What is liposomal CBD?
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. 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. 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.”
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.