Hemp CBD Bioavailability: A 2019 Perspective
A 10-minute mindwalk through CBD bioavailability - whether higher levels are called for when it comes to the average individual looking for more balance and health in their life.
Recently a client within the blooming American hemp industry had me put together a piece on the topic of CBD bioavailability for their new brand. Hard not to relish in such a fantastic paid education! Anyway, what I learned while digging through current content on the subject tied together a few knowledge-bits I’ve assembled researching the historical narrative of hemp-cannabis, or really just cannabis in general, prior to roughly the end of the 19th century.
Note: 'Cannabis' was medically/officially prescribed by doctors in America between 1850 all the way up to 1942, years after the beginning of cannabis prohibition.
For S & G’s, if you’re down, join me as I vent this stuff…it’s a little bit of a ramble.
Introduction: Wagon Train Medicine & Peace Pipes
What immediately comes to mind are as I tend to call them, archetypal ‘Wagon Shaman’ of the days leading up to the American Old West - typically Caucasian medicine men/women in my mind’s eye of primarily European heritage. Chances are the vast majority of everything in their hemp-covered coach apocrathies were mixtures or elixirs containing a) opium or b) cannabis. And, because of how prominent industrial hemp farming was throughout the era, I’d venture a good majority of the cannabis was classical hemp concentrates derived from leftover biomass not needed by farmers focusing on hemp fiber and seed - hence not the flowers with all those juicy higher-CBD trichomes (technically, we have no clue what the cannabinoid profiles of these plants were, well, at least I don’t...yet).
Was psychoactive cannabis involved...pfft… of course, you kidding?
But again, industrial hemp prior to the 19th century by ALL historical accounts I’ve come across was magnitudes more in use than psychoactive cannabis (sadly coined by the U.S. government in the 1930s as ‘Marihuana’ to spread ridiculous racist propaganda). This leads me to believe hemp tinctures were far more common than the kind that’d get hard working farmers, settlers, cowboys, and brave souls venturing west ‘stoned’. Let’s not kid ourselves, you really couldn’t get by in those days intoxicated on phytocannabinoids around the clock. Being stoned at all could be incredibly dangerous and risk not just your life, but everyone around you outside a heavily armed and fortified compound (even then).
Armed and drunk? Well, that’s another subject altogether lol!
In terms of being ‘high’ in the cannabician sense it’s fine for a modern millennial to be stoned all day on THC in the 21st century (I guess), but when life hangs in the balance day in and day out, it simply isn’t practical. For more evidence we could look to the Native Americans, who I believe were harnessing psychoactive cannabis long before European settlers arrived (a highly-debated topic). Do I believe psychoactive cannabis was in their inappropriately-named ‘Peace Pipes’? Hell yeah! Along with a huge assortment of other plants and herbs. Thing is, smoking was sacred, we’ve seen this in other archeological evidence from across the globe, and depending on the tribe in question, they had an assortment of pipes (and corresponding plants within them) for many different occasions. There’s no evidence they used it to sit around and get high all day in ways most people today understand it. That’s a fact you’ll typically only get if you consult Native Americans on the subject vs. listening to the primarily prohibition-indoctrinated historians.
Note: For anyone setting out to conduct research into Native American usage of non-psychoactive hemp cannabis, it can be incredibly tough due to the widespread usage of ‘Indian Hemp’ which is a completely different plant altogether. Historians will tell you the names have often been confused and you’ll find it hard to differentiate.
What I’m driving at here is, bioavailability’s NEVER been an issue for the human body if we’re talking about phytocannabinoids. Our Endocannabinoid System (ECS) has been evolving for over 600 million years, and while I completely understand today we have lots of fascinating ‘nanotechnology’ and modern gadgetry to increase bioavailability for marketing purposes, let’s not kid ourselves, the human organism is no different than it’s been through tens of thousands of years of co-evolution with cannabis!
CBD Bioavailability - How It Matters
Truth be told, you could try and predict how the human body would utilize a safe injection of electricity but... as my layers of ECS understanding develops, I’m beginning to see a variety of applications from a larger perspective. Bioavailability is only relevant to your specific reason for putting a hemp-cannabis concentrate or concoction into your body. I’m specifically referring to CBD here, which is technically just a supplemental equivalent to the endocannabinoid 2-AG - or 2-Arachidonoylglycerol, created by the body to be utilized by the ECS.
My goodness, it’s so complex! Logically, as others have pointed out, the primary ways your ECS can malfunction are:
Too many enzymes interrupting endocannabinoid function,
Insufficient synthesized endocannabinoids,
Not enough signaling between endocannabinoids and receptors, or
Too few receptors.
Where does bioavailability of CBD fit in there? Nowhere. With more phytocannabinoid CBD - a little can go quite a ways here - you can offset too many enzymes and boost the amount of 2-AG in the system for synthesizing [CBD also stops a degree of anandamide from being broken down by FAAH as well, which is why it’s a non-psychoactive mood lifter], but I’ve seen no evidence it will increase receptor activity or improve signaling. If those are an issue, increased bioavailability isn’t going to help. However, if none of those things are taking place, again, I haven’t seen any evidence to suggest higher bioavailability means much of anything in terms of effectiveness. It just seems like an a) marketing ploy, and b) a way to charge the common person more who really doesn’t need any extra bioavailability or even extra-high doses of CBD.
There’s a reason those Wagon Shaman told folks cannabis extracts were effective for near anything that ails you; why I can sift through the last 10,000 years of medical texts and see cannabis advocated for a huge variety of physiological/psychological issues - at minimum the last 3,000 are more distinct. Do you think they had a bioavailability problem in ancient China?
No...while specific plant genetics in a tincture today aren’t likely identical to those in the cannabis tinctures of old, our ECS hasn’t changed that we know of.
Can CBD absorption be increased, from say a hemp-CBD edible candy to a tincture designed for sublingual application? Sure. But do you need that? I don’t think anyone can really answer that yet, and the fact is both you and your ECS are individualistic. Your body simply isn’t going to respond the same way as the person sitting next to you. Furthermore, at this point, there’s no uniformity in the sense of the greater American hemp-CBD industry similar to the conventional world of pharmaceutical pills - one hemp tincture is going to be different from another in terms of the organic plant elements contained within relative to whatever specific cultivar. It was no different centuries ago.
Dreaming: within a matter of years I envision the percentage of medical professionals trained in ECS science to double, if not triple. There will hopefully be a chasm between practitioners who turn to both private businesses for their patients' supplies, as well as pharmaceutical establishment when needed for far more serious medical issues.
Right now I’m not convinced most people need increased bioavailability or even high dosages of non-psychoactive cannabis CBD.
The Dawn of ECS Deficiency Awareness
The collective homeostasis of the American population is in complete disarray - anxiety, depression, unprecedented opioid-related deaths and addiction levels, skyrocketing obesity, and on and on, compounded by environmental stresses. Cannabinoid science is difficult, but I think in general, the amount of 2-AG/Anandamide the modern human body creates isn’t enough to keep up. Society has gotten so much faster, and changed so traumatically, but not the ECS.
To make things worse, the ECS is so different, it’s not as easy to target or understand like other systems or organs - it’s a completely new paradigm in terms of both herbal supplementation and addressing it through far more serious medical means. We can look right at your heart and your circulatory system. We’ve got it all figured out down to the finest detail, but the ECS isn’t designed like that. It’s a mind-blowing amount of receptors located throughout the body and brain, and they work different than other neural systems. Instead of the classic way neurotransmitters are released from the presynaptic cell, who then travel across the synaptic gap and attach to receptors or postsynaptic cell....the ECS does it backwards - endocannabinoids like 2-AG/Anandamide are created on demand in the postsynaptic cell and then travel backwards across the gap to the presynaptic neuron where they attach to the CB1/CB2 receptors.
It's a bit more complicated. That's a streamlined explanation...but whoa! This means they control cell activation; modulation. Or as Scholastic puts it,
“Since [endo/phyto] cannabinoids act on presynaptic cells, they can control what happens next when these cells are activated. In general, cannabinoids function like a “dimmer switch” for presynaptic neurons, limiting the amount of neurotransmitter (e.g., dopamine) that gets released, which in turn affects how messages are sent, received, and processed by the cell.”
As of right now, however, there’s really no possible way I can head to a nearby hospital or clinic and get checked to see the severity of an ECS deficiency - or the difference between the amounts of Anandamide and 2-AG I should be making to be in complete balance. Chances are, few if any of the doctors I could talk too would have even a basic understanding of the system itself, not to mention an understanding of how to supplement with phytocannabinoids like CBD (and THC, or mimetic Anandamide).
No one can tell me yet how much of any phytocannabinoid will be most effective to help return homeostasis to whatever system(s) or organ is causing an issue.
There aren’t any tests I can go take to tell me how effective any hemp-CBD product or cannabis product in general should be in relation to pricing that I’m aware of.
When you put hemp-CBD into your body, rather than outside on specific site applications through high-potency topicals, there’s no way to anticipate how your body will employ it. If you have anxiety it may help, it's likely, or it may do a number of other positive things within your body you might have no awareness of. When you go hemp-CBD product testimonials like I do (there are thousands upon thousands), you find a common theme where an individual experimented with hemp-CBD for X, but experienced Y and Z instead, or perhaps X, Y, and Z to varying degrees. Some of it is incidental however, as in a case like where CBD lowers anxiety and leads to less conventional pharmaceutical usage which leads to X, Y, and Z, etc. It varies so highly between people primarily, in my mind at least, because a lack in pure consistency of plant being used for these products. This will change now that hemp farming prohibition has ended in America. Within a decade, my hope is there are millions of acres of high-CBD-specific hemp cultivars planted yearly across the nation for both domestic and international usage.
Big takeaway here is that you might not need a higher amount of CBD, just a better quality.
Is CBD a Cure?
As we understand it, the ECS is like a mother system designed to look over and maintain balance or healthy equilibrium throughout the human organism. When putting phytocannabinoids into the body to help it address an issue, it’s not the phytocannabinoids doing any curing, but the body itself. Without the ECS, phytocannabinoids would be near useless to us.
Let me say that again,
“Without the ECS, phytocannabinoids like THC, CBD, CBG, CBC, CBN, etc., would be near useless to us.”
CBD is not a cure. If you exercise regularly to keep your immune system healthy, or eat plenty of foods high in Vitamin C, exercise and Vitamin C aren’t doing any curing. They are near useless in this respect without the immune system.
How Much Do I Need?
There’s no way to know. And there’s no way to know whether your ECS is currently functioning at a level to truly eradicate whatever problem you’re facing, regardless of the amount of phytocannabinoid supplementation you employ. You must experiment. The big difference is that with phytocannabinoids, and especially hemp-based tinctures devoid of psychoactivity, there’s no toxicity to worry about (as long as it’s a lab-tested and clean product), no threat of addiction, and absolutely none of the common negative side-effects associated with mainstream pharmaceuticals for issues like pain, depression, and anxiety.
Experiment. If you’ve got the cash, grab the three most common applications with low CBD dosages (5-50mg) and as minimal in terms of extra ingredients (outside aminos and seed/coconut oils) as possible - edible, tincture, and inhalation which could be smokable CBD cannabis flower or vape. Try to get three different potencies, and do your best to keep on eye on relative dosages you take. Don’t plan on taking this stuff for days, weeks, or months on end. Try it once. See how it feels, and how your body reacts. I have no doubt there's a portion of the population where one good potent dose of hemp extract is like dumping a cup of water on a thirsty plant - good to go for a while! Then, as needed try a different application and a different dosage, and so on until you either see the results you’re after or your body/mind tells you, "I don’t need anymore.”
The trickiest part for most people today is the COMPLETE lack of addictive potential or psychoactivity. What 'drug' that a modern doctor could prescribe over the last few decades didn't come with SOMETHING in terms of negative side effects or psychoactivity. Look at opioids! Let me be clear, non-psychoactive CBD within a clean hemp extract IS psychoactive in that it impacts your mood and state of mind, but you're not getting 'high' or providing an addictive dopamine-style hit. You know? For any kind of addict, it's quite the anomalous experience.
An Example from My Own Experience with Hemp CBD
I don’t know what it’s called, but above my upper lips just to the sides, during colder months I’d get these small patches of dry skin continually turning red and flaking. So ugly! The only thing I could do was grow out my facial hair to hide them. I waited for years for them to go away, and they never did, only in the hotter times of year. I tried a few different creams and things but sort of gave up. Then, one day, I decided what the hell, and dabbed just a tiny (like, the size of a tiny pebble on your fingertip) amount of a very simple hemp-CBD concentrate of relative strength onto the areas. The first time, I saw no change. So, I used it once more the next day. Guess what folks, those patches are now gone and it’s the dead of winter as I write these words. Online people went on, and on, and on about trying all different kinds of things, and my ECS with a little help did it in less than 48 hours with a TINY amount of the substance. No need for it to be stronger, as there was NO issue of bioavailability despite it being a regular concentrate, vs a transdermal patch, or specific cream or balm.
CBD isn’t likely to be something you take all the time, or every day. In fact, according to the compound’s very nature within the ECS it’s the polar opposite of a habit-forming substance. Honestly, you’d want to use CBD to help you get away from habit-forming substances and addictions! But, if you’re heavily addicted, cannabis CBD will NOT be something you desire because it strips away from you the brunt, if not all, of the psychoactivity your addiction seeks - with no payoff other than being more sober and calm.
I guess my point here is, don’t worry about bioavailability as much as quality. Generally speaking of course, as there are plenty of very serious medical issues where higher levels of the substance are warranted - as well as THC/Anandamide. Instead, for average consumers in the 2019-2025 era of the American cannabinoid revolution, seek a high-quality cannabis extract with a bare minimum of extra ingredients.
All the snazzy nanotechnology and marketing tactics to deliver more CBD into the body may be unwarranted. Most people who I meet with common issues like depression, anxiety, PTSD, and obesity, only need to supplement with basic CBD (boosting 2-AG levels in the ECS; naturally increasing Anandamide) to bring their ECS to a more normal or higher-functioning state to allow it to do what it’s going to do. Just a writer’s, not a doctor of any kind, advice. Hope this helps.
Thanks for your time.