What is CBD oil?

cbd oil

A big thanks to Sian Baker, registered nutritional therapist and founder of Happy Me CBD, for this feature post.

What’s it oil about?

As the UK’s flourishing CBD market continues to grow and the array of different CBD foods, drinks and beauty products hitting the supermarket and high street pharmacy shelves is ever-expanding, CBD tincture oils remain steadfast in their popularity as the chosen format for taking CBD. According to the CMC, around 70% of UK CBD consumers purchase CBD oil, tinctures or capsules suggesting a preference for systematic therapeutic dosing for health and wellness. 

If you are among that number, or possibly exploring CBD for the first time and considering which CBD approach to take, then it’s worth taking the time to understand why CBD oils are so popular and how their ingredients vary, both on the palate and in the body’s system.

What’s in an oil?

CBD oil, sometimes referred to as tincture, is a combination of CBD compounds blended with what is known as a ‘carrier oil’.  Just as the name suggests, this carrier oil plays an important role in the effective delivery of the biologically active CBD compound into the body. CBD is lipophilic, which means it loves fat and is fat-soluble, meaning that it dissolves in fat rather than water. As a fat-soluble, fat-loving compound, CBD is absorbed into the body via the lymphatic system and stored in the liver and fat cells for use as and when required. Consequently, one of the key reasons why CBD is presented in an oil format is because it enhances its absorption and subsequent bioavailability to the body, making it one of the most effective ingestion methods available. 

CBD in a carrier oil does also improve its measurability. After CBD is extracted from the hemp flowers the resultant product is potent and requires dilution to allow for dosage variability between different consumers. CBD diluted in a carrier oil also enables the consumer to measure consistent, accurate doses.

The most common carrier oils you may have come across in CBD products are MCT, hemp seed oil and olive oil. Whilst your CBD dosage may mean you only consume a small amount each day, each of these carrier oils offer the added bonus of potential health benefits in themselves.

MCT oil

MCT, or medium-chain triglyceride, oil is derived from coconut or palm kernel oil and is commonly used as a carrier oil for CBD. Medium-chain fatty acids, such as those in MCT, are more easily digested than their long-chain counterparts, such as those found in olive oil. MCT oil is also linked to its benefits for gut bacteria and anti-inflammatory properties. MCT is a light, thin oil that is almost flavourless and relatively inexpensive. However MCT isn’t recommended for everyone; it can result in temporary digestive side effects for some such as nausea, flatulence and diarrhoea and it may interact with drugs used for lowering cholesterol such as statins. 

Hemp seed oil

Whilst from the same plant as CBD, hemp seed oil comes from the hemp seeds rather than from the plant’s flowers. Hemp seed oil is rich in the essential fatty acids; omega-3 and -6, as well as antioxidants; it’s also a good source of fibre and contains the minerals magnesium, calcium, zinc and iron. A unique advantage of hemp seed oil versus other carrier oils lies in the fact that it comes from the same plant as CBD which contributes to what is known as the ‘entourage effect’.  In short, this means the efficacy of the different plant components is greater when they are used in combination rather than in isolation, ultimately meaning that putting hemp seed oil together with CBD enhances its active chemistry in the body. One drawback however is that hemp seed oil is more expensive than MCT oil and has a lower solvency, meaning it cannot hold as much CBD as MCT.

Olive oil

Olive oil is probably the oil most well-known of the carrier oils and one that many will know a little more about from its culinary uses and well-reported health benefits. Olive oil is rich in antioxidants and high in iron, vitamin K and vitamin E, however as a long-chain triglyceride with higher levels of monounsaturated fats, it is slower to absorb than MCT. It also has a thicker consistency than other carrier oils making it more difficult to dose, and a lower solvency, again meaning it cannot hold as much CBD as MCT.  

Other oils

While MCT, hemp seed and olive oil are the most popular carrier oils, there are a handful of other less frequently employed oils. Some products use avocado oil, olive oil or almond oil as their carriers so tolerance is an important consideration; if you have a tree nut allergy or other food intolerances it is particularly important to check the ingredients label of your chosen CBD product before getting started to ensure that the carrier oil is safe for you to ingest. 

So which carrier oil is best?

Choosing which CBD-carrier oil combination is best for you is a matter of balancing personal preference, suitability, efficiency (aka bioavailablity), and value. Perhaps the carrier oil by itself is not a deciding factor for you, though when comparing different CBD products it is good to know the merits and unique benefits of each, and also helpful to understand why price point per volume can vary. To get the most impactful results out of your CBD consider choosing an oil that offers high bioavailability and efficacy, such as hemp seed oil, or an oil that’s good for digestibility and may be lower in price such as MCT oil.