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Pharmacokinetics: Topicals vs. Consumables

Written by Caleb Summeril

Pharmacokinetics refers to how drugs are absorbed, metabolized, processed, and eliminated from the human body. Evaluating pharmacokinetics of different cannabidiol (CBD) delivery methods, with topical and consumable products highlighted here, can provide advantages and disadvantages of each, allowing consumers to decide the best options for them.


These products are quickly emerging as a popular form of CBD and include lotions, salves, creams, and many other products that are applied directly to the skin. Topical products are easy to use, one obvious advantage being that they can be applied directly to an area of the body in need of treatment. These products have the added benefit of skipping first-pass metabolism, when CBD is broken down in the stomach, thus leads to higher levels of bioavailability.[1]

Products applied directly to the skin also avoid any of the negative effects associated with smoking or other forms of inhalation. A disadvantage to topical CBD use is that cannabinoids, in general, are very hydrophobic, meaning the water layer in the skin can be a limiting factor in absorption and diffusion within the body.[2] Absorption is also affected by the part of the body where CBD is applied, as well as individual differences in body composition.


Consumable products are another popular delivery method with options growing in both availability and effectiveness. These CBD products can be either ingested or administered orally. The pharmacokinetics of edibles, for example, differ greatly from that of topicals and other methods. Absorption is typically slower because these products must first be broken down in the stomach, meaning there is a delay in the effect of the CBD product as it passes through the body into the bloodstream.[2]

A disadvantage to consumables is that oral administration can result in lower bioavailability, though the ease of use and abundant availability of commercial products make consumables a popular choice. Additionally, due to slower absorption, consumers will feel the effects of CBD for many hours after taking it, which could be very attractive for those managing medical conditions or simply those who wish to dose less often.

With so many options out there, there’s no need to choose between the two! As you get started with CBD, sampling different methods and brands can help you better understand what you’re looking for and how your body responds to different types of CBD.

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  1. Stinchcomb AL, et al. Human skin permeation of Delta8-tetrahydrocannabinol, cannabidiol and cannabinol. J Pharm Pharmacol. 2004;56(3):291-297.
  2. Huestis MA. Human cannabinoid pharmacokinetics. Chem Biodivers. 2007;4(8):17701804.

About the author

Caleb Summeril

Caleb Summeril writes creative copy, stories and songs from the mountains of Colorado. When not working on words, he can be found on global gallivants which fuel future endeavors. Learn more about his writing services at