To really reap the benefits of CBD you want to maximize its delivery. That’s why tinctures are the most effective way to take CBD. Tinctures include a carrier oil to help stabilize it and increase the amount that makes its way into the bloodstream and en route to your brain. Because CBD and other cannabinoids are hydrophobic (non-water soluble), they won’t absorb into the bloodstream easily on their own. This is why you’ll often see it paired with an oily, fat-soluble substance, which aids in its absorption.
How you ingest the tincture plays a big role in its effectiveness as well. The proper way to take a tincture is to drop the oil under your tongue and allow it to sit for approximately 30 seconds before swallowing. This allows the oil to dissolve into your bloodstream via the large lingual vein under your tongue.
So why can’t you just swallow the oil? Well, you certainly can, and it won’t hurt, but you’re limiting the amount of CBD, other cannabinoids, and terpenes (responsible for the distinct taste and smell of cannabis) that make their way through the body. This speaks to the importance of delivery method—the effects will be different depending on which delivery method you choose. Tinctures that are used incorrectly, where the oil is quickly swallowed, or use of CBD gummies, pills, or beverages are subject to the first-pass removal by the liver, where CBD enters the bloodstream after it passes through the stomach and intestines.
When taken orally a few things occur: much of the CBD gets lost in the process and the remaining amount takes longer to make its way into the bloodstream and reach the brain. In some individuals, 80-90% of the CBD consumed orally is lost during the first-pass effect to metabolism before it ever makes its way into the bloodstream. That’s precious CBD (and money) down the proverbial drain. More importantly, though, this changes over time, and more CBD will make its way into the bloodstream via oral consumption with repeated use. With oral CBD consumption, the percentage that makes its way into the blood is often less predictable, which is relevant due to the dose-dependency of many of CBD’s effects.
With a tincture, placing the CBD oil under the tongue can bypass the stomach and undergo reduced metabolism by the liver during its first pass through the body. This way, more CBD makes its way through your into your body and you'll get more of the benefits. The amount of CBD that makes its way into the bloodstream from tinctures can be nearly double that of the oral route, and in many studies, if used properly, it occurs faster and gives you better control. That’s why many consider tinctures to be a better bang-for-your-buck.
Additional reading: Millar, S. A., et al. (2018). A systematic review on the pharmacokinetics of cannabidiol in humans. Frontiers in Pharmacology, 9.
Josh Kaplan, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of Behavioral Neuroscience at Western Washington University where he runs a laboratory studying the developmental consequences and therapeutic benefits of cannabis. He is a passionate communicator of cannabis science and has contributed to numerous publications including Leafly and HighTimes, from which he was named in the Top 100 Most Influential People in Cannabis in 2018.