Marijuana Tinctures: Your Complete Guide
Are you ready for a taste of the least controversial method of consuming cannabis ever? Try a tincture. “Why would I want to do that,” you ask? Because tinctures have been described as the most underrated of all the pot products.
They’re described as such because there aren’t as many fun — and potentially punishable — reefer rituals associated with their use. But that doesn’t mean that they’re somehow second-rate.
Tinctures are arguably underutilized compared to raw flowers, joints , blunts , bongs , edibles , and dabs even though they work just as well…or sometimes even better.
Yep, you read that right. For many people, tinctures often work better than every other method of cannabis consumption, including cream , pills , gummies , and dissolvable strips . It really depends on what you need from your marijuana and how you prefer to take it.
In this article, the experts at Honest Marijuana tell you everything you need to know about marijuana tinctures. Along the way, we’ll discuss:
- A brief history of the marijuana tincture
- The basic science of tinctures
- The benefits of marijuana tincture
- The side effects of marijuana tincture
- How to take a marijuana tincture
- The economics of marijuana tincture
- How to make a marijuana tincture
We’ll also share three different tried-and-true marijuana tincture recipes for you to experiment with at home. Before we get to that, though, let’s delve briefly into the history of marijuana tinctures.
Marijuana Tincture Tales
In spite of how novel they may seem to so many cannabis consumers, tinctures are really nothing new. In fact, tincture was the primary form of cannabis medicine until it was banned in 1937 .
You may not have heard about marijuana tinctures yet because an eyedropper full of medicine just doesn’t have the same stigma as edibles or dabbing .
You don’t need a creme brulee blowtorch in order to medicate with a tincture, which is why tinctures don’t have any derogatory mainstream media monikers like “the crack of cannabis.” You’re also much less likely to overdose or “overdowd” on a cannabis tincture than you are with a marijuana edible for reasons we’ll explain later in this post.
And lest you wonder what “overdowd” means, it’s a slang portmanteau of the words “over” (as in overdose) and “dowd” (the last name of journalist Maureen Dowd). Some years ago, while writing a piece on the nascent marijuana industry in Colorado, Ms. Dowd consumed too much of a cannabis-infused candy bar — despite prior warnings — and went on a really bad trip.
“I became convinced that I had died and no one was telling me,” Ms. Dowd wrote in her column for the New York Times. This event earned her the dubious honor of having a semi-derogatory, completely-mocking word “named” after her. But enough of the history lesson. Let’s get back to the topic at hand.
Tinctures have been described as the moonshine of marijuana because of how they are made. However, making marijuana tincture takes up much less space and is significantly less likely to cause an explosion than a traditional moonshine still.
Making tinctures is much less dangerous (and therefore less controversial) than making cannabis concentrates with butane, for example. Your chances of creating an explosion that will destroy your entire house are non-existent with most tincture making.
Now that you know a few facts about marijuana tinctures, let’s investigate the science behind what makes a tincture a tincture.
The Basic Science Of Tinctures
We’re not going to get too involved in the science of tinctures, but we will touch on a few key scientific facts that will help you understand tinctures better.
A tincture is most often an alcoholic extract of plant material (although animal material can also be used) with an ethanol percentage of between 25 and 60%. This equates to a solution that is between 50 and 120 proof, although sometimes the alcohol concentration can get as high as 90% (180 proof) in some tinctures.
Alcohol (ethanol) is the most common solvent because it’s effective at breaking down both acidic and basic components of the plant matter. In the case of a cannabis tincture, that means that more of the good-for-your cannabinoids will wind up in your little dropper bottle.
Other solvents like vinegar and glycerin (a.k.a. glycerol) can be used to create a tincture for internal consumption, but they’re not as effective at extracting all the chemicals from the original plant matter.
The process of making a tincture is very much like dissolving sugar in water or making Kool-Aid. The solids (the sugar or the Kool-Aid mix) break down and liquefy in the water, transferring their chemical makeup (sweetness) into the resultant solution.
The same thing happens when making a tincture — only the ingredients change. The alcohol dissolves the plant matter and all the chemicals it contains (trichomes, cannabinoids, oils, terpenes, and others). Those chemicals are then suspended in a solution (much like Kool-Aid mix in water) that can be ingested or administered under the tongue.
The Benefits Of Marijuana Tincture
Marijuana tinctures offer a long list of benefits (many of which we’ll discuss throughout this article). To give you an idea just how great marijuana tincture is, here are a few of the benefits you can enjoy whether you take a THC tincture for pleasure or a CBD tincture to relieve pain:
- You feel the effects quickly
- You can easily control the amount of tincture you take
- Marijuana tinctures are discreet (meaning you don’t have to worry about standing out)
- Tinctures are safe
- Tinctures have a long shelf life when stored properly
Obviously, you would only use a THC tincture to achieve a psychoactive high (although THC does have some pain-fighting properties). But if you use a CBD tincture, the benefits multiply. That’s because a CBD tincture can be used to treat:
- Low appetite
- Nausea and vomiting
- Hyperglycemia (high blood sugar)
- Chronic pain
- Artery blockage
- Bacterial growth
- Cancer cell growth
- Bone degeneration
- Muscle spasms
Couple the above benefits with the safe, fast-acting, easy-to-dose nature of the tincture itself, and you’ve got a potent recipe for medical relief of the toughest symptoms.
Does Marijuana Tincture Cause Side Effects?
The short answer is: It depends. If you’re taking a THC tincture, then, yes, you’re going to get the same side effects you would get if you smoked a doobie (paranoia, munchies, etc.).
If you’re taking a CBD tincture, the side effects are less obvious. CBD does cause dry mouth, but many feel that it’s a small price to pay for all the medical benefits that the cannabinoid has to offer.
The only other side effect of note is that CBD decreases your liver’s ability to process other drugs. That’s not a problem if you replace one medication with a CBD medication.
But if you take a CBD medication and something like a heart medication, the CBD will interfere with the effectiveness of the heart medication. That’s bad. Because of the potential interactions, always consult a doctor adding CBD to your daily routine.
Taking Marijuana Tinctures
One of the main benefits of a tincture is that it’s very easy to take. Drops of tincture solution are squeezed out through an eyedropper syringe under your tongue. There, the solution is left to be absorbed (not swallowed) into your bloodstream through a process called osmosis.
Osmosis occurs when molecules of a solvent (the ethanol and all the cannabis chemical it contains) pass through a semipermeable membrane (the tissue under your tongue) from a less concentrated solution into a more concentrated one on the other side in order to equalize the concentrations on both sides of the membrane.
The Benefits Of Sublingual Administration
The major advantage of the sublingual administration method is that the medicine is rapidly absorbed through the sublingual artery, your body’s main blood supply to your tongue. This artery arises from the external carotid artery, which, in turn, is close to the internal carotid artery. This allows the medicine to quickly reach your brain.
Additionally, the tincture doesn’t come in contact with the acids in your stomach like other edibles do. That fact alone serves to keep many of the beneficial chemicals in your cannabis tincture more complete and readily available for use in your body.
Sublingual absorption effectively removes a step — digestion — that can have slight but destructive consequences to the chemical makeup of the cannabis you put into your body.
Are Marijuana Tinctures Right For You?
The process of osmosis through the sublingual artery is ideal for patients suffering from pain due to gastrointestinal difficulties such as ulcers, hyperactive gut, coeliac disease, and other digestion issues that might make an edible less palatable.
Cannabis smoke is in no way conclusively linked to any kind of cancer, but sublingual ingestion of cannabis tinctures is, of course, ideal for anyone who may be concerned about the perceived health risks of inhaling smoke of any kind into their lungs.
Tinctures are also ideal for anyone who may be too sick, too old, or too young (like Charlotte Figi was) to properly smoke or even vaporize cannabis. Tinctures allow people of all ages to realize the beneficial health effects that the cannabis plant has to offer.
Tinctures are also well-regarded by seasoned stoners as an effective recreational high that you can stealthily enjoy in most social situations without drawing the same attention to yourself that you would if you lit a massive blunt in the middle of a crowd.
It’s a proven fact that the smell of cannabis smoke can, and often will, draw a lot of attention. And depending on where you are, that could be a good thing or a bad thing.
Tinctures draw none of this attention. All it takes is two or three drops under your tongue — a process that takes less than 20 seconds — to achieve much the same high as smoking a joint. No muss. No fuss. No telltale smell. Just the psychoactive high or the medicinal benefits you crave.
When Will You Feel The Effects?
The onset of the euphoric or medicinal effects of a tincture will kick in just a little bit slower than they would if you were smoking, but much faster than they would from an edible of the same strain of weed. You’ll feel the effects of two to three drops under your tongue within about 15 minutes.
This is why tinctures are infinitely superior to edibles in terms of the process of trial and error by which you determine the right amount of cannabis that your unique endocannabinoid system requires in order to feel optimal.
The more scientific name for this “try-and-see” practice is titration . You’ll often hear this term bandied around by those in the know because it’s easier to say than, “the process of trial and error by which you determine the right amount of cannabis that your unique endocannabinoid system requires in order to feel optimal.”
See what we mean? Why say 26 words when you can say just one and mean the same thing? Start using the word titration now so you at least sound like you know what you’re talking about.
To Swallow Or Not To Swallow?
When administering these drops of canna-goodness, it’s important to remember NOT to swallow your tincture if you want the full benefits of sublingual absorption. You can , of course, swallow your tincture, or even add it to tea , juice or food like many patients do. Nothing bad will happen.
However, the delta-9-THC in your tincture will transform into 11-Hydroxy-THC when it passes through the liver of your gastrointestinal tract. And depending on your metabolism, this can take up to two hours or more to occur.
That means that you’ll have to wait at least two hours to feel the effects. On top of that, they might be slightly different because of the presence of 11-Hydroxy-THC.
According to The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), ingested 11-Hydroxy-THC can be felt up to four to five times stronger than inhaled Delta-9-THC. But, according to Jay R. Cavanaugh, Ph.D., it can take four to 10 times as much oral cannabis in order to feel the same effects.
So again, remember not to swallow or the tincture will most likely take much longer to be effective. Just let the tincture solution dissolve under your tongue for about 30 seconds.
It’s also important to remember that you are also consuming alcohol — albeit a tiny amount — when you administer a tincture. In addition to that alcohol, your tincture will likely contain about 60% THC . That’s a lot!
The combination of alcohol and THC can pack a hefty punch, so start slow with your tincture titration. Get a feel for the potency of your medication and then gradually increase your dosage.
We suggest starting with two or three drops at a time. Err on the side of caution and start with two drops (or less) if you’re new to cannabis consumption. After you administer your drops, wait at least an hour and a half before consuming more.
This gives the chemicals in the tincture time to spread throughout your body and gives your body time to fully process the cannabinoids.
After an hour and a half, you should know for sure how the amount of tincture you took will impact your body and mind. Until you gain some experience with tincture titration, we recommend waiting another hour and a half before trying another does.
This will give your body time to flush its system so you’re not stacking new THC (or CBD) on top of old THC.
The Economics Of Marijuana Tinctures
Tinctures are very economical . A small bottle of about 100 drops of marijuana tincture typically costs $20. If you take two drops at a time, that equates to 50 doses. At three drops, the total doses goes down to about 33.
That said, for the price you pay and the total amount of tincture you can squeeze out of the bottle, you’ll only be paying $0.40 to $0.60 per dose.
That’s awesome when you consider that your average, run-of-the-mill joint costs between $3.50 and $5.00. Plus, tinctures can be made at home, and you can make fairly large batches on a relatively small budget if you learn the basics of homemade brewing.
A Bit About Ingredients
As mentioned, you can make marijuana tinctures out of grain alcohol or glycerin, but high-proof alcohol like Everclear is the most common solvent and is the easiest to use.
Tetrahydrocannabinol ( THC ) exists as tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA) until it is decarboxylated, usually with heat. The nice thing about the extraction process is that the alcohol bath dissolves the THCA, decarboxylates it into THC , and preserves the resultant material so that it won’t spoil. Alcohol does all three of these things at the same time…all without heat.
So now that we’ve discussed the basic science behind the tincture and we’ve seen how easy they are to take and to make, let’s get specific with some easy, do-it-yourself recipes for making delicious cannabis-infused tinctures.
How To Make Marijuana Tincture
In this section, we’ll focus on the three basic methods for making marijuana tincture:
- Hot (a.k.a. Green Dragon)
So grab some ganja and a bottle of your favorite high-proof alcohol and let’s get started!
The Cold Method
The cold method is the easiest way to brew marijuana tinctures because it doesn’t involve any cooking. All you have to do is mix the ingredients together and set it aside to brew. Here’s how to do it.
First, simply break your cannabis up into some smaller pieces and place it in a glass mason jar. You can use as much or as little marijuana as you like to strain into your tincture. Just make sure that the bud you use is dry. Fresh, moist weed just doesn’t make for good tinctures.
The next step is to pour in enough ethyl alcohol to keep the plant material covered. We suggest Everclear, but you can use other high-proof alcohols if you prefer. You can expect to use approximately one gram of marijuana per one fluid ounce of ethyl alcohol. That said, the weed-to-alcohol ratio doesn’t have to be exact. Just make sure the marijuana is covered.
After you’ve mixed the ingredients in a jar, screw the lid on, shake it vigorously for a minute or two, then store the concoction in your freezer. The jar should stay there for up to five days.
Don’t worry, the jar won’t break or shatter due to the expansion that occurs when liquids solidify. Alcohol has a much lower freezing point than water and will remain in the liquid state throughout this process.
Once or twice a day for those five days, take the jar out of the freezer and give it a good shake. Over time, you’ll see the plant matter start to dissolve.
After roughly five days of storage in the freezer and multiple shakes every day, you’ve reached the end of the process. Now just strain the tincture through a cheesecloth, metal tea strainer, or silk screen into a bowl. Dispose of the leftover solid plant material, and pour the liquid tincture into a small, dark dropper bottle or two. It really is that simple!
The Warm Method
The warm or traditional method of making tinctures is identical to the cold method but without the freezer. Mix the ingredients in a mason jar the same as you did in the cold method. Then just leave the mason jar filled with weed and alcohol in a cool, dry place out of the sun for 30 to 60 days.
After those 30 to 60 days have elapsed, separate the solid material from the liquid by straining and then distribute the tincture into dropper bottles. Yes, this method does take substantially longer than the cold method and the hot method, but it doesn’t require any interaction on your part after the jar has been sealed. The saying, “Make on the new moon; strain on the full moon,” is why some people call tinctures the moonshine of marijuana.
If you choose this method, we suggest starting a new batch every two to four weeks. Depending on how much you make at one time, staggering the brew times will ensure that you have one tincture approaching readiness while you consume the other. That way, you’re never without enough tincture to get you through the month.
The Hot Method
The hot method, or Green Dragon method, is the quickest way to whip up a batch of cannabis tincture. It does require a bit of extra equipment and constant vigilance (so you don’t set the alcohol on fire), but you’ll reduce the brew time considerably.
To begin, chop your cannabis flower up as finely as you can. Place it on a cookie sheet in the oven at 325°F for about five minutes, or until your entire home begins to smell like weed. Mix your baked bud with high proof alcohol in a mason jar just like you did in the cold and warm methods.
Place the opened mason jar in a pan and add about one inch of water around the mason jar. Don’t put any water in the mason jar or you’ll ruin your tincture. Bring the water to a boil and then simmer the uncovered mason jar until the temp reaches 165°F. Obviously, then, you’ll need a candy or cooking thermometer for this method.
The alcohol/weed mixture shouldn’t boil at 165°F, so you don’t have to worry about that. If the alcohol does boil, the temperature is too high. Just turn down the heat of the water bath and continue.
Additionally, it’s a good idea to keep the kitchen fan on to remove any combustible alcohol fumes. At the very least, make sure that you are in a well-ventilated area so those fumes don’t collect and ignite.
When your brew has reached 165°F, remove the jar from the water bath using pot holders (it will be hot!), and set it aside to cool. When the jar is cool enough to handle with your bare hands, strain the tincture into a new bowl to separate the leftover plant matter from the liquid. Let the liquid cool some more and then distribute it into dropper bottles.
You can also invest in a custom Magical Butter cannabis processor to make hot-method tinctures. Simply place the weed and alcohol in the Magical Butter machine, push the tincture button, and your tincture will be ready to strain with a custom Magical Butter bag in 4 hours. This removes the danger of combustion and the constant vigilance but significantly lengthens the brew time.
Lastly, you can combine 5.5 grams of baked, decarboxylated cannabis with 2 ounces of high USP Food-grade glycerine into a sealable mason jar and then let it cook on top of a washcloth in a few inches of water in a crockpot on the low setting for 18-24 hours.
Let the mixture cool for about 20 minutes, then strain over a cheesecloth and use your dropper to transfer over to a tincture bottle.
Taking All The Tincture In
Tinctures were an effective time-honored weed tradition in this country and across the globe long before prohibition made it harder for us to get our medicine. They’re making a comeback in the modern cannabis community because of how much more effective they are than edibles in terms of providing adequate, titrated doses of cannabis for new patients.
Remember to let your tincture drops absorb for about 30 seconds under your tongue into your sublingual artery, which should result in a good body high in about 15 minutes.
Tinctures are relatively cheap , and you can find them at any dispensary. Tinctures are very easy to make as well. The traditional, warm method will take you about a month to make. The hot dragon method is far and away the fastest way to make and take a tincture.
We suggest trying the cold method first since it involves the least amount of effort and wait time before you can taste your first homemade tincture. Enjoy!
Curious about marijuana tincture? The experts at Honest Marijuana tell you everything you need to know about one of the best methods for consuming cannabis.