Apart from the drug testing and intoxication questions I field almost every day about making cannabis topical preparations, one of the most frequently asked questions I find myself answering for website visitors and book fans is about why coconut oil is missing from all of my recipes when coconut oil + cannabis topical salves and infusions are the most common formulation you’ll find in online recipes and in dispensaries.
I believe that coconut oil cannabis salve formulations are the most widely publicized and utilized formulation for a few reasons–and none of these reasons really have much to do with coconut oil being a superior fat for cannabis topical preparations.
Coconut oil ‘everything’ is a trend, rather than a valid chemistry principle that makes sense when making a cannabis topical preparation that is used medicinally. These formulations for salves and bath salts which include coconut oil as their base are based in widely-shared coconut oil salve recipes–in other words, recipes for salves made from coconut oil simply had cannabis added to them without further consideration as to creating a formulation that makes sense with cannabis. And since penetration is typically the goal of most people who want to use cannabis topically, coconut oil being low in the necessary fat chemistry of oleic acid to enhance penetration is not the ideal oil base to use with cannabis.
So, how did coconut oil become so popular for use in making external-use cannabis products?
Prior to the establishment of legal cannabis dispensaries in legal cannabis states, cannabis used as a topical herbal medicine was unheard of. There are a few references to cannabis used as an external medicine in some ancient literature, and prior to the prohibition of cannabis in the early twentieth-century there were a few external pharmaceutical cannabis preparations, typically, ‘corn plasters’ which included salicylic acid to dissolve the corn/bunion, and cannabis as a second ingredient to relieve pain. Outside of the ancient world of folk medicine cannabis applied to the body externally was almost un
I personally don’t craft with coconut oil for reasons that I think are well grounded in science as well as technicalities:
1. You get what you pay for with cheap coconut oil.
3. I craft with allergies and sensitivities in mind. Coconut oil is frequently processed alongside tree nuts and may be dangerous for people with nut allergies, even though coconut is not a tree nut. Some people with tree nut allergies are also sensitive to coconut. As an allergy patient with life threatening allergies I craft everything in my recipe repertoire free of all of the Big 8 allergens.
4. Coconut oil is low in oleic acid–a kind of fatty acid that aids in deep penetration once a preparation is applied to the skin. Oleic acid has been used in pharmaceutical skin preparations for over 100 years for this very reason. Coconut oil tends to sit on top of the skin rather than penetrate deeply and quickly like other fats which are high in oleic acid. You will get better joint pain relief, for example, with high oleic acid cannabis salves.
5. Coconut oil has it’s own fragrance that doesn’t follow the fragrance of cannabis very well–and the resulting salve has to be drenched in essential oils to change the fragrance. Essential oils should enhance your topicals, not be used as a cover-up for skunky odors that are quite common in coconut oil formulations.
If you like your coconut oil, you can keep your coconut oil–but by far, coconut oil is not the best fat to formulate cannabis topicals. And I stand by that statement. But for sure the great coconut oil debate won’t end here! 😉