Known in scientific circles as cannabidiol — one of more than 100 natural phytocannabinoid compounds found naturally in the cannabis plant — CBD oil has emerged as one of the most popular alternative remedies in recent memory. Many people are using it to help with a diverse range of health conditions ranging from inflammation, anxiety, and insomnia to skin conditions like acne and eczema. It’s even being used by people dealing with epilepsy, cancer symptoms, and Alzheimer’s.
It’s also beginning to appear in a huge array of different forms, from capsules and gummies to creams and tinctures (to name just a few). Depending on the condition you’re trying to treat, different methods will have varying degrees of effectiveness. For example, a topical lotion might work better for clearing up acne, while a vape pen will provide faster relief for pain or soreness.
For the casual shopper, the choices can be overwhelming (it doesn’t help that the industry is poorly regulated, making accurate and consistent information hard to find). However, we’re here to help — here’s a quick guide to the different ways to use CBD, with the advantages and disadvantages of each.
1. CBD Capsules
Taking a CBD capsule is as easy as adding another gel cap to your daily vitamins and supplements and, for most people, it’s a convenient way to take CBD oil. If this works for you, there’s no real need to try any other method, as it’s easier to take than tinctures and concentrates, for example, and it’s more discreet than vaping. While CBD oil is easily absorbed into your system, it can take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour to take effect as the capsules, like any similar medications, have to be processed through the digestive system. However, many prefer capsules to avoid the oily taste of CDB, which can be more prominent when taken orally in other ways like gummies or sublingual drops.
Perhaps the biggest advantage of CBD capsules is the ability to control your dose: they typically contain somewhere between 10-30 mg (in 5 mg increments) so it’s easy to control how much you’re taking, especially when starting out. If one capsule has no effect, you can bump up to a higher dose or take two lower dose capsules, just as with any other supplement or over-the-counter medication. If your ideal dose is, for example, 27 mg, experts suggest taking a capsule then supplementing with a spray or tincture to find your perfect dose.
2. CBD Sprays
If you only require a very small dose of CBD oil, sprays are a good option. They come in doses as low as 1 mg per spray all the way up to 500 mg per spray. They’re also easy to use, and they get to work fast, usually within 15 minutes (only vaping produces faster results).
However, spraying doesn’t provide the most accurate dosing, because like with many such products, a strong spray will deliver much more CBD than a light one. On the plus side, many sprays are the size of a lip balm, so they’re great to have in your pocket if you’re constantly on the go and need a quick top-up of CBD oil.
3. CBD Tinctures
Taking CBD oil tincture drops sublingually under the tongue is one of the most effective ways to get it into your bloodstream. The drops are absorbed by the mucous membrane directly into capillaries under the tongue and sent straight into blood circulation, enabling effects to last, on average, up to 4-6 hours. As with sprays, tinctures come in low to high doses, making it easy to find your ideal CDB dose. The only downside for some people is the strange sensation of holding oil drops under your tongue until they’re absorbed, which can take a few minutes (CBD itself is an acquired taste, though there are a few tricks you can use to enhance its flavor).
4. CBD Vapes
Vaping is the fastest way for CBD oil to take effect, with many people describing it as being almost instantaneous. This is one of its biggest advantages — it’s also favored by people who are trying to quit smoking, as it mimics many aspects of the ritual of having a cigarette.
However, recent research has raised concerns about the chemicals present in vape oils and devices. Some studies have also shown that vaping can cause lung damage over time. This is because the cuticle wax — a lipid, fatty layer that covers the flowering area of all cannabis plants (from which CBD is derived) — isn’t burned off by vaping as it is when smoked in plant form at a much higher temperature. Vaping occurs at a much lower temperature, and instead of burning away, oily waxy bits can accumulate in the lungs.
If you decide, regardless, that vaping is your preferred method, there are two types of vapes that are made up of the same four basic components: a chamber that holds the CBD material, a battery, a heating element called an atomizer, and a mouthpiece for inhaling the heated and vaporized CBD oil.
Tank-style vapes: This is the type of vape that produces the billowing smoke most people associate with vaping. They’re filled with e-liquid, a mix of CBD, flavorings, vegetable glycerin, and/or propylene glycol that is absorbed through cotton or wick material onto the heating element.
Pen-style vapes: These come in two versions — refillable and disposable, both vaporizing concentrated CBD directly on the metal heating coils at the bottom of the pen-shaped chamber. Because the heating coils eventually burn out, they have to be replaced frequently. This is why many people who use this type of vape pen opt for disposable pens, though the convenience comes with a steep environmental cost.
5. CBD Concentrates
These extremely potent extracts are solidified oils with high levels of CBD, which are absorbed quickly into the system to provide fast and powerful effects. They can be vaporized, added to food and drinks, or dabbed from a dab rig — a complex glass pipe apparatus for inhaling concentrates. Because the CBD is in such a concentrated form, and only very small amounts are needed, you should be very careful about dosing. As the saying goes, start low and go slow.
CBD oil concentrate can also be refined even further to create a CBD isolate powder, with a purity of around 99 percent CBD. Because no decarboxylation process is needed, you can add the powder directly to food and drinks — again, being aware that only a very small amount is needed due to the high CBD concentration.
6. CBD Topicals
CBD topicals are creams, lotions, serums, balms, and salves for skin application that contain CBD oil. They can be used for everything from relieving sore, inflamed muscles and joints to fighting free radicals in anti-aging products to treating conditions including acne, eczema, and psoriasis (however, it should be noted that there’s little evidence that cannabis creams work for pain relief).
As recent research indicates, this is because most CBD topicals stay on the surface of the skin instead of being absorbed into the deeper dermis layers below. So, it’s important to look on the label for references to micellization, encapsulation, and nanotechnology — while these aren’t guaranteed that the product will actually be able to penetrate past the surface, at least they show the manufacturer is considering the challenges faced by such products.