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All About CBD Capsules: How Do They Compare to Other CBD Products?

CBD capsules with one in focus

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Most supplements come in powder form stored inside a capsule. This makes it easy for users to consume the recommended dosage. CBD capsules are no exception. Just as there are CBD oils and edibles, some products also come in capsule form.

Is there any advantage of taking capsules over oils (tinctures)  or gummies?

Does the capsule form increase bioavailability?

For CBD users, these questions warrant further investigation.

What Are CBD Capsules Made Of?

Let’s take a look at the average supplement capsule. These miniature containers are made from either gelatin or cellulose. The latter consists of polymers from vegetable shortenings and are also known as veggie-caps. This is also the go-to option for users who wish to completely avoid all animal-derived products (like vegans).

For the typical gelatin capsule, the ingredient is simple animal protein and is the same material that Jell-O or other gelatin desserts are made of. Contrary to popular belief, capsules do not contain plastic whatsoever.

Some capsules may contain additional ingredients, but in their simplest forms, they only consist of one of these two primary materials. Now let’s talk about the possible effects of capsule materials on the body.

Potential Side Effects of Capsules

Both gelatin and cellulose are made from natural ingredients found in everyday foods. Gelatin, in fact, is an abundant protein that makes up our muscles, hair, and nails. Both options are safe; only a very small minority of users will experience side effects.

For gelatin capsules, adverse reactions may include minor upset stomach that may lead to burping, bloating, or gas.

There are no known side effects of consuming cellulose in the form of capsules. However, too much cellulose from food may cause diarrhea, gas, and other gastric upsets.

What’s Inside a Capsule?

The main ingredient inside the capsule is the CBD/hemp extract. They are available in both isolate and full-spectrum form. If in the latter form, then the capsule contains additional cannabinoid extracts. Other ingredients include terpenes, which gives the cannabinoids their distinct flavor, though flavoring is obviously a non-factor when consuming a capsule. Also have other medicinal properties and work synergistically with the other cannabinoids present to produce more medicinal value.

The contents inside the capsule may be in powder or oil form. If the contents are oil-based, then it will contain MCT oil as a carrier (or possibly another carrier oil), much the same way as CBD tinctures. In this case, the capsule is a soft-gel cap commonly seen in some OTC medicines like DayQuil.

If in powder form, the contents normally consist of crystalline powder extract from hemp oil using a CO2-extraction method. Some brands may contain excipients (fillers) to fill out the capsule. Common excipients include starch, calcium, and lactose. Make sure to look at the ingredients to see if there are any fillers you want to avoid (i.e. if you’re lactose intolerant, you want to avoid those containing lactose as a filler ingredient).

DIY CBD Capsules

Some users resort to making their own capsules. This is actually an easier process than most people think. You can purchase empty capsules in bulk at a low price. Though not as popular as oil, CBD is also available in powder form. Some people buy CBD powder and encapsulate them at home.

CBD Powder for DIY CapsulesThe CBD Distillery sells powder in bulk for this reason.

What’s the point of this when you can just purchase pre-made CBD capsules? There are a couple reasons for this.

For vegans, the ones that meet their personal preferences may utilize animal-based gelatin caps. Others find it cheaper to purchase lower-cost bulk CBD powder and perform their own encapsulation.

Capsule vs Oil

Should you gravitate towards the capsule form or opt for the more common oil form? There is no study we are aware of that compares the bioavailability of CBD as oil vs as capsule. It really comes down to individual preference.

CBD oils typically contain MCT oil as a carrier. but there are other carrier oils as well. Administration is also taken under the tongue rather than a straight-up ingestion. The arteries below the tongue absorb the oil, enabling the contents to bypass the lengthy digestive process and enter the bloodstream directly. Results usually kick in within 15 to 30 minutes.

What about capsules? The typical gelatin and veggie-caps take about 20 to 30 minutes to completely dissolve. Of course, a number of additional factors can affect the dissolve time, such as:

  • Whether you consume the capsule with food
  • Your stomach’s pH balance
  • Your water intake

The capsule does protect the CBD contents inside from the harsh stomach acid and bile. Nevertheless, the journey through the digestive tracts may inhibit bioavailability.

Again, there are no studies comparing the two, but we wager that CBD oil has a slightly higher bioavailability. This is assuming, of course, that you take the oil under the tongue rather than swallow it.

The Advantages of Having It In Capsule Form

The biggest advantage of capsules is the convenience. They are easily portable, and you don’t need to mess with a dropper. You can also be sure of the exact dosage you get every time without having to count the number of drops. Plus, it offers a more discreet way of getting your CBD dose.

It’s also said that capsules may be the better option for nicotine smokers. Long-time smokers lack the salivary production and absorptive mechanisms in the mouth. As such, the whole under-the-tongue method with tinctures may not be as effective.

Their bioavailability is also improving thanks to new technology and production practices. One brand we know of includes lecithin and black pepper extract, which is believed to boost bioavailability. Another product adds natural botanicals like clove and rosemary, which may increase the endocannabinoid system’s ability to receive the incoming CBD.

In essence, we recommend CBD capsules over CBD oil if the following applies to you:

  • You’re a long-time smoker
  • Consuming MCT oil makes you nauseous
  • You value convenience and/or normally consume CBD on the go
  • You’re not so good at keeping track of dosage
  • You already consume other supplements in pill form. Just add it to your 7-day pill box along with your other daily pills. Consult with your doctor, however, if you’re on medication. CBD may interact with certain drugs.

Capsule Absorption Rate

Do capsules generally have better or less bioavailability compared to food or tablets? There are no specific studies that examine the bioavailability rate of CBD capsules as far as we’re aware of. There is, however, a study that compares the absorption rate of capsules with tablets.

The study examined the bioavailability of two folic acid supplements, one in tablet form and another in capsule form. Subjects took the supplement in one form or the other. Blood samples taken one week later revealed comparable levels of folate in the bloodstream. It should be noted, though, that the capsule did have a slightly longer absorption time.

The study result is a good indicator that capsules may have a bioavailability similar to that of CBD-infused tablets and perhaps even edibles.

Delayed-Release CBD Capsules

You may have heard of some supplements using time-released capsules. The capsule erodes in the stomach gradually, causing a steady release of the CBD rather than all at once. This way, the body reaps the effects throughout the day.

This type of encapsulation is also known as enteric-coated capsules. “Enteric” means pertaining to the intestines. As suggested in the name, these capsules resist dissolving until they reach the intestines.

One of the benefits of delayed release is that you only have to take one serving a day. While the effects won’t be as strong, it won’t wane after just a few hours. Some researchers are also developing ultra-long time-released capsules designed to release its contents over the course of days and even weeks. Researchers at MIT have developed a star-shaped capsule that releases its contents over a span of two-weeks.

This may prove beneficial especially for CBD products with THC. The psychoactive compound is known to cause jitters and anxiety, especially among sensitive users. A time-released dose may provide the pain-relieving and relaxation-induced sensations minus the side effects.

Studies1 have confirmed that time-released capsules work the way they’re intended to once in the body. However, there are no studies specifically done on time-released capsules and how they compare to standard ones or other cannabis products.

Where Can I Find CBD Capsules?

Not all CBD suppliers sell capsules; some limit their inventory to oils and edibles. We included here a list of vetted suppliers that carry CBD in pill form.

  • CBD FX – This site carries full-spectrum CBD capsules. Each capsule contains 25 mg of CBD sourced from hemp oil.
  • Endoca – This supplier carries capsules made from animal-free cellulose. Its products are available in CBD or CBD + CBDa. If you’re not familiar, CBDa stands for cannabidiolic acid, which studies suggest may benefit the gastrointestinal tracts when taken with CBD.
  • CBD Drip – This brand carries full-spectrum hemp in both capsule and soft-gel form. It also carries single-serving packs – perfect for your purse or pocket.
  • CBD Distillery – Carries both CBD isolate and full-spectrum supplements in your choice of capsules or soft-gels. Servings range from 25 mg to 30 mg per capsule/soft-gel.

Final Thoughts on Capsules

CBD capsules are a great way for beginners to introduce themselves to cannabis. It’s another choice you have in addition to oils, edibles, and vape juices. Consider capsules if you value convenience or wish to be discreet when taking CBD in the public sphere. Adding it to your daily dietary regimen is no different than incorporating a multi-vitamin tablet.

Medical References

Zur E. Compounding slow-release capsules: a comprehensive review and an Excel spreadsheet for faster calculations of excipients. Int J Pharm Compd. 2013;17(1):10-22. [PubMed]
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Christopher Walker

Christopher Walker has a degree in Neuroscience from Duke University, and is the research writer for The Universal Plant. He has dedicated his life to helping men and women around the world educate themselves and take action to improve their health with natural plant-based and nutrient therapies. Follow him on Instagram @_christopherwalker