We’ve all seen the little glass dropper bottles lining the shelves of a nearby dispensary or health food store. Easy to purchase and use, tinctures offer a tried-and-true mode of cannabis consumption that has been around since long before the days of legalization. A dropper or two of a liquid tincture placed under the tongue is a solid sub-lingual delivery mechanism that can lead to quick absorption and lasting effects.
But what exactly is in a tincture? Let’s take a look.
Tinctures have been used in ancient and modern herbalism for centuries and are, at a basic level, an alcohol extract of an herb.  The two necessary ingredients to any tincture are thus alcohol and an amount of the botanical from which to derive an extract. In the case of cannabis tinctures, this means the most basic ingredients are alcohol and cannabis. Ethanol, or grain alcohol, is the most common base for a tincture, but the extract can also be done by soaking plant material in oil or in vegetable glycerin under normal ambient conditions. A saturated MCT oil, such as coconut oil, is a common carrier for this type of tincture. A vegetable glycerin tincture is the least common due to the availability of glycerin and that it can lead to a less potent tincture.
A DIY or homemade tincture would involve soaking raw cannabis flower in a strong grain-derived alcohol and leaving it to soak in a dark glass container for several weeks. Tinctures are often darker than post-processed concentrates which have undergone clean-up steps like winterization to remove undesirable plant molecules like waxes, lipids, and chlorophyll that are soluble in the alcohol. A commercial application would involve a similar process while using laboratory equipment to adhere to standards and regulations for cleanliness and quantity. Cannabis should be decarboxylated prior to being placed in the alcohol (or oil/glycerin) solution if the intent is to consume the psychoactive THC instead of the inactive THC-A.
While a strict tincture only consists of the carrier liquid and herb base, many tinctures available for public consumption contain other ingredients. Many of these additions are based on flavor and/or recipe desires and are not essential in the creation of a tincture. Honey, mint, lavender, and many other herbs can be added to a cannabis tincture and are often included to make a more proprietary blend that brands can use to distinguish themselves in the marketplace.
For a look at several tincture recipes, click here.
- Vickers, A. et al. “Herbal Medicine”. West J. Med. 2001; 175(2): 125-128. Journal Impact Factor = 1.136 Times Cited = 10
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