Find out whether CBD edibles or capsules are better for your needs. Get the pros and cons of these popular CBD products. Dr Sarah Brewer explains how different types of CBD affect how it is absorbed in the body, and the difference this can make.
CBD Edibles vs. Capsules: Which Is Better?
CBD capsules vs. CBD edibles: one provides quicker absorption, one is a tasty snack. Which is best for you?
Written by Cathy Rozyczko — Edited by Jason Brett on September 27, 2021
For people who are considering CBD or have already started trying what is available, one of the most common questions to ask is, what’s the difference between CBD edibles and capsules? For those seeking relief and integration of CBD into their personal pain or stress management routine, it can be pretty hard to choose which one is right for you.
We are here to illuminate the differences, similarities, and appeal of both CBD edibles and CBD capsules to help you decide which is best for you.
What’s the Difference Between CBD Edibles and Capsules?
Let’s start at the beginning with the difference between CBD edibles and CBD capsules.
CBD Edibles Defined: CBD “edibles” covers the entire range of products that are food-like. They taste like food, they contain calories, they can be eaten like snacks, and they contain CBD. CBD edibles aren’t limited to premade goods—you can cook CBD into just about anything, from chocolate to spaghetti sauce, by carefully preparing at home.
CBD Capsules Defined: CBD capsules are non-food gel capsules containing cannabidiol (CBD). The CBD is sometimes mixed with coconut oil or hempseed oil, but capsules containing only pure CBD oil are available. These are almost exactly like fish oil or liquid gel-caps you’d find in the supplement aisle. CBD capsules look exactly like other capsules unless a brand has gone out of their way to make CBD capsules distinct.
CBD Edibles Overview
CBD edibles are any food that has been made with CBD in them. Edibles bought in stores have specific doses that you can read on the package and use to manage your CBD consumption. Gummies are the most common CBD edibles; they are made of CBD, gelatin or pectin (for vegans), flavoring, and sometimes, coloring.
A few types of edibles you’re likely to see while shopping around for CBD include:
- Gummies (some come infused with melatonin, for sleep)
- Baked treats
- Lollipops and sugar candies
- Infused beverages
- Raw honey
There are companies that make CBD gum!
Like all CBD products, edibles can be full-spectrum, broad-spectrum, or isolate, meaning they contain all of the hemp plant’s compounds, all of the compounds minus THC, or only CBD, respectively.
Here’s a summary of the pros and cons of CBD edibles:
- Tasty snacks
- Low-profile in public
- Home cooking customization
- Slow-acting (digestion speed)
- Snack temptation
- Some contain unhealthy artificial ingredients and preservatives
CBD Edibles Absorption
CBD edibles absorb as quickly as your body digests. This means it could take up to an hour before you start to feel the effects. However, the effects typically last anywhere from 4 to 6 hours. Your rate of absorption will vary depending on your personal metabolism and how much food is already in your stomach.
CBD also interacts with the cytochrome P450 enzyme system in the liver. This system breaks down toxins passing through the body, including many prescription and over-the-counter medications. CBD inhibits the P450 system, which may influence how other medications affect your body. To avoid any negative interactions, it’s important you speak to your doctor before trying CBD edibles.
CBD Edibles Dosing
CBD edibles are made by adding cannabidiol oil to a normal, snack-like item or recipe. Often, the amount used barely affects the recipe and does not count as a cooking oil replacement. This keeps doses small and easy to self-regulate.
Most edibles, especially CBD gummies, will include information on the amount of CBD, in milligrams (mg), per serving. Many people work out a system, learning the exact number of their favorite edible to eat to achieve the desired result, like relieving pain or getting to sleep.
When first figuring out your ideal CBD edible dosage, start slow and low. Give the edible at least an hour to absorb, and then decide if you’d like to adjust your dose from there.
DIY CBD Edibles
You can also make your own CBD edibles at home by cooking with CBD oil, as long as you’re still very careful about dosing and portions. When making your own CBD edibles at home, it’s best to stick to low-temp baking, no-bake, or adding the CBD after the meal is mostly cooked. This is because high temperatures can degrade the quality of your CBD oil.
If you bake CBD items, we suggest you keep oven temperatures below 320 F or mix CBD into your icing or topping instead. If you make a sauce, stir your CBD in at the end. You can also use a dropper when plating or portioning, saturating the top of an item with an exact amount of CBD per portion to get your dosing correct.
Be precise. Use a measured dropper and know how much CBD is in each portion or individual snack item you make. If you store homemade CBD edibles, label the container clearly with “CBD” and the exact dose per portion.
CBD Capsules Overview
CBD capsules, on the other hand, don’t taste like anything and you do not chew them. CBD capsules are gel-caps that contain a few carefully dosed drops of CBD oil, and possibly coconut oil or hempseed oil. These gel-caps look exactly like any other oil-based vitamin you take with your daily medicine, and they are swallowed with water like any other gel-cap.
Here’s a quick summary of the pros and cons of CBD capsules:
- Faster absorption rate than edibles
- Most consistent dosing
- Discreet with other medicines
- Difficult to modify the dose
- Not tasty
- Can interact with other vitamins/supplements
CBD Capsule Absorption
CBD capsules absorb into the body slightly faster than edibles because the gel cap dissolves efficiently in your stomach, and there are no other ingredients or components to digest. However, it could still take up to an hour for you to feel the effects, which could also last anywhere from 4 to 6 hours.
Like edibles, the speed of absorption and the strength of the effects of CBD capsules can be influenced by your personal metabolism, other food in your stomach, and the P450 enzyme system.
CBD Capsule Dosing
CBD capsules provide absolutely consistent dosing. They are designed to function exactly like other vitamins and oil supplements, and can easily be added to your current wellness regimen.
Each capsule provides an exact dose of CBD; the label on your CBD capsule bottle will tell you how many milligrams of CBD are in each. People who take capsules will slowly learn how many capsules they require to achieve the desired effects. If you decide to give them a try, give yourself an hour to absorb the CBD, notice the effects, and then adjust your dosage from there.
If you’re adding CBD capsules to a daily vitamin routine, make sure you read our guide on mixing CBD oil with supplements first. Because CBD inhibits the P450 system, some vitamins and supplements may be affected when taken in combination.
Best CBD Capsules
Leading brands in CBD capsule production include CBDistillery, Joy Organics, and Sagely Naturals.
- CBDistilleryuses all-organic stalks and stems, producing both full-spectrum and isolate CBD and offers a continuous 10% discount for veterans. focuses on full-spectrum CBD with an emphasis on bioavailability through soft gels made with nano-emulsion. is formulated by a PhD chemist with over 20 years of medical experience. It’s no surprise they produce incredibly high-quality capsules.
What Conditions Do They Help with?
Most people looking into CBD are hoping to manage chronic pain, inflammation, or anxiety, among other conditions. These common ailments are currently treated with medications that can ultimately do harm to the body. For this reason, CBD is starting to be used as a non-addictive alternative to drugs like opiates and SSRIs to reduce symptoms.
When it comes to deciding between a CBD capsule or edible, ultimately the choice is yours. The following are meant to be suggestions—not medical advice.
Conditions Better Managed by Edibles
- Edibles may be more enjoyable than capsules. They’re easily taken and if swallowing or handling pills are difficult, edibles provide a familiar method of administration.
- Edibles may make their way further through the digestive system than a capsule, which could be more fully absorbed by the stomach. The note of caution here is to avoid edibles high in sugar and/or spice, which could further irritate the lining of the digestive tract.
- Capsules would also work here, but wouldn’t be as enjoyable to take throughout the day.
- If you’ve consulted with your pediatrician and decided to use CBD to help your child manage a condition, edibles present a familiar and tasty delivery method. They may also be less intimidating than a CBD capsule.
- If you’re a nervous eater or are prone to stress or anxiety-induced digestive issues, CBD capsules may be easier to manage than CBD edibles.
- CBD capsules can easily be worked into your daily medication routine. Their quicker absorption rate will ensure you’re getting the help you need in a timely manner.
- CBD edibles can contain high amounts of sugar, and at their worst, artificial preservatives and fats. If you’re using CBD to manage obesity, capsules are the better option.
- CBD capsules are more precisely dosed than CBD edibles. If you’re following a strict, high-dosage regimen to manage epilepsy, they will provide better dosing control.
- CBD capsules don’t contain sugar; CBD edibles typically do.
Conditions Better Managed by Capsules
CBD Capsules vs. Edibles FAQs
Which Acts Faster?
Many people ask whether CBD edibles or capsules provide a faster perceptible effect on the body. The answer to this one is capsules.
While all forms of consumed CBD responds slower than vaped or sublingually applied CBD, capsules break down faster in the stomach than edibles. However, if you take your capsules with food so that you are digesting the capsule and food at the same time, absorption time is about the same. Both are estimated to take effect between 30 minutes to an hour to take effect, depending on the individual item and your own metabolism.
Which is Better for Flexible Dosing?
Because most people trying CBD are looking to experiment carefully with dosage, capsules are a safe place to start, but edibles are better for slowly ramping up the dose.
If you find that CBD works best for you taken multiple times a day or in concentrated doses, taking handfuls or continuous capsules becomes tedious. However, taking two gummies every two hours, or one gummy every half-hour is both enjoyable and easy to do without a beverage to wash them down.
Which Is More Discreet?
This one is a little more situational. No one will blink twice if they see you taking one more gel capsule with your morning or lunchtime medication if you already take medicine on a regular basis, making capsules medicinally discreet. But popping a capsule in the middle of the day when you start to feel pain is not so discreet.
Edibles are more low-profile for social situations where you are not taking other medication because snacking on candy does not strike anyone as strange. But you need to be prepared to say something quietly if a friend asks for one. Or just carry backup non-medicinal candy to share.
Which Are Easier to Find?
You may also be wondering if CBD capsules or edibles are easier to find in stores. Both are about equally available to modern consumers. Many brands are branching out and offer a variety of CBD edibles including chocolates, brownies, gummies, and even cooking oils.
At the same time, capsules have been around longer and are available from more retailers, but are really no more or less easy to find than edibles. So, it depends on where you can shop. In conservative regions, CBD capsules are more available in local health stores. However, both are equally available online.
Is Full-Spectrum or Isolate Better?
Good question. We can’t give you a quick answer except that everyone has their own preference when it comes to CBD isolate versus full-spectrum CBD oil. CBD edibles and capsules are available in both forms.
Full-spectrum is usually more affordable than pure CBD isolate due to the intensity of the extraction process, but it contains tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which some people would prefer not to consume. CBD isolate is exactly what it sounds like: pure CBD isolated from all other compounds of the hemp plant. Broad-spectrum CBD oil is your happy medium: it contains all the cannabinoids and terpenes of a full-spectrum product except THC.
Full- and broad-spectrum CBD contains additional terpenes and cannabinoids, which produces a more pronounced effect than CBD isolate. This is known as the entourage effect, which is the combined benefit of using the whole plant rather than a single component or isolate. For this reason, many people prefer full- or broad-spectrum CBD capsules and edibles.
Which One Is Right for You?
Whether CBD edibles or capsules are better for you is a choice only you can make. Both have their pros and cons.
If you’re the kind of person who “pops and just can’t stop” with a good snack, then capsules will be safer. Or if you’re a home chef looking to manage your does more personally, then try making your own edibles with CBD cooking oil. It’s all in how you want CBD to fit into your lifestyle.
Absorption: the benefits of CBD oil, capsules, gummies, balm
From drops to sprays to capsules to balm, the type of CBD you choose will affect how it works. When choosing how you want to take your CBD, consider how you want it to act, as well as which format is the most convenient for you.
There are many CBD oil products on the market, from drops, sprays, capsules and gummies through to vapes, infused drinks and food and topical balms.
How is CBD made?
CBD (cannabidiol) is extracted from industrial hemp plants and, in its natural state, dissolves in fat rather than water. Therefore, it is usually combined with a quality oil, such as olive oil or hemp seed oil, to create CBD oil supplements.
If taking CBD by mouth (via drops or capsules), then it’s a good idea to take it with a high-fat meal, as this boosts absorption into the bloodstream by as much as fives times compared with taking it on an empty stomach. By contrast, taking CBD with a low-fat meal increases absorption 2.7 times more than taking it without any food at all. 1
CBD oil droppers or spray
When taking CBD oil as drops or a spray, you can boost absorption by holding the liquid under your tongue for a couple of minutes. This allows oil-based CBD to pass across the mucous membrane lining of the mouth directly into the bloodstream.
As a result, two or three times more will reach the bloodstream quickly compared with swallowing the whole dose immediately, and you may notice a relaxing effect within a few minutes.
When you swallow the rest of the CBD oil, a small amount is broken down by stomach acid, but nine per cent of the remaining dose will pass down into the small intestines.
As it is not water-soluble, CBD oil tends to break up into fatty globules. Most oil-based CBD is absorbed via the wall of the small intestines, along with dietary fats, directly into the lymphatic system.
When CBD is in the lymphatic system, it has direct access to cells (e.g. lymphocytes) that circulate within the lymph vessels and lymph nodes. From here, the CBD is delivered into the bloodstream, which avoids initial breakdown in the liver.
This is why taking CBD with a fatty meal can increase blood levels by three to five times, as the dietary fats help the CBD enter the lymphatic system directly. The overall result of swallowing CBD drops is a delay of 30 to 90 minutes before you may notice an effect, compared with absorbing CBD under your tongue.
Please note: One drawback of taking higher doses of CBD oil from droppers is that some people develop reflux or nausea.
CBD oil capsules
Many people prefer CBD oil capsules to droppers, as they don’t really taste of anything (although filter-clear CBD oil tastes a lot less ‘grassy’ than other types). They also provide an exact dose (as long as they are made to GMP standards), so you know how much CBD you are taking rather than the guesswork of using a dropper and counting drops.
A gel capsule must dissolve in order to start the absorption process. Most capsules (e.g. Healthspan’s CBD Oil Capsules 384mg) dissolve in the stomach, and the released CBD oil is then absorbed in the same way as for drops.
A few capsules (e.g. Healthspan’s CBD Oil Capsules 450mg) have a ‘delayed release’ mechanism that is designed to dissolve in the small intestines, directly where absorption occurs, to avoid any reflux or nausea.
As with swallowing CBD oil, you may notice an effect within 30 to 90 minutes after swallowing a CBD capsule. The maximum effect usually occurs two to three hours after swallowing CBD and typically lasts for three to five hours, and up to 12 hours with higher doses. 2
Normal CBD oil is not water-soluble, so molecules will clump together in the digestive tract, creating a small surface area and making them harder for the body to absorb.
Fortunately, technology now exists to make CBD water-soluble through advanced liquid micellar technology. This wraps tiny amounts of CBD oil inside water-soluble spheres, meaning that they can be dispersed as tiny globules (liquid micelles) across a larger surface area, for better absorption.
This makes the optimised CBD highly absorbable and more bioavailable; ‘bioavailability’ describes the relative ease with which a substance is absorbed into the blood stream and remains free to produce an active effect.
In studies, Opti-CBD was absorbed 16 times more quickly during the first hour compared with standard CBD, so you notice a faster effect.
See the micellation process in action.
As CBD is oil-soluble, very few CBD products are formulated as tablets, although some capsules are filled with crystalline powder extracts from hemp oil – especially when these are combined with other plant ingredients that have complementary effects.
Tablets, if available, would contain additional ingredients (known as excipients), such as flowing agents (to prevent them caking during processing) and binders (to prevent tablets crumbling back into powder).
The rate at which the resulting tablet would break down in the intestines would affect how much CBD is absorbed, and this would generally be slower than when CBD is taken in liquid form.
CBD gummies are increasingly popular as they can taste delicious – so much so that you may need good self-control not to exceed the recommended dose. To produce gummies, a CBD extract is combined with fruit juice, a gelling agent such as pectin or gelatin, and sweeteners plus natural flavourings to produce a flavoured, edible pastille or chew.
Some gummies have no added sugar and are sweetened with agents such as Stevia or sorbitol, while others are sweetened with sugar, glucose or cane syrup. Sucking or chewing the gummy will allow some CBD to be absorbed within the mouth lining, so you may notice a more rapid effect than when swallowing a capsule.
CBD is readily absorbed through the skin (transdermal delivery) via patches, salves, lotions, creams or balms. The CBD in these products interacts with local receptors in skin cells, skin nerve fibres and skin glands. 3 4 5
Some CBD is also absorbed into the circulation to produce more widespread effects. Rubbing in a CBD Balm can complement the effects of a CBD supplement taken by mouth.
Dr Brewer is the author of CBD: The Essential Guide to Health and Wellness (Simon & Schuster).
Dr Sarah Brewer is Healthspan’s Medical Director and holds degrees in Natural Sciences, Surgery and Medicine from the University of Cambridge. Having worked as a GP and hospital doctor, Dr Sarah now holds an MSc in Nutritional Medicine from the University of Surrey and specialises in nutrition. She is also an award-winning writer and author.
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Nothing beats a healthy, balanced diet to provide all the nutrients we need. But when this isn’t possible, supplements can help. This article isn’t intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying supplements or herbal medicines.