You’ve probably seen companies offering both CBD capsules and softgels. Despite what you may think, these are not the same.
To provide a quick answer: the difference is that CBD capsules have a hard outer shell and contain dry ingredients, whereas softgels have a soft shell and contain liquid (or more accurately, oil) ingredients. This has an impact on the effectiveness of the CBD found inside.
Read on for a complete explanation of how CBD capsules and softgels differ and which one is best for you.
Table of Contents
What are CBD Capsules?
Cannabidiol (CBD) capsules have a solid shell made out of gelatin (an animal product) or cellulose (a vegan-friendly, plant product). This shell is made of two overlapping pieces that encapsulate the dry, powdered CBD.
CBD capsules provide an exact dose of CBD and can be made with one of three types of CBD extract: pure CBD (isolate), full-spectrum, and broad-spectrum CBD.
What are CBD Softgels?
At first glance, CBD softgels are not much different from capsules. Their shell is soft rather than hard but is made out of the same materials: gelatin or plant cellulose.
However, CBD softgels contain liquid rather than dry ingredients. For this reason, they can contain carrier oils — plant oils that help your body absorb CBD. Carrier oils are included in all CBD oil tinctures and softgels because CBD is a fat-soluble compound that doesn’t mix with water, so it’s difficult for our bodies to absorb (1).
The most common carrier oil used in CBD products is coconut-derived MCT oil, but virtually any plant oil (olive, hemp seed, grape seed, etc.) can work just as well.
CBD Capsules vs Softgels: The Similarities
CBD capsules and softgels are similar in many ways. First and foremost, they can both contain one of three types of CBD extract:
- CBD Isolate: a solid, crystallized powder made of >99% pure CBD
- Full-spectrum CBD: a whole-plant extract containing CBD and all other cannabinoids (including <0.3% THC), terpenes, fatty acids, and various beneficial compounds naturally present in hemp
- Broad-spectrum CBD: the same as full-spectrum, but with THC completely removed
Although CBD isolate can provide many health benefits, it’s less effective than full-spectrum and broad-spectrum CBD extracts.
That’s because all of the natural components of these whole-plant preparations — cannabinoids, terpenes, and more — work together in synergy.
Researchers even gave this phenomenon a name: the “entourage effect” (2). This effect explains why full-spectrum cannabis products are stronger than those made with CBD isolate.
Both capsules and softgels are also made with the same shell ingredients, look similar, lack flavor, and are taken in the same way. They also start working after a similar period of time.
After you swallow a capsule or softgel, it can take anywhere from 30 minutes to over an hour to be felt, because it takes that long for the CBD to pass through the digestive system and the liver before it can enter the bloodstream. This also means it will take longer depending on when and how much you ate.
CBD Capsules vs Softgels: The Differences
The key difference is that softgels contain a carrier oil to dissolve the CBD, making it easier for the body to absorb. For this reason, softgels tend to be more effective than capsules.
Also, it’s more common for softgels to contain full or broad-spectrum CBD instead of pure CBD isolate because these extractions come in an oil-based form. While it’s possible to formulate full-spectrum hemp capsules as well, it’s not as easy as with softgels.
Another difference is that softgels have a longer shelf-life than capsules because they’re completely enclosed and air-tight.
Which One Should You Choose?
Both CBD capsules and softgels can provide you with all the health benefits of CBD. However, softgels will tend to be slightly more effective because of the addition of a carrier oil.
Whatever you choose, we highly recommend buying a full-spectrum CBD product. These whole-plant hemp preparations will provide greater benefits than those made with CBD isolate.
As one final tip, if you want to confirm that you’re buying a full-spectrum product, read the product description and look for words like “full-spectrum” or “whole-plant.”
It’s even better if you look at the company’s third-party lab test documents and check for the presence of multiple cannabinoids aside from CBD.
So there you have it, that’s the difference between CBD softgels and capsules. Hopefully, you found this article useful. If you have any questions or feedback, please share below!
- Russo, Ethan B. “The case for the entourage effect and conventional breeding of clinical cannabis: no “strain,” no gain.” Frontiers in plant science 9 (2019): 1969.
- Zgair, Atheer, et al. “Dietary fats and pharmaceutical lipid excipients increase systemic exposure to orally administered cannabis and cannabis-based medicines.” American journal of translational research 8.8 (2016): 3448.
Gleb is a freelance writer from Vancouver, Canada specializing in CBD and cannabis. He’s read thousands of research studies on CBD and other supplements, helping him translate complex science into plain language. Gleb has tried and reviewed dozens of CBD brands and products, written third-party testing reports, and knows the CBD industry inside and out. When not writing, he likes to spend his time in the gym and out in nature.