CBD Oil: Topical Application vs Oral Administration – Which Is Best for Me?

December 05, 2023
CBD Oil: Topical Application vs Oral Administration – Which Is Best for Me?
Published on  Updated on  
Written by Adrian Crawford Nov 7th 2023

The oil extracted from hemp flower is one of the most versatile ingredients in the nutraceutical sector of the health and wellness industry. With so many ways to appreciate the most abundant of the many cannabinoids produced in the plant, many first-time shoppers find it difficult to narrow their options, especially when trying to decide between applying CBD topically and oral administration. 

Although most people would likely be pleased with the results of just about any high-quality CBD product, it's much easier to justify adding CBD to your daily routine when you know you've purchased the best product for your needs, preferences, and lifestyle. 

While that's something only you can decide, we can try to help get you moving in the right direction. So, let's back it up a bit and take a closer look. We'll explore how topical application and oral administration work, their benefits and limitations, and a few reasons you might prefer one over the other. 

What CBD Is & How It Works In Your Body 

If there were only one way to experience the health and wellness potential of CBD, the selection process would be a lot easier. But that's not what you're up against. So, let's start with a brief overview of what CBD is and how it works. 

CBD (cannabidiol) is an active plant element that functions a lot like similar substances produced as needed in your body (anandamide and 2-AG). There are two potential sources, hemp and marijuana. Once absorbed, the cannabinoid interacts with multiple molecular targets, including the receptors of your endocannabinoid system (ECS) (Marzo & Piscitelli, 2015). Based on lab results and a rapidly growing number of clinical trials, cannabis researchers believe CBD's impact on ECS receptors helps support the processes of homeostasis (Sallaberry & Astern, 2018). 

The Benefits and Limitations of Oral Administration  

When you swallow a CBD softgel, add a serving of a CBD oil tincture to a snack or beverage, or enjoy a CBD gummy, the cannabinoids are processed through your digestive system and eventually begin circulating through your bloodstream. Each serving has a system-wide effect. But it can take time for the effects to peak, up to an hour or more. Although oral administration ensures you know how much CBD you're ingesting with each use, a portion of the CBD in every serving is metabolized by your liver enzymes, meaning the metabolites pass through your body unutilized (Bruni et al., 2018). 

The Benefits and Limitations of Topical Application  

With topical application, the amount of CBD in your favorite cream, lotion, or balm is not impacted by digestion. Since you don't have to wait for the CBD to clear your digestive system, the effects of each application peak much faster. Although individual results can vary, many CBD users claim positive effects in as little as 10-15 minutes. Instead of having to wait for a system-wide impact, CBD topicals are ideal for targeted application where you need it most. However, they need to be applied to clean, dry skin to remove any surface oil or debris that could interfere with how they work. 

Exploring Possible Side Effects: How Topical Application and Oral Administration Compare  

Hemp-derived CBD is generally well-tolerated and safe for most people. According to a report published by the World Health Organization, there's "no evidence of public health-related problems" (WHO, 2020). However, side effects are possible. Some CBD users report that ingestible products can cause dry mouth, fatigue, nausea, diarrhea, or changes in appetite (Bergamaschi et al., 2011). 

With topical application, the risk of side effects from CBD is minimal because the cannabinoid is not absorbed into your bloodstream. However, if you're sensitive (or allergic) to any of the ingredients used to make your CBD topical, unpleasant skin reactions, including itching, burning, or redness, are possible. 

Whether you ultimately choose to apply the cannabinoid topically or a product that delivers CBD to your bloodstream, it's important to know that cannabinoids are not ideal for people with certain medical conditions. If you have health concerns or take any type of medication, we recommend consulting your healthcare provider before adding any hemp-derived product to your daily routine. 

Other Factors to Consider as You're Comparing Product Options  

It's worth saying again. The best product for any CBD user fits their needs, preferences, and lifestyle. There are many factors within that statement that could lead you in one direction over the other. Let's start with needs, the reason you're interested in trying CBD, and what you hope to achieve.   

Based on a 2019 CBDistillery® survey of 1,900 customers, most CBD users report positive results using our hemp-derived products for relaxation, better sleep, mild or temporary anxiety, and pain, stiffness, and inflammation after physical activity. Assuming your hopes for CBD fall within a similar realm, you'll want to decide which approach could have the most impact. 

Take mild or temporary anxiety, for example. If that's your most pressing concern, you may want to consider oral administration because ingesting CBD can have an effect on your entire body, including stress responses.  

For pain, stiffness, or inflammation after physical activity, on the other hand, you could be pleased with either approach. You'll get the many potential advantages of supporting ECS function with an ingestible product, fast-acting, targeted relief for a specific area of your body with topical application. With that being said, you don't have to choose between them. CBD topicals can be used on their own or to complement the effects of any other CBD oil tinctures, gummies, softgel, or capsules you prefer. 

Still Can't Decide Between Topical Application and Oral Administration? Visit CBDistillery® 

 If you're intrigued with what you've learned so far but still not quite sure where to start, visit CBDistillery® to take our 3-minute CBD Product Quiz or schedule a personal consultation. You'll also find answers to frequently asked questions, industry studies, and an impressive selection of hemp-derived CBD oil tinctures, topicals, gummies, softgels, drink mixes, and pet products. 

When you choose CBDistillery®, you can shop with confidence. Our hemp-derived products are rigorously tested for purity and potency, quality-assured, and backed by a 60-day satisfaction guarantee. No fluff. No fillers. Just pure, effective cannabinoid products formulated by our own expert botanists. Most of our survey respondents report achieving their best results within 7-14 days of consistent use. 


Bergamaschi M, Mateus R, et al. (2011) Safety and Side Effect of Cannabidiol, a Cannabis Sativa Constituent. 6(4) Curr Drug Saf 237-49. https://doi.org/10.2174/157488611798280924 

Bruni N, Pepa C, et al. (2018) Cannabidiol Delivery Systems for Pain and Inflammation Treatment. 23(10) Molecules 2478. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6222489/ 

Marzo V, Piscitelli F. (2015) The Endocannabinoid System and Its Modulation by Phytocannabinoids. 12, Neurotherapeutics 692-98. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13311-015-0374-6 

Sallaberry C, Astern L. (2018) The Endocannabinoid System, Our Universal Regulator. 34(6) JYI 48-55. https://www.jyi.org/2018-june/2018/6/1/the-endocannabinoid-system-our-universal-regulator 

World Health Organization. (2020) Cannabidiol (CBD) Critical Review Report. PDF https://www.who.int/docs/default-source/controlled-substances/whocbdreportmay2018-2.pdf?sfvrsn=f78db177_2 

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