Most people would agree: fats are delicious. Foods dense in fat not only taste outrageously good, but many fats have now been welcomed into the healthy food fold after years of low-fat foods being touted as the healthier choice.
As it turns out, cannabis loves fat too. Cannabis is a known lipophile (fun new word alert!), or fat-loving compound.
“Cannabinoids like THC and CBD are fat-soluble, meaning that in order for them to be readily available for your body, they should be consumed with a fat,” says Alexis Rosenbaum of Rosebud CBD.
Not every method of cannabis consumption requires fat intake. When you smoke or vape, cannabis is inhaled directly into the lungs and sent almost instantaneously into the bloodstream. “Consuming fat is more important when [eating] cannabis,” says Rosenbaum. “When you ingest cannabis, it enters through the digestive tract, where it is broken down and then distributed throughout the body.”
What happens to cannabis when it enters the digestive system?
When you partake in edibles, cannabis must pass through the digestive system, liver, and lymphatic system before it can send cannabinoid goodness out into your body. This goes for both THC and CBD, along with other cannabinoids.
Disseminating cannabis through the body via the digestive system is a more protracted process than through inhalation. In some instances, oral absorption is far less effective, with as little as 4 percent of THC making its way into the bloodstream.
How fats facilitate cannabis absorption
Enter fats. When you combine cannabis edibles with fat-dense foods, you reap more potent effects because cannabinoid absorption is increased.
Researchers believe the intestinal lymphatic system plays a critical role in boosting the absorption of cannabis with fats.
“When a cannabis edible is paired with a high-fat ingredient, the intestinal lymphatic system is stimulated and able to distribute and transport the cannabinoids throughout the body,” says Alexis Rosenbaum.
The intestinal lymphatic system helps to absorb fats and transport them into the blood. When you pair cannabis with fat-rich foods, you’re signaling to the lymphatic system to pick up the cannabis molecules so they can be delivered into circulation.
According to Shanel Lindsay of Ardent Cannabis, fats also stimulate the gallbladder to release bile. “Consuming fats just prior to, or with, cannabis causes the liver/ gallbladder to release bile, which acts to emulsify the fats and cannabinoids in the digestive tract, making them more bioavailable for the body to absorb.”
Lindsay recommends ideally consuming fats 30 minutes before ingesting cannabis, or at the time of ingestion.
In the quest to boost cannabis bioavailability, are all fats equal?
Research into fat and cannabis has revealed that longer fatty-acid chain lipids, or saturated fats, perform the job more effectively. Typically, these kinds of fats are sourced from animal products such as cream, cheese, butter, and meat. Lindsay and Rosenbaum both endorse plant-based saturated fats as an alternative. They deliver the digestive benefits of saturated fat, without the detrimental effects of animal-sourced fats and cholesterol on cardiovascular health.
“Saturated fats are the preferred fats, particularly coconut oil, because its medium-chain triglycerides can absorb quickly across lipid membranes,” remarks Lindsay.
“Butter is always delicious, but is a saturated fat made from animal products,” adds Rosenbaum.
“Coconut oil is a great option because it’s plant-based and derived from MCT, or medium-chain triglycerides, that don’t negatively impact the body as saturated animal fats do.”
Cocoa butter is another plant-based saturated fat. In Los Angeles, where many people adhere to a plant-based diet, delicious raw, whole-food cheesecakes and cakes can be easily found, often made with coconut oil and cocoa butter. It’s hard to imagine a more appetizing way to enjoy your fats along with your edibles.
Consuming unsaturated fats, such as avocados, olive oil, or nuts, with cannabis will promote bioavailability somewhat, but not with the same efficiency as saturated fats.
Fats are your friend — but proceed with caution
Armed with this knowledge, any edible enthusiast can optimize their cannabis intake. Unfortunately, it also means a therapeutic dose can quickly become a potent one. If you already experience beneficial results from ingesting edibles, teaming fats with cannabis may further intensify the outcome. Reducing your cannabis intake, or experimenting with small quantities of fat to begin with, could be the way to go.