Since you’re a savvy shopper and conscious consumer who’s well in tune with the ins and outs of CBD at this point, chances are you’ve noticed the term “carrier oil” printed onto the label or box of your favorite cannabidiol tincture. If you’re hoping to dive a little deeper into what that means — and what makes a good (or bad!) carrier oil — then you’ve come to the right place.
Why does CBD need a carrier oil? “Cannabinoids like THC and CBD are lipophilic [which means] fat-loving,” said Melany Dobson of Hudson Hemp. “Administering them with oil is a great way to increase an otherwise poorly absorbed molecule. Studies have shown that consuming CBD with fat triples the amount of CBD absorbed as compared to when it isn’t.”
In essence, this means the carrier oil is the delivery guy, bringing your package (the CBD) to your doorstep (your receptor cells). The better the delivery guy (carrier oil) the more quickly and efficiently you get that package (CBD). Not all of my analogies land, but this one felt right.
So, what constitutes a “good” or “bad” carrier oil? Is MCT the golden child of this fatty arena, or should it be coconut? Or olive? Or what about an oil from the cannabis plant itself, say … you know… hemp seed oil? As it turns out, there are many great options. Here’s what to consider when you’re choosing a product based on its delivery oil.
Consider any potential allergies
The best oil for someone else could be lethal to you if you’re dealing with a severe tree nut allergy. Ya dig? MCT is typically made from palm kernel oil and coconut oil, and while there’s a potential for side effects, they are rarely reported. You could have an allergy to coconut or almond oil, but not to olive oil. If you have no allergies, then you’re in luck — that’s one less thing to worry about.
What’s your flavor? This is a very subjective qualifier, of course. When you’re considering the “best” oil, ask yourself is this an oil that tastes good? MCT is typically flavorless, making it a frontrunner for many brands when selecting what to blend their cannabis compound into. Olive has a more potent taste, and while some are used to that flavor (and enjoy it), others may be turned off by it. The oil impacts how easily and readily someone can take their medicine, and the experience of using a CBD tincture. If flavor could be a potential barrier to taking medicine of this nature (particularly if this is medicine you rely on), then consider trying brands that use more flavorless oils, and do a little shopping around.
This is arguably the most important component when it comes to your personal health, and how effective your CBD medicine is. The chemistry and compounds within the oil itself determine bioavailability — how easily your body is able to absorb the oil, and thus the medicine (remember the weird delivery guy analogy?). For instance, MCT oil is high in medium-chain triglycerides (hence the acronym), which are readily absorbed into the liver for metabolization. “Choosing the best carrier oil is all about bioavailability,” said Hilary Morse, co-founder of H. Hemp. “We use MCT oil because it is easily absorbed into the body and has a great taste.” (See point number 2)
Dobson agreed. “MCT oil is saturated fat, making it very effective for improving the bioavailability of CBD oil,” she said. “MCT is touted by the internet and many companies as the best carrier oil; this is because MCT oil is roughly 90-percent saturated fat, which means it is broken down by the liver almost immediately and utilized more quickly compared to other fats. Thereby, many claim the bioavailability of CBD is increased.”
Consider environmental impact
Not all oils are created — or harvested — equally. “It should be noted that there is an environmental impact to MCT oil that may not be positive,” said Dobson. That said, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s negative either. But when it comes to MCT oil (which may include palm kernel oil), it’s important to keep in mind that the harvesting process has had some sinister implications. She told SVN that MCT can be “a laboratory blend of coconut and palm oil,” and that the label doesn’t denote where the palm oil comes from.
Citing a New York Times article, she noted that “the environmental impact of palm kernel oil” has resulted in massive fires in Jakarta, deliberately set to clear room for plantations. “Due to the climate crisis we are facing, it is important to make choices that are good for us and good for the earth,” said Dobson.
What are some earth-friendly oils? According to Dobson, “Organic cold-pressed hemp seed oil and sunflower oil are both nutritionally dense and healthy for us while also being healthy for the earth.” Speaking of organic — Dobson says, “MCT oil is an isolated fat, and because it is refined to this degree, it cannot be certified organic.”
So… what are the best carrier oils?
As far as we know now (science could disprove this like, tomorrow… but as of NOW) — there’s not a particularly bad carrier oil, and a lot of it comes down to preference and, as mentioned, bioavailability.
MCT and hemp seed oil seem to be some of the best options. “Cold-pressed hemp seed oil provides all nine essential fatty acids and is high in alpha-linolenic acid (the plant form of omega 3),” said Dobson. “In fact, hemp seed oil has the ideal ratio of two essential fatty acids (omega-6 and omega-3), as well as contains other essential amino acids like Gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) and arginine.” What’s more is that hemp seed oil is all part of the same plant, which as Dobson points out, “speaks to the full-plant/full-spectrum story.”
Other options include coconut, olive, avocado, grape seed, and sunflower oils. “Sunflower seed oil is rich in vitamin E, omega-9, and omega-6,” said Dobson. She recommends the use of hemp seed and sunflower oils, but also recommends looking into flaxseed and sesame oils (which aren’t popular at present).
The “best” isn’t clear cut or defined, given that there are so many variables based on the user, but hopefully with this information, you can find the best option for your wellness routine — one that perfectly suits your needs.
Written By: Dominique Michelle Astorino, a wellness and fitness editor, CBD aficionado, and author (currently working on her first book). She graduated from the Annenberg School of Journalism at the University of Southern California and has written nearly 5000 articles on how to live a happier, healthier life.