The Benefits of Cannabis Tinctures

Cannabis tinctures have been around since at least 1843, when the Provincial Medical Journal (London) published the article "On the Preparations of Indian Hemp, or Gunjah" by W.B. O'Shaughnessy, M.D., a professor of Chemistry & Materia Medica (pharmacology) at the Medical College of Calcutta, which helpfully included a recipe for cannabis tinctures. In 1851, extractum cannabis purificatum first appeared in the US Pharmacopeia, where it remained for nearly a century before it was culled from the almanac following passage of the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937. Now that legalization is the hip new sound around town, liquid weed is staging a comeback in dispensaries across the country. Let's take a closer look before we board the green dragon, hmm?

cannabis tincture pipette with bottle photo

What Is A Cannabis Tincture?

A cannabis tincture is decarboxylated cannabis soaked in alcohol. The process can take anywhere from 1 week to six months, depending on potency desired. It's taken orally, typically with a medicine dropper or a small measuring spoon. That's it! You could make it at home, provided the laws there are savvy on extraction. You should probably check first! For licensed cannabis cultivation companies, tinctures are a low-tech way to maximize use of their plants by putting otherwise wasted trim to good use, which explains their popularity.

Other liquid cannabis preparations are often called tinctures, as well, but they’re not true herbal tinctures by definition if they don’t use alcohol. Other products referred to as “tinctures” are commonly made with vegetable glycerin or MCT oil. 

Why Do Cannabis Tinctures Use Alcohol?

THC is alcohol soluble, so even though other solvents like vegetable glycerin or vinegar can technically be used to make tinctures, the chemical constituents of cannabis won’t be as effectively extracted by them. No prob, Bob! That just means you're gonna have to use more bud if you want to use one of these other methods of extraction. There are some legit reasons to consider using glycerin, too. Most notably, grain alcohol burns like a sonuvabitch under your tongue.

cannabis fluid extract american druggists syndicate historical image
Cannabis indica fluid extract, American Druggists Syndicate, pre-1937

What Are The Benefits Of Using Cannabis Tinctures?

Many and varied are the perks of liquid weed, young Padawans. Tinctures are easy to produce, easy to store, and can be precisely dosed. Dispensary shelves are overwhelmingly stocked with baked goods and candies, so if you're trying to lose or simply maintain weight, tinctures offer a low calorie alternative. And that's not all!

Are Cannabis Tinctures Discreet?

You betcha! Cannabis tinctures net a solid 3 on the Gentleman's Real, Professional Cannabis Product Discretion Scale of 3 out of 5, cuz half-points are for grenades and horseshoes. 5 would be edibles and transdermal solutions, like patches, with vape carts at 4, and so on. It's totally not a thing I just made up right now. As opposed to sparking a doobie, you won't have to worry about any odor. With some forethought, you can medicate privately, though I strongly advise against pulling out a medicine dropper in the middle of a restaurant or bar and adding it to your drink. That would be sus, as the kids say, and you don't want people thinking you're about to roofie someone.

How about transpo? When you keep tinctures in a dedicated glass bottle, the smell is primarily alcohol. Or in the case of glycerin, you'd be hard pressed to detect any odor at all. Maybe if you could smell crime? But I digress. Placed in a small medicine dropper bottle, they’re small enough to carry in a purse or a fanny pack. No one's gonna ask what's in your fanny pack on account of you might tell them and nobody wants to have that conversation with some goober. If you require further camouflage, there's plenty of medicines that use droppers, like infant gas drops, that you can store it in. Now all you have to do is steal a baby and you'll have the perfect disguise!

Do Cannabis Tinctures Work Fast?

Cannabis tinctures work fastest when taken sublingually (under the tongue.) When you use this method, the cannabinoids enter your bloodstream faster than they do when they have to go through your digestive system. Like, 5-15 minutes in my experience, as opposed to 30-120 minutes for edibles to kick in. The sublingual dose also doesn't last as long as an edible. Its effect will begin to ebb after an hour, fading away after two, similar to smoking flower.

When you take tinctures sublingually, the alcohol extract is absorbed through the artery underneath your tongue. This artery is connected to your carotid artery located in your neck, which takes the medicine directly to your brain. WARNING! Grain alcohol burns like the Inquisition. The underside of your tongue is sensitive AF. This might very well be...uh, uncomfortable. If you find it painful, or prefer not to find out, squirt that dose in your tea or coffee with milk. I mean, you can add it to any drink- or take it straight down the gullet- but since your body is now gonna process it like an edible, you're best served by giving the THC some fat to bond with.

On the other hand, an attractive reason to dose sublingually is that the delta-9 THC in your tincture changes when it passes through your liver, becoming 11-Hydroxy-THC instead. Not undesirable, but it may affect you differently than if you had taken it under your tongue. 

How Long Does Cannabis Tincture Keep?

That’s another great benefit of these: cannabis tinctures made from alcohol don’t spoil, particularly if the alcohol used is over 80 proof (40% ABV). Properly stored in a cool, dark place, tinctures can keep for years. Imagine breaking out bottles full of weed from the cellar and saying classy shit like "Oh, the 2019 Bubba, a fine vintage." Wouldn't that be a flex? You could be that guy.

Are Cannabis Tinctures Cheaper Than Smoking?

For home growers, no doubt! You needed something to do with that trim anyway. It's common for dispensaries to offer deals on bulk trim and shake, too, so you might be able to make the math work with that. The premise here is that the alcohol will dissolve and extract all of the THC from the plant material for you to use, whereas smoking loses a lot of those valuable cannabinoids and trichomes to the atmosphere cuz you just set 'em on fire, Hannah Montana.

What Are The Cons of Cannabis Tinctures?

We've already discussed that if you're using a high proof alcohol to make your tinctures, it can be difficult to take sublingually. High proof alcohol like Everclear burns, so you don't want to take a lot at one time. Glycerin extraction is an alternative, albeit a less potent one, for anyone that wishes to avoid alcohol.

Speaking of alcohol! The amount of alcohol in a tincture dose will remain on your breath for a while and could cause you to fail a breathalyzer test if you get pulled over by the fuzz. You should avoid driving for an hour or two after dosing. You also want to avoid alcohol tinctures if you have diabetes, because the American Diabetes Association states that alcohol mixed with blood sugar medications can cause low blood sugar. To avoid potentially triggering hypoglycemia, don't take a tincture dose when you have an empty stomach. Heck, that goes for everybody. You have to eat with your drugs, people!