Effectiveness, Prices, and Concentrations
As an unregulated market, there are no measurement or purity guidelines for CBD products, creating a vast disparity in CBD product pricing. A Brightfield Group report found the following spending trends:
- Approximately 44 percent of CBD users spend between $20 and $80 a month for CBD products.
- Roughly 13 percent spend more than $160 each month.
- A handful of users spent over $600 per month.
Another study conducted by Leafly aggregated the price of CBD products and compared the price per milligram. The author found a wide disparity in prices, ranging from $0.05 per mg to $0.60 per mg, with a median price of $0.11 per mg.
According to the World Health Organization, most clinical trials and research studies administer CBD products orally or sublingually, and typical dosage ranges from 100 mg to 800 mg per day. Other scientific guidelines suggest a maximum of 300 mg per day.
Why Should You Consider the Bioavailability of CBD?
The method you use to consume medicine, whether by pill, injection or ointment, determines the amount of the drug that is absorbed into the circulatory system unphased. This is called bioavailability. If 100mg of a drug is administered orally, but only 50mg of the drug is absorbed and appears in the blood’s plasma, it is said to have a bioavailability of 50%.
The bioavailability of various forms of CBD determines its effectiveness. Some methods of consuming CBD are more effective than others. Understanding bioavailability is an important tool in maximizing your experience with CBD.
How do you determine a product’s bioavailability, and how can you get the most benefit?
Can You Reach 100% Bioavailability?
Why don’t all forms of CBD have 100% bioavailability? The answer has to do with the path the dosage takes inside the body. Most intravenous therapies will have 100% bioavailability due to the fact that the drug directly enters the bloodstream without interference or metabolism by the liver and other tissues. However, you will be hard-pressed to find any IV-administered CBD products.
Ranking Bioavailability of Different CBD Products
How do the most popular forms of CBD fare in bioavailability? We rank them from least effective to most effective.
When you swallow CBD oil in a salad dressing or even in a beverage, much of the product is diminished in the stomach, liver, and intestines before being absorbed into the bloodstream. This first pass metabolism, especially within the liver, which transforms a large portion of the CBD into metabolites that are later excreted when you go to the bathroom. In fact, less than 8% of the dosage may be absorbed when swallowed.
That means oral administration of CBD is not the most efficient method of consumption. Unfortunately, edible CBD oil is also one of the most popular and available forms of CBD.
While transdermal (absorbed through the skin) CBD products have not been extensively researched, you may still experience greater benefits from CBD-infused lotions or gels. Why? Because unlike oral products, these products do not get metabolized within the digestive system. Transdermal bioavailability was found to be superior to oral bioavailability in some arthritic studies on knee-joint swelling in rats.
There are other advantages to transdermal CBD products as well. Since transdermal administration is absorbed slowly, CBD’s effects will be steady and prolonged over time. CBD patches and gels also allow you to target localized pain or inflammation, which is not easy to do with oral or vape products.
2. Sublingual Tinctures
A sublingual tincture is a liquid extraction that is kept under the tongue for about a minute to be absorbed. This may sound similar to an edible or pill, but tinctures are not swallowed until after the CBD is absorbed. Therefore, they don’t undergo first pass metabolism in the digestive system. Instead, the product enters the bloodstream through mucus membranes (transmucosal) under the tongue.
Bioavailability for tinctures is somewhere between 12-35%. The dosage will be absorbed faster than a pill or edible, but residue from food or smoking can affect absorption. If you want a fast and easy method with more impact, choose a sublingual tincture over a traditional oral product.
At 40% bioavailability (more or less), vaporizing or inhaling CBD is much more effective than oral administration and nearly all other consumption methods. Sure, it’s not an IV, but it gives fast results without requiring large or excessive doses.
When you inhale CBD, the large surface area of your lungs allows for more CBD to be absorbed and directly enter the bloodstream. You can also increase the effects of the CBD by manipulating the temperature of your vape device, as well as other factors.
Inhaling CBD is not the most effective method for localized pain, but its enhanced bioavailability may be better for immediate relief for stress and anxiety.
Is the Highest Bioavailability Always the Best?
Bioavailability is important, but it isn’t the only factor you should consider when researching CBD products. Sure, rectal CBD products may have higher bioavailability, but a suppository may not sound very inviting. Maybe swallowing pills is difficult for you, so capsules are not feasible. Or, maybe a product with high bioavailability is not as accessible or affordable in your area. When you choose a CBD product, bioavailability should be just one of many considerations.
How Do I Know My CBD is Working?
It can be difficult to tell whether or not a product is working right away. This can take some experimentation with dosing. You should always consult a healthcare professional before changing doses with any therapy or substance, but gradually increasing your dose of CBD may prove fruitful, especially for oral products with low bioavailability.
You may also look for products considered “full spectrum.” Full spectrum CBD products, unlike isolates which solely contain CBD, may result in greater therapeutic value, because many other cannabinoids and terpenes work together. If, however, you don’t want to consume any THC, which has psychoactive effects, you may also try broad-spectrum products. By using products with other cannabinoids, you are more likely to get the full effects of your CBD and feel the product working.
But before you throw away a product that you believe isn’t working, consider these issues that you may have overlooked:
- Is your product from a reputable source? Look for third-party lab tests that indicate the actual amount of CBD in the product.
- Let the CBD build up in your body. Some individuals require a daily dose of CBD to sustain the perfect amount in their system.
- Be patient. You may not notice a difference in the first day, week or even month.
Before Buying CBD
While the World Health Organization reports that there is no evidence of any public health related problems associated with the use of pure CBD, the report also found that “adverse effects may be as a result of drug-drug interactions between CBD and patients’ existing medications.” This means that it is crucial to research CBD products and brands to know precisely how they will interact with any existing medication.
Consumer Reports and Project CBD recommend taking the following steps in order to properly vet and assess CBD products:
- Medical Professional—Talk with your doctor before taking any CBD products, especially if you’re on any prescription medication.
- Ingredients—Verify that the CBD product specifically contains CBD, not just “cannabinoids.” If a product does not disclose the amount of CBD, it is possible that the product contains other compounds found in cannabis, such as the stem.
- Serving guidelines—Look for products that list the amount of CBD (in mg or ml) per serving, not just per bottle.
- Reporting—Select companies located in states that have legalized the recreational and medical use of cannabis, since they tend to have stricter standards.
- Third Party Testing—Research companies that contract with third-party testers for additional analysis beyond the state requirements.
- Transparency—Also look for companies that post the results online and explicitly state the amount of CBD, and that the product is free of contaminants.
- Current Good Manufacturing Practice—Finally, look to see if the company is following the FDA’s Current Good Manufacturing Practice (CGMPs), which is the main regulatory standard for ensuring pharmaceutical products are safe and effective.
Product Breakthroughs and Regulations
The legal and regulatory framework surrounding CBD production is slowly changing. Given the long list of promising medical breakthroughs, from epilepsy, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, and schizophrenia, to chronic pain management and anxiety, there is considerable effort underway to change state and federal laws regulating CBD products.
Most recently, the Food and Drug Administration approved a prescription drug called Epidolex, which is made from marijuana and CBD is its active ingredient. The drug has been found to cut seizures by 40 percent in patients with two forms of epilepsy.
Additionally, NORML, a marijuana advocacy group, estimates that as of July 2018, all but three states have some form of law supporting recreational marijuana, medical marijuana, or CBD products.
Finally, federal lawmakers are working to loosen restrictions on hemp and CBD products. The 2018 Farm Bill includes language that legalizes hemp and the cannabinoids that are extracted from the plant, including CBD. The Senate passed the legislation with overwhelming bipartisan support in June, but the bill must still work its way through the House of Representatives.
The Farm Bill is an annual appropriations bill that includes contentious policy provisions such as funding for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), environmental regulations, commodity credits, and many other spending programs. The House and Senate must reconcile and pass the same version, and it is likely that some lawmakers might object to certain provisions, potentially jeopardizing the entire bill.
In addition to the Farm Bill, two Kentucky lawmakers have introduced complimentary legislation in the House and Senate that would legalize the production of hemp and CBD products. These include:
- S 2667 (Hemp Farming Act of 2018): Introduced by Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY). The bill would legalize and clearly define hemp as an agricultural commodity and remove it from the list of controlled substances. The legislation was later incorporated into the 2018 Farm Bill.
- HR 5485 (Hemp Farming Act of 2018): Introduced by Rep. James Corner (R-KY). The bill would grant state and tribal regulators authority to regulate hemp production.
When shopping for hemp products, it’s important to buy from brands you can trust. Visit the overview of our Seal of Approval to learn about how we test products for quality and safety.