One of the great things about weed is all of the different ways it can be enjoyed. While smoking herb is the most iconic method of ingestion, marijuana can also be vaped, eaten, and applied topically. One of the easiest ways to take cannabis orally is with cannabis tinctures, which can be prepared at home with little effort.
Prior to the prohibition of pot, cannabis tinctures were the most common way to consume the plant. They were even commercially available from producers including Eli Lilly. But just what are cannabis tinctures and how are they made?
Credit: Ed Rosenthal
What Are Cannabis Tinctures?
A cannabis tincture is an alcohol extraction made from marijuana that contains the cannabinoids, terpenes, and other medicinal and psychoactive chemicals inherent to the plant. Using alcohol extractions medicinally has a history going back 5,000 years, including in Egypt, where analysis of jars from the tomb of the early pharaoh Scorpion 1 found the residue of wine and medicinal herbs.
Botanical extractions using alcohol are still popular in herbal medicine and cooking. But with the widening legalization of marijuana, cannabis tinctures are once again available in many states. They’re not always cheap, however. Thankfully, you don’t have to purchase them. With your own pot, alcohol, and a few supplies that are likely already in your kitchen, it’s easy to make cannabis tinctures at home.
Making Your Own Cannabis Tinctures
To make cannabis tinctures, you’ll need to acquire a strong drinking alcohol such as 190 proof Everclear. If Everclear isn’t available in your area, you may be able to purchase 190 or 200 proof medical grade neutral grain spirits online from a laboratory supply company. Alternatively, any strong alcohol of at least 100 proof will also work, although you may want to allow for more extraction time when you make your cannabis tincture. Vegetable glycerin can be used by those who wish to avoid alcohol, but the resulting tincture will not be as strong and will not contain as broad a spectrum of botanical compounds.
You’ll also need some cannabis to create a tincture, obviously. Dried flower, sugar leaf, and trim can all be used. Grinding the herb is not necessary and will produce tinctures with more particles that need to be filtered out later. If you want your tincture to get you high, decarboxylate the cannabis first by spreading on a baking sheet and placing it in a warm (125° F) oven for one hour. Warmer temperatures can also be used to decarb your weed more quickly, but you may lose more terpenes in the process. If your goal is to create a medicinal tincture and psychoactivity is not desired, skip the decarboxylation step.
Next, place the cannabis in a Mason jar (or something similar) with a tight-fitting lid. Add enough alcohol to cover the cannabis and close the jar securely. Shake vigorously for one minute to ensure all of the cannabis is saturated and store in a cool, dark place. The longer you allow the cannabis and alcohol to steep, the more botanical compounds will be extracted.
Some cannabis tincture makers will extract for up to a week or longer, shaking the jar at least once each day. Others prefer a quick extraction method, leaving the cannabis in contact with the alcohol for just a few minutes. This produces a tincture with less chlorophyll and a cleaner taste, but you’ll probably sacrifice some potency. Experiment to discover which process you prefer.
Once the cannabis has soaked in the alcohol for the desired length of time, line a colander with several layers of cheesecloth and place it in a bowl. Pour the cannabis and alcohol through the cheesecloth to strain into the bowl. Using gloves, wrap the cannabis in the cheesecloth and squeeze to remove as much alcohol as possible. If the cannabis tincture still has visible plant matter or sediment, it can be strained again through a paper coffee filter. If desired, dilute the tincture with distilled water.
Herbal medicine tinctures are generally diluted to about 25 percent alcohol, while extracts for cooking are typically about 35 percent alcohol. Store your tincture in dark glass dropper bottles in a cool, dark place. The alcohol will act as a preservative. Adding a little honey can make your cannabis tincture more palatable.
Using Cannabis Tinctures
To use your cannabis tincture, go slow until you find out how strong it is to avoid getting too high. Start with about one milliliter (about 20 drops), placing the tincture under the tongue for at least 30 seconds. Wait about 45 to 60 minutes to determine the effect before taking more. Using the tincture sublingually (or, dropping it under the tongue) will allow the THC and other cannabinoids to enter the bloodstream the quickest. But cannabis tinctures can also be mixed into foods and drinks to make edibles and mask the strong pot flavor.
Cannabis tinctures can be a great way to consume the herb without inhaling anything. And with no strong smell or clouds of smoke or vapor, they can also be a discreet way to imbibe. Give them a try — you’ll be glad you did!
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