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How is CBD Metabolised When Consumed Orally?

Green Shoppers Written by Green Shoppers
Updated on April 16, 2019

The general public is becoming increasingly aware of cannabidiol (CBD) and its potential benefits. As this happens, more and more research studies on the cannabinoid are being published, detailing the different ways that CBD can benefit our health.

We know that, no matter how we take CBD, it interacts with the endocannabinoid system (ECS). Since this system is intimately connected to our other biological systems, we also know that taking CBD can lead to improved health and wellbeing. It is for this reason that so many people are taking daily CBD food supplements.

That doesn’t mean that consumption method is not important. CBD can be taken in a number of different ways, and each one allows the CBD to interact with your body in a slightly different way. For example, it is generally quite well-known that CBD edibles and capsules take longer to take effect than sublingual oils and e-liquids. Why is this?

Today, we will be looking at how CBD is metabolised when consumed orally. This means when you take it via the mouth, either in the form of a capsule, edible, or an oil. First, though, let’s look a little deeper into how you can take CBD.

The Different Ways to Consume CBD

Sublingual CBD oils and tinctures are the most popular ways to take CBD. Sometimes called CBD drops, this product consists of a CBD hemp extract suspended in an inert oil such as MCT oil. The bottle will look like a pipette or an aerosol spray. They work by dropping (or spraying) a quantity of oil beneath the tongue, where it is held for up to two minutes. During this time, the cannabinoids can be absorbed into the bloodstream via the capillaries, immediately being delivered to the ECS. When you swallow the oil, any remaining cannabinoids will be broken down in the gut.

Because of the fast delivery to the ECS, sublingual oils are the second fastest way to get CBD into your system. The first is vaping, as the cannabinoids can enter through your airways even quicker. With oils, you can expect effects to kick in within around 15 minutes.

Of course, this timeframe will be different if you consume the oil by putting it into food or drinks. CBD coffees are very popular as of late, but remember that taking oil through this method means that it will work quite differently.

It will work in the same way as both capsules and edibles. These are ingested through eating or swallowing with water, and the CBD is then broken down in the digestive system. This is where metabolism plays a much more vital role.

What is Metabolism?

Metabolism is often used with reference to weight loss and weight gain. Having a ‘fast’ metabolism is said to help you lose weight by burning more calories, and some foods are touted as being able to ‘speed up’ your metabolism. All this has to do with your basal metabolic rate, which is the number of calories a particular person requires to keep their body functioning while at rest. The basal metabolic rate is not the same as the metabolism that occurs with CBD and other drugs, so ‘metabolism’ of food is not what we are talking about here.

Instead, the metabolism we refer to is the rate at which CBD is broken down by compounds called metabolites. Whenever you consume anything, metabolites break down the substances. They turn carbohydrates into sugars, fats into triglycerides, and proteins into amino acids. When this process is complete, the new substances can be utilised by the body in all manner of different ways.

A similar thing occurs with drugs, including CBD. Much of the CBD you consume is metabolised in the liver by these metabolites. This process is called ‘first pass metabolism.’

CBD and First Pass Metabolism

When taking CBD orally, the substance is carried to the digestive system. For example, if you take a CBD oil, the oil you swallow will be taken to the intestines. Although much of the CBD will have been absorbed in the mouth, some will probably remain in the oil. As it passes through the intestines, the CBD is absorbed into the bloodstream via the intestinal wall, where it is then transported to the liver.

With edibles and capsules, the same kind of thing takes place. Since there was no period of time for the CBD to be absorbed in the mouth, the entire thing occurs in the digestive system. This leads to a slower release of CBD.

When the CBD arrives in the liver, it is broken down into metabolites. There are thought to be many different metabolites of CBD, but the most common is COOH-CBD.

Unfortunately, first pass metabolism is highly inefficient. Although some of the CBD is broken down, a lot of the CBD will be excreted in urine and faeces. As a result, the bioavailability of CBD is lowered when it is consumed orally (by eating it).

Bioavailability refers to how much a substance is useful after it is broken down by the body. The most bioavailable method of taking any drug is intravenously – injecting it straight into the veins bypasses the digestive system entirely. However, this is neither convenient nor pleasant, and it is not always safe.

In terms of CBD, then, what is the bioavailability of oral administration? Taking a CBD oil sublingually may provide between 12-35% bioavailability. This seems quite low, but it is surprisingly a lot higher than other oral methods. Capsules and edibles may have a bioavailability of as low as 6%! Generous estimates report that oral methods could have a bioavailability of between 4% and 20%, but this is still generally lower than sublingual methods.

How to Increase the Bioavailability of CBD

If this news has concerned you, then you might be wondering how you can increase the bioavailability of CBD. The good news is that there are ways you could increase this.

One method is to eat food before you take your CBD. Foods high in fatty acids are thought to be the best for this, as they may reduce the first pass effect. This is actually why many CBD oils use coconut or MCT oil as the carrier oil, as these oils are higher in fatty acids.

Another method is to ensure that you use sublingual administration. Although it is more convenient (and better tasting!) to take an edible gummy or a capsule, it is a fact that CBD oils are more effective. You could combine sublingual methods with oral methods in taking your daily dose of CBD. For example, take a sublingual oil in the morning washed down with a cup of water, then cook up a delicious CBD meal in the evening to top up your dose.

Final Thoughts on the Metabolism of Oral CBD

Metabolism can, unfortunately, reduce the bioavailability, and thus the effects, of CBD. There are ways around it, including changing up your consumption method. Sublingual tinctures are definitely better than oral methods when it comes to increasing bioavailability.

Remember that, because the body breaks down all substances in the same way, CBD has the potential to interact with other medications. In this way, CBD may reduce the effectiveness of your medications, so it’s important to exercise caution.