CBD Transdermal Absorption — How CBD Gets into Your System

Transdermal CBD absorption refers to the processes by which CBD enters your system through the skin. Absorption occurs when molecules of drugs or other chemicals move across the lipid layer of your skin and are dissolved in the local tissue and ultimately the bloodstream. The amount of CBD that gets into your body depends on many factors, including how much you apply, how often you apply it, and what form it’s in (e.g., solid vs. liquid). Different cannabinoids have different absorption rates, so if you’re looking to maximize your CBD intake, understanding how transdermal delivery works will help you get the most bang for your buck.

1) What Is CBD?

Cannabidiol, or CBD, is a chemical compound in cannabis that has significant health benefits but has no psychoactive activity, or more simply does not make people feel stoned. In fact, CBD can actually counteract the psychoactive effects of THC. This aspect makes it an appealing treatment option for patients seeking anti-inflammatory, anti-pain, anti-anxiety and/or anti-spasm effects without disconcerting euphoria or lethargy. Contrary to what some may believe, oral consumption is an inefficient delivery method for cannabinoids. Ingested cannabinoids are subjected to extensive first-pass metabolism by enzymes in the liver. Bioavailability is a term used to describe the amount of a compound or medication that is able to perform an active role in the body. When delivered orally, CBD is known to have a bioavailability of only 6%. This means that 94% of the dose taken in this manner is completely wasted!

2) What Are Cannabinoids?

Cannabinoids are one of the many biologically active compounds found in cannabis plants. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is one of the best known of these compounds and has gained a lot of attention lately due to its psychoactive effects. THC’s interactions with our central nervous system are well documented, but very little research has been done on cannabinoids outside of THC. Cannabidiol (CBD) is considered to be one of the most promising non-intoxicating cannabinoids. While often discussed alongside THC and the other cannabinoids, it’s important to note that CBD is not produced in great amounts by your typical high-THC marijuana plant. While both chemicals come from cannabis sativa L., their production can occur independently and through different pathways within certain strains.

3) Why Is Absorption Important?

When you consume cannabidiol (CBD) orally, only about 6% of it actually gets absorbed by your body. What ends up happening is that your gut breaks down some of these molecules to be used as energy instead. But, when you take it transdermally, over 60% of CBD gets absorbed into your body! This is because cannabinoids are soluble in oil, but not water. Because our skin and blood vessels contain both lipid membranes and blood cells, transdermal absorption allows for much easier delivery of phytocannabinoids like CBD through your system.

4) Research on CBD Transdermal Absorption

First, let’s look at how we absorb cannabinoids. When we consume edible or inhale cannabis, cannabinoids travel through our digestive system and to our bloodstream. Once in your blood, they bind with cell receptors in different parts of your body. With transdermal delivery, however, absorption happens directly in your skin cells—no digestive tract needed! This process is much more direct than when you eat/smoke/vape it. And because there are no lipids blocking absorption when you apply topically (like there are in digestion), bioavailability can be much higher for transdermal administration compared to other modes of administration. A popular way to get cannabinoid therapies like CBD is via salves/lotions; these products work very well for people who want concentrated doses of cannabinoids without smoking or vaporizing their medicine. Bottom line: You probably didn’t realize that putting on a transdermal patch or applying a lotion (instead of eating/inhaling), you were doing your body a favor by greatly increasing absorption rates! But now that you know...it might have just changed how you go about taking CBD...and many other cannabinoid therapy products!