AUTHORED BY: GENESTER WILSON-KING, MD FACOG & SARAH RUSSO
What is CBD?
CBD (cannabidiol) has taken the world by storm. CBD is a compound from the cannabis plant that has reached advanced popularity and shifted the conversation on botanical products. For more information on cannabidiol and what it does, visit What is CBD?
With so many CBD-focused products on the market, it can be challenging to know which options may be ideal for a given situation. In order to provide guidance, we have outlined some of them below.
Why do you wish to use CBD?
CBD has quite the reputation. While ongoing research and direct human experience is reporting a wide variety of benefits, there is also a significant amount of hype and misinformation surrounding CBD. While cannabis products may offer a grand variety of healing potential, it is important to consider the reason you are drawn to it. Is it for something physical, emotional, or spiritual? All of the above? What are the goals of using the product? Are you currently working with a chronic illness or condition? Or are you looking to use CBD for general wellbeing?
Project CBD is a source we trust for information about the specific uses of CBD.
What mode of delivery?
There is a wide diversity of CBD products available on the market. The variety of options can feel endless. When considering using CBD, keep in mind that everyone processes it differently. Because each person is unique, finding the ideal way to take CBD and the right dose may require some self-experimentation. There isn’t one method that works best for everyone.
When considering taking CBD, weigh the pros and cons of each method of ingestion. Each mode of delivery has different onset (how long it takes to kick in), dose (how much of the active ingredients you'll be ingesting), which part of the body will be affected, and how long the effect will last. 
Not all methods of ingestion will be ideal for all people. It may be best to narrow down which options would be the easiest for you to take. For example, if you want to use a CBD product but hate swallowing pills, CBD-rich capsules wouldn’t be a good option. You may wish to try a tincture or another method to take it. Below is an overview of some of the different routes of administration, and some pros and cons of each.
Edibles come in a wide variety of forms. They are typically long-acting products that take anywhere from 30-120 minutes for the effect to set in. When cannabinoids are taken orally, they are absorbed through the intestines and then go to the liver. On their way there, cannabinoids interact with gut receptors. Therefore this method of ingestion may be more impactful on this area of the body.  The effect can vary if taking edibles on an empty stomach or with food. Recent research indicates that cannabinoids are best absorbed when in the presence of a fatty meal.  To get more bang for your buck, take your CBD with healthy fats such as olive oil, avocados, nut butter, or others.
Standardization of products can vary, so be sure to look at the milligrams (MG) per milliliter (mL) of cannabinoids on the label. Also be sure the product has been lab-tested. See Treadwell's test results here.
Those who are new to CBD and cannabis should start with a low dose and work their way up slowly. Some products may contain varying amounts of THC which may cause a psychoactive effect. Since the onset of edibles can take some time to kick in, start out with a small dose and wait a good three to five hours to see if you notice any effect. Tune into the subtleties of your body. It may provide relief in ways that aren’t fully obvious initially. You can turn to an Inner Inventory assessment to take note of any changes to your physical or mental state.
Tinctures – Tinctures are liquid extracts of botanicals that have different menstruums (which is a fancy way of referring to the solvent that is used to extract the medicinal compounds of a plant). There are different bases for tinctures, including alcohol, vegetable glycerin, and oils. A tincture is taken by mouth. The effects typically take hold in 30-45 minutes and can last anywhere from four to six hours. [1,3]
As with any method of ingestion, care should be taken when using tinctures as well. Start with a low dose and work your way up. Tinctures are advantageous for people that do not like swallowing pills or capsules. One downside is that some people do not like the taste of tinctures. But becoming familiar with the flavor of the plants you take is one way your body begins to recognize their therapeutic potential. After some time of working with the product, its smell or taste alone may send healing messages to your body, and potentially amplify its benefits. Tinctures can be absorbed by oral ingestion from swallowing them directly or also applied sublingually.
Sublingual application- some CBD products, like tinctures above, can be taken under the tongue (sublingually). Sublingual products can also come in oral mucosal sprays, tablets, and breath strips. Sublingual application typically takes effect in 15-30 minutes to an hour, and has a slightly shorter duration than edibles. Sublingual products are absorbed directly into the blood vessels in the mouth. The effect can be stronger if you leave it in the mouth for up to a minute before swallowing. 
Capsules- Capsules are filled with concentrated CBD oil or plant material in powder form and have the benefit of being easy to transport, carry, and ingest. People can take CBD capsules simply by swallowing them as you would any pill (making sure to do so with plenty of water). The long-lasting effect of capsules and other edibles may be of benefit for various ailments that require consistent doses of cannabinoids.
Topical Application (Creams, lotions, salves, and more)
Topical products are very popular. They can include oils, salves, bath salts, and intimate products that are intended for external use. This method is ideal for people who want to apply CBD directly to the site that needs healing. Topicals can be used liberally throughout the day. Some people find great benefit to using CBD topicals and appreciate the ability to use them as needed. Some people use topicals in conjunction with other methods of ingestion to further amply the healing benefits they are looking for.
Smoking – the inhalation of the cannabis flower is the oldest way to use the plant. Evidence of cannabis-based incense used in ancient funeral rites date back to 2,700 years ago in China.2 Many people opt to smoke CBD-rich flowers to get a quick onset. When substances are inhaled through the lungs, the active compounds are sent to the brain before they are metabolized by the liver. This makes inhalation the fastest method to get cannabinoids into the bloodstream. 
Another advantage of smoking is that it is easy to tirate (measure) the dose. People can take a toke or two off a pipe or a joint, quickly feel the effects coming on, and analyze how they feel. The effects typically take hold in less than three minutes and can last anywhere from one to three hours. 
Some people opt to smoke CBD flowers because of the cost/effect benefit. Oftentimes, someone can get access to flowers and the cost can be less expensive than CBD oils or other products. The main downside of smoking is that it may be harmful to the lungs. Although studies have demonstrated that smoking cannabis does not lead to lung cancer,  inhaling any kind of smoke can lead to other issues for some users, such as lung irritation, congestion, bronchitis and asthma. Some people cannot (or would prefer) not to smoke. They can choose another route of administration, such as vaporization, oral ingestion, or topical application.
Vaporization or vaping– The process of vaporization heats plant material or oil concentrates to extract the active compounds instead of burning it. It is still inhaled, but the end result is a vapor instead of smoke. High-quality vaporizer products enable the user to inhale the cannabinoids with less effect on the lungs than smoking. As with smoking, vaporization will take effect within minutes and can last up to three hours or so. Dosing is also very easy with vaporization. Take a few inhalations, wait, and see how you feel. Vaporizers with temperature control allow the user to extract the highest number of cannabinoids and terpenes possible.
Vaporizing oil (vape pens that include cannabis oil cartridges) are also widely popular. However, there is very little research on the effects of vaporizing cannabinoid oil concentrates. Oil extracts will have different cannabinoid and terpene and cannabinoid than the original plant(s) from which they are derived. Also, there have been reports of adulterated CBD oil products. Many concentrates available in vape pens are of low quality and are not regulated. Toxic additives such as Vitamin E acetate and propylene glycol can end up in these products and make people sick. Because of this, if people wish to vaporize, most physicians recommend vaping cannabis flowers only from a trusted, reliable source. [5,6]
As always, make sure your product has been lab-tested. That goes for any cannabis product. More on that later!
Luckily, the multitude of ways to take CBD products reflects the wide array of people and experiences for which they use these products. Using one product initially to see how it works may be a good route to take. As previously mentioned, it may take some trial and error to pinpoint which option will work best for you. It is always a good idea to have a clear idea of why you wish to use CBD preparations and the end goal of working with them. Plants work in synergy with humans, and it is helpful to tap into that connection.
Genester Wilson-King, MD FACOG is a Board-Certified Obstetrician and gynecologist with over 25 years of clinical experience providing compassionate and research-driven care to patients. After years of working as a full-service OB/GYN, she founded Victory Rejuvenation Center (VRC), a private holistic and preventive medicine practice that provides life-transforming management modalities and customized medicines to patients. She is the Medical Advisor to Treadwell Farms.
As the Medical Director of VRC, Dr. Wilson-King provides services that help her patients age gracefully and achieve holistic well-being. She focuses on plant-based medicine, integrated health, nutrition, supplements, cannabis education, and hormone balance.
Dr. Wilson-King is Co-Vice President of the Society of Cannabis Clinicians (SCC). The SCC is an educational and scientific society of physicians and other professionals dedicated to the promotion, protection and support of cannabis for medical use. Dr. Wilson-King co-authored the Best Practices Guidelines for Cannabis Use in Pregnancy and Breastfeeding, and Cannabis Use in Women – Special Considerations (in progress). She is also on the Board of the Doctors For Cannabis Regulation (DFCR), the first and only national physicians’ association dedicated to the legalization and regulation of cannabis for adults. Advancing the DFCR’s commitment to addressing the disproportionate criminalization of cannabis use among communities of color and the nation’s poor, she regularly provides expert opinions for legal cases involving cannabis.
Dr. Wilson-King is a nationally recognized advocate, clinician, and educator for cannabis and hormone and wellness therapies. She presents on cannabis use in obstetrics and gynecology, hormone therapy for PMS, various stages of menopause, and for applications in nutrition.
Sarah Russo is a longtime plant enthusiast and globetrotter. She got her degree in environmental studies and social justice, with a focus on plant medicine from the Evergreen State College. She is a freelance writer, consultant, and project manager with over 13 years of experience in the cannabis and herbal medicine space. Her main objectives are fighting for the right to use plants, implementing social justice approaches in the cannabis industry, as well as encouraging sustainable agricultural practices. She is currently based on an island in the Mediterranean. Sarah is a content creator for Treadwell Farms.
- Lee-Devitt, Adrian. (2019). What Is the Best Way to Take CBD?. Project CBD.
- Ren, Meng, et all. “The origins of cannabis smoking: Chemical residue evidence from the first millennium BCE in the Pamirs". Science Advances, 2019.
- Mann, Sarah. (2020). Sex, Intamacy, and Cannabis. The Society of Cannabis Clinicians.
- Fuerst, Mark L. "New Data Find No Lung Cancer Link for Marijuana". Oncology Times, 2006.
- Society of Cannabis Clinicians. (2019). “Update on the Vape Pen Crisis: Considerations for Healthcare Professionals”. Accessed on 5/10/2020.
- Project CBD. (2019). Project CBD Releases Special Report on Vaping Related Lung Injuries. Accessed on 5/10/2020.
- Science News. (2019). "High fat foods can increase oral cannabidiol absorption into the body". Accessed on 5/10/2020.