Water Soluble CBD vs CBD Oil: Which is Better?
Water-soluble CBD is a hot term across the industry that’s been met with both excitement and skepticism. These products, created using the same technologies employed in the supplement and pharmaceutical industries, are designed to battle the effectiveness issues of oil-based CBD products.
Keep reading as we take a look at traditional oil-based CBD products, water-soluble formulations, and compare the two to help you choose which is right for your needs.
What is CBD Oil?
When a CBD-rich extract is produced from hemp, the result is a thick, oily substance containing a wide range of cannabis compounds. The cannabinoids inside, like CBD, are hydrophobic substances meaning they don’t dissolve into water. Even when the CBD molecule is isolated from this extract and becomes a white crystalline substance it is still hydrophobic.
The term “CBD oil” is used to describe oil-based tinctures specifically but it is also used to describe the CBD inside any product created using these extracts. Tinctures and other products like capsules, topicals, and edibles commonly contain a CBD extract mixed carrier oils like MCT.
In this article, we prefer to use oil-based CBD as it describes any product containing a hydrophobic extract or isolate.
What is Water-Soluble CBD?
Water-soluble is used to describe a CBD extract which has undergone a process to break the oil into tiny particles. These small droplets are then mixed with a surfactant which serves to emulsify the particles, allowing them to remain stable and not regroup.
Despite the name, the emulsified CBD-rich oils do not actually dissolve in water. The small particle size simply allows them to disperse throughout liquids. This process increases the surface area of the oil, helping to assist in the absorption of CBD into the body.
These ‘water-friendly’ extracts can come in both liquid and powder forms. They are then used to produce consumable CBD products like tinctures, capsules, edibles, and drinks. There are a few prominent technologies used in the creation of water-soluble CBD products:
- Nanoemulsions use a mechanical process to create 10-100 nanometer particles. The tiny particle size allows for low amounts of all-natural surfactants to be used, reducing the need for high-volume, synthetic surfactant use with other water-soluble methods.
- Liposomes are spherical structures ranging in size from 50-5000 nanometers. They are made of an internal water-friendly (hydrophilic) compartment surrounded by a water-insoluble (hydrophobic) bilayer. CBD extract can be stored in the bilayer membrane. Products using this technology are common in the hemp industry. The downside to this method is it uses highly complex manufacturing procedures and requires high surfactant levels.
- Microemulsions create 100-5000 nanometer droplets formed by solubilizing CBD oil in water. These emulsions are created using a chemical process that has the downside of requiring high amounts of surfactants which results in some undesirable side effects for the user. This size emulsion is not commonly found in the CBD industry.
Oil-Based CBD vs Water-Soluble CBD: It’s All About Bioavailability
When CBD is swallowed, it undergoes a first-pass effect. The compounds must pass through the body and into the liver before reaching general circulation. During this process, much of the CBD is destroyed by the liver, and only a fraction of the originally consumed.
Bioavailability is defined as: “the amount of a substance that enters the bloodstream when introduced into the body and so is able to have an active effect.”
For example, when oil-based CBD is swallowed, studies show that it can be as low as 4% bioavailable. This means that the other 96% of the CBD ends up being flushed from the body as waste. This is obviously a significant issue as this inefficiency is extremely wasteful and costly.
Seeking alternative delivery methods that bypass the first-pass metabolism is one way to work around this problem. Tinctures, when held under the tongue, allow the CBD to be absorbed sublingually by the mucous membranes. Vaping or smoking allows the same compounds to be absorbed through the lungs.
These alternative products don’t address the issue of swallowed CBD however, and consumable products like capsules and edibles are very popular in the industry. Water-soluble technologies aim to confront the problem head-on. The increased surface area of the tiny oil particles helps to significantly increase the amount of CBD absorbed by the body:
Comparing the Effects of Oil-based CBD vs Water Soluble
Of this entire article, this is perhaps the most important section, and one of the most commonly overlooked points of water-soluble.
Oil-based CBD comes on slower, last longer, but are absorbed less completely. For example, sublingual tinctures take 20 -60 minutes to come on, come on more gradually, and may last for up to 8 hours. Swallowing an oil-based product, though not recommended due to it’s low bioavailability, takes 60-90 minutes to come on gradually and can last for as long as 8 hours.
Water-soluble CBD comes on faster, is absorbed more readily, but have a shorter duration. For example, swallowing water-soluble softgels make only take 20 minutes to become active in the body, have a more pronounced come on, but only last for up to 5 hours.
Which to Choose: Water-Soluble CBD or Oil-Based CBD?
Many tout one solution as superior, putting down the other. Here at Big Sky Botanicals, we take a balanced approach. Water-soluble and oil-based CBD are not uniquely good or bad, they each have their own specific properties, and if used consciously can both provide positive outcomes.
Our guidance is simple:
- If you’re going to swallow your CBD, choose a water-soluble product. The severe bioavailability issues of swallowing an oil-based product make them inefficient and costly. Since water-soluble products are up to 5x more effective, you only need to take a fraction of the dose for the same benefits.
- If you’re open to alternative methods of consuming CBD, then weigh your options. Consider how long it takes for the effects to come on and how long the effects last against your personal needs. You may also find that it’s good to use a number of different types of products in different situations!
Here at Big Sky Botanicals, we offer both water-soluble softgels and tinctures designed to be swallowed. We also offer an oil-based sublingual tincture. All these products contain our same great broad-spectrum extract and we have clients who enjoy both products equally. Let us know in the comments which type of product you prefer and why.
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14 comments on “ Water Soluble CBD vs CBD Oil: Which is Better? ”
I would like to try cbd, but can’t get clarity on whether or not it will cause someone to fail a drug test. My employer randomly tests us and I don’t want to throw away a 30 year career.
Hello, so I have a question I’m not sure if you would know it’s kind of just a technicality. I am aware now from the information you provided that water soluble is the best choice for bioavailability so that the CBD is not wasted. But my question is, if I were to take the normal oil form even tho it wouldn’t be as affective would it last longer since it stored in my fast cells or does it need to be in my blood to do anything?
Hi Tia – generally speaking a standard oil product compared to a water-soluble one will have a slower onset, but an increased duration. That said you’ll still have to take an increased amount in order to match the effectiveness as you mention. You can read more on the topic in this article about methods of ingestion: https://bigskybotanicals.com/blog/cbd-methods-of-ingestion-bioavailability-effectiveness/
There are many natural surfactants. witch one do you use. thank you charles
Hey Charles – we use Quillaja Extract as the surfactant in our nano emulsified water-soluble products.
What surfactants are used in your nanoemulsions, microemulsions and liposmes? Interesting information but I need to know a bit more before purchasing. Thank you.
Hello Cristal – Our products are nanoemulsified – we do not use micro or liposomes. Because of this, we are able to use a minimal amount of natural surfactant in our products.
Thank you for your very informative article on water-soluble CBD. I’m trying to figure out which form of CBD is the best for me. After learning more about water-soluble CBD and all of its benefits, I will definitely consider using it.
Have you done any studies (animal or human) that demonstrate the improvement in bioavailability ?
Hello Volker – Thank you for your message. There are studies available to demonstrate an improvement in bioavailability, yes. Please see the now updated section in this article under “Nanoemulsions” titled: Reference Studies Providing Evidence for Nanoemulsions Increasing the Bioavailability of Cannabinoids
I also feel that adding “Water Soluble” to any description is overkill. Nano CBD is 100% bioavailable because of its size, whether is dissolves completely in water or is “Water Soluble” by definition won’t make it any more bioavailable than Nano sized particles.
These process you mention are not water soluble but only a method of delivery that manipulates natural metabolic functions. These oils don not disappear and need further processing, enzyme production to further distribute nutrients to the blood stream as energy. A true water soluble technology is available for use by the body within minutes and is predictable. Know the difference! All of these technologies are acceptable technologies, Nano technology, emulsification have been introduced to the food supply for over a decade. Basically, the main difference is how the body metabolizes and processes these nutrients.
Hey Rod, we are aware and agree that ‘water soluble’ is not an accurate term from a scientific perspective. We mention in the article that this term has caught on via its use as a marketing term. Thanks for your feedback and the information you provide!Discover how water-soluble compares to traditional CBD oil and how to choose between the two based on your needs.
What is liposomal CBD?
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Cannabidiol (CBD) is an incredibly versatile cannabinoid with potential anti-anxiety, anti-inflammatory, and analgesic properties. Unfortunately, harnessing those beneficial qualities can be difficult for the body. CBD’s molecular structure means that when it’s swallowed, it’s poorly absorbed compared with other cannabinoids such as THC.
Liposomal CBD improves the bioavailability of the cannabinoid by surrounding it with a substance that the body can more easily absorb. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps
Liposomal CBD improves the bioavailability of the cannabinoid by surrounding it with a substance that the body can more easily absorb. This novel format appears to increase CBD’s bioavailability, so its potential benefits can be more effectively delivered and distributed.
What does liposomal mean?
Liposomes are microscopic spheres that surround a nutrient or medicine, supporting its absorption into the body. The Greek etymology of liposome is lipos, meaning fat, and soma, which means body.
“A liposome is basically a bubble that is used to package a drug,” says Dr. Adie Rae, a neuroscientist and medicinal cannabis expert. “Liposomes are typically made using materials called phospholipids, which are the exact same kind of molecules that comprise our bodies’ cell membranes.” Phospholipids can sometimes aid direct drug absorption or protect the drug from being broken down in the digestive tract.
Liposomes were first noticed in the 1960s and developed to improve the delivery of vital nutrients and medicine into the body. They are both fat and water-soluble. The molecule inside the liposome is protected from degradation so it can arrive safely at its destination.
“The liposomal delivery system has been studied for many decades as a way to improve bioavailability, or how much ‘stuff’ gets into the bloodstream of many kinds of medications,” says Dr. Rae. This enhanced bioavailability supports CBD’s movement into the cells, tissues, and organ systems of the body, so consumers can get the most from their CBD.
What is bioavailability?
The concept of bioavailability is helpful in understanding the benefits that liposomal delivery offers. Bioavailability refers to the degree that a drug or nutrient becomes available for use at its intended biological destination. Bioavailability is often expressed as a percentage that measures the potential amount of a substance a living organism may be able to use in relation to the total amount of the drug available.
Oral cannabidiol formulations are very popular; however, oral CBD has a much lower bioavailability than inhaled CBD. Most oral CBD is lost through the digestive tract’s metabolic process, resulting in as little as 9% CBD bioavailability.
Liposomal products may help CBD bypass the digestive system where the bioactive compounds of CBD are broken down or rejected by the body. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps
Liposomal products may help CBD bypass the digestive system where the bioactive compounds of CBD are broken down or rejected by the body. In a recent pilot study published in the American Journal of Endocannabinoid Medicine, CBD was detected in the blood of all 15 patients who ingested liposomal CBD after an hour. In contrast, standard CBD was only found in 40% of patients after the same time.
What benefits does liposomal CBD offer?
The clear advantage of liposomal delivery is increased bioavailability. Liposomal CBD is usually intended for oral use, although some topical products also take advantage of liposome technology. When the body can more successfully access the cannabinoid following ingestion, its potential benefits can be more readily experienced.
Lower doses of liposomal preparations may achieve the same effect as higher doses of a non-liposomal product. Liposomal CBD should deliver higher concentrations of CBD that last longer and are more cost-effective than high doses of non-liposomal CBD.
“If it’s safe, and if it actually does increase bioavailability, and if the total cost of liposomal CBD is competitive against naked CBD, a person could theoretically consume less of the liposomal product to achieve the desired effect,” advises Dr. Rae.
Is liposomal CBD better than other types of CBD?
Although liposomal delivery has been clinically shown to offer better absorption compared with naked CBD oil, this does not mean it’s necessarily better than other forms of CBD. It depends on what matters most to you.
“Liposomal formulas could end up being more expensive than ‘naked’ CBD, negating their use,” says Dr. Rae. “For example, 50 mg of regular CBD is just as effective as 20 mg liposomal CBD, but the liposomal product might be more expensive and therefore is not better.” A 2020 study on dogs with arthritis has shown that 20 mg of liposomal CBD was just as successful in relieving pain as 50 mg of non-liposomal CBD. If you want to use the minimal amount to get the maximum result, a liposomal formulation may be best for you. In the end, what’s inside is still CBD.
CBD delivery systems are becoming increasingly sophisticated. Traditional products such as oral tinctures, oils, and gummies are now being outpaced by newer technologies, such as nano-emulsified CBD. Nanoemulsions are microscopic molecules that are even smaller and, at least theoretically, more efficient than liposomes. Smaller molecules could mean higher absorption because there is a larger surface area interacting with the body’s enzymes and tissues.
Nanoemulsions are manufactured to improve the delivery of active pharmaceutical compounds such as CBD. While there are limited nanoemulsion CBD formulations on the market at present, research suggests nanoemulsified CBD may offer an edge in enhanced bioavailability. Smaller doesn’t necessarily mean better, though. “There are unknown risks for nanoparticles of all sorts, including nano CBD,” says Dr. Rae. “Some of the ingredients in nano-preparations might be safe in their traditional forms, but could be toxic when made super small.”
Are liposomes dangerous?
A 2017 review published in Pharmaceutics found that liposomes appeared safe and allowed for greater control, enhanced bioavailability, and limited toxicity.
“Because liposomes appear to be very safe, they have been the subject of intense research for decades,” explains Dr. Rae. “However, there is some very sophisticated chemistry and physics going on with this delivery system, which is best wielded by trained medicinal chemists and pharmaceutical development experts — not your average hemp processing/extraction company.”
While the liposomal packaging system could be harmless in one drug context, it could be toxic in another context. “Any novel drug formula, including liposomal or nanoencapsulation of CBD, should be studied for safety and efficacy prior to being rolled out onto the market,” Dr. Rae advises. “I would not recommend using a liposomal CBD formula that was not accompanied by published safety data. The risk could be small, but it’s not a risk I’d personally be willing to take.”
Any novel drug formula, including liposomal or nanoencapsulation of CBD, should be studied for safety and efficacy prior to being rolled out onto the market. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps
While clinical research into the safety of this novel formulation is still scarce, some small-scale studies have been released. In a recent safety study on liposomal CBD published in the American Journal of Endocannabinoid Medicine, none of the participants experienced any harmful effects on blood sugar levels, electrolyte and fluid balance, kidney function, or liver function. Individuals with blood measures within a high or low range were not significantly affected after taking liposomal CBD. Curiously, individuals with high blood glucose levels actually saw their levels normalize after 30 days of the treatment. The authors concluded that the findings, although based on a small sample population, suggest the liposomal CBD is safe to use in a healthy population.CBD's molecular structure means that when it’s swallowed, it's poorly absorbed compared with other cannabinoids such as THC. Liposomal CBD improves the bioavailability of the cannabinoid. Here, we'll explain why and cover any known risks. ]]>