After CBD is extracted from the cannabis plant, it is highly concentrated and needs to be diluted in another oil to facilitate ease of administration. The oil that it’s diluted in is called the carrier oil.
When it comes to carrier oils for CBD and other cannabinoids, not all oils are created equal. While olive oil and medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) oil both have unique health benefits, the way they interact with hydrophobic molecules such as CBD is a fascinating area of study, and can have a major impact on the amount of CBD actually absorbed by the body (bioavailability). In this article, we’ll delve into the reasons why olive oil stands out as a champion in delivering superior bioavailability for CBD when compared to MCT and other oils.
Hydrophobic molecules, as the name suggests, are substances that repel water. Cannabinoids like CBD are hydrophobic molecules. Getting these hydrophobic molecules to be absorbed by the small intestine and into the bloodstream can be challenging due to their aversion to water. But there is a trick we can utilize. When the GI tract senses the presence of lipids like oil, it releases enzymes which break down and package those lipids into structures that can be absorbed by the GI tract. So when we administer CBD with another lipid in a larger volume, like a carrier oil, the enzymes released in the GI tract will help package the CBD into structures that can be easily absorbed by the small intestine.
In the small intestine, the molecules can be absorbed into the bloodstream, where they travel to the liver for processing and a large portion gets broken down, or metabolized (this is called the first pass effect). Alternatively, the molecules can enter the lymphatic system, where they bypass the liver, and then get distributed into the bloodstream, and throughout the body. This lymphatic route avoids the initial stop at the liver, allowing more of the molecules to be used by the body.
So how can we maximize the amount of CBD that gets absorbed and is made available to the body? By choosing the right carrier oil.
It’s been known in the scientific community that to maximize the bioavailability of a hydrophobic molecule, it’s best to blend it with an oil. But is there a difference between different types of oils, such as olive oil and MCT oil? It turns out that there is.
Olive oil is primarily composed of what are called “long-chain triglycerides”, or LCT for short. MCT oil on the other hand, is composed of “medium-chain triglycerides.”
LCT and MCT oils behave differently when it comes to how they’re absorbed in the body. MCT oil is broken down into medium-chain fatty acids which are rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream. LCT oils however, are broken down into long-chain fatty acids, but get packaged in the small intestine, along with other molecules like CBD, into chylomicrons. Chylomicrons are too large to be absorbed into the bloodstream, and instead, are absorbed into the lymphatic system. This is fortunate because it allows the molecules that are traveling through this lymphatic path to avoid going directly to the liver, where they would get broken down before reaching the rest of the body.
Previous studies have shown that LCT oils provide better availability of hydrophobic drugs compared to MCT oil . In 2022, researchers released a study which examined the bioavailability and lymphatic absorption of CBD using different carrier oils in rats . In addition to comparing olive oil and coconut oil (which contains a large amount of MCT oil), the researchers also tested sesame, soybean, peanut, sunflower oil, and a lipid-free formulation as a control. In the researchers’ own words: “Olive oil led to the highest concentration of CBD in the lymphatic system and in the systemic circulation in comparison to the other natural vegetable oils following oral administration in rats.” The worst performing oil was coconut oil, which provided only approximately half the bioavailability that olive oil provided.
So the key here is that the carrier oil is a crucial factor when it comes to selecting CBD products. Olive oil provides far superior bioavailability compared to MCT oil. When purchasing CBD products, make sure it’s blended with olive oil, and not MCT oil, or you could be getting only half of what you’re paying for.
At VetCBD, we use organic extra virgin olive oil in all of our tinctures to ensure you get the most out of our products.
Porter, Christopher JH, Natalie L. Trevaskis, and William N. Charman. “Lipids and lipid-based formulations: optimizing the oral delivery of lipophilic drugs.” Nature reviews Drug discovery 6.3 (2007): 231-248.
Feng, Wanshan, et al. “Vegetable oils composition affects the intestinal lymphatic transport and systemic bioavailability of co-administered lipophilic drug cannabidiol.” International journal of pharmaceutics 624 (2022): 121947.
Frequently Asked Question:
Q: Some claim that because MCT oil is rapidly absorbed by the body that this in turns allows CBD to be absorbed more rapidly or with a higher bioavailability compared to other oils. Is this accurate?
A: This is incorrect. While MCT itself is rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream, this doesn’t mean other molecules are as well. Carrier oils are mixed with CBD, but the molecules aren’t attached to each other. MCT oil’s absorption is separate and independent of the way that cannabinoids are absorbed across the walls of the small intestine. To be absorbed into the walls of the small intestine, the cannabinoids need to be packaged into molecules called micelles. These micelles are formed when LCT oils trigger the body to release enzymes (via the hormone cholecystokinin) which help break down oil and package them into micelles (MCT oil doesn’t trigger cholecystokinin release). Once the CBD molecules are packaged into micelles, they can be absorbed across the intestinal walls.
Because MCT oil doesn’t trigger cholecystokinin release like LCT oils do, it’s the one oil you absolutely don’t want to use if you want the body to absorb CBD.
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
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