Bioavailability & How It Affects CBD Product Development

Since its legalization in December 2018, hemp-derived CBD is expected to become increasingly mainstream. A recent Consumer Reports study confirms this, finding that more than 25% of Americans have tried CBD, while CBD users span all age ranges.

“CBD use among a broader base of consumers
is likely to have a positive effect on the perceptions
and attitudes towards cannabis overall.” 

Source: The Global Cannabinoids Market: Will CBD Overtake THC? by BDS Analytics   

The ways consumers are using CBD varies, including applying CBD-infused topicals to their skin, eating CBD gummies, and using CBD tinctures sublingually. As CBD usage continues to grow, it’s predicted that even more forms of consumption will be introduced. With sales of CBD expected to top $5B in 2019, a more than 700% increase over 2018, CBD is already drawing the attention of CPG product development teams.

While the evolution of CBD consumption will no doubt be influenced by factors like convenience and public perception, bioavailability will also impact CBD product development. While more research needs to be done into the bioavailability of CBD, here’s what we know today about CBD bioavailability and how it differs between the most common forms of CBD usage.

Breaking Down CBD Bioavailability

Bioavailability is the degree and the rate at which a substance is absorbed into the bloodstream. It’s a principal pharmacokinetic property that determines how drugs are administered and in what dosage. When your doctor prescribes a medication, the dosage is designed to factor in the bioavailability of that particular drug. 

In the same way, bioavailability is a way to measure the degree and rate that CBD is absorbed into the bloodstream. Once CBD enters the bloodstream, it is transported throughout the body to interact with or influence cannabinoid receptors. CB1 and CB2 are the most common cannabinoid receptors. CB1 is found in the brain and is responsible for regulating pain in the body through releasing or blocking neurotransmitters. It also plays a role in controlling memory, emotion, and appetite. CB2 is found in the immune system as well as some organs and tissues and it primarily helps to manage inflammation and the immune system. 

The way that CBD works in the body is fairly well understood. But since CBD products aren’t yet FDA-regulated, CBD bioavailability isn’t as clearly understood as it is for over-the-counter medications and prescription drugs. In the meantime, we do know that the bioavailability of CBD varies based on the concentration of CBD in the product and in the way its administered, so this can provide a starting point for CPG producers. 

5 Common Ways to Administer CBD

CBD is available in different forms, providing consumers with flexibility in choosing the consumption method that works best for them. But not every form of CBD is equally effective. Each of these five CBD products are administered in ways that affect their bioavailability and the results consumers can expect. Understanding them can help you determine how to use CBD in your own products.

1. CBD Tinctures

Representing the largest portion of the CBD market currently, tinctures are defined as a medicinal extract in a solution of alcohol. Some CBD companies are taking liberties with this definition, though, and selling oil-based rather than alcohol-based tinctures. Regardless of their exact composition, tinctures infused with CBD are intended for sublingual application, meaning they’re placed under the tongue with a dropper. 

Sublingual administration is both quick and effective. The CBD is rapidly absorbed via tiny capillaries that make up the oral mucosa, which is the mucus membrane that lines the mouth. Through these capillaries, the CBD is absorbed directly into the bloodstream without going through your digestive system. This improves bioavailability over other methods. CBD tinctures are estimated to have a bioavailability of 20-30%, making them a popular choice for those seeking high effectiveness and rapid results.

2. CBD Topicals 

CBD topicals are a fast-growing segment, most likely because they’re perceived to be a safer way to introduce CBD products to market. These topicals include creams, lotions, balms, roll-ons, and salves. When applied topically, CBD is believed to be capable of improving the health and appearance of skin, hair and nails. As an added bonus, CBD is a natural antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. Antioxidants protect the skin from damage associated with free radicals like UV rays, smoke, and environmental pollutants that can lead to wrinkles and fine lines.

CBD creams and lotions are applied directly where their use is desired, such as the skin, hair or nails. While topicals never reach the bloodstream, hemp-derived CBD and other nutrients are almost immediately absorbed directly through your skin, which is also the site of CB1 and CB2 receptors. How CBD topicals actually work is still being studied, but they’re often marketed for the treatment of chronic pain, as well as skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis.

3. CBD Capsules & Pills

Because capsules and pills are an accepted way to take supplements and medications, they’re also a popular way to administer CBD. But while they may be widely adopted, CBD pills and capsules take longer to reach the bloodstream. Any substance that is consumed orally also passes through our metabolic and digestive systems. These processes filter out a significant portion of any drug or medication, negatively impacting its bioavailability. The same is true of CBD. Research has found the oral bioavailability of CBD to be very low at between 13–19%.

While CBD capsules and pills are being marketed for the treatment of certain disorders, it’s important to remember that the FDA has not approved CBD for the treatment of any disease or condition. The FDA has approved one cannabis-derived and three cannabis-related drug products, Epidiolex, Marinol, Syndros and Cesamet, respectively. These products are only available with a prescription from a licensed healthcare provider.

4. CBD Edibles

Because they’re affordable, portable, and resemble candy, edibles like CBD gummies are a popular way to use CBD. Like capsules and pills, they’re ingested orally. Also, like pills, they take longer to demonstrate effect, and their bioavailability is affected because most of the CBD gets broken down by the liver before circulating into the bloodstream.

Technically, gummies are also considered food. While CBD is increasingly being explored for use in food and beverages, the FDA prohibits the use of CBD in food and food additives until it’s able to more fully understand the effects and safety risks of CBD.

5. Vaping CBD

Vaping involves the inhaling of vaporized CBD oil using vaping devices like e-cigs. The smoking device, or vape, heats up a small portion of concentrated CBD oil until it boils, allowing you to inhale the vapor. Vaping is the fastest way to experience effects as the compounds are inhaled and absorbed directly from the lungs into the bloodstream. CBD inhaled through vaping tends to enter the bloodstream faster than other forms—in as quickly as 30 seconds or less. The bioavailability of CBD following smoking was 31% in one study.

Producers and consumers should be aware that vaping can have potential side effects, though. Some vape pens use a propylene glycol solvent. When heated, this solvent can degrade into formaldehyde, a chemical that can irritate the nose and eyes and could increase the risk of asthma and cancer. Additionally, inhaling and holding smoke while vaping can irritate the lungs though as of now, it’s unclear if vaping actually damages the lung tissue. 

CBD is also being explored for use in other categories, like food and beverages. But because the FDA prohibits the use of CBD in food and food additives until it’s able to more fully understand the effects and safety risks of CBD, we haven’t discussed these uses here.

Bioavailability & CBD Product Development

CPG companies across a range of categories are looking at ways to bring the health and wellness benefits associated with CBD into their product mix and gain market share among increasingly mainstream CBD consumers. But because the effects and usages of CBD are still being studied, it can be difficult to know how to effectively and safely incorporate CBD into new products. 

As you explore the potential of CBD products, your understanding of how CBD bioavailability is impacted by the way it’s administered or consumed can guide your product development efforts. You also need to determine the best CBD formulation for your product and find a reliable supplier capable of delivering the volume, purity, and consistency of CBD you require.

To learn about Integrated CBD’s ability to meet your CBD supply chain requirements, visit