Whether you’re thinking about trying cannabidiol for the first time, or you’re an old-school CBD user, the variety of products can be dizzying. How are you supposed to find the best CBD product for your specific needs? Should you try oils? Creams? Gummies? (Or, ahem, suppositories?)
CBD products are becoming more and more common, and the hype around them is building. But there’s not a lot of good info when you’re trying to figure out to where to start. So read on for a complete crash course in choosing the best CBD oil for you.
How CBD Works
CBD (short for cannabidiol) is a compound derived from the cannabis plant, and it’s just one of a large group of substances called cannabinoids. These substances interact with a network of chemicals and receptors that is found in all vertebrates: the endocannabinoid system.
In the human body, scientists have identified endocannabinoid receptors in the brain, the organs, immune system cells—basically everywhere.
When you hear these amazing claims about CBD helping with everything from chronic pain to eczema, that’s because the endocannabinoid system plays such an integral role in the human body.
So, how can you get in on that cannabinoid action?
The body can absorb CBD in a few different ways: through the guts, the lungs, a mucus membrane, or the skin. And when you absorb CBD—whether you eat it, vape it, or slather it on your epidermis—it eventually reaches your bloodstream. From there, it can interact with the endocannabinoid receptors throughout your body.
But CBD will enter the circulation more or less easily, depending on the method of absorption. The methods that allow CBD to enter the bloodstream more easily have greater bioavailability.
And just to make it fun, today’s lesson includes another science-y word that starts with “bio.” That would be bioactivity, the ability of a substance to affect the body.
We’re still in the early days of research to determine how to make CBD as bioavailable and bioactive as possible. But we do know that the method you choose to take CBD has a big impact. Want to know more? Keep reading…we’ll come back to this later.
Which is Better: Isolate or Full Spectrum?
There are two main categories of CBD products that you’ll find on the market: those that use full-spectrum CBD and those that use CBD isolate.
As you might expect, CBD isolate is just CBD that has been refined until it is as pure as possible. You can find it sold on its own as a powder or crystal, but most products on the market combine CBD isolate with a carrier oil or agent, like hemp seed oil for sublingual drops, or propylene glycol for vape liquids.
Full-spectrum CBD, on the other hand, has been extracted in a way that preserves more of the compounds that are naturally found in the cannabis plant. So, just what are the other compounds in full-spectrum CBD? Read on to learn more—and then we’ll get into why you might choose full-spectrum products over CBD isolate, or vice versa.
CBD is one of dozens and dozens of cannabinoids. Aside from CBD, some of the most medically significant cannabinoids include:
- Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)
- Cannabigerol (CBG)
- Cannabichromene (CBC)
- Cannabidivarin (CBDV)
- Tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV)
THC is the cannabinoid that is primarily responsible for the feeling of being high for which marijuana is so notorious. (Or for which it’s celebrated, depending on your point of view.) But THC has demonstrated therapeutic benefits, and in very small doses it doesn’t trigger much of a psychoactive effect in most people.
What are the benefits of all of these cannabinoids? Well, they may be able to help with issues as varied as inflammation, anxiety, metabolism, mood, and more. (Check out our CBD and You section for information about how CBD and other cannabinoids may help treat different health conditions. We’re always adding new info!)
In addition, cannabis contains compounds called terpenes (sometimes also called terpenoids). They’re found throughout the plant kingdom, and many have therapeutic benefits. Common terpenes include:
In humans, terpenes may affect mood, inflammation, sleep, and even acid reflux! These compounds are highly aromatic, and contribute to the distinctive scents of plants like citrus, pine, lavender, and (of course) cannabis.
Isolate vs. Full-Spectrum CBD
So, since full-spectrum CBD has all of those other beneficial compounds, it’s better than isolate…right?
Well, maybe. There is a phenomenon known as the entourage effect. Basically, cannabinoids and terpenes consumed together are typically more effective than they are when used alone. That means that full-spectrum extracts are probably more effective for most people.
Unless you are unusually sensitive to THC, full-spectrum products won’t get you “high.” But they may contain enough THC to build up in your body over time, even when the product contains far below the legal limit for THC.
This means that there is a small risk that you could fail a drug test after using full-spectrum CBD products, especially if you use it frequently over a long period of time. So, if you are likely to be tested for work or any other reason, it might be wise to stick to isolate products. Because they don’t contain any THC, a typical drug test will not detect use of a CBD isolate product at all.
Another possible reason to go for CBD isolate is consistency. Full-spectrum products may vary in cannabinoid content from batch to batch, and many list cannabinoid content on the label, rather than CBD content. If precision dosing is a concern for you, CBD isolate may be much easier to measure for consistent dosing.
So, just to sum it up, let’s pretend that you’re comparing two CBD products. Everything about them is the same, except for one thing: one product uses CBD isolate, and the other uses full-spectrum CBD.
If you don’t need to avoid trace amounts of THC, the full-spectrum product is likely a better choice. But if you need precise, reliable dosing, or if you need to be confident that you can pass a drug test, you should probably go with the CBD isolate.
To learn more about this topic, read this next: Isolate or Full Spectrum: Which CBD Should You Choose?
What’s the Right CBD Delivery Method for You?
When you’ve decided whether a full-spectrum or isolate product is best for you, the next step is to choose a delivery method that suits your needs.
From mascara to disposable vape pens, there is an explosion of CBD products right now. The best CBD product for you will be one that fits your lifestyle and offers the results that you need.
Let’s take a look at the different types of delivery methods.
Sublingual Oil Drops or Sprays
One of the most popular ways to ingest CBD is orally, through drops held under the tongue or oils that are sprayed into your mouth to be absorbed through the mucus membranes. The big advantage of this method is that the oil can reach your bloodstream pretty rapidly, without being broken down in your digestive system.
The downside of sublingual products? Well, they don’t always taste amazing. Fortunately, you can find sublingual drops in a variety of different flavors and potencies.
Check out this year’s CBD oil reviews to discover some of our favorite brands.
When you vaporize, or vape, CBD, you use a vaporizer to heat the product until it evaporates. Then, you inhale the vapor, which is absorbed through the lungs.
Vaporizing CBD is popular for a few main reasons. First, vaping is thought to pose less of a health risk than smoking, because the product isn’t heated enough to burn, so you don’t inhale any smoke.
What’s more, when you ingest CBD through the lungs, it’s absorbed very quickly and can provide almost immediate relief. You’re also better able to take small doses at regular intervals, rather than all at once.
And aside from those benefits, you can find CBD vape oil in a variety of different flavors.
The downside is that the effects also fade more rapidly. So, while it is a great choice to get quick relief from panic or anxiety attacks, it may be best used along with another method, like a sublingual oil drop.
If you want to give vaping a try, you can either experiment with disposable vape pens, or invest in a vaporizer (also known as a vape rig) of your own. The disposable pens are far easier on the wallet, so they can be a great way to see if this method works for you.
Over time, though, if you find that vaping meets your needs, the more cost-effective way to do it could be to buy your own rig and just refill the vape oil as needed.
Check out our top CBD vape juices here: Best CBD Vape Juice: Our Guide to the Top CBD E-Liquid Brands
Topicals and Beauty Products
While topical creams and oils get rave reviews for pain relief, circulation, and tissue inflammation, their effect is highly localized. And the effectiveness of a CBD cream or oil depends on the product’s carrier ingredient.
That’s because, in order to work effectively, the CBD must be mixed with a product that can penetrate the skin. Look for topicals with ingredients like hemp seed oil, avocado oil or emu oil to maximize the benefits you can get from CBD.
Check out our top CBD creams here: Top 15 CBD Creams, Balms, and Salves
Edibles and Capsules
Edible products are probably the most obvious way to ingest CBD. After all, we’re used to taking other medications in pill form. And CBD doesn’t just come in capsules. You can find CBD treats like gummies, candies, or chocolate, and you can add CBD oil to food or smoothies, too.
Unfortunately, these products tend to have among the lowest bioavailability of all of the options, because our digestive system breaks down most of the CBD before it can enter the bloodstream. And because it’s absorbed through the digestive system, you will feel the effects more slowly than you would through vaping or using sublingual drops.
The upside is that the effects that you do from the CBD tend to last longer than other methods. This makes edibles a popular choice for dealing with ongoing health concerns like chronic pain.
Check out our top CBD gummies here: Best CBD Gummies: The 10 Most Irresistible CBD Treats [With Lab Results]
Wild Card Products
When you really start shopping for CBD products, you may find some off-the-beaten-path options. These can include things like:
Like a nicotine patch, a transdermal CBD patch adheres to your skin and releases CBD over a long period of time. This could be a good choice for people who don’t like to inhale or orally ingest CBD, because this method skips the digestive tract and goes straight to the bloodstream.
There haven’t yet been studies on the bioavailability of CBD transdermal patches in humans. But some researchers are optimistic that CBD patches could be a good option for patients who need a slow-release delivery method.
Pure CBD Isolate
CBD isolate is not just available as a product already mixed with carrier oils. You can also find it in pure powder or crystal form.
It’s not meant to be used on its own, though! Most people who buy CBD isolate use it to make their own CBD products, like vape oils or sublingual drops. Others use CBD isolate in food.
Yes, CBD suppositories are a thing. It’s probably not the most appealing delivery method for most CBD consumers, but there are serious benefits to using suppositories, compared to other types of CBD products.
The main advantage is that CBD suppositories can be absorbed up to 50 percent more quickly than oral doses. And because it doesn’t pass through the digestive system, it’s not destroyed before it reaches the bloodstream.
Maybe it’s not the most glamorous option, but suppositories could be a very practical choice if you’re looking for the most effective delivery method.
CBD wax is similar to vape oil in that it is inhaled and absorbed through the lungs. It’s a highly concentrated product that you’ll need a special dab rig to use.
A dab rig uses a heated element, usually a nail, to vaporize a small amount of wax. The vapor then passes through a water pipe before you inhale it. This whole process is called “dabbing.”
The benefits of dabbing are that the flavor profile and terpene content of the CBD concentrate come through more than with other methods, so if you are a cannabis connoisseur, you might really enjoy dabbing. You also get the high bioavailability of vaping, but with more concentrated doses.
The downside? A dab rig is an investment that isn’t terribly portable. You’ll also be working with very hot elements, so a steady hand is a must.
This is the dried flower of a high-CBD/low THC cannabis strain. Anecdotally, it seems like most people choose this product in order to smoke it. But you could also use it make your own whole-plant infusions at home.
Now that you’ve read this whole article, you are almost an expert in CBD products. But there are still a few things that you should keep in mind.
Be sure to check out the ingredient list of any product you’re considering. This is especially important if you have allergies or if you’re avoiding particular ingredients for any other reason.
For example, if you’re a vegetarian, you may want to avoid topical products that include emu oil.
Whichever type of product you choose, you should always talk to your doctor before you start using CBD to treat any condition.
This is especially important if you are taking any other medications, as CBD may affect the way your body metabolizes some other substances. Your doctor may want to adjust your dosage to make sure that everything stays in balance.