By now, you’ve likely already heard of the suggested benefits of cannabidiol (CBD) for the treatment of chronic pain, anxiety, and many other ailments. Such benefits, of which more and more seem to be appearing by the day, increasingly suggest that CBD is a strong and versatile addition to one’s medicine cabinet. However, with the many different kinds of products now available on the market from a host of manufacturers, choosing the right product for the right needs seems daunting to say the least! Amid all this confusion, one can only ask: what form of CBD is the most effective for my particular condition? CBD pills, edibles, lotions, or dabs? And what is the best way of using that form of CBD?
On this blog, we’ve already mentioned some of the different kinds of CBD products out there, including lotions, creams, CBD-containing marijuana, and forms of CBD that can be vaporized and inhaled through dabbing. Lotions are used as topical analgesics (that is, they are rubbed onto parts of the body to reduce pain through absorption through the skin), while marijuana and “dabbable” forms of CBD are burned and inhaled with the aid of pipes, vapes, and other equipment. Also increasing in popularity are ingestible products, including tinctures, edibles made with CBD-containing hemp, and oral supplements.
Among all the different kinds of CBD available, there are some differences the duration of time between initial use and the onset of effects and in the overall absorption rate of CBD into the body. These differences have already been covered to some degree in our previous blog post on dabbing, but something we haven’t yet cleared up here is the difference between inhaling CBD and taking it orally. For people wanting full-body relaxation or pain relief, as opposed to targeted pain relief, this is probably the first question they ask. If you’re instead looking for information on targeted pain relief, we suggest looking at our previous blog post on alleviating joint pain with CBD lotions.
So let’s take a look at what differences there are between CBD inhalants and oral supplements. In addition to talking about their effects, we’ll also briefly cover cost differences between the products to help provide a more complete picture of their relative benefits and drawbacks.
Bioavailability of Oral CBD vs. Inhalants
If you’re looking up the differences between oral supplements and inhalants, you’ve probably come across articles discussing a term called “bioavailability”. Before we cover anything else, let’s clear up what exactly this term means in the context of CBD products. Bioavailability refers to the percent of a substance entering the human body, whether through inhalation or ingestion, that actually gets absorbed by the body. The bioavailability of a drug or substance can vary wildly and in part depends on the method of intake, with oral and inhaled substances both having a wide range of bioavailability from as low as 5 percent to as high as 100 percent!
In regards to CBD, its bioavailability is not exactly known. Some suggest that vaporized CBD from vaping allows for “four times as much CBD to enter your [bloodstream]” compared to its ingested form, allowing for a maximum bioavailability of around 50-60 percent. However, this claim has been challenged by those arguing that, because there are yet to be actual studies comparing the bioavailability of ingestion to inhalation, one cannot use rough estimates about how CBD theoretically is absorbed through the body to make reliable claims about which method of intake is more effective overall. In short, with regards to how much CBD you’re actually getting into your system, there’s yet to be anything concrete showing a measurable difference between products like CBD pills or tinctures and CBD dabs/vapes.
Those who argue that vaporized CBD has a higher bioavailability than products like CBD pills, tinctures, and edibles point to something called the “first pass effect” as their explanation. This refers to the metabolism of CBD from oral consumption as the molecule passes through the digestive system and liver before entering the bloodstream. The relatively-long distance CBD needs to travel before entering the bloodstream, in comparison to inhaled CBD, is claimed to significantly reduce bioavailability. However, although it appears the first pass effect does in fact reduce bioavailability to a small degree, the consumption of CBD oil with fatty acids has been shown to potentially help reduce this effect. Studies making direct comparisons between CBD absorption rates from vapors and ingested products need to be conducted before a definitive conclusion is made.
Additionally, if one absorbs a CBD pill or tincture sublingually (that is, one places it under the tongue), then absorption can occur over the course of only 60-90 seconds while bypassing the first pass effect. However, some studies have measured little general difference between sublingual bioavailability and oral consumption. Again, this only really shows that more data and research is required before a definitive conclusion can be made about the bioavailability of CBD in different forms and types of products. However, if one has trouble swallowing as a result of a medical condition, sublingual absorption of CBD pills or tinctures appears to be a safe alternative to edibles.
As a reminder, the bioavailability of a substance through one method of use or another does not reduce the activeness of what is absorbed – only the amount that enters the bloodstream and causes the effects. Do not assume that CBD consumed as a capsule or vapor is inherently of a higher quality than CBD from another source just because of assumed differences in bioavailability between the different methods of intake.
Also, if one is curious to know, the bioavailability of CBD administered through the skin is between 80 and 100 percent. However, the length of time required for complete absorption into the bloodstream is much longer than either inhalants or ingested products like edibles and pills. Thus, as we’ve mentioned before, such a method of use would only be preferable if dealing with frequent or intense pain in one particular part of the body.
Differences in Duration of Effects
When comparing inhalants to oral supplements like CBD pills or capsules, the important difference is in the characteristics of the felt effects, and between these two types of products, this difference is significant. CBD inhalants are known to provide immediate pain relief and relaxation as soon as the vapor is inhaled due to the substance not needing to first travel through the stomach before entering the bloodstream (in other words, it skips the aforementioned “first-pass effect”). As a result, for individuals suffering from conditions requiring immediate relief, such as migraines or other debilitating pain, inhalants are their best choice.
In contrast, CBD ingested orally, although not as fast-acting as inhalants, is said to provide a much longer duration of relief. Whereas vaping may provide relief from pain for anywhere between 3-5 hours, a swallowed CBD pill, capsule, or sublingual tincture can induce effects for hours longer. Thus when deciding between purchasing, say, a dabbable concentration of CBD or a simple CBD pill, the question mainly becomes one of whether to favor near-instant relief or longer-lasting relief, and for many people simply wanting to harness the suggested general health benefits of CBD, the latter may be much more preferable.
Concerns about CBD Vaping
An additional difference to consider in choosing the best CBD product for one’s needs is the potential development of unwanted side effects from vapor inhalation. Although studies have concluded that vaping generally appears to have no significant health consequences, there is still a mild risk of lung irritation or inflammation. This exists for any sort of inhaled substance, and CBD vapor may not be as much of an irritant as nicotine vapor or other varieties; generally, more studies must be conducted before a judgement can be made in this regard.
In regards to dabbing CBD, there also may be some associated health risk. According to a 2017 study by researchers at Portland State University, vapor produced by dabbing has produced toxic and irritating chemicals like methacrolein and benzene as a consequence of the nail heating process. The concentrations of these substances was referred to as “significant”, although the exact risks that the measured levels of methacrolein in particular pose in humans is currently unknown. However, such risk may not be significant for the general user, as such risks have overall not been shown to be any greater than the risks associated with traditional marijuana smoking. If you’re reading these reports and are wary of using dabs or vapor, CBD pills or capsules may be a preferable alternative.
Additionally, the use of CBD vapor or dabs requires the use of specialized glassware and/or other equipment and therefore is inherently more expensive and has a higher learning curve than using a CBD-infused tincture, lotion, or oral capsule. For example, the cost for the glassware necessary for using CBD dabs can be anywhere between $50 and over $200 depending on the particular brand and model; this does not include the cost for purchasing the nail, heating element, and scooping instruments. Especially for the elderly or those with no prior experience with using dab rigs or electronic “vapes”, a pill or edible may thus be preferable.
Other Advantages of CBD Pills
On the subject of CBD pills specifically, there are several other notable advantages of using them for taking CBD compared to inhalation through dab rigs or vapes. Most obvious of these is discretion – instead of carrying around a large piece of glassware or an expensive, battery-powered e-juice vaporizer (or even a piece of food, in the case of edibles), a CBD pill would be small and convenient enough to provide beneficial relief wherever one finds a need for it. Especially considering the recent public controversies and outcry over the public use of e-cigarettes and similar devices, such discretion is not only more convenient, but avoids potential unwanted attention as well.
Additionally, CBD pills have an added advantage of coming in set doses, whereas dabbing or vaping CBD does not offer the same level of precision. For those who are advised to take a certain amount of CBD for their illnesses (or simply wish to know exactly how much they’re putting into their bodies), CBD pills provide that sort of control in a way that neither vaping, edibles, nor even tinctures offer.
Another point to consider is that, for some, sublingually taking CBD with oils or tinctures can be difficult and inconvenient, as it requires inserting droplets into the area below the tongue and letting it sit for up to a minute. Although it isn’t a significant issue for many, others may prefer the ease of use that pills or tablets provide. And again, in terms of convenience for travel or use in public, a pill is much better than a tincture.
Differences Between Pills, Tablets, Capsules
In order to clear some confusion about terminology, let’s now clarify the specific differences between such terms as “tablet”, “capsule”, and “pill”, as in many cases, including in our posts occasionally, they may be interchangeably used to describe basically the same general kind of product. A pill can refer to either a tablet or a capsule. A tablet is a solid form of a substance usually coated with sugar or some other coating, which allows the pill to be ground up but causes a delay in how long before the substance enters the bloodstream. A capsule is a pill consisting of a powdered form of the substance contained in a dissolvable container made of gelatin. Because of the lack of coatings, the substance within the capsule enters the bloodstream slightly more quickly compared to substances in tablet form. When it comes to ease of use, although both are very similar, a capsule’s smooth gelatin coating makes it somewhat more easier to swallow than a tablet.