CBD for Pets: What Is The Best Carrier Oil?
CBD for Pets: What Is The Best Carrier Oil?
When it comes to deciding which CBD oil is right for our pets, one often-overlooked factor is the carrier oil. The term “carrier oil” refers to the substance used to dilute and deliver the CBD, and the type of carrier oil used can have a surprisingly large impact on the efficacy of the CBD oil.
Carrier oils vary on a wide range of parameters, from taste to texture to bioavailability to price. This guide is designed to help you make sense of it all in deciding which carrier oil is right for your beloved companion.
Why carrier oils?
Carrier oils have proven to be an effective delivery mechanism for CBD because, like other cannabinoids, CBD is highly fat soluble but not water soluble, meaning that CBD will dissolve well in fats like oils but not so well in water-based liquids. This distinction has important implications for how the body absorbs and uses CBD once it has been ingested. A 2017 study https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5674070/ involving rats found that using a fat-based rather than a water-based carrier for CBD increased its systemic bioavailability by 2.8 times.
What kinds of carrier oils are used for CBD?
A wide variety of different oils are used as carrier oils for CBD, each with its own strengths and potential drawbacks. Making matters even more complicated, these many options are then combined into an endless array of oil blends, which come in organic and nonorganic forms. The potential choices are literally infinite.
CBD carrier oils include olive oil, MCT oil, hemp seed oil, sunflower oil, avocado oil, grapeseed oil, pomegranate seed oil, sesame seed oil, and arnica oil. In addition to their function as a carrier for CBD, each of these oils offers its own unique nutritional profile, providing further health benefits for our furry friends.
While all of the above oils and various blends thereof have been used as carrier oils for CBD, the two primary carrier oils are olive oil and MCT oil. The reasons for their prevalence is clear: both act as safe, effective carrier oils for CBD while also providing proven health benefits. However, this does not make them the same.
MCT oil is the most common carrier oil found in CBD oil supplements. Less of a household name than olive oil, MCT oil typically is derived from coconut oil and/or palm kernel oil, with coconut oil being the most common source. (MCT oil sometimes is referred to as fractionated coconut oil.)
MCT stands for medium-chain triglycerides. According to the Cleveland Clinic, triglycerides “are a major form of dietary fat found in the bloodstream. They’re made of up three chains of saturated or unsaturated fatty acids that are linked by molecules of glycerol, which is a form of alcohol.” https://health.clevelandclinic.org/mct-oil-benefits/
Whereas long-chain triglycerides, or LCTs, contain 12 or more carbon molecules, MCTs contain between six and 12 carbon molecules. This seemingly small difference has a large effect on the way the body processes the two substances: MCTs are sent directly to the liver, where they are converted immediately into useable energy. LCTs, on the other hand, must first pass through the lymphatic system for additional processing. (This, it turns out, has important implications for how MCTs and LCTs act as carriers for CBD. More on that below.) https://health.clevelandclinic.org/mct-oil-benefits/
In addition to coconut oil, naturally occurring MCTs can be found in dairy products such as cow’s milk, butter, yogurt, and cheese, and also are present in human breast milk. This is not surprising given the apparent health benefits of MCTs when consumed in moderate amounts. (MCTs are, after all, fats, and consuming any fat in excess potentially can have negative health consequences.) https://health.clevelandclinic.org/mct-oil-benefits/
The Health Benefits of MCT Oil for Dogs
Clinical research has confirmed many of the supposed health benefits of MCT oil for dogs, from improved cognitive function to better heart health to a reduction in seizures. One study https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30619873/ published in 2018 found that dogs suffering from cognitive dysfunction syndrome—a condition commonly referred to as “doggy dementia”—who were put on a diet rich in MCT for 90 days showed improvement in six out of six measures of cognitive function. Similarly, a 2020 study https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32293065/ on epileptic dogs found not only that dogs consuming MCT had fewer seizures but also that those dogs demonstrated improved memory, better problem-solving skills, and enhanced trainability.
While the reasons behind MCT’s positive impact on brain health are still being researched, it appears that multiple factors are at play. For example, dogs consuming MCT oil had a higher number of phospholipids present in their brain, and phospholipids play an important role in protecting brain cells. Additionally, MCT oil also increases the amount of docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA, crossing the blood-brain barrier, and DHA is essential for proper brain functioning and development, especially in puppies and aging dogs. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19301124/
The benefits of MCT for canine hearts are similarly well-established, with multiple studies showing MCT significantly slow the progress of myxomatous mitral valve disease (MMVD), the most common form of heart disease in dogs. One such study, published in 2022, found that “[m]edium-chain fatty acids and ketones derived from medium-chain triglycerides [MCT] provide an alternative energy source for cardiac mitochondria and help reduce free radical production” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/36191141/ both of which have a positive impact on heart health.
MCT as a Carrier Oil for CBD
When it comes to acting as a carrier oil for CBD, MCT boasts some significant benefits, largely due to the differences in the way the body processes MCT versus LCT. Because of their larger size, LCT are processed first by the lymphatic systems, whereas MCT are small enough to bypass this stage. This means not only that MCT provide the body with a faster burst of energy but also that the CBD they are carrying also become available to the body more rapidly than with LCT.
This quicker action comes at a cost, however, as the slower digestive path taken by LCT better preserves the precious CBD cargo, resulting in greater systemic bioavailability with LCT than with MCT. A study published in 2021 found that adding MCT to an LCT-rich carrier oil actually had a detrimental impact on overall bioavailability, with the authors concluding that “systemic bioavailability remains superior with a pure natural oil vehicle.”https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8472830/
One such pure natural oil vehicle is olive oil, which consists largely of oleic acid, a monounsaturated fat made up of long-chain triglycerides (LCT). Like MCT oil, olive oil has been proven to be an effective carrier oil for CBD while also providing a number of important health benefits.
Health Benefits of Olive Oil for Dogs
The many health benefits of olive oil to humans and some other mammals are well-documented. A comprehensive Harvard study https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/harvard-study-high-olive-oil-consumption-associated-with-longevity published in January 2022 that included a total of 91,000 American men and women found that the individuals who consumed the largest amount of olive oil (roughly half a tablespoon per day) were 19% less likely to die for any reason over a 28-year span versus people who included little or no olive oil in their diets.
As with humans, olive oil is known to have a wide range of health benefits for dogs. Consuming olive oil can help improve a dog’s coat, avoid dry skin and shedding, reduce constipation, improve brain health and cognitive functioning, decrease inflammation, and lower the risk of heart disease and cancer.
Another advantage of olive oil is the greater of availability of organic olive oil versus MCT and the much less intensive processing needed to produce olive oil versus MCT oil. For those concerned with giving their pet the most natural, direct-from-the-earth product possible, a CBD oil that uses organic olive oil is a great option.
Olive Oil as a Carrier Oil for CBD
Because LCT like those found in olive oil are digested more slowly than MCT, it can take longer for CBD taken with olive oil to become available to the body. However, this slower digestive process appears to destroy much less of the CBD, as demonstrated by the significantly greater bioavailability of CBD taken with olive oil versus MCT oil.
The 2021 study https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8472830/ referenced above aimed to determine whether adding MCT to a pure vegetable oil carrier consisting mostly of LCT would improve its performance as a delivery mechanism for CBD. Contrary to expectations, the researchers determined that adding MCT conclusively did not help when it came to the all-important measure of systemic bioavailability. While the MCT-containing carrier unsurprisingly resulted in CBD levels in the body elevating more quickly, the LCT-rich pure vegetable oil carrier ultimately delivered higher levels of bioavailability throughout the body.
While both MCT oil and olive oil provide important health benefits on their own and act as effective carriers for CBD, research shows that “the in vivo performance for the extent of both lymphatic transport and systemic bioavailability remains superior with a pure natural oil vehicle” such as olive oil. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8472830/
Put more simply, CBD oil with MCT might act faster, but CBD oil with olive oil will deliver more CBD to the body, allowing more of the CBD you buy to work its many benefits for your much-loved companion.
Zgair, A. (6 November 2017). Oral administration of cannabis with lipids leads to high levels of cannabinoids in the intestinal lymphatic system and prominent immunomodulation. Scientific Reports.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5674070/
Cleveland Clinic. (28 September 2022). Is MCT Oil Worth the Hype? Cleveland Clinic Health Essentials. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/mct-oil-benefits/
Pan, Yuanlong et al. (12 December 2018). Efficacy of a Therapeutic Diet on Dogs With Signs of Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CDS): A Prospective Double Blinded Placebo Controlled Clinical Study. Frontiers in Nutrition. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30619873/
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