Bioavailability & Consumption Methods – What’s Right For You?
The Human Side of Cannabis
September 30, 2017
When starting the conversation about consumption, it’s important to discuss bioavailability and what that means when putting drugs into your body. By definition, bioavailability means, “the proportions of a drug or substance that enters circulation when introduced into the body and so is able to have an active effect.”[Google Dictionary] When a drug enters your system, depending on how it enters, it will be processed and eventually end up in your bloodstream. Drugs can enter your system in many ways, but with concern to cannabis, they are either inhaled, ingested, or applied to the skin. Each of these methods differs in the amount of bioavailability they offer and that has a direct effect on how these products are going to affect different ailments and conditions.
We have come a long way in a very short amount of time when it comes to the science behind cannabis. A few short years ago you either smoked it, or made brownies, and those were the consumption methods. Six years after legalization, we have many different cannabis consumption methods available as we covered in Exploring Cannabis Products. Consumers can smoke, vape, ingest, or use cannabis topically to alleviate whatever is ailing them. With so many different products offering different kinds of relief, it can be difficult to know which consumption method is going to work best for you. We have put together this guide to help you understand how cannabis works in your body, and how to use it.
Inhalation: Smoking and Vaping
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Traditionally, the most popular way to consume cannabis is through smoking. People have been smoking cannabis for thousands of years to reap its medical benefits. In recent years, vaporizing has become a much more popular alternative to smoking. While both are very effective ways to consume cannabis, vaporizing is less harsh on your lungs and contains substantially fewer chemicals than smoke. Inhaling a drug into your lungs is one of the most efficient and effective ways to consume.
“Numerous medical studies have shown the bioavailability of cannabinoids through inhalation ranging from 34% – 56%.”[ Huestis] This means about one third, to one-half of the cannabinoids you are breathing in is getting into your bloodstream. Since inhalation has the quickest onset time, smoking or vaping cannabis is a method to use for quick and effective relief. Inhaling cannabis is best used to combat pain, or medical conditions like multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, insomnia as well as anxiety. While inhaling cannabis is a quick and effective delivery method, the effect wears off after a couple of hours and the consumer will need to re-dose in order to maintain their same level of relief. PAX devices are our preferred way to inhale cannabis, offer flower vaporizers (PAX 2 and PAX 3) as well as the PAX Era and PAX Era Pro with corresponding concentrate pods.
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Oral consumption of cannabinoids is a great way to consume for those looking for an alternative to inhalation, but the bioavailability of the cannabinoids ingested is much lower. When cannabinoids enter your digestive system they begin to be broken down immediately by your stomach acid. Stomach acid is very corrosive, so the estimated bioavailability of cannabinoids that are ingested is “only between 4% and 12%.”[Huestis] This is very low compared to inhalation. This very small amount of bioavailability through oral consumption can create issues when trying to medicate with cannabis, as it can be hard to know exactly how much you will need in order to get the effect you desire. Companies like 1906and Stillwater saw this issue, and have formulated products that help increase the bioavailability of ingested cannabinoids. Using nano-encapsulation technology, 1906 and Stillwater Brand products are faster acting and have more consistent dosing and effect. Lexaria, the product that 1906 uses to encapsulate their cannabinoid formulations, states on their website that their product can increase the bioavailability of ingestible products by 5 to 10 times the normal rate. This technology is making edibles an even better alternative to inhaled products as the consistency of the dose is more accurate, and the activation time is a fraction of a traditional edible.
Edibles tend to have a heavier effect than smoking due to the process your body uses when breaking down THC. When THC has processed through your liver the chemical makeup changes from delta9-THC to 11Hydroxy-THC. 11Hydroxy-THC has a much stronger psychoactive effect than delta9-THC and also has a longer half-life. Having a longer half-life means it takes longer for your body to break down, which increases the duration of the high. With this being the case, edibles are an excellent product line for anyone suffering from chronic pain or insomnia. The more powerful high helps to take away pain and inflammation and can create a sedating effect. Also, the longer duration of the high means the consumer needs to dose less frequently.
Ingesting cannabinoids sublingually, through the mucosal membrane of the mouth, has been proven to have increased bioavailability over a traditional edible digested through the stomach. Sublingual’s in the form of lozenges, beverages, and tinctures have a bioavailability of 12%-35%, with an onset of 20-60 minutes, and a duration of 4 to 8 hours. Iovia‘s Precision Dosed Tinctures come in various ratios of CBD and THC and is a great application to medicate yourself throughout the day to combat anxiety and pain.
Topical and Transdermal Products
Topical and transdermal products have shown to have efficacy in aiding in many different medical ailments that humans face. Topical and transdermal products are both applied to the skin but work in different ways. Topical products (with no transdermal driver), like a lotion or a salve, carry the cannabinoids into the first couple layers of the skin. There is little evidence to support that cannabinoids with a topical application penetrate the skin deep enough to reach the bloodstream. This means there is no bioavailability of cannabinoids through a traditional topical method. Although this may be true, there is evidence to support that cannabinoids, specifically CBD, applied to the skin can help clear up skin conditions like psoriasis, eczema, and acne.
Transdermal applications carry the cannabinoids deeper into the skin and into the bloodstream. “Although comparable to oral-dosage forms in terms of efficacy, transdermals provide numerous advantages. Transdermal administration avoids the first-pass metabolism effect that is associated with the oral route and thus improves drug bioavailability. The bioavailability of a transdermal topical is similar to sublingual application with the bioavailability being between 12% and 35%, with an onset of 20-60 minutes, and a duration of 4 to 8 hours. Furthermore, transdermal administration allows a steady infusion of a drug to be delivered over a prolonged period of time, while also minimizing the adverse effects of higher drug peak concentrations”(Bruni). Due to this, transdermal applications are excellent for those looking to combat pain or anxiety over the course of the day. Transdermal applications with cannabinoid ratios like Iovia transdermal creams provide spot specific and systemic relief. Transdermal applications are the right choice for those looking for all-day, or night, relief. The delivery system is easy, effective, and discrete and doesn’t require any type of inhalation or ingestion of cannabis. We will see more products coming to market in the future using this application method.
The medical applications of cannabis are vast, and yet we are just beginning to scratch the surface of the science surrounding this incredible plant. In the last six years, we have gone from smoking or eating cannabis to having multiple ways to consume. As we move forward cannabis will continue to evolve and change. We look forward to seeing how science will be applied to create even more creative and effective ways to use this plant. If you are currently using cannabis medically, try out some of the different delivery methods that we discussed in this article. You might find that a new way to consume is just what you needed to find the relief you are seeking.
Paudel, Kalpana S, et al. “Cannabidiol Bioavailability after Nasal and Transdermal Application: Effect of Permeation Enhancers.” Drug Development and Industrial Pharmacy, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Sept. 2010, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20545522.
Bruni, Natascia, et al. “Cannabinoid Delivery Systems for Pain and Inflammation Treatment.” Molecules (Basel, Switzerland), MDPI, 27 Sept. 2018, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6222489/.