Here’s the situation: The tell-tale pulsing behind your eyes tells you that a migraine is coming, and you need to act fast.
Your body aches, and you need some relief.
You can’t sleep because your mind is racing.
So, you reach for CBD oil, or your vape pen, or your edible, and you wait.
The thing is, depending on what you’ve taken and how it was formulated, you might not be getting the CBD dose you need. That means you aren’t feeling the full effects of your CBD product, which is frustrating because — hey, that’s your money, and you want to feel better.
You want a CBD product that works, and you want it to work quickly. So, how can you make it happen? By buying a little smarter, asking the right questions, and potentially having your CBD with a bit of fat to boost its bioavailability. Here’s what you should know.
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What Is Bioavailability?
“Bioavailability” refers to how much of a substance your body absorbs and uses. This concept might seem strange — you would think that your body would use the entire thing you’ve taken. In reality, you lose some of the good stuff when you digest it, whether you’re taking a multivitamin or a dose of CBD.
Think of a vitamin C supplement. The label might say “500mg,” but what your body gets is a lot different. That’s because it has to be metabolized before it’s released to your blood and tissues, and some nutrients get lost during digestion 1. Your body doesn’t read most of the vitamin C you get from the store as “nutrition.” This is because it disrupts your digestive system, so your body sends it out as waste.
The only way to ensure you get 100% of the thing you’re taking is to inject it directly into your bloodstream via an IV, which is both hardcore and impractical.
The question of bioavailability isn’t new. The FDA requires that manufacturers provide evidence of bioavailability if there’s any discrepancy between what the product claims and how much of the drug a person’s body can use 2. This matters because when companies can substantiate their claims, you know you’re getting the dose you want — whether you’re talking about a vitamin or CBD.
What You Should Know About Bioavailability and CBD
The bioavailability of CBD is a new and emerging topic, mostly because it’s a relative newcomer to the mass market. As such, research is still developing, and CBD products aren’t regulated the same way as other drugs or supplements. That’s why you’ll find hemp seed products claiming to contain CBD (they don’t).
The bioavailability of CBD depends on two factors:
- The method you choose to take it, and
- The way the CBD product is formulated.
Depending on your needs, you don’t necessarily need the highest bioavailability all the time. Yes, if you’re paying for CBD, you want to get what you’re paying for. But sometimes, you have to balance that cost against what you want from a CBD product that fits your lifestyle. The most effective way to take CBD (without injecting it into your veins) is by inhaling it. If you don’t like smoking or don’t want to contend with the risks associated with smoking, another method of delivery might work better for you. You can try a liposomal CBD oil or sublingual spray.
Meanwhile, if you need a higher dose of fast-acting CBD, oral forms aren’t going to be effective in the long run. It takes time to digest edibles, which reduces the bioavailability of the final product. You’d have to eat a ton of CBD gummy bears to get the same bioavailability as smoking CBD, which isn’t great on your wallet or your stomach.
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What are the Most Bioavailable Forms of CBD?
Also known as the absorption rate, the bioavailability of CBD is an ongoing area of study. To put it bluntly, there’s still a lot we don’t know about the way CBD interacts with other cannabis plant compounds, let alone the way it behaves in the human body. Here’s what we know so far about how your body absorbs different forms of CBD:
Liposomes: Studies suggest that liposomal delivery is 70% bioavailable. This means that if you have 100mg of CBD, 70mg of that CBD would be absorbed by your body. Compare this to sublingual tinctures, which are about 3-6% bioavailable, meaning you absorb only 3-6mg of the 100mg you take.
- Inhalation: 31% bioavailable, and studies that use intranasal administration (inhaled through the nose) is as high as 46% bioavailable 3. Inhaling or vaping is an efficient way to feel the effects of CBD fast because it quickly passes through your lung tissue into your bloodstream. From there, it’s circulated in your blood until it binds with endocannabinoid receptors.
- Under the tongue: The sublingual gland is located under your tongue. Sublingual CBD is designed to be absorbed by your sublingual gland and into your bloodstream. Research has shown that sublingual CBD works, although bioavailability rates can vary 4. It may be more effective than taking CBD orally, like in a pill or edible 5 6.
- Suppositories: If you’re willing to take things down south, rectally administered CBD is about 13.5% bioavailable, which is higher than what you’d get from oral CBD 7 8.
- Orally: As low as 6% bioavailability 9. Oral CBD includes food, drinks, and pills. Unlike other methods, orally-administered CBD takes a pit stop in your digestive system before it can be introduced to the bloodstream. Some CBD is lost along the way, and it takes longer to feel the effects because you have to wait for your body to break it down. This means oral CBD isn’t the best choice if you want fast relief.
- Topically: CBD creams are an effective way to help manage pain 10. It isn’t clear how bioavailable CBD is when it’s applied topically. However, at least one study has found that it penetrates the tissue more effectively than THC 11, In a rodent study, transdermal CBD patches were also shown to provide pain relief 12.
Alright. You have your favorite form of CBD, and you understand how bioavailability can vary. How else can you make sure you’re getting what you paid for? That’s where fat molecules called liposomes can make a big difference.
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Why CBD Loves Fat (and You Should, Too)
If you’ve ever tried to combine oil and water, you already know they don’t mix. Think of salad dressing — when you combine olive oil and vinegar, they repel each other and form distinct globs. The same concept applies to the way a lot of different compounds behave in the human body, including CBD, because your bloodstream and cells are composed of mostly water.
Think back to that salad dressing. When you shake it up, the oil and vinegar combine into creamy emulsification. That’s because the fat molecules are binding to the water molecules and working together. In your body, CBD needs a little help to reach the bloodstream as efficiently and effectively as possible. Liposomes can help.
What are Liposomes?
The name “liposome” comes from two Greek words: “lipos,” meaning fat, and “soma,” meaning body. On the cellular level, liposomes are phospholipid molecules that contain at least one layer of fat. In medicine, liposomes are delivery systems that are used to help transport nutrients and pharmaceutical drugs. They’re like truck drivers, helping the good stuff get where it needs to go.
Here’s where CBD comes in. CBD is a lipophilic molecule, which means it’s attracted to fat 13. Some researchers actually advise administering CBD orally with food for better absorption 14. The problem is that food has to be digested. When CBD has to take a pitstop in your digestive tract, it’s degraded by digestive enzymes. It’s like passengers getting left behind before they reach the final destination.
Liposomal delivery is different, and you’re probably going to see more CBD products using this technology soon. There’s evidence that liposomal delivery for CBD boosts bioavailability on a molecular level 15. That’s because liposomal delivery changes the way CBD molecules enter your bloodstream. The liposomes encapsulate the CBD molecules and carry them to your bloodstream faster (like the buddy system). They increase the amount of active chemical compounds that reach your blood 16.
The Bottom Line About Bioavailability
Not all CBD products are created equal. If you’ve tried CBD in the past and didn’t get the results you wanted, you might not have gotten the correct dose. The other sticking point is that everyone responds to CBD (and THC) a little differently because of the way these molecules interact with your body’s endocannabinoid system. Because of these variables, you can and should experiment with different forms and doses of CBD until you find what works for you. Start with a small dose and work your way up.
Whether you’re using vape pens, joints, oils, edibles, or other forms of CBD, there’s a whole wide world of relief and relaxation ahead of you. Take it one step at a time.
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