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Nanotechnology and the Allure of Water-Soluble Cannabinoids

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The CBD industry has wholeheartedly embraced nanotechnology as a means to create products like CBD beverages and dissolvable CBD packets. The market for these products is exploding, but there are still unknowns surrounding the long-term effects of lipid nano-particles.

Circle K and Caliper CBD recently announced that they have partnered up to bring dissolvable CBD to the masses – at least in Texas.  

The partnership will make it easier than ever to add water-soluble CBD to whatever beverage you might pick up at your local convenience store. And the news also confirms what we’ve known for a while (especially with the explosion of the cannabis beverages market) – that nanotechnology has been officially wedded to the cannabinoid mainstream. 

Nanotechnology is the science of breaking small particles into incredibly, almost unimaginably, tiny particles. You may not think that you’ve ever partaken of nano-cannabinoids, but if you’ve had a commercial CBD beverage or tried one of the many varieties of dissolvable CBD packets, you have almost certainly imbibed nano-CBD.

That’s because cannabinoids are oil-soluble, and will not naturally mix with water. In order to make those handy dissolvable CBD packets which are becoming increasingly popular, the CBD has to first be broken into tiny droplets (usually using ultrasound technology) and then coated in a surfactant, which stabilizes the tiny particles.  

It seems that the technology has merged seamlessly with the CBD industry, with little fanfare and less scrutiny. But most consumers have little understanding of the technology behind nano-cannabinoids and how it could change the way our bodies process them.

We know that the increased surface area of those tiny particles increases our body’s ability to absorb them. This fact is well advertised since it means that our bodies benefit from more of the CBD we ingest. But, what then? Are they broken down and expelled from our body in the way that conventional cannabinoids are – or do they stick around in our tissues and organs?

The CBD industry is excited about the possibilities that nano-CBD opens up. But can our bodies properly break down these tiny nanoparticles?

To be clear, it’s not that we have studies showing that cannabinoids become dangerous to us at the nano-scale. It’s more that we really have very little information at all – and that lack of information has some scientists concerned. An article in The Guardian reported the concerns of multiple scientists around the prevalence of nano-particles in food:

“It’s a new technology; we still only know 10% about it,” says Sonia Trigueros, a fellow at the University of Oxford, UK, and former co-director of the Oxford Martin Programme on Nanotechnology.

Most of the scientists quoted in the article express concerns about the use of inorganic nanoparticles like the ones used in food packaging that keep our food fresh for longer. And the division of organic/inorganic is echoed in a review article that was published in Nature Journal:

“In general, it is thought that organic nanoparticles are less toxic than inorganic ones because they are often fully digested within the human GIT and are not bio-persistent.” 

Sounds innocuous, right? A few lines, on, though, the authors hedge their bets a bit:

“On the other hand, their ability to increase the bioavailability of hydrophobic bioactive agents may lead to some unforeseen undesirable effects.”

So it seems that we’re back to “more studies needed.”

According to Christine Ogilvie Hendren, executive director of the Center for the Environmental Implications of NanoTechnology at Duke University we really need to be careful about making blanket statements about the danger (or lack thereof!) of nano-particles:

“This is about understanding how the entire suite of elements that make up the universe behave at a certain scale,” says Hendren. “Asking if nanoparticles are harmful is like asking: ‘Is every single thing on the periodic table when taken down to a certain size safe or dangerous?’”

So having a discussion about nano-cannabinoids shouldn’t be equated with the conversation about non-organic particles like nano-silver (which, by the way, is just about everywhere) or the nano-particles lining our Ziploc bags. Nanotechnology may be perfectly safe when combined with cannabinoids, and truly just allow us to enjoy more of their benefits, and faster.

It certainly is a convenient way to deliver cannabinoids – and how else are we to enjoy our favorite cannabinoid-infused bevies?

However, given the novelty of the technology and the wide range of unknowns as to long term effects, it also may be time for a bit of a PSA regarding just what we’re taking into our bodies when we ingest these teeny tiny particles of CBD. Or rather, how little we know about that.

It may be that, given what we don’t know, some will choose to stick to their old-fashioned, non-water-soluble cannabinoids.

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