When you’re looking to buy a CBD oil, you might notice that it comes in a “carrier oil”, like MCT oil or olive oil. But what is carrier oil? Why is it in your CBD oil? And most importantly, which carrier oil is best for CBD? Read on to find out!
What is a carrier oil?
You only need to take CBD in very tiny amounts to feel the effects. However, it would be far too impractical – probably impossible — to measure out doses that small at home. That’s where carrier oils come in.
A small amount of CBD extract is dissolved into a larger volume of carrier oil (e.g. olive oil, MCT oil, hemp seed oil) to make CBD oil. You simply take the oil via dropper or spray, getting an appropriate dose of CBD without the hassle of measuring it out.
That’s not the only reason CBD comes in a carrier oil…
Why do you need carrier oil?
The bioavailability of a CBD oil is the amount of CBD that is actually absorbed and used by your body. Mixing CBD with a carrier oil helps to increase bioavailability, meaning you get more CBD for your money.
This happens because CBD is a fat-soluble substance, which means that it dissolves in oil rather than water. When it reaches your gut, it can’t go directly into the bloodstream, like a water-soluble substance would. Instead, CBD needs to be encapsulated and turned into a special molecule called a micelle.
For this to happen, your digestive system needs to produce certain enzymes. When you eat fats, like oil, receptors in your mouth signal that’s it’s time to start preparing these enzymes. So by taking your CBD in a carrier oil, you’re priming your digestive system for maximum CBD uptake.
As a bonus, carrier oils can mask the earthy, herbal taste of CBD, and they often have a few health benefits of their own. Olive oil, for example, is well known for its healthy effect on the heart, and like many other oils, it’s packed full of beneficial antioxidants and nutrients.
The best carrier oils for CBD
The most popular carrier oils for CBD are MCT oil, hemp seed oil and olive oil. Here, we’ll lay out the pros and cons of each so you can decide which carrier oil is best for you.
The most common carrier oil you’ll come across is medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) oil. It’s most often derived from coconut oil, so you might see it referred to as fractionated coconut oil too.
Triglycerides are chains of fatty acids used by the body for energy storage. Short-chain triglycerides are quickly used up by bacteria in the gut, while long-chains take a while to break down. Medium-chain triglycerides are long enough to survive the gut, but short enough to be absorbed quickly, making them a perfect partner for CBD.
MCT makes a great carrier oil for CBD because:
- The very high saturated fat content provides superior bioavailability.
- The rapid absorption means your CBD kicks in quickly.
- It’s widely available and cheap to source, which means a cheaper CBD oil for you.
- It’s highly soluble, so it can used to make ultra-potent CBD oils.
- It has a light texture and almost no flavour (but may have a mild coconut taste).
- It lasts for a long time without going rancid.
There are some cons, too:
- The lack of flavour might be a con for some people, rather than a pro!
- Some people experience digestive discomfort, like nausea, gas or diarrhoea.
- It’s often highly processed and refined.
- It can interfere with statins (cholesterol medication) and may not be suitable for people with uncontrolled diabetes or liver disease.
CBD aside, fans of MCT oil say that it gives them more physical and mental energy. It’s also used as a weight loss aid, usually as part of the keto diet, and can help people to feel fuller for longer after eating. There is also research to suggest that MCT lowers “bad” cholesterol and increases “good” cholesterol, potentially offering benefits for the heart too.
While CBD extract comes from the flower of the hemp plant, hemp oil comes from the seed. That means hemp seed oil doesn’t contain the same high levels of cannabinoids, terpenes and other goodies that CBD does, but it does have some beneficial chemical compounds of its own.
Taking CBD with hemp seed oil brings the best of both together and contributes to what we call “the entourage effect”. This is when several parts of the plant are consumed together and actually amplify each other’s effects, providing a greater benefit than if they were taken alone.
For that reason, hemp seed oil is a popular carrier for full-spectrum CBD oil. In addition to CBD, full-spectrum oil still contains all of the original cannabinoids and other compounds extracted from the hemp plant. This also boosts the entourage effect, supercharging your hemp oil/CBD combo!
Hemp seed oil does have a few drawbacks:
- It’s pricier than alternatives like MCT oil.
- It has lower solubility than MCT oil, so it can’t carry as much CBD.
- Some people don’t like the herbal, earthy taste.
However, it is a great wellbeing supplement in its own right, with added benefits like:
- An optimal ratio of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids to fight inflammation and support skin and heart health.
- A positive effect on your cholesterol profile and blood pressure.
- Lots of antioxidants, fibre and essential nutrients like zinc, iron, magnesium and calcium.
Olive oil works well as a carrier oil, but in our opinion, it’s not quite up there with MCT and hemp seed oil. It’s absolutely loaded with healthy plant nutrients, but the downside is that it leaves little room for CBD. It’s also rich in long-chain triglycerides, which are slower to break down. For those reasons, CBD absorbency is lower and slower, so it works best for low-potency CBD oils.
That said, the health effects of olive oil are undeniable. Tons of research shows that it’s incredibly beneficial for the heart, balancing cholesterol and lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease. Packed with antioxidant nutrients and vitamins, it’s also known to promote a healthy immune system, support brain and nervous system function, and reduce inflammation.
CBD carrier oils to avoid
Most plant-derived oils make great carrier oils for CBD, but we recommend being cautious of these ones (or steering clear altogether).
Similar to CBD, essential oils are highly concentrated plant extracts with lots of reported health benefits. So why not combine the two and get the best of both worlds?
Well, even small amounts of some essential oils can cause irritation, which is why they’re also commonly mixed with carrier oils before being put on the skin. Most are not suitable for ingestion at all, so taking them with your CBD can cause illness and even poisoning.
There are some essential oils that are fine to consume in tiny doses, but even they shouldn’t be used as carrier oils. If you’re thinking of buying a CBD oil with essential oil ingredients, carefully research them first to make sure they’re safe.
Palm oil is actually a great carrier oil for CBD. In fact, MCT oil is sometimes derived from palm oil. However, it’s a terrible choice in almost every other respect!
Palm oil plays a significant role in global deforestation. Plantations have replaced acres and acres of rainforest, contributing to global warming and destroying the natural habitats of a number of endangered animals. There have also been controversies around worker exploitation and child labour. If you want to get the benefits of MCT oil, we say go for coconut-derived MCT instead!