The bioavailability of any nutrient or medication is dependent on several factors — and cannabis is no different.
When it comes to cannabis, the chemical makeup can change from plant to plant within the same crop, so truly consistent bioavailability with flower cannot presently be achieved, although cannabis in the form of extracts allows for some standardization.
The Merck Manual, a medical information resource for professionals, students and curious consumers, describes bioavailability as “the extent and rate at which the active moiety (drug or metabolite) enters systemic circulation, thereby accessing the site of action. Bioavailability of a drug is largely determined by the properties of the dosage form, which depend partly on its design and manufacture.”
What Is Cannabis Bioavailability?
Labels on cannabis products sold in legal states bear lab-testing data to indicate cannabinoid levels, but how much of that is actually making it into your body as a therapeutic medication, and how much is being excreted through your digestive system?
Bioavailability is at the heart of OLO’s consumption tech with its sublingual cannabis strips that deliver a superior potency.
“Consumers need to know that the more bioavailable a product is, the lower the quantity you actually need to experience the effects of cannabis,” OLO CEO Andrew Mack says. “Bioavailability is the truest measure of a cannabis product potency, not just milligrams per dose.”
OLO’s products begin to work within 10 to 15 minutes, an uncommonly quick rate for oral cannabis that isn’t smoked. Mack’s research team perfected a consistent bioavailable product so consumers can have the same experiences each time they consume the product — a hallmark of today’s cannabis market.
“Education in this category is difficult because we cannot sell directly to consumers — we rely on the distribution at the dispensaries, communications on our website and great articles like this to help share the knowledge,” he adds.
What Influences Cannabis Bioavailability?
The effects of consuming cannabis via combustion are generally felt within 10 minutes, but these THC-induced effects account for only about 40 percent of the total active cannabinoid content in the product.
One study from 2005 explains that “THC is widely distributed, particularly to fatty tissues, but less than 1 percent of an administered dose reaches the brain, while the spleen and body fat are long-term storage sites.”
For other types of cannabis consumables, however, the percentage of cannabinoids we experience vary even more significantly.
“With an edible, the cannabis must pass through the liver and therefore bioavailability is between 4 percent and 20 percent,” Mack explains. “Whereas with sublinguals, the bioavailability is 40 percent to 50 percent. In addition, edibles pass through the digestive tract and liver, where the THC is broken down into 11-hydroxy-THC.
“This chemical composition of THC [11-hydroxy-THC] yields a very different high that is considered much more potent, gives you a full body high, and lasts much longer,” he continues. “Sublinguals give you a head high and last for a shorter period of time, giving you more control over your high.”
How To Enhance Cannabis Bioavailability
The entourage effect, the method by which all of the chemicals in cannabis work together to create a complete effect, is the true key to bioavailability, but for the time being, we’re working with only a few pieces to that puzzle.
Among the pieces we do have is the link between terpenes and their role in increasing the effects of cannabinoids — such as myrcene and its relationship to sedation, or limonene to wakefulness.
“The way most products are sold is ‘THC per milligram, and sativa, indica or hybrid,’” Mack elaborates. “But if you are new to cannabis, none of that makes sense. All you want is something for vacation, or just to relax at home. It’s all about what you want to experience — not how many milligrams you need to consume. These sentiments are what drove the OLO conceptual development.”
And cannabis products that seek to clear up this gap in knowledge are doing well. The OLO dissolvable sublingual strip delivers decarboxylated and primed cannabinoids directly into your bloodstream via the tissues under your tongue. This method bypasses the variables and creates a more standardized experience.
Cannabis blog The Fresh Toast wrote recently:
The fact is, cannabinoids … are not user friendly, and their potency can vary widely depending on a multitude of unpredictable factors such as the cannabis strain plant genetics, the soil climate conditions, the cultivation techniques, et cetera.
The answer to this problem is more research and further innovation such as delivery systems that provide greater bioavailability, increased bioactivity and precision dosing for a more predictable, controlled cannabis experience.
We’re in the early stages of this cannabis tech, but with brands like OLO leading the way, we may get to a more reliable dosing experience that also utilizes only what is needed.
Future Technologies In Cannabis Bioavailability
As the industry scales up, new methods will have to be developed, and existing technologies will need to be updated.
“I think consumers will look for products that have the proven science behind them,” Mack says. “Cannabis is going through a bit of a ‘fashion’ moment — what looks cool, what feels fun. But when all is said and done, it will come down to what works and the science that makes it work.”
Bioavailability, once completely mapped, could be the final frontier of cannabinoid medicine, where the labels and THC percentages will mean something completely different than current definitions. Mack knows that this is essential to the future of the industry.
“Consumers will look to trusted sources for their products and verified results. Cannabis is not cheap — so they’ll demand efficacious products and authentic communications.”