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Bioavailability: What is it, and what does it mean for cannabis consumption?

CBD bioavailability is one of the biggest concerns for the CBD community.

The more we learn about CBD extracts, the more we see that they are not created equal. Having such a wide range of options when it comes to ingesting cannabis for the purpose of healing, wellness, and self-improvement is wonderful, but it’s important to have an understanding of how each product is interacting with our bodies so we have a better chance of achieving the desired results. Let’s take a look at bioavailability and what it means for your CBD choices.

What is bioavailability?

In the simplest of terms, bioavailability is the level to which a substance enters the body’s circulatory system and thereby produces an active effect. Depending on the ingestion method, you could take two 10mg doses (for example) of CBD extract in different forms and have a higher percentage of CBD reach your bloodstream (and take effect) with one over the other. 

Keeping that in mind, let’s compare the ingestion methods and their known bioavailability, based on a rough average of recent scientific studies.

Sublingual Ingestion: Tinctures, Drops, Sprays, and Strips

When a substance is administered to the sublingual gland, it gets absorbed directly into the bloodstream. This method quickly impacts the body (in 15-30 minutes for most) and is only slightly broken down by saliva enzymes. Sublingual consumption avoids the “first-pass” effect that takes place in the liver during digestion, and has a bioavailability rating of up to 35%.

Inhaling: Flower, Inhalers, Vape Cartridges & Pens, E-Liquids, and Pre-Rolls

Through this method, active compounds quickly and directly enter the bloodstream via the lungs in about 30 seconds. Studies point to a bioavailability rate of up to 56%, much higher than other methods. A lot of vape liquids contain a solvent called propylene glycol, which can turn into formaldehyde at high temperatures, and smoking organic matter such as plant flowers comes with some potential negative health impacts on the respiratory system with continued usage over time, so consider those risks when comparing options. In addition to hemp flower, we carry CBD inhalers that are a great alternative to other inhalation products and make it easy to achieve consistent dosing with every use. 

Oral Consumption: Edibles, Capsules, and Beverages

Due to passing through the body’s metabolic and digestive systems, studies have shown that anywhere from 80%-95% of the dosage of CBD will never reach your bloodstream when consumed orally. This puts the bioavailability of these products at or below 20%, but that shouldn’t disqualify them as an option to consider. Edibles such as CBD gummies usually offer doses anywhere from 10-25mg per piece, so many people with mild to moderate needs have reported relief through these quick, tasty formulations. Gel capsules are also worth a look, especially since they come in a wide range of dosages and are a top-pick for anyone traveling a lot or who lives a busy, active lifestyle. 

Transdermal: Patches, Creams, and Balms 

Believe it or not, you can apply CBD topically (on the skin) and still have it reach the bloodstream, but only if using a transdermal product. While topicals (commonly labeled as “salves”) act locally and only affect the top few layers of skin and tissue, transdermal products include permeability enhancers or emulsifiers to penetrate deep enough to reach the bloodstream. The bioavailability of transdermal CBD is estimated to be around 45% and is released into the bloodstream over a longer period of time than most other methods. 

Suppositories

While a very efficient method of consuming CBD (estimated to have around 70% bioavailability), this is a method rarely chosen by people without a serious medical need. We currently do not carry CBD suppositories, but they exist on the market and are commonly taken rectally or vaginally.

What this means for you

Personal preference is important (for instance, smoking hemp flower may not be appealing to a lot of people), so it isn’t wise to dub any one ingestion method the “best” compared to the others, but knowing the bioavailability of the product on the shelf or in your cabinet can be helpful when adjusting dosage or trying something new. 

It should also be noted that the type of extract used in each product can have an impact on its overall benefits, so bioavailability is not the only factor to consider. There is also emerging science that indicates the benefits of water-soluble CBD for enhanced absorption, though more research is needed to paint a clearer picture, and we carry a few water soluble CBD products worth a try including Original Hemp tinctures, Softgels with Curcumin by Joy Organics and Relief Capsules by Vital Leaf.

Of course, our team is always happy to offer guidance, provide recommendations, and answer more detailed questions on everything we carry to help give you the best experience possible.