CBD oil is one of the most common ways to consume CBD; a handy, convenient oil you can drop directly into your mouth for a range of natural health benefits. Other than the signature unpleasant taste, though, what’s not to like?
Well, it’s not quite as simple as it might seem. It turns out there could be some issue with the efficacy of the CBD oil when it’s ingested and passed through the digestive system.
This is because there are some interesting things going on in the stomach that actually appear to work against CBD’s ability to be broken down by the body. In fact, both the digestive tract and the processes behind metabolizing a drug into the body seem to be working against the efficacy of CBD oil.
So, is the digestive system the absolute worst when it comes to CBD oil? Does swallowing CBD oil rather than taking it sublingually make it not worth it? Let’s try and get to the bottom of all this.
Why Do We Ingest CBD Oil Orally?
CBD oil, as well as CBD in general, is quickly becoming known as a safe and natural useful medicine, used to help treat a variety of different conditions. CBD oil works because CBD, the cannabinoid extract that originates from the cannabis plant, interacts with something called the endocannabinoid system.
The ECS exists throughout the body of all mammals, and is triggered by cannabinoids. We actually produce our own cannabinoids to help trigger the system, but they can also be stimulated using cannabis.
The ECS affects a huge number of different health systems within the body, primarily through its two main receptors. These two receptors, CB1 and CB2, affect the body in different ways due to their primary locations in the body.
For example, the CB1 receptors are located mostly in the brain and central nervous system. This means that, when the CB1 receptors are triggered through exposure to cannabinoids, they affect the brain chemicals and affect things such as your ability to feel pain.
The CB2 receptors, however, are spread throughout the body more generally, allowing them to affect a larger variety of different functions.
CBD is only one of the hundreds of cannabinoids within cannabis, but it is perhaps one of the best at helping the human body. This is because of the unique way in which it interacts with the CB receptors.
Instead of interacting with the receptors through direct attachment, like what happens with THC (the more well-known psychoactive cannabinoid), CBD triggers the receptors more gradually and calmly. This allows it to affect the ECS in a slower manner, allowing it encourage the body’s natural healing ability more evenly.
However, when consuming CBD through the digestive system, such as when you take CBD oil in edibles, there is the risk of a reduction in CBD effectiveness. Why does this happen?
Why CBD Doesn’t Get Absorbed Properly in the Digestive System
When you ingest CBD oil, it is digested by the stomach and digestive tract, the same way in which and water is digested. The possible reduction of efficiency might be a bit confusing, but there’s a pretty good comparison to help understand it.
Have you ever tried to mix oil and water together for whatever reason? If you have, you’ll have noticed that they don’t exactly mix well together. Oil and water’s inability to mix together is well-known, but what actually causes this?
Oil – of any type, such as the kinds used to make CBD oil – are composed of lipids. Lipids are what we normally know as fat, but are actually a distinct type of molecule formation. Lipid molecules are generally two-sided in shape. Each end of the lipid molecule has a sort of connection port, allowing it to work with other molecules of the same type.
In other words, each lipid molecule has two connections that allow it to connect with other lipid molecules, forming a bond. This also means that lipid molecules cannot form bonds with non-lipids and water based molecules can’t bond with lipid-based molecules, simply due to their structural formation.
The actual reason this happens is because of different electron states; water molecules have both a positive and negative electron charge on their ends, whereas lipids have essentially no charge whatsoever. This makes it very difficult for water and lipid molecules to bind together. In the same exact same way that oil and water can’t mix together, lipids and water have trouble working together.
This is the reason why CBD oil can have trouble integrating itself into the digestive system. The digestive system works through water, allowing food and other products to be entered into the rest of the digestive tract. Due to its reliance on a water-based system, lipids have trouble being completely integrated by the body.
In a study conducted by Welty et al., entitled “Cannabidiol: Promise and Pitfalls,” researchers looked into the potential benefits of CBD and some of the pitfalls of its use in treating human conditions. When looking at CBD’s ability to be adapted into the body, researchers noted that, while CBD is well tolerated in amounts up to 600 mg, its oral input has a bioavailability of only 6%.
This means that, when ingested, CBD has a much-reduced efficacy with being taken in by the body. This is because it is chiefly metabolized by CYP3A4, one of the enzymes that helps metabolize many different medicines. Most interestingly, this enzyme is the reason why you should avoid grapefruit when taking antibiotics or other body altering drugs, as those substances can limit CYP3A4’s ability to work, preventing the breakdown of medicines and causing a much larger amount to be broken down at a later time.
This enzyme’s difficulty with breaking down CBD oil, coupled with the reduction in efficacy with oral consumption, makes taking CBD orally a much-reduced prospect. Luckily, the doses we take orally tend to be higher than we actually need, allowing you the ability to compensate for this loss.
That being said, there must be something else we can do to help combat this.
What Can We Do About CBD’s Low Bioavailability in the Digestive System?
CBD oil is an incredibly important medicine for a lot of different people. Without the ability to reliably medicate themselves, many people might find themselves with an ineffective solution to their condition. To combat this, researchers have developed something called CBD liposomes.
Liposomes are a special type of molecule that have two different “ends” to their structure. Whereas lipids have two ends that can only bond with other lipid molecules, liposomes possess one of each – a lipid and a water bonding end. The water bonding end – referred to as “hydrophilic” – has a positive charge, whereas the lipid end has no charge.
This allows them to act as a sort of bridge between lipid molecule structures and water molecular structures; almost like a battery with attached connector ports. CBD liposomes have their CBD extract suspended within a liposome solution, rather than an oil solution – or in the case of CBD tinctures, an alcohol solution.
Liposomes provide a way to fight against the reduced bioavailability of CBD oil by allowing CBD to be absorbed and broken down properly, making it available for use in the endocannabinoid system. If you’d prefer to stick to just CBD oil, there are drugs you can take that can slow down the CYP3A4 enzyme’s ability to break down and metabolize CBD.
Generally, these drugs are taken in combination with your CBD, allowing the CBD to be broken down more intensely and in a more concentrated form so that your body can take advantage of increased bioavailability. Commonly, however, doctors will recommend that you just eat grapefruit. Grapefruit’s ability to slow down this enzyme means that it does basically the same thing.
Still, it’s important to stop this if you’re taking any other kind of medication. Grapefruit’s ability to slow the enzyme down applies to all other drugs as well, so if you are taking other drugs in conjunction with CBD, you risk exposing yourself to an overwhelming dose of the drug you’re taking.
Moreover, as the enzyme recovers from its grapefruit effects, it will then try to break down all of the drugs present at once in the liver, meaning you might have taken an additional dose in the meantime. It is a rather “homebrewed” solution, but if you’re looking to increase bioavailability, it is certainly an option.
Otherwise, just increase your CBD dose!
Final Thoughts on CBD and the Digestive System
The recent rise in popularity of CBD oil is of course due to its perceived medicinal benefits, but it is indeed true that the digestive system – thanks to its water-based processes – can decrease the overall effectiveness of CBD oil.
To combat this, you can take CBD liposomes, which allow you to take CBD in a substance that is more easily absorbable into the digestive tract. However, this might not be 100% necessary; though the bioavailability of CBD is only 6% when taken orally, most doses of CBD oil are calculated to be higher than necessary in order to allow a “safety gap” for the loss in bioavailability.
If you’re really concerned about the loss of CBD oil in digestion, though, consider CBD liposomes as an alternative.
If you don’t really mind, though, and don’t need an excessively large dose, any CBD oil is likely going to be just fine for what you need.
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