CBD Bioavailability: What Does this Even Mean?

Understanding the concept
MarijuanaBreak Staff MarijuanaBreak Staff / Updated on June 13, 2019

So we read an article recently from a pretty big time player in the cannabis industry (though we won’t mention any names specifically), and it talked about the “bioavailability” of CBD and whether or not vaping CBD is more potent or effective than taking sublingual (under the tongue) drops (aka CBD tinctures).

Basically, the article claimed that vaping is up to 4x more effective than oral drops, which is laughably untrue. While we were reading some comments and trying to figure out where they came up with these particular numbers, it dawned on us that the article was sponsored by a company that sells CBD vape liquid. In other words, the CBD manufacturer paid the website to display this article, which they then loaded with super questionable claims and data that had no support or scientific backing.

Now, we’re not going to sit here and claim that we have all of the answers, or even that we have data to suggest that their figures are out-and-out wrong — we don’t. But what we can say, just by doing a little honest reading and research, is that there is NO scientific evidence (at least to our knowledge) that vaping CBD is more potent or effective than taking it as a sublingual tincture.

Ultimately, the average person just wants to know what the best bang for their buck will be – or in other words, whether they get a more potent therapy through vaping CBD, or through taking the sublingual drops or sprays. And that’s what we aim to address in this article.

However, a fair word of warning – you may not exactly be pleased with the “answer” (or lack thereof) that we give you.

What is Bioavailability, Anyway?

When a human ingests or inhales any sort of substance – whether it be CBD or THC or ecstasy or alcohol or whatever – not all of the substance is utilized by the body. In fact, usually only a small percentage of it actually ends up making it into the bloodstream and getting “used.” This is called bioavailability.

For example, it’s well known and well documented that ibuprofen has a very high bioavailability – well over 80%, in fact (and often up to 100%). This means that when you take a standard 400 mg dose of ibuprofen, at least 340 mg of it are going to be absorbed and actually used by the body.

Other substances are not nearly as high. For instance, the congestive heart failure medication digoxin is only known to have about 10% bioavailability. This means that if you take a 1 mg dose, only 0.10 mg is available for use by the body.

The bioavailability of active cannabinoids is not well known or well studied, no matter what you may hear or read elsewhere. To our knowledge, there has been one specific scientific publication on the subject, and the results showed that in rabbits, both THC and CBD have a sublingual bioavailability of between 1% and 6.6% (the actual figure was 3.8% +/- 2.8%).

However, this was when the cannabinoids were administered in an alcohol (ethanolic) solution. When administered along with a cyclodextrin (a water-soluble compound that aids in THC/CBD dissolution), the sublingual bioavailability increased dramatically to 12.1% (+/- 1.4%). However, the study showed no data on the bioavailability of CBD when administered via vaping, hence the fact that we have no idea where the other site got their figure from when they claimed vaping produced 4x greater bioavailability than sublingual drops.

At the end of the day, bioavailability mandates an innate understanding of the complex pharmacokinetics of CBD and other cannabinoids (as well as an understanding of cannabinoid metabolites), and we’re here to tell you right now that virtually nothing is known of these fields with regard to cannabis — anyone who claims otherwise is simply being obtuse. (And not to mention, the one study that was done was done on rabbits, and it was done nearly 13 years ago…)

So Which Is More Effective… Vaping or Sublingual Tinctures?

The bottom line, in all honesty, is that bioavailability really doesn’t matter a whole lot — CBD is CBD, and it has the same effects on the body whether you smoke it, vape it, eat it, drop it under your tongue, rub it into your skin as a lotion, or mix it into your favorite milkshake and eat it with a cheeseburger and french fries.

However, that’s not to say that there aren’t significant pharmacokinetic differences between vaping and ingesting – there are. Namely, the biggest difference is that vaping is a lot faster acting than sublingual drops – if you need a quick, fast acting therapy, then vaping is the way to go. (This is why it’s a more popular method for treating things like migraines and onset anxiety attacks).

However, it’s well-known and generally understood that the effects of sublingual oil drops last a great deal longer than the effects of vaping, even though they take longer to settle in. For instance, while the effects of vaping may last about 3-5 hours, the effects of a high-quality tincture can easily last between 8 and 12 hours, or even more (keep in mind though that these are rough estimates – the actual duration may vary).

So to answer the age old question of which is better – vaping or tinctures – there’s really no right or wrong answer (see, we told you you wouldn’t be happy with our response). What it ultimately comes down to is what you’re trying to treat – if you’re dealing with something like inflammation, chronic pain, or chronic depression, for example, most people choose to go with the sublingual tinctures because they’re so much longer lasting (a lot of people get by on just a single daily dose).

However, if you’re dealing with more sporadic symptoms (i.e. anxiety/panic attacks or acute pain flare-ups) you may prefer a CBD vape since they’re so fast acting. Whatever the case is, you’ve just got to weigh out your options and make a personal decision that will suit you and your needs in the best way possible. And of course, if you have access to a knowledgeable physician or health care professional, by all means don’t hesitate to ask for advice.

Final Thoughts: CBD Bioavailability

If you’re trying to figure out which method of taking CBD is the best “bang for your buck,” there’s honestly no real clear option or “winner,” at least in our opinion. Neither one is any more wasteful or any more efficient than the other.

Like we said, when all’s said and done the decision really should come down to what you’re trying to treat. If you plan on taking CBD every single day for chronic symptoms, then a high-concentration, long-lasting sublingual tincture may suit you well. If you’re looking for a heavy-hitting, fast-acting product that you might not need every day, on the other hand, then a quality CBD vape may be the better option.

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  1. Karen McKinney
    It always gets there

    I know it always reaches there. If you are reading this article, you most likely started CBD for medicinal reasons, and now want to try the vaping thing, and as a justification to yourself, you read such articles. As a weed journalist, I would really not advise to advance here, as all this leads to a vicious entrapment of heavy cannabis addiction.

  2. Thomas Johns

    In my experience, the sublingual tinctures are more effective and more fast acting than vaping. I havet ried both, and vaping somehow nauseates me, so it does not work for me.

  3. Laura Lockridge
    Residual lung damage

    What kind of base is the vaping tincture in? Is it an oil base? Is there residue left in the lungs? Will it damage the Cilicia and tissue?

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