Bioavailability is a word we hear often in conversations about medicines. In the same way that over-the-counter remedies and prescription medications are offered in different forms, medical cannabis is also consumed in different forms, and it’s as a result of bioavailability. The rate and extent to which your body can access medicine is the simplest way to explain bioavailability in layman’s’ terms. Different conditions require different dosages of medication, but an understanding of how quickly the medicine is delivered to and used by our systems can drive our decisions on how to consume medical cannabis. The more bioavailable the medicine, the lower dose of the medicine your body needs.
The vast majority of medical cannabis users today choose inhalation over other methods and with good reason. Typically, smoking provides up to 30% bioavailability, and sublingual intake, is not far behind. Sublingual onset could range from 2-40%. Sublingual usually indicates that the user places product under the tongue, and the body takes the medicine in via the bloodstream skipping the digestive tract. Rarely mentioned is the buccal intake, similar to sublingual, but instead of being placed under the tongue, the medication is placed inside the cheeks or gums. Like sublingual, the buccal method avoids the digestive tract, but also isn’t as likely to be accidentally swallowed by the body’s reflexive reaction to the increase in saliva caused by the tongue.
From highest bioavailability to lowest, the next method would be oral, followed by suppository, then topical/transdermal. Oral forms of cannabis, usually in the form of pills, provides bioavailable medicine between 4-12% and suppositories are about twice that. Suppositories are suggested as a great choice for those suffering from gastrointestinal issues. Topical or transdermal forms are often best for localized pain and can be absorbed by the skin at the pain site. This is a good time to also mention that THC and CBD have different bioavailability. When using topicals and transdermals, CBD about 10 times more permeable than THC.
You may have noticed that we haven’t talked about edibles, but now is a good time to tackle those. For some, the effects of edibles are unpredictable – too high or too low, which makes for inconsistent results. If you’re fortunate to have good experiences with edibles and their effects on your body, your liver processes the food prior to delivering to your bloodstream. This side jaunt to the liver also explains the long time it takes to feel the effects of edibles in many people.
New product forms are constantly coming to the cannabis industry, and much of the science and new product development is in a quest to help users have more bioavailability. Our bodies are efficient machines, but they’re all different and for that reason, different product formulations work differently in patients according to their own bodies.