Learn exactly what makes a great carrier oil and how it affects your CBD bioavailability. Plus, why Olive Oil and Palm Oil are poor choices for your CBD selection. CBD oils contain a carrier oil that impacts absorption and helps with dosing. You should know the benefits and possible side effects these oils offer. CBD oils can be made with MCT, hemp seed, avocado, olive oil, and more. What’s the difference? Does the carrier oil matter? We explore this topic in-depth.
CBD & Carrier Oils: Which to choose?
Knowing what goes into the blend is a pretty good start when deciding on your preferred CBD oil. Not only are there many sub-par CBD oils on the market, the way your body processes CBD has a lot to do with the ingredients. So what is a carrier oil, and how does it influence your CBD usage? Read on to find out.
What is a CBD Carrier Oil?
Carrier oils or “Base oils” have been around for a long time. You may have heard of them from aromatherapy or massage botanicals (where the oil “carries” the essential oil to your skin). The method with CBD is relatively similar – the choice of carrier oil delivers the compound to your body. Only here, it applies to topical creams and the other absorption methods (buccal, sublingual, and digestion – more on those here).
Why do we need CBD carrier oils?
After extraction from the cannabis plant, the CBD compound is distilled into isolate, broad, or full-spectrum (depending on the level of filtration). In both instances, this compound needs to be diluted by a carrier oil for five main reasons.
1. Ease of Delivery
A carrier oil assists the body in processing the CBD you take. As CBD is lipophilic (science-speak for “loves fat”), it binds easily with fat molecules, which helps strengthen the substance’s absorption by the body, and therefore increasing bioavailability (what’s that? check out our article here).
2. Maintaining Freshness
Carrier oils are needed to ensure your CBD remains stable and potent for longer. For example, some vegetable oils quickly deteriorate, and the potency of the product is lost. However, as olive oil, coconut oil, and hemp seed oil all oxidise at a slower rate, they retain the freshness of the compounds within and increase the CBD’s shelf life.
3. Diluting CBD
Following extraction, the CBD concentrate is exceptionally high. Still, your body doesn’t require large amounts of CBD to see a result (in fact, higher concentrations can lead to adverse side effects!) In addition, diluting the compound makes it much easier to create a consistent dosage, helping you adjust to find a level that’s right for you.
4. Providing taste
Once the CBD has been isolated from the plant, you’re left with a rather bland product with no distinctive taste or smell. In the same way that we use specific cooking oils in the kitchen for particular tastes, carrier oils create more exciting flavour combinations. We go one step further and add additional mouth watering flavours!
5. Carrier oil nutritional Benefits – don’t believe the hype?
Some types of oil may have nutritional health benefits; olive oil has gotten a lot of attention for its mood-improving, heart-happy health bonuses. That being said, it’s pretty questionable whether three drops of CBD oil per day is enough to see any actual benefit on your health. Plus, olive oil isn’t the best carrier for CBD, but more on this below.
What types of CBD carrier oil are there and what’s best for me?
We know it might seem like quite a granular question, but it’s one we get asked about regularly. Your decision should be down to how you use the product and your personal preferences. The essential thing is making informed choices about what you put in and on your body.
MCT Coconut oil: a great all-rounder.
Coconut oil is made by pressing the copra, or the kernel of coconuts. This oil is then processed in a method known as “fractionating”, where larger fat molecules are removed, leaving smaller ones known as MCTs (or medium-chain triglycerides). These molecules are processed and absorbed by your body more quickly than larger fats, which boosts bioavailability.
Furthermore, the environmental impact of coconut oil is pretty low. Growing coconuts doesn’t require pesticides or herbicides, and coconuts are harvested by hand instead of machines.
Hemp seed oil: not so bioavailable.
Hemp seed oil is often confused with CBD oil made from hemp leaves or flowers. However, there are no terpenes or cannabinoids in hemp seed oils.
Now, you might expect hemp seed oil to be the perfect carrier oil for CBD – it’s found on the same plant, after all. Again, however, it comes back to the question of bioavailability. Because MCT oil has more saturated fat than hemp seed oil, it can carry more CBD molecules, thus delivering more cannabidiol to our body’s cells for absorption.
Olive oil: Great for health, bad for bioavailability.
Olive oil is one of the earliest human cultivated fruits, and the health benefits of this “liquid gold” have been widely celebrated since the Romans. But, we’re sad to say, olive oil isn’t a great carrier for CBD.
Olive oil contains a high number of large monounsaturated fats and additional molecules. These are great for nutrition, but they slow the process of absorption and reduce the CBD’s bioavailability. While olive oil is noted for its antioxidants, the viscous liquid can make it difficult to dose correctly.
Palm oil: Good for CBD, bad for the Environment.
Palm Oil is a vegetable oil that comes from the fruit of oil palm trees. Two types of oil can be produced; crude palm oil is made by pressing the fleshy fruit, and palm kernel oil comes from mashing the stone in the middle of the fruit. Just like coconut oil, palm oil can be fractionated to create an MCT oil.
You’ve probably heard of the bad reputation palm oil has for its environmental effects – namely, that acres of rainforest are being cut down to keep up with the massive demand for palm oil (palm oil is used in everything from pizza to toothpicks!). This contributes to the loss of habitats for vulnerable animals and accelerates climate change due to palm trees’ valuable role in absorbing carbon dioxide.
In conclusion: what is the best carrier oil for CBD?
The best carrier oil for CBD will feature a high rate of bioavailability. For this reason, MCT oil is your best bet. It has higher fat-soluble compounds that ensure a greater absorption rate and ensure you receive the greatest benefit from the cannabinoids.
Carrier Oils for CBD: How to Choose the Best One
Adrienne Dellwo is an experienced journalist who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and has written extensively on the topic.
Verywell Health articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and healthcare professionals. These medical reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more.
Femi Aremu, PharmD, is a professional pharmacist with experience in clinical and community pharmacy. He currently practices in Chicago, Illinois.
If you’ve ever used a CBD oil, you’ve gotten more from the product than just cannabidiol (CBD). For multiple reasons, manufacturers include a carrier oil, too.
As its name suggests, a carrier oil delivers (or carries) the contents of the active compound. In this case, it’s CBD. In the realm of beauty products, carrier oils dilute essential oils because the essential oil may be too strong on its own. (For example, a lavender reaction from lavender oil can cause the skin to itch, burn, or break out in blisters.)
Carrier oils are important to CBD because they help dissolve the cannabinoid’s molecules so they can be absorbed by the body. Many carrier oils are similar, but they may have differences that could be important to you for various reasons. For example, most of them are nut-based or plant-based, and you could be allergic to them. Oils that are taken orally may not taste good to you. Reading the label is a smart move—as long as you know what you’re looking for.
This article explains the purpose of carrier oils and the possible side effects. It also describes the six carrier oils you’re likely to see in stores and online, including their advantages and drawbacks.
Marketing Outpaces Science
CBD is an abbreviation for cannabidiol. It’s one of 100-plus chemicals in the cannabis plant that may have health benefits. It’s widely assumed that CBD oil can relieve arthritis pain, chronic pain, and chronic nerve pain as well as reduce inflammation, ease anxiety, and improve sleep. Researchers are actively studying other uses for CBD oil, particularly in terms of slowing cancer cell growth.
Purpose of CBD Carrier Oils
CBD products use different carrier oils, sometimes alone and sometimes in combinations. They serve several important functions:
One key reason for using a carrier oil is that it improves bioavailability, which means it helps your body absorb CBD oil. CBD is fat-soluble, which means that it dissolves in oil rather than water. Fat-soluble substances are better absorbed when digested along with fat, even in small amounts.
When you digest water-soluble substances, like sugar or many vitamins and minerals, your digestive tract sends them directly into your bloodstream (because blood is a water-based liquid).
Fat-soluble substances can’t be absorbed this way. Instead, your digestive tract sends them into fatty tissues and they’re distributed through your body by the lymphatic system, which is part of your immune system. Any excess is stored in your liver and fatty tissues for later use.
All carrier oils are fat-soluble, which means CBD dissolves in it. Then the oil carries the CBD into the proper tissues so they’re more accessible by your body.
Know Your Tinctures
CBD products have introduced consumers to a new lexicon. For example, concentrated CBD oil usually taken through a dropper is known as a tincture.
CBD is a potent chemical, which means you don’t need much of it for a medicinal effect. However, this poses a problem when it comes to dosing. To deliver accurate and consistent doses, it’s easier to measure out a dropperful of CBD-infused oil than a tiny amount of crystalline isolate (which is CBD in pure form).
Added Health Benefits
Carrier oils sometimes include health benefits all on their own. For example, olive oil has gotten a lot of attention for its heart-healthy benefits.
If there’s an oil you’d like to get more of in your diet, adding it to your CBD regimen is one way to get it. (This said, it remains debatable whether one or two droppers of carrier oil a day is enough to have any tangible effect on your health. This is another CBD-related topic that falls under the category of “more research is required.”)
CBD Products Come From Hemp
CBD products almost always are derived from hemp, which is botanically and legally different from the marijuana plant. By law, CBD products can’t contain more than 0.3% THC (short for delta-9- tetrahydrocannabinol ), which is the chemical in marijuana that creates a high.
Side Effects and Precautions
Most people don’t have side effects from common carrier oils. Some oils, though, may not be right for people with certain illnesses or who take certain medications. Always check with your healthcare provider before adding anything to your dietary regimen—even a “natural” product like CBD in a carrier oil. Natural doesn’t always mean safe.
If you have tree-nut allergies or other food allergies, be especially diligent about selecting CBD products with carrier oils you know are safe for you. All ingredients should be specified on the label.
For topical preparations, know that some carrier oils or other added ingredients may cause an itchy, red rash called allergic contact dermatitis. Others may cause a skin reaction after sun exposure. Be sure you’re familiar with the potential side effects of whatever products you’re using. And play it safe by testing a miniscule amount of topical oil on an obscure patch of skin to see if you develop a reaction.
What About Essential Oils?
Carrier oils aren’t the same thing as essential oils used for aromatherapy. Essential oils are highly concentrated, which is why they have a strong fragrance. Many essential oils can cause poisoning when ingested or absorbed through the skin, even in small amounts. This is true even if the oil comes from something that is normally safe to ingest, such as nutmeg.
Essential oils are often used topically (on the skin) after being diluted by a carrier oil. Essential oils themselves, however, should never be used as a carrier oil. Some topical CBD formulations may include essential oils such as lavender or eucalyptus oils because of their purported health benefits.
Before using these products, be sure you’re familiar with the ingredients and that you’re not allergic to any of them. Watch also for side effects, which can occur soon after using them.
Common Carrier Oils
Some CBD oils may contain one or more carrier oils. Some common carrier oils are:
- Medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) oil
- Hemp seed oil
- Olive oil
- Avocado oil
MCT oil is the most common carrier oil for CBD products. It can be derived from coconut or palm kernel oil, but coconut is the most common source. On labels, it’s sometimes listed as fractionated coconut oil, which means it contains more liquid than solid compared to normal coconut oil, thanks to fatty acids.
Medium-chain triglycerides are a type of fatty acid that your body can quickly absorb because it doesn’t have to break it down via digestion before sending it off to the lymph system. It also absorbs easily through the skin.
Long-chain triglycerides require more digestion time. Short-chain triglycerides are often consumed by gut bacteria before they’ve had time to be absorbed. So MCTs are the most useful.
- Quick absorption due to molecular structure
- 90% saturated fat, which also aids absorption
- Light, thin oil
- Almost flavorless
- Doesn’t require chemical processing
- Less expensive than some carrier oils
- Slow to break down and go rancid
- Temporary digestive side effects (nausea, gas, diarrhea, vomiting) in some people
- Possible excessive build-up of ketones in the body (dangerous with poorly controlled diabetes)
- Not recommended for people with liver disease
- May interact with cholesterol-lowering statin drugs
Additional Health Claims
Some scientific evidence suggests that MCT oil may:
- Help with weight loss by reducing your appetite, increasing metabolism, and making your body burn calories faster
- Have benefits for people with autism, epilepsy, cancer, type 2 diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease
- Activate the immune system to fight yeast and bacterial overgrowth
While promising, much of this research is preliminary. More research is needed before MCT oil can be recommended for these uses.
Scrutinize Coconut Oil Labels
If the label of a CBD product says “coconut oil,” it’s likely regular coconut oil and not MCT. While perfectly fine as a carrier oil, regular coconut oil may not have all of the same benefits of an MCT.
Hemp Seed Oil
It may come from the same plant, but hemp seed oil (sometimes called hemp oil) and CBD oil aren’t the same thing. CBD comes from the flower while hemp seed oil comes from the seeds. The seeds contain fewer beneficial chemicals (cannabinoids and terpenes) than the flower and in much lower concentrations. However, they do contain some hemp phytochemicals that aren’t present in the flowers.
Using hemp seed oil as a carrier oil for CBD may contribute to what’s called the “entourage effect,” which basically means that combining parts of the plant may make each component more effective than it would be alone.
This quality makes hemp seed oil a popular choice for “full-spectrum” products, which contain all of the component chemicals of the hemp plant rather than just CBD.
- Rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which may lower inflammation
- Ideal ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids
- High antioxidant levels
- Good source of fiber
- Contains magnesium, calcium, iron, and zinc
- Possible entourage effect
- Lower solvency than MCT oil, meaning it can’t hold as much CBD
- Higher priced than MCT oil
- Flavor (sometimes described as “sharp” or “herby”) may clash with some palates
- Side effects may include diarrhea, nausea, throat irritation, slow heart rate, high blood pressure
Some companies try to pass off hemp seed oil as CBD oil. Be sure to check the ingredients and amount of CBD a product contains before you buy it. All reputable companies should provide this information on their labels and websites.
Additional Health Claims
Hemp seed has been used medicinally for a wide array of conditions, most of which have not been researched enough to say for sure whether they’re safe and effective. The conditions include:
, for its anti-inflammatory properties and blood pressure and other conditions involving skin inflammation
Olive oil is probably the carrier oil you’re most familiar with. It’s certainly the best researched. It’s become one of the most commonly used cooking oils because of its many well-established health benefits:
- High in iron, vitamin K, vitamin E
- Rich in antioxidants
- Highly trusted
- Absorbed by the skin even faster than MCT
- Its long-chain triglycerides are slower to absorb than MCT (but may absorb more efficiently)
- Lower solvency than MCT, meaning it can’t hold as much CBD
- Thicker than most other carrier oils, which may be unpleasant
- Flavor is relatively strong and may be distasteful to some people
Additional Health Claims
Thanks to a significant amount of research, olive oil is known to:
- Boost immunity
- Reduce inflammation
- Increase good cholesterol and lower bad cholesterol
- Prevent blood platelet clumping, which can cause heart attacks
- Aid in blood clotting
- Improve gut-bacteria balance
- Support proper nerve function
- Prevent cognitive decline
- Protect bones from thinning (osteoporosis)
Avocado oil has become more popular for a variety of uses, including cooking, as researchers have learned about its health benefits. As a CBD carrier oil, it’s used most often in topical products, but you can also find it in products that are meant to be ingested.
- Quickly and easily absorbed by your skin and digestive tract
- Nutty flavor may be more pleasant than some alternatives
- Especially good for topical uses
- Rich in antioxidants
- High in vitamins A, B, D, and E
- Much thicker than most carrier oils, which may be unpleasant
- Significantly more expensive than many carrier oils
- Higher allergy risk than many carrier oils
Additional Health Claims
Most of the research into avocado oil has been performed on animals, not people. Until researchers take this next step, preliminary evidence suggests that avocado oil may:
- Lower bad cholesterol and raise good cholesterol, which decreases the risk of heart disease
- Improve glucose tolerance and reduce insulin resistance, providing protection from diabetes
- Improve metabolic markers
Avocado oil is less likely than many oils to clog your pores, so it’s popular for topical use. Plus, its slow drying time may help it last longer than some topical preparations.
Avocado allergies are possible. If you experience itching in your mouth after ingesting avocados or avocado oil, don’t ingest any more before talking with your healthcare provider about it. Some allergies tend to occur together. People with avocado allergies may be especially sensitive to:
- Other fruits and vegetables
If you have an allergic reaction to any of these things, you should be tested for a reaction to the others as well.
Extreme Symptoms Are Possible
Extreme allergy symptoms, such as difficulty breathing or anaphylaxis, are uncommon (but possible) with avocados because digestive enzymes tend to break down the allergen before it’s absorbed into your body. Get emergency medical attention if you experience these symptoms.
Carrier oils are important to CBD because they help dissolve the cannabinoid’s molecules so they can be absorbed by the body. Many carrier oils are similar, but they may have differences that could be important to you for various health reasons. One key reason for using a carrier oil is that it improves bioavailability, which means it helps your body absorb CBD oil. Besides, to deliver accurate and consistent doses, it’s easier to measure out a dropperful of CBD-infused oil than a tiny amount of crystalline isolate (which is CBD in pure form). Carrier oils also may have health benefits all on their own. Four common carrier oils are medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) oil, hemp seed oil, olive oil, and avocado oil.
A Word From Verywell
Many people are quick to ask: “Which CBD carrier oil is the best?” Now you know that the answer depends on several factors, including the type and uses of the CBD product, whether you have allergies or certain health conditions, and your personal preferences. So look at it this way: If you try one oil and don’t like it, you can always try a different one. Meanwhile, be sure to ask your healthcare provider or pharmacist for advice along the way.
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
Harvard Medical School. Harvard Health Publishing. CBD products are everywhere. But do they work?
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By Adrienne Dellwo
Adrienne Dellwo is an experienced journalist who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and has written extensively on the topic.
What’s in Your CBD Oil? Why Carrier Oil Matters
CBD oils can be made with MCT, hemp seed, avocado, olive oil, and more. What’s the difference? Does the carrier oil matter? We explore this topic in-depth.
If you look at the label of your CBD oil, you’ll see that it contains more than just hemp extract.
As the name suggests, CBD oils also include an oil — which is usually some form of vegetable oil or vegetable glycerine.
These oils serve an important purpose — to help deliver the active component — in our case, CBD — to the body.
There are many different carrier oils used in CBD products — coconut, MCT, palm, olive, avocado, hemp seed, sesame, and grape seed oil — each with their own set of positives and negatives.
In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about carrier oil selection. We cover MCT, olive, hemp seed, grape seed, and glycerine — including the pros and cons of each.
So let’s get started.
Table of Contents
- 1. Medium-Chain Triglyceride (MCT) Oil
- Pros & Cons of Hemp Seed Oil
- Pros & Cons of Grape Seed Oil
What is a Carrier Oil?
As the name implies, a “carrier oil” carries the CBD and other phytochemicals. It’s a simple solution. The carrier oil acts as a solvent to dissolve the compounds of the hemp plant to make them easier to use.
This concept isn’t unique to CBD products. The same concept applies when making Kool-aid by dissolving the flavored powder into water, or when making soapy water to wash the dishes.
The only difference here is that a fat is used instead of water. This is because cannabinoids are soluble in oils and fats instead of water.
What Are the Benefits of Adding Carrier Oils to CBD?
There are three main reasons carrier oils are used. Let’s cover each one in more detail.
1. Carrier Oils Enhance CBD Absorption
One of the main reasons CBD oil manufacturers dilute hemp extracts like CBD in a carrier oil is to improve absorption in the gut. This works because CBD is a fat-soluble substance.
This is important because the body has two separate pathways for absorbing compounds into the body — a water-soluble pathway and a fat-soluble pathway. This all happens at the working unit of the intestinal tract known as the microvilli (pictured below).
Water-soluble compounds like most amino acids, sugars, and minerals can travel directly through the gut lining into the water-based blood. From here, they’re transported around the body. In the diagram above, water-soluble substances enter the red portion under the surface (the blood).
Fat-soluble substances on the other hand — like CBD — can’t go directly into the bloodstream. They first need to get packaged up into tiny droplets called micelles. These micelles then enter the fatty lymph tissue — a network of fat-based compounds and immune cells. They then travel up the body through the lymph, eventually entering the bloodstream directly above the heart. In the diagram above, the lymph is the green tubes (called lacteals). These lacteals carry the CBD (and other cannabinoids) to the lymphatic system.
Absorbing fats in this way requires a series of enzymes in the digestive tract to prepare the fat molecules for absorption by breaking them down and turning them into micelles. When we eat fats, taste receptors in our mouth send signals to the digestive tract to get these enzymes ready.
When we take CBD alongside other fats, it helps prime the body for this effect — signaling the rest of the body to prepare for fat absorption — which effectively increases the amount of CBD the body can absorb.
2. Carrier Oils Make Measuring Doses Easier
The difference between 5 mg and 50 mg of pure CBD crystals is minuscule — 50 mg of this highly-refined source of CBD is about the size of a match head.
Getting precise doses like 7.5 mg requires a precision scale and can’t be done accurately with the naked eye. We need special equipment for this, which simply isn’t realistic for most CBD users.
The solution is to first dilute the CBD crystals into a carrier oil at a predictable amount — such as 100 mg, 300 mg, 600 mg, or 1000 mg CBD per bottle like you’ll find listed on most CBD oils.
From here, the larger volume of the oil with CBD dissolved is much easier to measure. The same 50 mg dose can be measured by counting the drops of oil or measuring the fluid in a measuring spoon. It makes dosing CBD significantly more accurate and consistent.