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May 23, 2024
13 min to read

CBD Oil vs. Gummies vs. Capsules: What’s the Difference?

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Hayley Heidelbaugh

We have a lot of choices nowadays when deciding which CBD products to use.

We’re not limited to classic CBD oils anymore. There’s now a product to suit just about every need, though with so many options, it’s hard knowing where to begin. Let’s start by exploring the kings: CBD gummies, oils, and capsules.

Popping a CBD capsule or gummy is an effortless way to indulge in CBD’s soothing benefits. Oils are more versatile and, despite the growth of alternatives, are still a popular delivery method—but does that actually make them superior?

In deciding which form of CBD is best for you, consider your lifestyle, why you’re consuming the cannabinoid, and how familiar you are with cannabis products. To break it down even further, consider these factors:

  • Bioavailability: How much CBD will your body absorb from each kind of product? Is any of the product’s contents going to waste, and if so, approximately how much?
  • Side effects: Do side effects vary depending on the type of product? Or, is one kind of CBD product more likely to cause adverse reactions than the others?
  • Speed of onset: How long will you typically wait for the product to take effect?
  • Convenience: Which is the most convenient? Can they be consumed on the go?
  • Price: Is one form of CBD cheaper than the others (on average), or does the brand determine the price?
  • Taste: This one is self-explanatory. Is the product yummy, an acquired taste, or totally flavorless (or worse)?
  • Ease-of-use: How beginner-friendly is each form of CBD? Time constraints aside, is one easier to dose and consume? 
  • Shelf life: All CBD products go bad eventually, but how long can you store them before that happens? 
  • Accessibility: Are the products easy to obtain, or are they offered by a limited number of retailers? 
  • Versatility: Finally, are you able to precisely tailor each session to your needs?
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CBD oil, gummies, and capsules: how they compare

Although many CBD users use multiple kinds of CBD products, certain forms might better suit their needs than others.

We’ll get the usual disclaimer out of the way: assuming that everything you’re using is manufactured by trusted retailers with transparent safety testing (more on that later), no category of CBD products reigns supreme over the others. Cannabis supplements are subjective, and your experience won’t perfectly mirror the next person’s.

Bioavailability

If you’re striving to absorb as much of the product’s CBD content as possible, oral ingestion is less than ideal. Orally consumed CBD isolates, including those used in gummy production, have limited bioavailability compared to vaping CBD or smoking it. The lungs simply do a better job transferring a large dose of any cannabinoid into your system.

We’ll get into the perks later on, but this is an area where edible CBD falls short. Researchers estimate that as little as 13% to 19% of orally administered CBD is absorbed by the body. Clearly, that’s not a lot. It also appears to be highly dose-dependent.

CBD gummies seem to be the least bioavailable pick out of the three. These treats are mostly reliant on digestion to take effect rather than entering your bloodstream via a more direct route. Even capsules contain oils that can be absorbed by the stomach lining and enter the bloodstream that way.

Oral CBD is best absorbed when consumed with food, particularly those rich in fatty acids. You won’t fare better if you try using CBD oils topically, either. That’s a nontraditional delivery method as it is, but even broadly, topical CBD products have lower bioavailability than edibles.

Water-soluble CBD is superior whenever your goal is maximum absorption. Technically, it’s now possible to find water-soluble forms of all three products we’re discussing today—but that’s just one niche. Plus, you’re most likely to come across water-soluble CBD capsules or tinctures, not gummies.

Side effects

As a cannabinoid, CBD is well-tolerated by the majority of users.

Either way, digestive disturbances, fatigue, and low appetite have been reported by more than a handful of users, minority or not. No delivery method can outright eliminate your risk of an adverse reaction.

Beyond the direct influence of CBD, a product’s other ingredients contribute to the body’s responses, good and bad. Gummies are particularly risky.

Your body isn’t tasked just with digesting CBD but also sweeteners, gelatin, and flavorings. Sensitivity to any of these components can upset your stomach. If you have a history of headaches or nausea after consuming sugary foods, you’ll want to avoid CBD gummies. Stick to capsules and oils.

No matter its form, begin with a small dose of CBD and ease your way into the session. This makes it easier to cut things short before unwanted effects escalate.

Speed of onset

Compared to CBD gummies, capsules and oils are usually faster to take effect.

This builds on what we said about bioavailability. Digestion takes time, and the CBD snack you’ve ingested needs to be processed by the stomach and liver rather than heading straight to the bloodstream.

Sublingual oils are faster-acting, but still not as fast as inhalation. Mucus membranes beneath your tongue are quick to soak up cannabinoids and get them into the bloodstream, even if you end up swallowing a portion of the oil.

Convenience

Edible forms of CBD are convenient overall.

By contrast, vaping or smoking high-CBD bud takes effort. You’ll need to portion and grind the flower, and depending on the tool you prefer, you will face some series of extra steps. Getting the hang of a dry herb vaporizer involves experimentation with temperature, bowl size, and even other devices. You’ll also need to clean the vaporizer between uses.

And while rolling a joint is quick and easy for seasoned users, it could be a massive chore for others. (And, of course, inhaling smoke—any smoke—is bad for you.)

Gummies and capsules lend the greatest flexibility. You can munch on a CBD gummy when you’re out and about, and as long as you have a drink on hand, capsules are yet another on-the-go option. No one even has to know they contain cannabis.

Oils fall short here, even if you’re taking them orally. For one, carrying around small (often glass) bottles everywhere can be a hassle, and it’s not simple to pre-portion your doses. This is also the least discreet of the three methods.

Price

CBD isn’t as pricey as it used to be. As the market has grown and become saturated, competitive pricing is more essential than it was in the early days of legal hemp. CBD products generally cost between $0.02 to $0.20 per milligram.

The cost of your CBD is partly dependent on the form you choose, and partly on which company is producing it. You can find high-end CBD in all its popular forms, as well as budget-friendly (but not always potent or high-quality) options.

CBD oils are very cost-effective. You’re getting a highly concentrated form of the cannabinoid and will typically fork over less money per milligram, thanks to the lack of other ingredients and the limited processing involved.

Because capsules use fewer ingredients and are simpler to manufacture than gummies—no sugar, flavorings, etc.—they can lean slightly cheaper, as far as edibles go.

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Taste

It goes without saying: if you’re seeking a CBD-rich treat, gummies are the way to go. They generally taste like candy—which they are—although some have a weedy flavor note that may be less than pleasant.

Capsules and softgels tend to be flavorless. You’re taking them for the effects and convenience, not a light snack. CBD oils vary in terms of taste. With minimal processing, they can take on a grassy, bitter flavor, which isn’t going to appeal to everyone.

Carrier oils are likely to drown out the taste of CBD extract itself, either way. Expect something nutty and subtle. But again, it’s not like you’re not dropping oils on or under your tongue as a gift to your palate.

Ease-of-use

First-timers are key to conversations about CBD delivery. After all, these are the individuals most likely to seek out information on different kinds of products.

Experienced users might consider all three of these forms easy to work with, but that’s not the case for everyone. Beginners often prefer pre-portioned products that require minimal math and fewer decisions. Basically, there’s a clear-cut way to consume it, and it’s hard to deviate from that path.

Gummies and capsules are great entry-level CBD products. They’re pre-portioned, intuitive, and don’t take experimentation to get the hang of. You don’t need to cycle through five different consumption methods to find your preference.

No need to meticulously measure your dose, since the manufacturer has already handled that step. Just make sure to double-check the recommended serving size before getting started. Fortunately, thanks to the handy dropper provided by most CBD oils, these are also relatively simple to dose. They just involve more experimentation.

Dosing becomes increasingly flexible as you learn your body’s response to CBD. Until then, stick to what the package suggests and work your way up as needed.

Shelf life

Unless you’re an experienced CBD user downing multiple doses a day, your products are likely to sit in storage for a few days, or even several weeks.

All CBD products should be properly stored. Cannabinoids degrade when exposed to environmental stressors like heat, humidity, or ultraviolet rays. To maximize their longevity, cannabis products should be kept in a cool, dry location, and away from sunlight.

With CBD oils, the base liquid is more likely to degrade than the actual cannabinoid. Their estimated shelf life falls somewhere in the one to two-year range.

Gummies are subject to all the standard limitations of sugary food products. They can go stale, mold, or spoil. Proper storage should keep CBD gummies fresh for around a year. CBD capsules won’t last forever, but tend to fare better in storage.

Accessibility

Unlike the other categories we’ve mentioned, accessibility is an area where all three forms are about evenly matched—at least if you’re shopping online.

You’ll have more than your fair share of options in any category. A quick search engine query will turn up plenty of CBD capsules, oils, and gummies. There’s an option for just about any budget, as well.

In-person retailers can be a different story. Whether you have the advantage of an urban area or not, certain shops may favor one or two forms of CBD over others, and offer fewer brand choices, too. It depends on where you live and who’s selling. Not every brick-and-mortar seller is going to carry CBD capsules, for instance. You may need to stop by a few shops to find just what you’re looking for.

Versatility

Capsule users won’t get to personalize their session much. Actually, they’re dealing with the least versatile product on this list—yes, even less than gummies.

Although CBD gummies offer a bit of wiggle room, capsules are meant to be taken as-is. You can split a gummy into quarters and microdose to your heart’s content. Breaking apart capsules isn’t so simple, even if you’re using softgels. That said, you can choose how much (or how little) CBD you want per serving when you make the initial purchase.

CBD oils are the most versatile of the group. Sublingual consumption is a popular method, but they can also be added to food, mixed into lotions, or rubbed directly onto the skin (just make sure that your product is actually an oil, not an alcohol-based tincture). Adjusting your dose in small increments is simpler, too.

If you want to use CBD topically, CBD creams and lotions are the best choices. They require less prep and have more reliable effects.

How to shop for CBD products

Congratulations, you’ve now determined the best form of CBD for your needs. Time to move along to the next step: finding high-quality products that’ll deliver the effects you’re after.

The hemp landscape is vast and rocky. Although CBD hasn’t triggered as much controversy, delta 8 products aren’t the only ones with hit-or-miss quality and potential health risks.

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Third-party testing 

No matter the shape or size of your CBD dose, always verify that the manufacturer has published an in-date certificate of analysis (COA).

Third-party lab tests should be performed on each batch of CBD extract. If the product is already in hand, check the batch number and ensure that it lines up with what’s on the COA. You should also take a look at this document before making the initial purchase, even if it’s just to verify the product’s contents. Certain CBD products are richer in the cannabinoid than others.

Hemp is unregulated in the United States, and safety testing isn’t required by law. Less trustworthy brands skip this step to lower production costs, leaving consumers unable to verify potency or authenticity.

The 2018 Farm Bill legalized CBD and hemp-derived cannabis products containing under 0.3% delta 9 THC, but that’s about where it ends. By the way, keep an eye out for the updated farm bill, which has been put on hold until later in 2024.

Brick-and-mortar vs. online

You’ll find both online and in-person CBD retailers, though not all sellers are created equal. Duds can exist both virtually and in your own neighborhood.

It comes down to this, at least for first-timers: do you want a hemp expert to guide you through selection, or are you content to do your own research and maybe try an unfamiliar online seller?

Both paths are valid, and not everyone has access to a brick-and-mortar CBD shop. It’s also easier to verify authenticity and COAs if you buy directly from the manufacturer.

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4.9

Koi Anytime Balance CBD Gummies

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Koi Anytime Balance gummies are formulated using the trademark PRIZM broad-spectrum hemp extract. They come in jars that contain 20 berry lemonade gummies, each delivering 10 mg of CBD. They are designed for everyday wellness support and come with the high-quality guarantee of one of the best-known companies in the CBD world.

Reviews and customer feedback

This one’s simpler if you’re taking the online route.

Before placing a CBD order, check what other consumers are saying about the product and brand. You may be surprised how much you can gauge from reviews alone. It’s far from the full picture, but if there seems to be a common consensus about an effect or drawback, you’ll want to stay mindful.

Take feedback on the manufacturer’s own website with a huge grain of salt. These are typically filtered to some extent, and shadier brands may even write up their own fake reviews. The same goes for star ratings, when available.

Psychotropic effects

Just to be clear: no, CBD alone isn’t intoxicating, no matter your dose. It doesn’t bind to CB1 receptors in the body’s endocannabinoid system and won’t set off the dopamine rush we know as getting high. Actually, it hinders the ease with which psychoactive cannabinoids like delta 9 bind to these receptors.

CBD gummies, capsules, and oils can include other cannabinoids, however. That includes the intoxicating kind—which is why you should read the COA carefully.

Delta 8 THC/CBD blends aren’t uncommon among hemp sellers. While CBD seems to temper the effects of THC and psychotropic cannabinoids, it doesn’t counter the hit entirely. Any product containing THC and HHC always has the potential to get you high, even if CBD has tagged along for the ride—and they will trigger a positive drug test.

Full-spectrum CBD oils might contain trace THC, but it’s rarely enough to intoxicate users.

And with that, we’ll wish you good luck on your venture into CBD. Try not to be overwhelmed by the sheer number of variables and options. After a bit of experimentation, you’re sure to find the regime that fits perfectly into your lifestyle.

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Hayley Heidelbaugh

Vaping since: 3 years

Favorite products:

Favorite flavors: White Wedding, Northern Lights, Platinum Valley, OG Kush

Expertise in: Oil carts, cannabis concentrates, cannabis flower

Hayley Heidelbaugh

I'm a Pennsylvania-based cannabis enthusiast and writer. As a part of the Vaping360 team, I'm eager to help cannabis consumers explore vaping and get the most out of their experience. You can also find me @faeberrystudios on Instagram.

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