CBD Oil: How Should You Take It?

The burgeoning CBD oil scene has made finding a product easier than ever, but it’s also made choosing a product harder. If you recall my post from years ago on decision fatigue, you’ll know what I’m talking about: the paralysis of too many choices…. I know my readership, and I know you’re the type of people who will wonder about optimizing their CBD ingestion. This stuff isn’t cheap, and it’s perfectly rational to want to get your money’s worth.

While the compound itself—cannabidiol, or CBD—doesn’t change from product to product, the way it’s administered does.

(Just a reminder that we’re talking here about CBD oil, a.k.a. “hemp extract,” a legal form of cannabis with extremely low levels of psychoactive THC: there’s no “high” with CBD oil, but CBD oil does contain cannabidiol, a component with big physiological impacts for health. Read more on those impacts here. Likewise, “hemp oil” is different from CBD oil; hemp oil isn’t made from the full plant and doesn’t contain substantive CBD content. For the purpose of this article, I’m covering CBD oil only.)

Let’s look at the forms of available CBD oil….

There are oral CBD oil supplements—gummies, capsules, infused teas, chocolates. Things you eat and drink and digest.

There are sublingual CBD oil supplements—sprays, tinctures, lozenges. Things you swish and swirl around your mouth.

There are topical CBD—creams, lotions, and balms.

There are patches—things you rub and attach to your skin.

There is high-CBD cannabis and CBD-only vape juice. Things you can vaporize and inhale.

But how do you choose? What are the differences between the various routes of administration?

What To Consider When Choosing A CBD Product

Speed of absorption. How quickly do you want the CBD to take effect?

Intensity. How powerful do you want your CBD “experience” to be?

Duration. How long do you want it to last?

Effects. Where do you want it to take effect?

CBD Product Choices: The Rundown


Oral CBD is the most common method of administration. It’s simple, easy, and intuitive. Everyone swallows pills, eats food, and drinks fluids. There’s almost no way to mess it up (choking aside).

Oral CBD is readily absorbed. Like most everything else that travels through the digestive system, it goes to the liver to be metabolized and converted into different metabolites. The liver is so central to oral CBD that people with poor liver function actually end up with higher serum CBD after taking it orally, since their livers aren’t as good at metabolizing it into different compounds. This liver route also means it takes longer for oral CBD to take effect, but it lasts longer.

Taking an acute oral dose every once in awhile is less effective than consistent dosing because of the liver’s tendency to regulate its bioavailability. When you take it on a regular basis, CBD—being fat soluble like other cannabinoids—gathers in your adipose tissue where your endocannabinoid system can theoretically utilize it on an ongoing basis.

  • Speed: Slow
  • Intensity: Low to moderate (depending on dosage)
  • Duration: Long
  • Effects: Systemic


Sublingual CBD goes under the tongue for absorption via the mucosal membranes in the mouth, which are highly permeable. From there, it bypasses the portal vein—the passage that leads from the digestive tract to the liver—and heads straight for the blood. And then whatever’s left over and not absorbed sublingually gets swallowed and makes it into the digestive tract, so nothing’s wasted.

You have several sublingual options….

Tinctures: Little dropper bottles.

Sprays: AKA oromucosal spray; think CBD-infused Binaca (anyone remember Binaca?).

Lozenges: CBD lozenges that slowly dissolve in your mouth and enter through the mucosa.

The longer you let the CBD sit in your mouth, the more you’ll absorb. 60-90 seconds appears to be the most commonly recommended period of time.

  • Speed: Fast
  • Intensity: Low to high (depending on dosage)
  • Duration: Moderate
  • Effects: Systemic


The original way to get CBD, inhaling CBD, is the fastest-acting and the most intense (with intensity meaning “effectiveness,” not “this will get you messed up, man,” since CBD is not psychoactive). The vapor or smoke enters the lungs, whose alveoli act as a direct conduit to the bloodstream. Inhalation is also the most legally precarious (depending on where you live) because many inhalation CBD products also contain THC, which remains illegal in most places.

You can smoke cannabis bred to be very high in CBD and low in THC, but there will always be some THC present. You couldn’t exactly call this non-psychoactive (or legal in most places) either due to the THC.

There’s also CBD-only vape juice/E-liquid that you can vaporize and inhale.

It’s certainly effective, though if you’re going for efficiency it’s not “optimal.” Your lungs can’t absorb all the CBD in the smoke or vapor; a significant portion is exhaled and lost to the atmosphere. Plus, there’s the whole fact that filling your lungs with smoke is a major stressor. Vapor might be safer, but I’m skeptical.

  • Speed: Fast
  • Intensity: Low to high (depending on dosage)
  • Duration: Shorter
  • Effects: Systemic


Like other cannabinoids, the CBD molecule is highly hydrophobic and thus cannot pass through the aqueous layer of the skin to reach general circulation. However, if you lather enough of it on to an isolated patch of injured rat skin, it can interact with peripheral cannabinoid receptors that reduce pain and inflammation at a local level. This hasn’t been confirmed in live humans, but anecdotal reports are positive.

  • Speed: Fast
  • Intensity: Unknown
  • Duration: Unknown
  • Effects: Local

Which One Should You Choose?

I don’t have a dog in this fight. I don’t use CBD myself (though I’m not opposed to it and am open to incorporating it in the future if it proves to be uniquely helpful). As a result, I don’t have any strong personally motivated opinion about specific products. What I can give is my objective take on the available evidence, which is fairly light and preliminary:

The best-studied CBD administration methods are oral and sublingual. The majority of human studies have utilized those two routes. There are quite a few positive studies on smoked or inhaled CBD, too, but those often include THC and fail to isolate CBD. If you’re only interested in CBD and not in THC (or it’s illegal where you live), those studies probably don’t apply to you.

In the large set of case studies that found CBD helped patients improve their sleep, the subjects took CBD capsules.

In a study on CBD and pain, the subjects used an oromucosal spray.

In epilepsy patients, oral CBD capsules were incredibly effective.

For general use, whether it’s for anxiety, inflammation, pain, or “general wellness,” oral and/or sublingual use seems to be the real ticket. You know how much you’re consuming. You get a long lasting, fairly fast-acting duration of action. You get the quick absorption into the bloodstream of inhaled CBD without losing any due to exhalation. And if you don’t absorb it all through your oral mucous membranes, you’ll simply swallow and digest the rest. Nothing is lost.

What about you, folks? I know there are some experienced CBD users out there reading this. What’s your favorite method of administration, and why?

Take care everyone.


Taylor L, Crockett J, Tayo B, Morrison G. A Phase 1, Open-Label, Parallel-Group, Single-Dose Trial of the Pharmacokinetics and Safety of Cannabidiol (CBD) in Subjects With Mild to Severe Hepatic Impairment. J Clin Pharmacol. 2019;

Lattanzi S, Brigo F, Trinka E, et al. Efficacy and Safety of Cannabidiol in Epilepsy: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Drugs. 2018;78(17):1791-1804.

Richardson JD, Kilo S, Hargreaves KM. Cannabinoids reduce hyperalgesia and inflammation via interaction with peripheral CB1 receptors. Pain. 1998;75(1):111-9.

TAGS:  mental health

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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57 thoughts on “CBD Oil: How Should You Take It?”

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  1. I have been experimenting with CBD oil tincture for under the tongue. I’ve tried to put the drops directly under the tongue. But how can I count the drops then? So I put the drops on a spoon and lick the spoon. Instant reaction: wanting to swallow. Is there a better method?

    1. Mark the dropper with indelible ink at the correct ‘height’ for the number of drops. (Or you can stop by your local drugstore and buy a marked dropper?)

    2. Can you look in a mirror while you use the dropper under your tongue?

    3. I use a small mirror so I can see exactly where, when, and how many drops I place under my tongue. I did struggle with the urge to swallow at first, but now I find myself walking around several minute later having forgotten to swallow. Doing something else helps distract the urge.

  2. You are doing some readers a disservice by not making a more clear distinction between hemp oil and CBD oil…..they are not the same thing although CBD comes from hemp.

    1. He very clearly states CBD oil all throughout the article, I don’t see how it could be confused. He made the distinction in his previous “hemp oil” post where he stated he wasn’t talking about hemp seed oil, if I remember correctly. No hemp seed oil product would say CBD oil on it, so it’d be kind of hard to misinterpret, I’d think.

      1. Even mentioning hemp oil in the same sentence as CBD oil is irresponsible. CBD oil can be made from marijuana. Hemp oil can be used for cooking, CBD oil cannot.

        Also, there is a post below from about 35 mins ago from a person who doesn’t seem to understand that.

        Get it now?

        1. That’s not necessarily true either. There is oil extracted from a hemp plant and there is CBD and other cannabidiols extracted from the hemp plant. For legal reasons most CBD supplements, oils, etc have to change the name of their product because GW Pharma has a patent on “CBD”. The FTC has started requiring all oils with phytocannabinoids etc to be labeled “hemp oil”. It’s slow but all packaging labeled CBD oil will soon be changing to hemp oil. Also there are a select few companies that have high quality oils that are completely free of THC

  3. I use a small amount of cannabis chocolate sublingually most nights. It has equal amounts of THC and CBD. It seems to help with sleep and arthritis, but also I do it for general health.
    I also use topical. I find that it does help the area to which it is applied. I disagree that you have to smear on a lot. The key is to very thoroughly rub it into clean skin.

  4. IMO, hemp oil isn’t worth the cost and I say this as a person with a medical cannabis script (for years) who has a chronic pain condition. The only CBD that actually does anything for pain – and this has been corroborated time and again in my experience and those of every user I’ve encountered – is cannabis-derived. At some point, cannabis-derived CBD oil will be readily available and legal and no one will go near hemp oil. I agree with Todd – this article is confusing.

    1. Do you have any recommendations of ones that actually work for pain, I’m in uk and finding it hard to find a genuine one that works & can’t afford all the trial & error.
      My doctors think its a load of nonsense & waste of money.

      1. The oils I use (a CBD only, THC only and a 1:2 CBD:THC) are by a company called Spectrum. It’s almost impossible to get CBD oil of the quality that actually ameliorates pain unless you have a prescription. I’m in Canada and our newly legal recreational market doesn’t stock any of the CO2 extracted oils. Everyone wants it but it’s only available at this point to the medical market. I am no expert on what’s going on cannabis-wise in the UK, but I understand that medical access is almost unheard of. Unless you become quite engaged with offerings in the illicit marketplace, I don’t know that you’re going to have much luck. In the states, hemp oil-derived CBD is available everywhere (I believe it’s legal now in all states which is ridiculous because it is basically inert and should never have been illegal in the first place. Also, it’s beyond useless.) Americans have been led to believe that hemp oil is useful in the vein of flower-extracted CBD but they’re just wasting their money. In Canada, you can get oils more readily in the newly legalized recreational market, but CBD only oil is like a unicorn. It really is only available at this point by prescription. Keep in mind, also, that the oil you use should contain terpenes. These organic compounds have a huge impact on efficacy of the oil. Most companies remove them and it’s a crime.

        1. “…but CBD only oil is like a unicorn. It really is only available at this point by prescription. Keep in mind, also, that the oil you use should contain terpenes. These organic compounds have a huge impact on efficacy of the oil. Most companies remove them and it’s a crime.”

          Second your advice: it’s extremely easy to buy cheap/useless. It’s also POSSIBLE to buy lab-tested and certified as having the right amount of stuff in the States (now?). You’d need to check with the folks you’re wanting to buy from and ask for their lab results…

          1. I use an oil that is CBD and CBG and has 7 terpenes and zero THC. Nano emulsified so uptake is huge.

        2. The chances of you getting a free market high quality hemp oil in the UK is small. GW Pharma has total control of the CBD market in the UK as well as a patent keeping other from using the wording.

        3. Are you familiar at all with Aurora? It is a Canadian company. I have just started CBD oil, on prescription from my doctor but don’t know much about sourcing it and was wondering if you had heard of their products or knew if they were good quality?

      2. Give me a call or text I get a very good one 07999481750 I buy it in Hitchin Hertfordshire you need to buy one that is at least 800mg I buy a 20ml bottle with 800mg cbd&cbda it lasts for 1 months using 3squirtz x 3a day under my tongue for severe pain it has changed my life less pain& anxiety (Love CBD entourage oil) £44 & available online, I take a lot but even if you took l squirt x 3 a day it would last 3months

      3. Hi Kas, the oil I use is fantastic, its 99% pure from a very reputable company in the United states. It’s got a 30 day money back guarantee. They ship all over the world and I can have it shipped to you if you are interested. Feel free to email me if you would like more info! [email protected]

      4. CBD Brothers in UK (trading now under the Original Alternative, I think) – not cheap, but it has the whole extract with v low THC. It tastes foul because of all the terpenes, but if you hold it under the tongue for a long time, the flavour becomes less noticeable.

        1. Been using their products for the last two years now. I highly recommend them!

  5. I’ve been taking CBD oil,under tongue ,for 2yrs. Has helped my arthritis ,more so than anything else. Tho. I only use when I have pain that won’t let up. Any info is appreciated.

    1. What I’ve read is: you need to build up a pretty steady ‘level’ — and taking it now and again (while it may help with concurrent sleep) will NOT provide that.

      Suggest, if you can afford it, try a 3-month every-day dosing. (As Mark would say: try it for 30 days, see if you … er … not look, but feel and perform better.)

  6. I’ve been using 1500mg full spectrum oil sublingually every night for almost 2 months. I use a good amount – about half a dropper – and I honestly haven’t noticed any improvement in my sleep quality. I’m not sure why it doesn’t seem to do anything for me, but it has been disappointing for sure. At nearly $150 a bottle, I won’t be purchasing it again.

    1. 750mg works best for me put under tongue twice a day has helped with anxiety and temors. I get at a local store it’s called CBD Store pull it up online it will tell you where stores are. Bought some online but did not help so be careful where you buy

    2. Most people benefit from THC and CBD for sleep (2:1). CBD only is often ineffective for a subset of people.

    3. Hi Bethany. Sorry to hear you are not getting good results from your oil. It’s possible it has been mixed with MCT oil or olive oil. Try to put a couple of drops in a glass of water. If the oil floats on top then its diluted with an oil that is blocking its absorption into your system. The oil I use is 99.9% pure and water soluable. I would be happy to share what I use with you! [email protected]

  7. I am a 2016 stage 4 cancer survivor. I have had great results with the sublingual drops. If you buy from a reputable company like C,T.F.O. They have a empty bottle-return guarentee. No risk there. My link is silveraz.com

  8. Insanely wired from/for an insanely stressful several months: I described myself to a biz advisor as: “I’m on the verge of tears every damned day! Once or twice a day, I have to stop and ‘hold down actual hysteria’ using a metaphorical high-torque industrial wrench” (had to do it while working with him that day)… The stress was ‘normal’ (enough?): I’m gearing up for a massive product launch (with a product that is proving … balky … in production) that should keep my (inherited after my husband’s death) biz from failing; and I had moved my 94-yr-old, half-blind, 3/4s-deaf, quite demented mother to a home near me (in GA). (This, after she was picked up by the LAPD when she went walkabout…. she told them “she was going to a birthday party.” No. No, she wasn’t. That FINALLY let me force my sisters to bring her here where I could protect her — in a LOCKED WARD!) I was driving up to the home very evening to feed her and put her to bed (and make sure the staff knew by my presence that I was very involved with her care…) — ruined my normal every-day schedule. (I even had trouble getting to the grocery store!)

    I went researching for healthy, non-drug stress reduction, found some good sources (and some not-so-good) by recommendations. Ordered CBD capsules. Took one capsule the evening the bottle arrived. (And continue to take one an evening.)

    O.M.G.! The very next day and onwards, the stress is still mostly the same — my mom died in Nov; still wrapping up legal / financial stuff; my garage is full of her furniture; still huge problems with the product MFG; and so on. But!

    But!!! I am calm, smooth, and sailing through my days, doing what needs doing. Sleeping well, feeling well. The world around me may still be less-than-optimal; but I’m fine. I see NO evidence of any physiological ‘effects’ — other than the storm is still raging around me, and I’m doing great! AMAZING stuff!

    1. Guessing it’s okay to post our sources? I’ve been buying from CBDistillery in Colo. It was one of the top two highly rated, recommended sources. I’ve been extremely pleased. It’s $2 a day for the 30mg softgel. (I’m fussy about tastes, and was worried about the oil drops; worth the wee higher cost to get capsules…) As I wrote above, I take one an evening.

  9. I keep trying to join here and after I put my email Abby in, it keeps telling me Please enter a valed email address..

    My email is [email protected], This website is prolly the 4th website I’ve looked into where I can buy some stock in Marijuana stocks, And it’s that website that says the INFO we typed in they say it’s wrong, Maybe I need to STOP trying to find some site where I can buy some Marijuana stocks, Stop before I puck up and get scammed again.

  10. Goo article, but you left out the best form of oral delivery of CBDPure Hemp oil. The concentrated gel Cbd Hemp oil in syringes without a needle. One takes the size of a grain of rice under the tongue. It delivers 25 to 30 mg of pure plant based CBD to the system. This type of Cbd Is Co2 processed and should be third party lab tested. Plant based offers all nutrients from the Hemp plant. This gives synergy in application of CBD TO THE Body.

  11. I sure wish Louisiana would get off the pot and make weed legal like have these these other stats do

    1. Cannabis may not be but you can still get very high quality hemp oil perfectly legal since the passing of the Farm Bill. I’m happy to share what I’m using if you’re interested.

    1. A good CBD oil with terpenes would help. Hemp is an adaptogen that supports the body where it needs it and joints certainly qualifies!

  12. Lots of hemp oils out there l use pen paper find it is OK thou its not that strong what about esentials oil cannibis use of ?

  13. We have found the sublingual high %CBD-a with micro % THC to be effective for controlling my child’s seizures when pharmaceuticals have failed. However, we have to source this from Europe as the USA market is unable to produce similar CBD-a concentration. It makes a huge difference when paying out if pocket. (100ml of high concentration vs approx. 500ml regular)

    1. Laura, I have started taking a high CBD with CBG oil with 7 terpenes and no THC. Grown and manufactured in Colorado. Organic and non GMO. Brain studies on this oil are mind blowing. And there is 3rd party testing for quality. I’m happy to share if you’re interested.

      1. Jennifer, please share with me. And can I buy it on line? I’m in Washington.

  14. Making sure it’s full-spectrum and 100 bioavailble is important too. So many out there are only 20% absorbed so spending more money on quality pays off in long run. If look for good brands, let me know.

    1. Jen and Joe, thank you for the info. Always looking for options. Current source is third party tested to verify %. Would want same verification for any other sources, and 100% bioavailability . Appreciate any info [email protected]

  15. I’m a “couple of drops under the tongue” guy. Tastes pretty nasty but in combination with glucosamine it really helps wtih my arthritis.

  16. I use CBD tinctures often for pain relief and anxiety relief wit great success. It’s been a life saver for me. I’d use it every day if I could afford it.

  17. I’ve taken both CBD from “dispensaries” and online retailers and Medical Grade CBD, some with THC from the NY Med Marijuana program. I have Crohn’s and I’m on an infusion of a biologic, but that doesn’t help my inflammation as much as it helps my other symptoms. I manage my inflammation mostly through a high meat primal diet but on occassion I’ve gotten flare ups of pain, swelling, bloating, etc. I have found the non medical grade produced CBD oils had a small effect (slightly lowered inflammation and discomfort) but it’s hard to find ones which are not cut with other oils, combined with other ingredients, or trustworthy. When I got my Med Marijuana card and went to the authorized distributor it was explained to me that the retail CBD with no THC does not contain the full spectrum of cannabinoids which are vital for the CBD to take it’s full effect. I have since tried medical grade tinctures, pills, and vapes with various CBD:THC ratios. The medical grade THC does not get you “messed up” it gets you tired and sleepy. I’m not a fan. The CBD though, I have found to be more effective and powerful than the retail items and better at reducing inflammation. There’s always a small amount of THC to help the CBD activate in the body (the synergistic effect of the cannabinoids magnify the effects) even though the THC content is too low to effect mental clarity. For either one, which ever is used, it’s best when used consistently except the vape I found to be best for acute instances. I think placebo is a huge effect here for the low potent retail items, and the overall effects are being used in a wider push to normalize marijuana usage (not necessarily a bad thing but not without its risks). I’d always prefer to take the oil straight and not infused in foods. It has a strong taste.

  18. This is an excellent article. Well researched, comprehensive, and easy to understand. Well done as always Mark!

  19. I’m going to point out there is no regulation on cbd and no guarantee that’s what you’ll get when you buy something.

  20. Thanks for the information on the different options and how they work, such as how CBD lozenges are dissolved in your mouth and the longer you let it sit, the more you’ll absorb. If you’re able to absorb more, it should help you get better results from it. When choosing, it would probably be a good idea to consider what you want it for and your personal preferences so you can then research online to find quality CBD lozenges and other options that you’re comfortable with and can use for the most efficiency.

  21. Great article!
    Will taking CBD oil in oil or capsule form break a fast (if one is practicing IF)? Lets assume that it is a relatively “clean” oil and the only other ingredient is olive oil…
    Thanks so much!!

  22. Who shouldn’t be using CBD? THC is legal in British Columbia, so would be curious to hear about the effect of combining THC and CBD and proportions for various uses. Thanks!

  23. There is a huge amount of information on this topic on the Internet, but your articles are always the most informative and useful. But it is still a little outdated over time and there is information that should be added, which I advise you.

  24. I am so glad to read your post. Thank you for the useful information you shared. It is interesting to read that CBD oil Australia has a lot of health benefits like alleviating pain and relief from acne.