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Understanding Nanoemulsion & Bioavailability

Updated: Nov 30, 2023

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Nanoemulsion & Bioavailability

Nanoemulsion technology has solved an age-old conundrum faced by the cannabis industry: How does a company successfully, and at scale, inject water-fearing, fat-loving molecules—such as cannabinoids and terpenes—into water-based beverages?

A microscopic image of a nanoemulsion liquid.
What is nanoemulsion?

How Nanoemulsion Works

Nanoemulsion & Bioavailability. Nanoemulsion tech, which operates at the very small nano scale of billionths of a meter, solves the challenge of infusing water-fearing molecules like cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) into modern beverages, both alcoholic and not, that are made mostly of, um...water. On the surface, sans modern technology, the challenge is basically insurmountable.

In brief, nanoemulsion employs a variety of mechanisms and processes, including sonic agitation, to create very small particles of both the active ingredient (in this case, a cannabinoid such as THC) and the formulation in which it is suspended (water, fruit juices, etc.).

NERD DEPT.: As a point of technical clarification, it should be noted that nanoemulsion technology allows water molecules to be suspended in fat particles, fat particles to be suspended in water particles, and even hybrid emulsions that support both in a single sample.

As such, this technology binds molecules such as cannabinoids with fat molecules. The magic of nanoemulsion is that the very small scale at which it operates allows these fat particles to, in turn, be wrapped in water particles.

This emulsion formulation produces a smooth and marketable liquid, preventing the "oil slick" effect of some products during the early days of the emerging legal cannabis industry. Multiple pioneering cannabis infused beverage brands failed because their products did not utilize nanoemulsion. As such, their flawed drink products featured cannabinoid-bearing oil that separated from the water and floated to the top of the beverage container, creating an offensive sludge that in no way resembled the intentions of its creators.

A microscopic image of a nanoemulsed liquid.
Emulsions produce a smooth, marketable liquid.

Nanoemulsion & Bioavailability: Bioavailability

Nanoemulsion & Bioavailability. The purpose of packaging a medicine or wellness tonic in the form of a nanoemulsion is straightforward: To improve bioavailability. This includes not only greater potency, but also significantly faster onset. Onset is an important trait for consumers who require quick relief from chronic pain, nausea, seizure activity, or other ailments. Most within this population cannot tolerate the 45 minute to two hour wait that characterizes the onset of standard infused edible products (peak potency requires an additional one to three hours).

In short, if performed properly and depending on the exact compounds involved, nanotechnology results in faster onset and greater potency at lower doses. This approach offers not only faster and more efficient treatment of conditions such as pain and seizures, but also the economy resulting from smaller volumes of a particular molecule, compound, or drug yielding greater potency. Nanoemulsions literally produce more from less.

A cannabis plant leaf close up.
Cannabis gets nanoemulsified.

Nanoemulsion Research Studies

Nanoemulsion & Bioavailability. Research has revealed that bioavailability of cannabinoids such as CBD and CBG may be increased from as low as six percent (revealed by this study) in traditional, non-nanoemusified preparations to as great as 90 percent (demonstrated by another study) on nanoemulsified products.

2017 Nanoemulsion & Bioavailability Study

A 2017 study entitled "Biocompatible Nanoemulsions Based on Hemp Oil and Less Surfactants for Oral Delivery of Baicalein with Enhanced Bioavailability" that was published in the International Journal of Nanomedicine aimed to "probe the potential of nanoemulsions consisting of hemp oil and less surfactants in ameliorating [improving] the oral bioavailability of [the flavonoid] baicalein."

An image that reads "Understanding nanoemulsion"
Nanoemulsion is promising tech.

The study involved a particle size of 90 nm and a bioavailability (what the study called an "entrapment efficiency") of 99.31 percent. It reported that the flavonoid's oral bioavailability was increased by "up to 525 percent and 242 percent relative to the suspensions and conventional emulsions, respectively."

The study found the safety profile of the flavonoid-based nanoemulsion to be acceptable for oral consumption "Our findings suggest that such a novel...preparative process provides a promising alternative to current formulation technologies" and that nanoencapsulation is suitable for "oral delivery of drugs that feature...bioavailability issues."

2017 Nanoemulsion for Cancer Study

A 2017 study entitled "Nanoemulsion: A Novel Eon in Cancer Chemotherapy" that was published in the journal Mini Reviews in Medicinal Chemistry investigated the role of nanoemulsions in the effective treatment of cancer.

"The research fraternity has acknowledged nanoemulsions as...capable of effectively addressing the low bioavailability...issues associated with the conventional anticancerous chemotherapeutic dosage forms."

The study's authors observed that nanoemulsions offer a new approach to improving the sometimes poor bioavailability issues that have plagued traditional preparations and formulations for generations. Reported the study, "the research fraternity has acknowledged nanoemulsions as...capable of effectively addressing the low bioavailability...issues associated with the conventional anticancerous chemotherapeutic dosage forms."

A collection of popular mass-market beverages (mostly sodas)
Will THC-infused drinks be popular?

2014 Nanoemulsion Study

According to a 2014 study published in the journal 3 Biotech, a nanoemulsion is a "fine oil/water or water/oil dispersion" featuring a droplet size range of 20–600 nm. The study explained that three primary types of nanoemulsions exist:

  1. Oil in water nanoemulsion in which oil is dispersed in water.

  2. Water in oil nanoemulsions in which water droplets are dispersed in oil.

  3. Bi-continuous nanoemulsions.

2010 Nanoemulsion Study

According to a 2010 study entitled "Nanoemulsion: A Pharmaceutical Review," nanoemulsion-based products are "by far the most advanced nanoparticle systems for the systemic delivery of biologically active agents for controlled drug delivery and targeting." The study noted that nanoemulsion droplet sizes within a particular sample, when accomplished successfully, feature "narrow size distributions" (variance).

A cup of coffee, a cannabis joint, and a lighter poolside in Los Angeles.
Nanoemulsion studies show promise.

"Nanoemulsions are the thermodynamically stable isotropic system in which two immiscible liquids (water and oil) are mixed to form a single phase by means of an appropriate surfactant [or emulsifying agent] or its mix with a droplet diameter approximately in the range of 0.5-100 nm," reported the study. The study's authors concluded that "nanoemulsion shows great promise for the future of cosmetics, diagnostics, drug therapies, and biotechnologies."

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Did you enjoy Understanding Nanoemulsion & Bioavailability? If so, you'll love our Cannabis for Cancer Hub that features links to our articles about marijuana for cancer.

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