Bioavailability at a Glance: Getting to know your CBD

When it comes to cannabidiol (CBD), understanding what you’re getting is critical. But knowing how a product will interact with your body is not always as simple as it seems. CBD is not one-size-fits-all, and different products affect people in different ways, depending on the dosage, the person, and how it’s ingested. And at the heart of the matter is something called bioavailability. It’s possible this term sounds familiar, but let’s talk about what it means for CBD, and how it may impact you.

Bioavailability has been defined as the proportion of a drug or other substance that enters the circulation when introduced into the body and so is able to have an active effect. In other words, the bioavailability tells you how much of a substance actually gets where it’s supposed to go, and how quickly. For CBD, the goal is to become accessible to the endocannabinoid system—the network of receptors throughout the body that make CBD work and help keep the body operating smoothly. The endocannabinoid system uses the CBD molecules, kicking the therapeutic benefits into gear. But first the CBD has to enter the bloodstream. This is where bioavailability becomes critical. 

Think of it like an obstacle course. If your team has to dodge a bunch of really tough barriers, you might get knocked out along the way. But if you can find another route and bypass the obstacles, its smooth sailing to the finish line. In essence, the bioavailability level marks the substance’s innate qualities as well as the obstacles in its path. 

If you ingest something with low bioavailability, for example, only a little bit of it will get into your bloodstream to be used by those receptors, and the rest will be processed and eliminated. Substances with high bioavailability, on the other hand, get much more contact. At its most basic, bioavailability boils down to efficiency, potency, and effect. 

As Raisa Tolchinsky writes in The Alchemist’s Kitchen, “This is important because the more bioavailable a CBD product is, the lower the dosage you need to produce the desired effect (reduction of pain, inflammation, or anxiety, for example).”

For example, some of the CBD products on the market have such low bioavailability that they might as well have no CBD at all. If it never enters your bloodstream, then you may miss many of the benefits. And while each substance has its own baseline level of bioavailability, that level has a range in which it can vary widely depending on the form in which you administer it. Ultimately, the form is what determines how the CBD gets inputted, distributed, and processed in your body—and not all methods are equal. To make smart decisions about dosage and method, you need to know what the options are, and how they work. 

So let’s get started. 

There are many ways to ingest CBD, each with their own perks and limitations. We want to help you make a choice that works for your unique routine, body, and needs. Let’s walk through three popular options together.

Oral: A common way to take CBD, infused gummy bears, baked goods, lattes, or capsules can be a simple, easy, and versatile option. The catch, though, is low bioavailability. Our bodies are great at processing the substances we eat, meaning that by the time your digestive system gets done filtering the product, less of the CBD is left to do its job. This is part of what’s known as the “first-pass effect,” when the chemical compounds are broken down into components. 

This is also where Kaleidoscope comes in. We wanted to maintain the ease of taking a pill, while boosting bioavailability. We attempt to moderate the first pass via a process known as microencapsulation. We’ll dive deeper into microencapsulation here, but the idea is that a CBD capsule is packaged inside another capsule like nesting dolls, slowing the break-down, and allowing for more CBD to get into your bloodstream. Capsules can also provide a more accurate dosage with easy consumption that fits neatly into your jam-packed day. And, since CBD can have what’s known as a “compounding effect,” the results build up over time. The impact of the CBD may also be altered by the type of food or drink with which you consume it.

Sublingual: Some CBD products are designed to be absorbed by placing them under your tongue, where the mucus membranes take in the CBD, and the sublingual gland provides a direct path to the bloodstream. Though the enzymes in saliva will begin breaking down the substance, it won’t be as corrosive as going through the entire digestive system. 

Smoking: Via vaporizers or joints, smoking may enable a high rate of bioavailability because you inhale the CBD directly into your lungs. Your lungs have a large surface area and alveoli which absorb the molecule quickly. This can be a good option for people who are looking for more immediate effects—though the impact may vary depending on how deeply you inhale, and for how long, as well as the temperature of the vaporizer. While smoking provides a faster reaction, its effect may be less lasting than that of a sublingual.

There are other ways to take CBD, too, such as intravenously, which has high bioavailability, but can be painful and difficult. Most topical options, in contrast, are easy to use but generally have low bioavailability because our skin is great at filtering out substances. Topical options, therefore, are more likely to provide localized relief to specific parts of your body than a full-body effect. 

When you’re making a choice for your CBD products, you should be sure to consider bioavailability, but it is by no means the only factor—it must be balanced alongside safety, cost, consistency, ease-of-use, and, of course, quality. 

Bodies operate through a nuanced and complicated system of interactions—and taking CBD is no different. There are always many elements to think about—and many more scientific studies to be conducted—but understanding some of the processes can help you start to make informed decisions and find the routine that works for you. 

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