One fascinating fact about Cannabis is that our human bodies (similarly to the bodies of many other animals) actually generate their own cannabinoids. These are similar in molecular structure to the cannabinoids in Cannabis. Because of this similarity, the Cannabis cannabinoids key into our body’s endocannabinoid system very well. Receptors in the human brain and in many other areas of the body, called “Endocannabinoids” , allow the cannabinoid compounds, including THC and CBD, to actually work with the body’s own endocannabinoid system. Moreover, the cannabinoids, terpenes and around 400 trace elements in whole plant Cannabis, when administered together, create a strong entourage effect. That is; they work synergistically so that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. As Dr John McPartland put it: “Synergy arises from interactions between its (Cannabis’) multiple components”.

We are probably familiar with the endorphines produced by the body after aerobic exercise, for example. These endorphines lessen the sensation of pain and reduce anxiety, inducing a feeling of relaxation, increased mental clarity and mood enhancement. However, in order to maximise the benefits of any drug or nutrient it is important to optimise its bioavailability. In other words, to get that substance into the bloodstream and tissues with minimal wastage is the goal. Wastage commonly occurs when a substance has to make a pit stop in the liver before travelling out of the body through the intestines. The way in which a drug or nutrient is ingested can cause considerable variations in the intensity and experience of its effects as well as the length of time it stays in body tissues. A drug or nutrient may be administered orally or intravenously, through the nasal passages or through the rectum. Even through the ears, recalling the method in which Hamlet’s father was poisoned by the wicked Claudius according to Shakespeare! Some preparations may even be absorbed through the skin. In fact, some CBD products are absorbed on or through the skin, but more on that subject later.

An issue that certain companies selling CBD have recently raised is that the carrier oil used by many companies, commonly olive oil, is not very compatible with the body’s absorption process. The problem is that our cells are 90% water (our brains are actually 80% and our blood 85% water) and oil and water do not mix. Due to this fact, some companies selling CBD online have estimated that only 10% of CBD in oil carriers actually gets absorbed if administered orally. That is, when it is ingested through swallowing. On the other hand, one site selling a new water based CBD preparation states that water soluble drugs can pass through the system almost instantly and are quickly absorbed into the cells and tissues of the body with minimum wastage. The advantages of this appear to be great, because obviously if this claim is correct a little CBD at a weaker percentage would go much further and be far more economical to buy!

However, can everything that is claimed actually be true? The same site goes on to say that oil based drugs and molecules get stored in fats where they can potentially reach toxic levels in the body causing unwanted side-effects. As this was stated in the context of oil-based CBD, I would be strongly inclined to question the tactics here. CBD is non toxic, even in high doses, as is well-known. Furthermore, the very fact that a substance is stored in the body for longer if metabolized through an oil-based solution would surely be an advantage if that substance was supposed to be doing one good. The article goes on to say that because of the degree of wastage, some companies have used liposomes, detergents or solvents in their products and have added these to capsules so that the molecules could be better absorbed. Fear sells! Are companies really selling CBD today using such methods? I sincerely hope not!

Regrettably, I did not find much empirical evidence comparing the relative performance and bioavailability of oil based versus water based CBD as it does not currently exist. The scientific investigation of Cannabis and its components is still very much in its infancy. However, in this article I would like to explore some of the claims about oil based versus water soluble CBD to the best of my knowledge and ability. But first, what is water soluble CBD and how is it manufactured?

Within the last year or so, water soluble CBD has became available on the general market. The methods employed by one company to manufacture soluble CBD involve curcumin in the process. Curcumin is the natural substance that gives Turmeric its orangy yellow colour. The method describes encasing a molecule or compound inside a molecule of curcumin and building a hybrid molecule that makes an otherwise insoluble formulation into a water soluble powder. Once ingested, nano-sized particles can then quickly travel through the bloodstream and into cells throughout the body.

Another way some companies have claimed to improve the bioavailability of CBD is to use MCT oil as a carrier. MCT or Medium Chain Triglycerides are normally sourced from coconut oil. The benefit of MCT oils is that they are quickly absorbed into the bloodstream so the body has less work breaking apart carbon bonds. Thus they are used for energy that is burned up rather than stored as fat. They are useful as a sports energy food for this reason. The shorter chains mean that they can permeate cell membranes more easily and do not require special enzymes in order for the body to utilise them. The theory is that the molecules of MCT in coconut oil bind onto the CBD molecules and transport it more efficiently into the bloodstream. However, it may be worth mentioning here that not all MCT oil is created equal. Some oils sold as MCT oil are mainly comprised of Lauric Acid, which is the main component of coconut oil, about 55% in fact. Although a very useful nutrient, Lauric Acid would not actually be any more useful in the absorption of CBD than olive oil. Why? Although Lauric Acid chemically qualifies as an MCT because of the number of its molecules, biochemically it is not metabolized in the same way as true MCT. It is metabolized much in the same way as long chain fatty acids, such as the Amino 3s, slowly and with more stages to the bloodstream. In fact Coconut oil is not actually a great source of true MCT. There are actually only three:

• C6, Caproic acid, which has a bitter taste and makes the throat feel raw temporarily so it is normally taken out of MCT oil preparations for this reason.

• C8, Caprylic Acid, which is only 6% of coconut oil and is fastest to metabolize in the brain

• C10, Capric Acid, which is only 9% of coconut oil.

Interestingly, these “Capra” fatty acids are found most abundantly in goats milk, hence the name “Capra” from the Latin for “goat”. Coconut oil is a relatively weak source of true MCTs which are nevertheless processed from coconut oil in the manufacture of MCT oil. Because of the small supplies of these fatty acids in coconut oil, good quality MCT oil (that is, oil comprising more exclusively of C8 and C10) is expensive to produce and to buy. Because MCT oil with Lauric Acid (C12) as its main ingredient is often marketed as MCT oil it is worth checking the components of any such a carrier claiming to be MCT oil to make sure that you have the real McCoy.

Then there is simple, old fashioned CBD paste mixed with olive oil. Can this product still compete? In order to give attention to this question, it may be worth while to talk a little about another method of administering CBD and that is actually by means of the skin. Once thought to be an absolute barrier, human skin has been discovered to be a good site for absorption, e.g. vitamin E and C skin creams, nicotine and hormone creams, are all absorbed well by the skin. The mucous membranes of the mouth are an especially good site allowing for much greater absorption. However, not all substances can be absorbed through the mucosa and some are better than others. Even so, drug companies have had few opportunities as yet to thoroughly research the potential of this less intrusive drug/nutrition form of administration. So, once again we are in the dark. However, one vital point that many companies selling water soluble CBD overlook when comparing the advantages of water based to oil based CBD solutions on their sites is the method of “sublingual administration”. In plain English this means allowing the CBD to be absorbed under the tongue.

CBD thus administered can be absorbed through the highly vasculerised buccal mucosa (the highly absorbent mucous membrane under the tongue) into the large lingual artery under the tongue and directly into the bloodstream. This method provides direct systemic administration and has been medically recommended for a variety of drugs, steroids, barbiturates and enzymes – and is a developing field of administration of certain vitamins and minerals found to be readily absorbed by this method. It is an especially good method for those with a compromised digestion or gastro intestinal difficulties. Unfortunately, people often ignore instructions to administer a couple of drops of CBD under the tongue and leave it to absorb. Instead they imagine that the more the merrier and so administer too much in one application and end up swallowing most of the solution.

Here, the sharp witted may object. If oil is not absorbed by water, will any CBD really get absorbed using the sublingual method of administration? The answer is that in my personal experience, a couple of small drops at a time will absorb under the tongue but it takes a while. One should not lie down with one’s head back immediately or some will go down the throat. Not that that means the entire dose will be wasted because most people’s bodies are capable of digesting olive oil to a great extent after all.

As I have previously observed, studies on CBD and its administration are still in their infancy and many questions are still awaiting answers. It would be enlightening to have the results of clinical tests concerning the relative effectiveness of these various methods of administration but we have none as yet. Hence, the only advice one can give is to experiment with different applications of CBD at different strengths and find out which works best for you. One water soluble CBD preparation with curcumin I tried recently is recommended by the manufacturer to be added to tea. English tea or herbal tea are equally good. Sure enough, the taste of this preparation was actually undetectable to my pallet in the tea and not at all bitter or peppery at the back of the throat as my usual oil based CBD tends to be if actually swallowed.

Finally, it is important to point out that not all CBD is created equal. Pure CBD is only one compound in a plant with many compounds and trace elements that work synergistically. Because of the synergy factor, most CBD sold today includes many of these compounds and elements but to varying degrees depending on the speciality of the manufacturers. Moreover, different strains of Cannabis and the growing conditions of the plants themselves greatly influence the strength and potency of their natural components and this, of course, will affect the experience of the partaker. Because we are all different, the same product can affect individuals differently. We may prefer some brands of CBD and certain strains of Cannabis to others. Some methods of administration may alter the effects and experience of any CBD product. Some will agree with us and others not so much. Therefore, nothing really beats personal experimentation and perhaps inevitably, trial and error.