Cannabis sativa L., (Cannabis) tinctures are a simple way for patients to take their medicine and are easy to make at home. Tinctures are one of the oldest methods of consuming Cannabis. In fact, before prohibition began in the United States in 1937, tinctures were the most common type of Cannabis medicine in the US and around the world. While less common today, mostly due to archaic and inhumane laws, Cannabis tinctures are still popular among patients, especially those who need to take regular doses throughout the day. Like other herbal tinctures, a Cannabis tincture is simply a concentrated liquid form of Cannabis. Cannabis tinctures are sometimes called ‘Green Dragon’ because of the deep green colour that develops as the plant’s chlorophyll infuses with (most commonly) alcohol. But what are Cannabis tinctures? What are their benefits and common uses, how do they differ from other forms of Cannabis and what are some of the best recipes for making them?
Cannabis tinctures are made by soaking Cannabis flowers (buds) in alcohol (leaf trim, hash and kief can also be used). The alcohol extracts the terpenes, cannabinoids and other compounds from the Cannabis (for the full ‘Entourage Effect’), into a liquid that contains a high concentration of active compounds. Alcohol also preserves the compounds, which is important since it takes longer to consume tinctures as opposed to other forms of Cannabis. Cannabis tinctures are usually stored in an amber or dark blue glass, dropper bottle, which helps preserve the tincture for longer by blocking out sunlight. One of the benefits of using tinctures is that the alcohol allows your body to absorb the medicine faster. Most tinctures are taken by placing a few drops under the tongue, known as sublingual administration. When you take a tincture sublingually, the cannabinoids are absorbed rapidly by the blood vessels lining the inner tissues of the mouth, resulting in a quick onset of effects.
Tinctures can also be ingested orally, such as by swallowing or mixing it with food. If you consume a tincture orally, the cannabinoids must be absorbed through the stomach and gastrointestinal tract and through the liver (in particular) and take significantly longer to enter the bloodstream. Depending on whether the Cannabis is decarboxylated first, tinctures may contain tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in its active form or non-active form (THCa). Most people choose to decarboxylate their Cannabis before making a tincture, allowing them to take full advantage of the medical benefits of THC. While medical uses of THC are still being researched, there is evidence that it can be helpful in treating a wide range of conditions and disorders, including nausea, vomiting, poor appetite, pain, multiple sclerosis, cancer, Crohn’s disease, PTSD, anxiety, depression, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, sleep apnoea, glaucoma, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and many others.
However, if you do not decarboxylate your Cannabis, you will receive the benefits of tetrahydrocannabinolic acid, THC acid or THCa, found in the flowers, leaves and stems of young Cannabis plants. Biosynthesised by the trichomes, THCa plays a critical role in protecting the trichomes, and thus the plants themselves, from insects and other predators. Furthermore, THCa is no more ‘psychoactive’ than CBD, thus allaying parental concerns about getting their children ‘high’ (an unfounded, prohibitionist-driven fear). THCa is one of the cannabinoids primarily found in fresh Cannabis, although in variable amounts, according to CannLabs. Once the Cannabis plant is exposed to heat, such as vaporising, THCa decarboxylates to THC. What happens on a molecular level is that the carbon dioxide in the Cannabis is released; as a carbon atom in the acid is lost, THCa is converted to neuro-active THC. THCa acts as a cannabinoid receptor agonist and in so doing, also provides neuro-protective (brain protection) effects.
THCa has also been shown to be an anti-inflammatory agent, has anti-proliferative qualities (helps inhibit growth of cancerous cells), as well as anti-spasmodic effects, useful for epileptic patients. THCa works just as well as Cannabidiol (CBD) for seizure control and is cheaper and more accessible than CBD (especially in the speculative environment created by CBD’s sky-rocketing popularity). In contrast to the specialised, low-THC/high CBD plants needed to make CBD extracts, any high-THC Cannabis strain can be used to make a THCa tincture. Prominent Australian Cannabis breeder/researcher, Mark Heinrich, said in 2014;
“As it is THCa, there is no issue of a ‘high’, so that makes strain choice less selective. Truly, this is globally available to even the poorest people. I have sent this simple method to doctors in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, China and more … There is no need to spend big money on CBD if THCa is just as good. We are getting good results with CBDa, CBD, THCa and CBN. Right now, predators and sharks are making a killing from CBD, but make no mistake, THCa works just as well and we have proof. We want everyone to have access to the tutorials to empower them to be able to make their own and not be reliant on CBD merchants. What’s even better, the information is FREE … And think how many folks can now get help – empowerment of parents”.
The effect of any tincture does depend on which strain is used to make it. For example, a sativa dominant strain will give you more of an energetic and uplifting tincture which could also be used to stimulate appetite and combat pain. An indica dominant strain however, will give you more of a body ‘high’, can aid sleep and reduce nausea, depression and pain. Tinctures made with a hybrid strain will share some qualities of both indica and sativa. Tinctures allow the user to obtain the same medical benefits while avoiding respiratory issues associated with incinerating the plant (smoking). Tinctures also have advantages over edibles, containing fewer calories than most Cannabis-infused baked goods. However, a common concern (particularly among prohibitionists and the downright ignorant) with edibles is someone may accidentally eat the food without knowing it’s infused and get ‘high’.
Tinctures are easier to store as they are often in glass dropper bottles and look like medicine (probably because they are), so accidental consumption is usually unlikely. Tinctures can also be kept for longer without spoiling. Unlike edibles, if tinctures are kept in a dark, cool cupboard or fridge, they should last for years. Tinctures can be a good option for patients who need to be discreet about their medication. Unlike smoking or vaporising, which can emit a scent and draw unwanted attention in public, consuming a tincture is quick and odourless. This means tinctures can be taken in the same settings as any typical over-the-counter medication: at the office, in public places or anywhere else Cannabis wouldn’t be considered socially (nor politically) acceptable. Tinctures are safe to use for patients who are prescribed medical Cannabis. Tinctures may be especially helpful to ill children who can’t smoke or vaporise Cannabis.
Unlike edibles, which can take up to an hour or longer to start working, tinctures can be felt as quickly as 15 minutes after dosing. The effects of tinctures also last for a shorter period of time compared to edibles. Tincture efficacy usually peaks about 90 minutes after consumption and can last 4 to 8 hours, depending on the dose. Because the effects can be felt so quickly, dosing with a tincture is easier than dosing with an edible. As with any form of Cannabis, you should start with a small dose to gauge your tolerance and to avoid any possible, initial, unwanted effects of ‘over-consuming’. If you’re taking a Cannabis tincture for the first time, start off with about 1 ml and adjust (upwards or downwards) as necessary. There are three ways to consume Cannabis tinctures: sublingually, orally or with food. To take a tincture sublingually, drop desired dose under the tongue and hold for 30 seconds before swallowing. This method will produce quicker, stronger effects because the tincture is absorbed into the bloodstream through the inner lining of the mouth.
You can take Cannabis tinctures orally by adding a few drops to a beverage such as a smoothie, juice or even a ‘mocktail’. Alternatively, you can swallow the tincture on its own like any liquid medicine. When you take a tincture orally rather than sublingually, it must be absorbed through the digestive system, so it will take longer to feel the effects. Tinctures taken orally have a similar effect to edibles and can take up to an hour to start working. Tinctures can also be combined with food to make a tincture edible. The difference between a tincture edible and a fat-based edible is the latter is harder to dose and can produce a longer, more intense effect (including euphoria). If you consume a tincture mixed with food, it will take the digestive system more time to absorb than if you took the tincture sublingually. Cannabis tinctures may be added to a variety of foods such as puddings, ice creams, dressings and sauces.
There are many advantages to taking Cannabis tinctures, with a major one being how easy they are to make at home. You can make your own Cannabis tincture (links below) and, while there are many different recipes out there, these are some of the most popular ones. When preparing a Cannabis tincture, you usually must decarboxylate (or ‘decarb’) your plant material. Decarboxylation is the process of heating Cannabis to activate the compounds in the plant. Specifically, this will convert THCa into THC and allow you to experience all the effects of whole-plant Cannabis. If you choose to skip this step, your tincture will mostly contain THCa. Epsilon Apothecaries, (California, US) has a downloadable Extraction Basics Guide (pdf), the Epsilon Essentials Guide Series, comprises a novice approach to the creation of three special supplements: tincture extract of Cannabis, essential extract of Cannabis, and supplemental extract of Cannabis. Readers can learn how to create therapeutic grade supplements at home, following in the footsteps of Epsilon’s decade-long track record of success in a variety of cases. The Epsilon Essentials Guide is free of charge, the company’s website says, “All we ask is your respect in return”.
North American Recipes
- How to Decarboxylate
- Traditional Cold Method
- Traditional Warm Method
- Hot Method (Green Dragon)
- Vegetable Glycerine Method
Australian Recipes (Nimbin HEMP Embassy – Medical Cannabis Preparations)
- Tincture – Cold Method
- Tincture – Hot Method (Green Dragon)
- Glycerine Method (Alcohol free)
- Rick Simpsons Hemp Oil (Dosage information from Phoenix Tears)
Expanded from Cannabis Tinctures: Uses, Effects, and Best Recipes with THC-a Tincture for Paediatric Seizures, Granny Storm Crow’s List – Phytocannabinoids, Potency-101, and Medical Cannabis Preparations