What’s the Difference Between Tinctures and Extracts?
Visiting a medical cannabis dispensary can be overwhelming for a new patient. Staff members do not always have the time to go over each route, strain and dose option in detail, and in the end the patient is responsible for making the final choice. Cannabis concentrates are gaining in popularity as an option on the medical scene, providing a wide variety in form as well as functionality. Liquid concentrates such as extracts and tinctures may look the same, but there is a difference in how they are made as well as how they affect you. Knowing basic details about options for cannabis dosing can be helpful when deciding what to purchase for your medical needs. If you are interested in becoming a medical cannabis patient, take our 5-minute eligibility survey to see if you pre-qualify. One of our licensed Florida Medical Marijuana Doctors can help you decide which route and dose would be best for your situation.
Concentrates are made by processing cannabis in such a way that only the most desirable and active parts of the plant are used. Excess plant matter and impurities are filtered out, leaving a product with a higher concentration of cannabinoids and terpenes than the raw plant. These substances can be used on their own or in conjunction with other products such as smokable flower in order to enhance their effects. (1) Oils, tinctures, and other types of concentrates are gaining popularity among patients who need an increased amount of THC and/or CBD, both on a regular basis and as a supplement to their usual daily dose.
There are a few basic differences between extracts and tinctures; knowing about them can help consumers make an informed decision based on their personal needs. Probably the most basic concept to remember is this: while all tinctures are extracts, not all extracts are tinctures.
“To obtain an extract, the plant parts may be cold pressed, macerated or soaked in a liquid, such as alcohol, in order to isolate, or extract, a certain quality or flavor from the plant.” (2)
- Alcohol extraction involves soaking cannabis in a solvent, usually ethanol. Once the plant matter has been removed the liquid is filtered and then subjected to an evaporation process that also removes chlorophyll, which produces an undesirable and bitter flavor. This method takes more time than some others; temperature needs to be closely monitored during evaporation since ethanol is highly combustible. One benefit of alcohol extraction is that the final product retains cannabinoids, terpenes, and other chemical compounds native to the plant without the risk of leaving behind toxic residual chemicals.
- CO2 extraction is carried out by using heat and pressure to convert carbon dioxide into a liquid/gaseous state called supercritical CO2 that enables it to remove components of the cannabis plant. This method is more costly than others, but it helps minimize the loss of valuable components of the plant as well as providing a higher yield than alcohol extraction. In addition, the method can be adjusted for time, pressure, and temperature to allow specific compounds to be extracted at higher concentrations. Once the extraction is complete, the converted CO2 is turned back into a liquid so it can be used again. This makes the process more cost-efficient and reduces waste production as well as disposal costs. Because supercritical CO2 evaporates, there is no residual solvent left in the end product; this can be important for medical patients who cannot tolerate solvents.
- Butane or Propane extraction combines cannabis with liquid butane or propane. This mixture is then subjected to heat and pressure, and the solvent is removed using a vacuum system. Butane converts to a vapor, which makes it easier to remove. Butane is highly flammable, so the temperature of this process needs to be closely monitored. It is also toxic to humans, so thorough testing needs to be conducted to assure there is no residual left in the finished product. Butane extraction has the advantage of retaining more flavor, as well as maintaining a higher terpene content than CO2 extraction provides. Additionally, both equipment and processing are less costly than other methods, which makes it more popular with people who want to make their own product. Propane, used in the place of butane, works a little differently. High pressure maintained during the process keeps it in a liquid stage, and because it has a boiling point less than butane, this enables the extraction to take place at a lower temperature. This temperature difference changes the amount and quality of the components of cannabis removed during the process. As with butane, care must be taken and testing performed to assure as much of the solvent has been removed as possible. Though the methods are similar, the results are not the same; if both processes are used, the result is a product with a fuller chemical profile than either can achieve on its own.
- Solvent-free extractions include but are not limited to grinding and sieving cannabis buds to separate kief; creating traditional hash by freezing and processing buds or separating the trichomes from the plant by using ice water and then pressing the product into blocks; and applying heat and pressure or using a press to create rosin. (3)
The bioavailability of extracts (the rate and degree at which a substance is absorbed and made available) differs based on how they are used. Inhalation offers the highest bioavailability, followed by sublingual absorption. While edibles provide the lowest percentage of absorption of all orally-ingested products, they do offer a significant benefit because of the duration of effectiveness. (4)
“Cannabis tinctures are alcohol-extracted cannabis products. The cannabis liquid tincture contains high levels of cannabinoids and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) that have been leached out into alcohol to form a liquid…. Prior to the 1937 prohibition of cannabis in the United States, tinctures were the primary form of cannabis use.” (5)
Tinctures are made by soaking cannabis leaves and flowers in alcohol, glycerin, or MCT (medium-chain triglyceride) oil in order to dissolve the plant matter and its chemicals, suspending them in a solution that can be taken orally or used under the tongue. Some patients want to avoid using alcohol-based tinctures, and until recently MCT oil was the most popular alternative. Using vegetable glycerin for tinctures is the newest method, and it has been shown to be healthier than MCT oil because it is a non-saturated fat. In addition, glycerin-based tinctures can be infused in water, which makes it easier to mix into non-fat-containing foods or beverages.
- Unlike other cannabis products, tinctures do not have a telltale cannabis odor.
- Dosing can be more precise than with other routes, especially if the product has been tested so the THC/CBD content is a known quantity.
- Tinctures are absorbed in the mouth and not the digestive tract, so they can be helpful for those suffering from nausea as well as patients who have difficulty swallowing.
- Cannabinoids in tinctures degrade rapidly if exposed to heat or light; this is why they are most often sold in air-tight colored glass bottles and should be stored in a cool dark place.
- When stored properly, tinctures can last for 2-3 years. (6,7)
Taken sublingually, tinctures are rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream, providing relief much more quickly than other edibles. This increases bioavailability and prevents the degradation caused by the first-pass effect (when cannabis has to go through the digestive process before passing into the circulation). In addition, tinctures that are orally absorbed are unaffected by the presence of food in the stomach, and their effect is predictable while the efficacy of other edible forms can be influenced by a variety of factors. (7)
It’s important to note that using CBD along with prescription medication can affect the absorption and efficiency of those meds. Please talk to your Medical Cannabis Doctor if you plan on continuing to use pharmaceutical drugs while taking a CBD supplement. (8)