All commercially available CBD oil products contain more than just CBD. They also contain a carrier oil which can come from a variety of plant-based fats. Rather than making the CBD oil less “pure,” the carrier oil actually makes the CBD more efficient. And depending on the kind of oil used as a carrier, it can also have other health benefits as well.
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What is the purpose of a carrier oil?
Carrier oils provide a practical way of increasing what’s known as the bioavailability of CBD. Bioavailability refers to how much the human body can process of a substance at a time, after which all the benefits are wasted. An analogy would be taking thousands of milligrams of Vitamin C at one time, which is useless, because the body can only process 100% of a 200 milligram dose.
CBD, reduced to its purest form, is a white powder. It's too difficult to isolate single grains of pure CBD to measure out a dose without taking more than the body can absorb at a time. Diluting CBD in a carrier oil makes it easier to measure the dosage and make sure that you get maximum benefit from the product.
These oils are also one simple way in which CBD is extracted from hemp. CBD is only one of 60 biochemical compounds found in the cannabis plant. An easy and common method of extraction dips plants into another oil, releasing the cannabidiol (CBD) into the carrier. In this process, the CBD bonds with fat molecules in the oil. Each kind of vegetable fat has different benefits for the user.
What are the most common carrier oils?
Many different oils are commonly used, including MCT (fractionated coconut oil), hemp seed, avocado, olive, grape seed, and palm oils. Some add a trace of noticeable flavor, like olive or avocado oil, while others have almost no flavor at all. There are some products on the market that use other oils, like cold-pressed orange oil, to add flavor. Some have health advantages of their own to add to the potency of CBD. Which one is best for you may just come down to what you need or like.
Each kind of carrier oil has a different chemical bonding process between the CBD and the fat molecules. As a result, the bonding process with each oil will have somewhat different effects, and make some oils better suited to topical treatments than to tinctures.
Fractionated Coconut Oil (MCT)
Fractionated coconut oil is a very effective carrier for CBD because it contains 90% saturated fat. That may sound like it has the potential to clog your arteries. But it’s not because the saturated fats in coconuts are primarily made up of medium chain triglycerides (MCTs).
Fractionated coconut oil is made from regular coconut oil. But in the process, the long chain fatty acids are removed. Medium chain fatty acids work differently on the metabolism. They go directly to the liver, where they can give you an energy boost. Since the fractionated oil has no flavor at all, and no smell, it is considered by many in the industry to be the best carrier oil of all for sublingual use.
If you find a product that says it’s made with MCT oil, and not just fractionated coconut oil, it means it’s a laboratory blend of coconut and palm oil. MCT doesn’t refer to the plant source of the oil, but the kinds of fat molecules it contains.
Hemp Seed Oil
There is some confusion among consumers about the difference between hemp seed oil and CBD oil. They come from the same plant, but they aren’t the same thing. Even more curious is the fact that hemp seed oil doesn’t improve bioavailability, unless it’s mixed with other oils that do. CBD is fat soluble—it dissolves in fats rather than water—so a saturated fat is more efficient. Hemp seed oil only contains 11% saturated fat.
Like olive oil, avocado oil is high in oleic acid and vitamins. It has a nutty flavor, and it is more viscous than other oils, as well as being more expensive. Because of its viscosity and slow drying time, avocado oil is better for topical CBD products.
Olive oil is among the healthiest foods you can eat. As a major staple of the Mediterranean diet, it has been studied extensively in recent years to determine why people from the Mediterranean region have lower rates of some diseases. Olive oil, rich in antioxidants, protects against many health problems, including heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and some kinds of cancer. So if you don’t already have olive oil in your diet, an olive oil CBD carrier may be a good choice.
It is a thicker oil, high in monounsaturated fats, with a strong fruity flavor. Because the larger fat molecules in olive oil take more effort for the body to process, it’s possible that less CBD can be absorbed in an olive oil carrier—but there are the other health benefits to consider.
Grape Seed Oil
This is the least oily of the oils listed here, making it better suited to products for hair or skin. It contains mostly polyunsaturated fats, which are the least effective carrier oils, since saturated fats absorb CBD most effectively.
Palm oil is another oil that can be processed to remove long chain fatty acids and leave only the high concentration of medium chain triglycerides. One of the big issues with palm oil is the association with devastation of the rainforests and loss of animal habitats. However, recent developments in agricultural practice have made it possible to produce palm oil sustainably.
Which Carrier Oil is the Best?
There really is no “best” carrier oil because each kind of oil suits specific applications and needs. Some are better for topical treatments or products for skin and hair, like grape seed and avocado oils, and others are better for tinctures. Some oils, like olive oil, may be harder for the body to metabolize, but it has its own health-giving properties to make up for any loss in CBD effectiveness. Depending on your personal needs and preferences, different oils will be best for you and may require some experimentation.
Looking for drops without coconut oil or with a specific carrier oil? See our list of CBD oil drops by carrier oil
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