looked at self-reporting of study participants to determine the effectiveness of a specific form of CBD.
Bioavailability refers to what percentage of the CBD gets absorbed into your bloodstream.
If you consume 50mg isolate in the form of oral CBD on an empty stomach, it’s generally thought it has a bio-availability of 6-9%. This means that only 5mg (at max) out of that 50mg gets absorbed.
How researchers calculate the bioavailability of a specific form of CBD is by measuring CBD blood concentrations. The higher the CBD blood concentrations, the more effective that specific form of CBD is in theory at least.
Why ‘in theory’?
Because there are also researchers that think measuring the effectiveness of CBD is more complex than simply measuring blood concentrations.
It’s thought that combining cannabinoids can lead to effects that would not occur when any of the cannabinoids are taken in an isolated form.
Measuring the true effectiveness of various forms of CBD is still a research topic that’s in its infancy.
The Different Forms of CBD
When you’re thinking about different forms of CBD, you might be thinking about:
These are the most obvious ways to distinguish between the various forms of CBD. However, there are more, less obvious differences in the various forms of CBD.
What we refer to as ‘CBD’ is cannabidiol, and cannabidiol is just a molecule. At the most basic level, whatever the form of CBD, this molecule is always the same.
But here’s the kicker…
This CBD molecule can have different degrees of effectiveness based on:
- Whether the CBD molecule has undergone a post-extraction modification process like nano-emulsification;
- The consumption method;
- Whether it’s taken with other hemp-derived cannabinoids and terpenes, or not.
Researchers think that one reason why oral CBD has such a low bioavailability is that it isn’t water-soluble. CBD is fat-soluble, hence why you’ll notice CBD products are more effective when taken together with high-fat meals or in-between high-fat meals.
The reasoning behind post-extraction modification processes like nano-emulsified CBD is to make the CBD water-soluble. The theory is that nano-emulsified and water-soluble CBD products have a higher bioavailability than regular fat-soluble CBD.
Then there’s also the distinction between full-spectrum products vs broad-spectrum products vs isolates.
It’s thought that taking CBD together with all these cannabinoids and terpenes leads to synergistic effects.
And there’s at least one study that found epilepsy patients that used oral forms of full-spectrum CBD needed a 4-times small dose to achieve similar results as patients that used oral forms of CBD isolate (3).
Because this is a complex topic, we have broken down the essentials of every form of CBD.
Keep in mind they’re not always mutually exclusive.
Forms of CBD Expressed in Consumption Method
Categorizing forms of CBD in terms of consumption methods refers to how that specific form of CBD is consumed.
There are forms of CBD that are consumed:
- Orally (goes through the gastrointestinal tract);
- Sublingually (bypasses the gastrointestinal tract);
- Applied topically, and;
- Through vaporizers/smoked.
Oral CBD refers to any type of CBD that gets consumed through the mouth, gets swallowed, and goes through the gastrointestinal tract.
Oral CBD is probably the least effective form of CBD when it comes to consumption methods IF you take it on an empty stomach.
As stated before, researchers estimate the bio-availability of oral CBD on an empty stomach between 6% and 9% (4).
One extremely effective way to increase the bioavailability of CBD taken in oral form is taking it together or in-between high-fat meals.
CBD is fat-soluble, which means it dissolves in fat and therefore is much better absorbed by your body when taken with fats, up to 2.5-fold and 3-fold
One animal study found that oral CBD co-administered with dietary fats increased absorption rate 3 times, increasing bioavailability from 10% to 30% (5).
One clinical trial found that a CBD-containing oromucosal spray resulted in blood concentrations that were 3-times higher when taken in a ‘fed-state’ compared to a ‘fasted-state’. It’s unclear whether this is the result of fats or simply having a food-filled stomach (6).
In our experience, oral CBD is most effective when taken in-between two high-fat containing meals, supporting two important findings in these studies:
- Oral CBD is more effective when taken with dietary fats;
- Oral CBD is more effective when taken in a fed-state.
It’s also highly likely that oral CBD stays in your system the longest.
But oral CBD doesn’t have to be mutually exclusive to forms of CBD, especially when it comes to sublingual CBD.
Oils and tinctures can and should be used both orally and sublingually.
Sublingual CBD refers to taking a liquid form of CBD under your tongue and letting the mucous membranes under your tongue absorb the CBD.
This way, the CBD doesn’t go through the gastrointestinal tract, but directly finds its way into the bloodstream.
Although in theory, taking CBD sublingually should have a higher bioavailability than taking CBD orally because it bypasses the gastrointestinal tract…
Some studies have found that taking a sublingual form of CBD doesn’t result in higher bioavailability. However, it results in quicker effects and less variability in effects (7).
Sublingually consumed CBD has a slightly lower half-life than purely orally consumed CBD (CBD that’s swallowed in capsule-for, for example).
Vaped and Smoked CBD
CBD vape oils and high CBD flower strains have the highest bioavailability of all forms of CBD…
If you smoke or vape them that is.
One study found that smoked CBD has a bioavailability of at least 31% (7).
What about vaping?
Based on studies that found vaped cannabis results in even higher bioavailability of cannabinoids than smoked cannabis, we can assume that the same holds true for vaped CBD.
Another benefit is that vaped/smoked CBD results in immediate effects. You’ll feel the effects literally within a few minutes.
Topical CBD can work great for localized pain or inflammation. But that’s really the only reason to use it. For example, if you want to use CBD for anxiety relief or for improving your sleep, topical CBD is useless.
Topical CBD does not enter the bloodstream in significant concentrations but acts locally.
There have been no studies to my knowledge that quantified the bioavailability of topically applied CBD.
In my own experience, I’ve found that topical CBD indeed can work for localized inflammation relief, and more so when it comes to acute inflammation.
Topical CBD usually comes in the form of a cream or balm. However, most oils and tinctures can also be used topically.
Transdermal CBD is similar to topical CBD in the way that it’s applied: on the skin.
However, the difference is that transdermal CBD does enter the bloodstream in significant concentrations compared to topical CBD that just acts locally.
This means that transdermal CBD can be used for other purposes than pain and inflammation relief as well.
When it comes to the bioavailability of transdermal CBD, we can say it has a higher bioavailability than topical CBD.
However, some studies have found that the permeability of transdermal CBD is highly dependent on the solution. For example, one study found that looked at various solutions found that a mixture of propylene glycol and water (80/20) was the most effective (10).
Based on the current scientific literature it’s also unclear what exactly the bioavailability of transdermal CBD is.
Forms of CBD Expressed on Molecular Scales
Categorizing forms of CBD in terms of molecular scales refers to if and how that specific form of CBD is processed in terms of molecular scale.
Let me explain.
Any molecule of a compound can be dispersed into smaller particle sizes. In many cases, dispersing drug or types of molecules into smaller sizes makes them more bioavailable.
In this category we have:
- Regular CBD;
- Water-soluble CBD;
- Nano-emulsified CBD;
- Liposomal CBD.
Regular CBD isn’t processed into smaller microparticles after the extraction. It’s simply the same molecular structure as it came out of the hemp plants.
As explained CBD is fat-soluble, which means that it easily dissolves in fat but not water.
This is also exactly the reason why oral CBD should be taken together or in between high-fat meals.
Water-soluble means that the CBD molecule is processed in such a way that it becomes soluble in water.
In theory, this leads to a significantly better absorption rate comparable with making fat-soluble vitamins water-soluble.
And while this looks plausible from a theoretical perspective, in our experience, water-soluble CBD products were not more effective than regular CBD taken with or in-between high-fat meals. Water-soluble CBD products did produce much quicker effects though than non-water-soluble CBD products.
All nano-technological post-processing methods that I know of make CBD water-soluble.
The two most important ones we’ll talk about next.
Nano-emulsified CBD refers to CBD that’s broken down in nanoparticles and in the opposite phase (oil to water, or water to oil) through the help of an emulsifying agent or surfactant.
When it comes to CBD, the result of this process is an ‘oil-in-water’ nanoparticle CBD that, in theory, should have a better absorption rate than regular CBD because of its better solubility in the gastrointestinal tract.
Nano-emulsification can be achieved in many ways. And it’s currently unclear if and what forms of nano-emulsification are most effective to increase bioavailability.
It’s not necessarily true that every type of nano-emulsified CBD will have a better absorption rate than regular CBD.
Liposomal CBD is somewhat similar to nano-emulsified CBD in that the CBD is broken down into smaller particles and encapsulated in a spherical structure that consists of phospholipid bilayers. Water-insoluble compounds like CBD can be trapped in these phospholipid bilayers and made water-soluble.
One study done on human participants found that 10mg of liposomal CBD isolate resulted in CBD blood concentrations that were 16 times higher compared to regular oral CBD after 1 hour of ingestion (11).
We know from other studies that peak blood concentrations of oral CBD occur after 2-4 hours, so this might not have been the fairest of comparisons.
Further studies should compare peak blood concentrations of liposomal CBD to oral CBD after 2-4 hours.
Forms of CBD Expressed in Type of Extract
Categorizing forms of CBD in terms of extraction type refers to the chemical profile of the extract.
In this category we have:
- Full-spectrum CBD;
- Broad-spectrum CBD;
- CBD isolate.
Full-spectrum CBD means that you get an extract type that besides CBD, contains many other hemp-derived cannabinoids, and usually also terpenes.
This means that full-spectrum CBD also contains low amounts of THC.
There are various studies that suggest full-spectrum CBD is more effective than broad-spectrum, or CBD isolate.
Taking CBD together with all other naturally occurring cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids inside the hemp plant may result in synergistic effects. On top of this, many of these other hemp-derived compounds themselves are associated with beneficial effects.
It’s hard to quantify how much more effective full-spectrum CBD is compared to broad-spectrum or isolate.
Not in the least because not every full-spectrum CBD product has the same cannabinoid- and/or terpene-profile. It’s plausible that a full-spectrum CBD product that contains very high concentrations of secondary cannabinoids like CBG, CBC, and CBD-A, for example, will be more effective than a ‘full-spectrum CBD product that only contains micro-concentrations of these secondary cannabinoids.
There’s one study that found epilepsy patients that used a full-spectrum form of CBD needed a dose that’s 4-times lower than patients that used CBD isolate to achieve the same beneficial effects. In addition, the group that used full-spectrum CBD experienced fewer side effects (3).
In our experience as well, full-spectrum CBD products are more effective than broad-spectrum or isolate products for literally any purpose. In fact, no matter how much CBD isolate I have taken, it never produced the same beneficial effects like a true full-spectrum CBD product.
Broad-spectrum CBD is similar to full-spectrum CBD in the way that it contains many other hemp-derived cannabinoids and terpenes as well.
However, broad-spectrum CBD products are always free from THC.
In our experience, when you can’t consume even small amounts of THC for whatever reason, broad-spectrum CBD products are the next best option.
CBD isolate literally is only CBD. You get no other hemp-derived cannabinoids and terpenes that may act synergistically to CBD.
While CBD isolate has its use, in our experience, it’s the least effective CBD extract type.
As you can see, CBD comes in many different forms.
But which one is the most effective?
First, it’s important to acknowledge that there’s still a lot of research to be done when it comes to the effectiveness of CBD expressed in bioavailability, blood concentrations, and effectiveness. Especially when it comes to nanotechnology applied to CBD products, research is severely lacking or inconclusive.
Partially based on the scientific literature, and based on our own experiences the most effective form of CBD is:
- A tincture with which you can combine the sublingual and oral method of ingestion;
- CBD with a regular molecular size;
- Taken during or in between high-fat meals.
The downside with this type of CBD is that it can take 2-4 hours to feel maximum effects.
If you want to consistently feel the effects of CBD faster, we recommend:
- Vaping CBD flower (this is always full-spectrum), or;
- Water-soluble, oral, and full-spectrum CBD that comes from a highly reputable brand.
Go to our CBD Hub to learn more about CBD-related topics.
Ben-Shabat, S., Fride, E., Sheskin, T., Tamiri, T., Rhee, M. H., Vogel, Z., . . . Mechoulam, R. (1998). An entourage effect: inactive endogenous fatty acid glycerol esters enhance 2-arachidonoyl-glycerol cannabinoid activity. European Journal of Pharmacology, 353(1), 23–31. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0014-2999(98)00392-6
Russo, E. B. (2011d). Taming THC: potential cannabis synergy and phytocannabinoid-terpenoid entourage effects. British Journal of Pharmacology, 163(7), 1344–1364. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1476-5381.2011.01238.x
Pamplona, F. A., da Silva, L. R., & Coan, A. C. (2018c). Potential Clinical Benefits of CBD-Rich Cannabis Extracts Over Purified CBD in Treatment-Resistant Epilepsy: Observational Data Meta-analysis. Frontiers in Neurology, 9. Published. https://doi.org/10.3389/fneur.2018.00759
Millar, S. A., Maguire, R. F., Yates, A. S., & O’Sullivan, S. E. (2020). Towards Better Delivery of Cannabidiol (CBD). Pharmaceuticals, 13(9), 219. https://doi.org/10.3390/ph13090219
- Zgair A., Wong J.C., Lee J.B., Mistry J., Sivak O., Wasan K.M., Hennig I.M., Barrett D.A., Constantinescu C.S., Fischer P.M., et al. Dietary fats and pharmaceutical lipid excipients increase systemic exposure to orally administered cannabis and cannabis-based medicines. Am. J. Transl. Res. 2016;8:3448–3459. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5009397/
Stott, C. G., White, L., Wright, S., Wilbraham, D., & Guy, G. W. (2012). A phase I study to assess the effect of food on the single dose bioavailability of the THC/CBD oromucosal spray. European Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, 69(4), 825–834. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00228-012-1393-4
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. Published. https://doi.org/10.3389/fphar.2018.01365
- Palmieri B, Laurino C, Vadalà M. A therapeutic effect of CBD-enriched ointment in inflammatory skin diseases and cutaneous scars. Clin Ter. 2019;170:e93–e99. – PubMed – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30993303/
Tubaro, A., Giangaspero, A., Sosa, S., Negri, R., Grassi, G., Casano, S., . . . Appendino, G. (2010). Comparative topical anti-inflammatory activity of cannabinoids and cannabivarins. Fitoterapia, 81(7), 816–819. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fitote.2010.04.009
Casiraghi, A., Musazzi, U. M., Centin, G., Franzè, S., & Minghetti, P. (2020). Topical Administration of Cannabidiol: Influence of Vehicle-Related Aspects on Skin Permeation Process. Pharmaceuticals, 13(11), 337. https://doi.org/10.3390/ph13110337
Verrico, C. D., Wesson, S., Konduri, V., Hofferek, C. J., Vazquez-Perez, J., Blair, E., . . . Halpert, M. M. (2020c). A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study of daily cannabidiol for the treatment of canine osteoarthritis pain. Pain, 161(9), 2191–2202. https://doi.org/10.1097/j.pain.0000000000001896