Big Sky Botanicals Logo

Water Soluble CBD vs CBD Oil: Which is Better?

Water Soluble CBD Header

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?

Water and Oil Separation

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.

Nanoemulsion Example

  • 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.

Liposome Example

  • 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.

Microemulsion Example

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:

Graphic comparing oil, liposomal microemulsion and nano-sized microemulsions

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?

Product group with oil based and water soluble products

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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. These products contain our THC-free 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.



16 comments on “Water Soluble CBD vs CBD Oil: Which is Better?

  • James Carlton says:

    Just received my first bottle of Softgels. Just store in a cool, dry place or refrigerate? Thanks.

  • Mike says:

    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.

  • Tia Martin says:

    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?

  • charles knapp says:

    There are many natural surfactants. witch one do you use. thank you charles

  • Cristal says:

    What surfactants are used in your nanoemulsions, microemulsions and liposmes? Interesting information but I need to know a bit more before purchasing. Thank you.

    • Big Sky Botanicals says:

      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.

  • Sophia Slate says:

    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.

  • Volker says:

    Have you done any studies (animal or human) that demonstrate the improvement in bioavailability ?

    • Big Sky Botanicals says:

      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

  • Ben says:

    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.

  • Rod says:

    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.

    • Big Sky Botanicals says:

      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!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Related Articles