Why cannabis tinctures are the most efficient way to consume weed.
Photography by Georgia Love for Herb
Cannabis tinctures have been around in one form or another for centuries. In fact, they were among the very first cannabis concentrates to be used as medicine. Prohibition may have relegated them to simple home-made varieties, but thanks to legalization, commercial cannabis tinctures are making a big comeback.
Today, there are a plethora of commercially available cannabis tincture products for you to explore, with more appearing seemingly every day. So, what’s the deal with these old school cannabis concentrates? This is cannabis tinctures 101.
Smoking and even vaping aren’t for everybody, and some consumers find them to aggravate the throat and lungs. Attitudes surrounding smoking, in general, have shifted massively in the last few decades, so it makes sense that many would turn to edibles and tinctures as their preferred consumption method.
Of course, eating weed-infused gummies or chocolate is also a good alternative to smoking, but cannabis tinctures have a number of benefits over the traditional edible. Chief among them is a much faster onset compared to an orally ingested edible, which can take hours to kick in. Tinctures, on the other hand, begin to take effect within minutes.
Because tinctures are absorbed in the mouth and not the digestive tract, they have additional benefits for medical patients who have difficulty swallowing or are suffering from nausea; two common issues that prevent medical marijuana patients from eating edibles.
The reason cannabis tinctures kick in much faster than, say, eating a brownie, is all down to the delivery method. While ingesting an edible will take hours to be digested and then metabolized through the liver, tinctures have a much more direct route into the bloodstream.
Tinctures are administered sublingually, literally meaning under the tongue. The mucus membrane under your tongue is one of the quickest routes into your bloodstream, bypassing your liver, and speeding up the whole process tremendously. Not only does this mean that tinctures kick in faster, but they also have a higher bioavailability.
Bioavailability refers to how much of a drug administered enters the bloodstream. It might be a surprise to discover that traditional edibles have very low bioavailability, meaning that only a small percentage of the cannabis ingested actually reaches the bloodstream. Sublingual absorption is a more direct pathway into the bloodstream. It increases the bioavailability of tinctures, and therefore, makes them more effective.
Hemp, marijuana, what’s the difference? Well, very little it would seem. The difference between the two is a legal definition more than a botanical one. Both hemp and marijuana are varieties of the Cannabis sativa L. plant. Generally speaking, marijuana is a variety of cannabis that’s cultivated for its flowers, whereas hemp is primarily grown for its fibers and seeds.
Legally, hemp is defined as having very little to no THC content, which means that it is not a Schedule 1 substance in the U.S. like marijuana. That means that hemp derived products, like CBD oil, are more available, although they still fall into a legal grey area. However, you can access hemp derived tinctures in all 50 states rather than only in states with legal weed.
The legality of marijuana-derived tinctures, however, depends on what the laws are where you live. You can only purchase them in states and countries that have legalized cannabis, like California and Canada. If you’re lucky enough to have access to medical or adult use cannabis, there are some great benefits to marijuana tinctures over hemp-based ones.
The overall cannabinoid and terpene content of cannabis flower is much larger than that of hemp. It’s widely understood that the various cannabinoids and terpenes found in cannabis are what are responsible for both its psychoactive high and its therapeutic medical effects. Furthermore, the interaction between all these components greatly increases its effectiveness, known as the entourage effect.
The great thing about marijuana-derived tinctures is that they come in a much wider variety. While hemp-based tinctures contain only CBD, marijuana-based ones usually contain a far broader range of cannabinoids and terpenes, including different ratios of CBD to THC. Different ratios of CBD to THC, like 1:1, 3:1, or 18:1 all create different psychoactive and therapeutic effects. For example, a 1:1 CBD to THC tincture is very popular for medical and recreational use for its mellow intoxicating effects as well as anti-anxiety, anti-epilepsy and countless other medical properties. However, for those who really prefer to avoid any of THC’s effects, a tincture with an 18:1 CBD to THC ratio will give you all the medical benefits of full plant medicine without any of the high.
Of course, THC has a plethora of medical benefits as well, and there are many THC cannabis tinctures on the market. Plus, many cannabis-derived tinctures in licensed dispensaries are starting to create products with specific ratios of THC and CBD to create desired effects or experiences.
Tinctures can also be made out a variety of starting material, like alcohol, glycerin, or oil. That’s because the active compounds in cannabis are not water soluble, so in order to infuse them into a liquid, they need to be dissolved into alcohol or fat.
Alcohol-based cannabis tinctures are by far the oldest variety. They’re the simplest to make, but not everyone likes to consume alcohol. That’s why MCT oil-based tinctures have become a more popular option. Infused into saturated fat, typically coconut oil, these oil-based tinctures are accessible to everybody.
The new kid on the block is vegetable glycerin as a base for infusing cannabis. This is probably the healthiest option out there. MCT oil-based tinctures rely on saturated fats to do the infusing; while they do metabolize faster than non-saturated fats, they’re not particularly good for your health. Vegetable glycerin, however, is a much healthier form of fat. Plus, another benefit to using a glycerin based tincture is that it is easily infused into water, and so making cannabis coffee or mocktails is possible. With oil-based tinctures, most of the good stuff gets stuck to your glass.
When it comes to finding the correct dosage of cannabis tinctures, the advice is always the same. You should start low and go slow.
For medical users, look first for a minimal effective dose. This is the smallest amount of cannabis necessary to alleviate your ailments. Try a small amount first and then slowly increase the dosage day by day, until you feel the desired relief. It’s helpful to keep track of how the tincture affects you by using a dosage journal.
The great benefit of sublingual administration is that the rapid onset makes it far easier to judge dosage compared to edibles. You won’t be waiting around for more than an hour to see if you got the dosage just right, or whether you need a little more.
While yes, tinctures like all things will eventually degrade to the point of ineffectiveness, the great news is that they are by far the longest lasting of all cannabis products. Stored correctly, tinctures can preserve the pharmacological effects of cannabis for years. Like all perishable items, place your tinctures in a cool, dark, dry place to get the longest possible shelf life out of them. Well made and unopened tinctures should stay good for two to three years if stored in this fashion.
Do you use a cannabis tincture that you absolutely love? Tell us which one and why in a comment below!