A Guide to CBD Products and How to Take Them

By Anna McGeehan

Quick summary:

  • Different types of CBD products have different uses
  • Vape products work the fastest, oils are most efficient, and gummies take the longest
  • What’s right for you depends on your body

CBD products for pain, anxiety, and other health ailments come in many different forms, including capsules, oils, topical balms, vaporizers, and gummies.

The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that CBD, also known as cannabidiol, is “generally well tolerated with a good safety profile,” and concluded “to date, there is no evidence of recreational use of CBD or any public health related problems associated with the use of pure CBD.”

A growing body of scientific evidence from the National Institutes of Health and the country’s leading scientific journals also point to a wide range of health benefits associated with CBD products, ranging from chronic pain management and epilepsy and cancer treatment. Not surprisingly, the CBD market is expected to grow into a billion dollar industry by 2021, a sevenfold increase from 2016.

There are currently over one thousand CBD products and hemp products on the market today, and consumers have more choices regarding the type of CBD product and preferred consumption methods than ever before.

However, Consumer Reports notes that the CBD market is completely unregulated and there is still uncertainty regarding the legal framework underpinning the manufacture and sale of CBD products. Subsequently, consumers are often left to sift through “a confusing marketplace with little guidance about whether the products work, are safe, or even contain the ingredients manufacturers claim.”

We want to help consumers navigate the overwhelming number of CBD product options on the internet and provide trusted information to help readers make an informed decision.

Ways to take CBD products

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine describe the various ways to consume cannabis-derived products such as CBD.

However, unlike many nutritional or dietary supplements, the Food and Drug Administration has not created a Recommended Daily Intake framework or consumption guidelines for CBD products, leaving consumers left to sort out competing information as to the best consumption method.

For the casual CBD consumer focused on pain relief or personal health, Project CBD, a California-based nonprofit that provides educational services for physicians, patients, industry professionals, and the general public, explains that the most appropriate delivery system for CBD-rich cannabis is one that provides an optimal dose for a desired duration with few unwanted side effects.

Primary Consumption Methods 


CBD oil, CBD tinctures, and CBD capsules and gummies can all be consumed orally. CBD oil and tinctures can be administered through a dropper, or consumed through drink or food. Capsules and gummies are typically taken like a pill or vitamin, and can be swallowed or chewed. Oral consumption means CBD is absorbed through the digestive tract, which can delay the onset, especially compared to sublingual consumption or inhalation.


CBD oil and CBD tinctures can also be consumed by placing a few drops under the tongue. Sublingual consumption increases the CBD potency since it is absorbed directly into the bloodstream.


Topical balms, salves, sprays, soaks, and creams can be administered directly to the skin and absorbed at the site of application. This method is effective for targeted pain relief or surface-oriented pain. Like other CBD products, it is important to verify that the added ingredients such as scents and moisturizers are natural and non-toxic.


CBD isolate or concentrate can be consumed by heating and inhaling the product through a vaporizer or vape pen. Vaporizers burn at a lower heat and, in theory, remove noxious chemicals such as formaldehyde and carbon dioxide. Consumers who prefer to vape should try to avoid vaporizers and vape pens that add thinning agents such as glycol and polyethylene glycol, or artificial flavors. Instead, look for instruments that contain natural, cannabis-derived terpenes. It is important to note that natural extracts may eliminate favorable flavors such as vanilla or cinnamon. However, flavoring agents are typically unhealthy to inhale.

Types of relief

CBD products can also provide different levels of relief, including “systemic relief” that affects the entire body, or “localized relief” that affects only the area where product is applied. The type of relief largely depends on how you consume the CBD product. CBD products consumed sublingually or orally will usually provide systemic relief, while topical creams or oils will yield localized relief.

Types of CBD products

Some of the most common types of CBD products include CBD oils, CBD capsules, CBD gummies, and CBD products for vaping.

CBD oils & tinctures

Description: CBD oils are known as “whole plant CBD-rich” remedies, meaning they are highly purified forms of CBD that are derived and extracted directly from the cannabis plant. Full-spectrum products will include other cannabinoids, like low levels of THC. CBD oils typically require the lowest dose since they are so pure, but have an “earthy” taste, which can be unappealing to many consumers.

CBD tinctures are CBD oils that include flavor additives. CBD tinctures are extractions from the cannabis plant that have been steeped and infused with solvents to create a concentrated liquid. CBD tinctures are highly pure and, like CBD oils, can be taken sublingually, with food, or mixed into a drink. 

Relief type: Systemic

Consumption: Absorbed sublingually

CBD concentrates/isolates

Description: CBD isolate are CBD crystals that are derived and extensively refined from industrial hemp. CBD isolate is most often pulverized into a powder. They are what is known as a “single molecule CBD” and are less potent than oil-rich CBD products. CBD isolate is typically heated and vaporized. Because cannabinoids have a higher therapeutic value when they work together, we recommend full-spectrum products, versus concentrated CBD products, unless you have a specific reasons for avoiding the small amounts of THC.

Relief type: Systemic

Consumption: Vaporized

CBD capsules

Description: CBD capsules are akin to taking a daily vitamin or nutritional supplement. Each capsule contains a set amount of CBD, typically between 10 and 25 mg, and is an easy way to keep track of your daily CBD consumption.

Relief type: Systemic

Consumption: Consumed orally

CBD suppositories

Description: A suppository is a delivery mechanism for CBD that involves inserting a small capsule into your body either through the rectum, vagina, or urethra. Once inserted into the body, the capsule dissolves and the medicine is dispersed. Suppositories are very effective ways of delivering medicine.

Relief type: Systemic or local

Consumption: Inserted into the rectum or vagina

CBD gummies

Description: Gummies are similar to capsules but tend to come in a wider range of textures and flavors. They may include added sugar or preservatives.

Relief type: Systemic

Consumption: Consumed orally, eaten

CBD topicals

Description: Lotions, salves, soaks, and balms allow users to absorb CBD through the skin. Topicals can help with pain, inflammation, or joint issues.

Relief type: Localized

Consumption: Applied topically and absorbed through skin


CBD vapes

Description: CBD vaporization is designed to deliver CBD through the lungs. Although the amount of CBD delivered through vaping can be inconsistent based on the inhalation amount, studies have shown that gas vapors can deliver therapeutic CBD doses, making it a popular CBD product. You will also feel the effects of a vape faster than products that are swallowed.

Relief type: Systemic

Consumption: Vaporized


CBD Effectiveness, Prices, and Concentrations

One of the most comprehensive studies on CBD products to date is a 2017 research project conducted by HelloMD, the nation’s online largest community of CBD and cannabis patients, and the Brightfield Group, a strategic marketing firm. Researchers surveyed 2, 400 of HelloMD’s 150,000 community members on their usage and perceptions of CBD products.

While the study is largely qualitative with a large number of respondents living in California, it provides unique insights into consumer preferences, CBD prices, and CBD concentrations.

Researchers found:

  • Approximately half of the respondents prefer CBD-only products (i.e. CBD products with trace amounts of THC), as opposed to THC-dominant products that contain a greater amount of THC.
  • An estimated 45 percent of users found CBD-only products to be very effective in treating various health conditions such as joint pain, insomnia, and anxiety.
  • Roughly 66 of respondents found CBD products to be either “more effective” or “much more effective” in relieving their medical conditions than over-the counter products.

As an unregulated market, there are no measurement or purity guidelines for CBD products, creating a vast disparity in CBD product pricing. The HelloMD and 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.

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 ProfessionalTalk with your doctor before taking any CBD products, especially if you’re on any prescription medication.
  • IngredientsVerify 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 guidelinesLook for products that list the amount of CBD (in mg or ml) per serving, not just per bottle.
  • ReportingSelect companies located in states that have legalized the recreational and medical use of cannabis, since they tend to have stricter standards.
  • Third Party TestingResearch companies that contract with third-party testers for additional analysis beyond the state requirements.
  • TransparencyAlso 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 PracticeFinally, 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.

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