Pharmacokinetics: Topicals vs Consumables  

Caleb Summeril
Written by Caleb Summeril

A rise in the popularity and availability of CBD products, alongside increased studies into the many effects of this potent cannabinoid, has led to a better understanding of how the compound interacts with the human body. Pharmacokinetics is the chemical study of how various drugs are absorbed, metabolized, processed, and eliminated from the human body. A look at the pharmacokinetics of different CBD delivery methods, with a specific focus on topical and consumable products, can reveal advantages and disadvantages that allow consumers to differentiate and determine the best options available.


Topical products are rapidly emerging as a popular form of CBD application, and include lotions, salves, creams, and many other products that are applied directly to the skin. Topical products are easy to use, and one obvious advantage is that these products can be applied directly to an area of the body in need of treatment.

Topical products have the added benefit of bypassing first-pass metabolism before entering the bloodstream, leading to higher levels of bioavailability [1]. Topicals can enter the bloodstream quickly, and treatment for localized issues such as pain or inflammation can directly benefit from CBD products used in this manner.

CBD topicals applied directly to the skin also avoid any of the negative effects associated with smoking or other forms of inhalation.

A potential 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 for absorption and diffusion within the body [2].


Consumable CBD products are another popular delivery method, with options growing in both availability and effectiveness. Consumable products are defined as any product that is either ingested or administered orally.

Advantages to this method of consumption include a high rate of absorption, as the products are metabolized within the digestive system and subsequently enter the bloodstream. This absorption is typically slower than other forms of consumption, meaning there is a delay in the effect of the cannabinoids as they pass through the body.

A potential disadvantage to consumables is that orally administered products can result in lower bioavailability overall, though the ease of use and abundant availability of commercial products make consumables a popular choice among consumers.


  1. Stinchcomb, AL, et al. Human skin permeation of Delta8-tetrahydrocannabinol, cannabidiol and cannabinol. J Pharm Pharmacol. 2004. 56 (3):291-7
  2. Marilyn A. Huestis. Human Cannabinoid Pharmacokinetics. Chem Biodivers. 2007. 4(8):17701804.

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Caleb Summeril

Caleb Summeril

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