Extracts have long been one of the most popular and effective methods for consuming cannabis. As legalization has spread across the United States and countries around the world, there has been a renaissance of sorts for tincture production, both by major cannabis suppliers and home hobbyists and medical marijuana patients looking for a way to easily ingest cannabis.
What is a tincture?
A tincture is a concentrated plant extract typically made by soaking the plant leaves, bark, or fruit in alcohol. People who want to avoid alcohol can use vinegar or glycerol instead, though chemically-speaking, “tincture” refers to a solution that uses ethanol as its solvent.
Beyond cannabis, tinctures can be everything from the iodine in first aid kits to the vanilla extracts used in baking.
How to take cannabis tinctures
Tinctures can be ingested or administered topically. A highly-efficient — and a more common — method of ingesting is sublingually, where it is absorbed into the bloodstream much quicker through the glands and blood vessels in the mouth.
Taken sublingually, tinctures don’t require digestion, meaning that they have a higher bioavailability than edibles like brownies or cookies which are first broken down in the liver before entering the bloodstream. One study found the oral method of ingestion has a bioavailability of around 10%, and anywhere between 2-56% for smoking.
They can also be seamlessly added into food and drinks, without increasing the calorie content compared to cannabis butters and oils.
Tinctures are a great alternative for cannabis users who don’t want to smoke and would like to be able to closely manage the dosing of their consumption, on a drop-by-drop basis. It’s especially effective for users who aren’t sure about the amount of medicine they need, and would like to experiment with different, precise doses.
Tinctures are also a much more discrete option for users who want to ingest cannabis without their hair and clothes smelling like smoke, or need to medicate in places where discretion is preferred, such as at the office or on a commercial flight.
In addition, tinctures are a healthy, low calorie option that also have a much longer shelf life than many forms of edibles. If stored under the right conditions, they can last months and even years.
Tinctures vs. cannabis oil: What’s the difference?
Cannabis tinctures and oils seem quite similar to the untrained eye, but they are in fact quite different.
One type of cannabis oils are oleoresins in which cannabis is infused into oil, which serves as the carrier for THC or CBD (or both). Cannabis oils are typically made using olive or coconut oil — or butter in the case of “cannabutter” — and are ideal for use in baking and the production of cannabis edibles. These oils are for cooking or ingested directly, as opposed to the cannabis oil concentrates that are used for vaping.
In the case of both oils and tinctures, the quality of the product can degrade with time, and it is important to keep them stored in a dark place where they won’t be exposed to extreme temperatures.
Are tinctures safe?
Tinctures are a healthy way to ingest, but like all cannabis products, some caution is advised, especially at first.
When trying out a new tincture, make sure to read the dosing recommendations and then — like with any edible — start slow and go slow. Try a very low dosage first and wait at least an hour to gauge the effect, and then increase the dose if need be.
What do you need to make a tincture?
A cannabis tincture can be made in as little as an hour or two, but the more time you give the cannabis to soak, the stronger it should be. You also don’t need to make a large amount your first time and it’s probably better to try a small batch on your first attempt.
Let’s start with an 1/8th of an ounce of cannabis. (3.5 grams)
Ingredients for cannabis tincture
- 1/8th ounce cannabis flower (3.5 grams), can be buds, trim, or shake
- 4 ounces Everclear, 151, or similar very high proof liquor (do NOT use rubbing alcohol)
- Cookie sheet or baking pan
- Glass Jar
- Dark glass dropper bottles (for packaging)
Take your dried cannabis and grind it. A hand grinder is best, but you can also use a food processor or coffee grinder. Once you’ve finely ground the cannabis, place it on a cookie sheet and bake at 240°F (115°C) for 20-30 minutes. This decarboxylates the cannabis, a necessary chemical reaction in the production of edibles. Some of the terpenes and flavonoids are lost during the carboxylation process, but you can limit this by keeping an eye on the oven to make sure the temperature doesn’t get too high.
Once you’ve taken the cannabis out of the oven, pour it into a glass jar that you can tightly seal. Pour the alcohol into the jar and gently shake it before sealing and storing in a cool, dark space.
The general rule of thumb is the longer you store the tincture, the stronger the final product. Some recipes claim that the tincture will be good to go within a few hours, while others recommend letting it sit for weeks or even a month or longer. If you do store it for more than 24 hours, make sure to give it a good shake once a day.
Once you’re done letting the mixture sit, take it out and place a mesh strainer lined with cheesecloth over a large container. Pour the mixture into the cheesecloth and let it strain through, and then repeat a second time.
Take the mixture and use a funnel to pour it into small glass dropper bottles. Make sure to use dark dropper bottles, which will suffer less light damage and thus have a longer shelf life.
If you would prefer not to use alcohol, you can substitute glycerin or vinegar in the above recipe.
How to make a CBD-dominant tincture
Making a tincture that is high in CBD is quite easy. Follow the same steps as the recipe above, but instead of high-THC cannabis flower, substitute cannabis that is high CBD and low THC or even hemp.
How to determine tincture strength
While you can get a rough idea of how strong your tincture will be based on the quality and amount of cannabis used and the time you allowed it to sit, you should also start slow with dosing in order to get a better idea.
The first time you dose, start off with a single drop held under your tongue, and give it around a half hour or so to kick in. If after about an hour or so you still don’t feel an effect, increase this one drop at a time if needed, until you find the dose that’s right for you.