How Does Your Body Absorb CBD?

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The concept of bioavailability isn’t as confusing as it sounds

Put simply—bioavailability is the rate at (and extent to) which active ingredients reach their target area in the body. The faster compounds are absorbed by the body, the quicker the effects take place, making bioavailability a key consideration when taking CBD.

To understand how bioavailability varies from product to product, it helps to establish a baseline. An intravenous dose of CBD is the only way to achieve 100% bioavailability (almost instant and all active compounds reach their target area). However, it is never advised, nor practical to administer CBD directly into the bloodstream. Instead, the cannabinoid is taken in a wide variety of other ways.

So far, CBD can be found in topicals, capsules, tinctures, edibles, vape liquids, suppositories, and nasal sprays. However, alongside the differences in their benefits, each product will also have a significantly different bioavailability.

The way you consume CBD affects its bioavailability

If you think about your commute to work, most people always try and take the most direct route. Not only is it the fastest, but it means you can get to work feeling more refreshed. An intravenous dose of CBD is the quickest route to work—no diversions or traffic, just a clear run. However, for every set of traffic lights, roadwork, or diversions introduced, your journey takes longer and longer.

The same principle applies to bioavailability. For every obstacle introduced (digestive enzymes, stomach acid, rate of metabolism) the rate at, and therefore extent to, which CBD reaches our bloodstream is compromised. It won’t always be suitable for every CBD user to experience the quickest rate of absorption. The right product for you will depend on your needs, your body, and what you want to achieve with CBD. But, it does help to become familiar with the bioavailability of different administration methods so you can be informed on all factors at play.

Popular methods of consumption and their bioavailability

Oral consumption is arguably the most popular method of consumption. However, it also has one of the lowest rates of bioavailability—just 6–13%. If you do want to improve the uptake and potency of CBD, you can try putting oils or tinctures under your tongue. Rather than having to contend with our digestive system, sublingual application bypasses these obstacles by entering small capillaries underneath the tongue. Expect sublingual administration to have much higher bioavailability—approximately 40–50%.

There are also topicals and vape liquids to consider. Unfortunately, much like oral and sublingual consumption, the exact rates of bioavailability are only estimated. Topicals are believed to have a lower absorption rate than oral consumption, but vape liquids could be as high as 80% bioavailability. Thankfully, to support the approximate rates of absorption, research into the exact bioavailability of different administration methods is ongoing.

The future of CBD and bioavailability

Leaving conventional administration methods to the side for a minute, researchers are currently working on some exciting developments that could revolutionise bioavailability. Nanoemulsion is a technique being used (experimentally) to improve the water-solubility of CBD. Normally, CBD is lipophilic (dissolves in fats) and hydrophobic (repels water). This characteristic makes it difficult for the human body to absorb CBD easily.

Nanoemulsion aims to circumvent this issue by making CBD water-soluble and transforming the cannabinoid into nano-sized particles. A nanoparticle is so small that it can be absorbed directly by cells, without having to be broken down by the liver first. To give you an idea of just how small nanoparticles are, a typical CBD particle is 2,000 nanometers. Nanoemulsion may be able to reduce this figure down to as low as 60–80 nanometers—allowing cells to easily absorb CBD particles, and drastically altering the compound's bioavailability.

Although bioavailability is a crucial consideration, it is not the only factor when deciding on a CBD product. With so many methods available (and more on the horizon), it is essential to find what works for you and your body. And if you are not happy with the effects of a particular product, there are plenty of others to choose from!

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