By Troy Ivan
Cannabis and CBD tinctures are highly effective, easy to dose, convenient to carry, and have a long shelf-life. A tincture is essentially “A solution of a medicinal substance in an alcoholic solvent” as defined by Merriam-Webster and for the majority of modern history were a preferred pharmaceutical delivery mechanism. Cannabis tinctures have been used for hundreds of years delivering obvious and undeniable benefits, but there’s always room for improvement. We can take this traditional medicine to the next level by increasing concentration and potency to create “cannabis tincture concentrates” for a great way to medicate that fills a void between smoking, vaping and edibles. Cannabis, sometimes called hemp, comes in many different strain profiles from high THC, CBD, CBG, with an enumerable combination of cannabinoids, terpenes, and other components. It can get complicated, but for all intents and purposes of making a tincture it’s the same process when using any strain with any profile, thus I will use plant genus name “cannabis” to describe all.
Traditional tincture making infused alcohol by allowing cannabis to soak for days, straining the infused alcohol from the cannabis, and letting it set for a long period. The tincture had to set for a long period to achieve meaningful decarboxylation (decarb) naturally which could take up to a year before it would be potent enough to have any appreciable effect. The most traditional tincture made with natural decarb is often referred to as ‘Green Dragon’ due to its typically dark green color. A more recent adaptation called ‘Gold Dragon’ is where cannabis is decarbed prior to the introduction of alcohol, eliminating the wait for natural decarb to occur and significantly lightening the color to a beautiful golden.
The advantages of the traditional tincture are pretty significant. It couldn’t be easier to make, has a nearly indefinite shelf life, and is highly effective because alcohol ushers the commingled cannabinoid and terpene oil components directly into the bloodstream when administered sublingually. The best thing is that high-quality materials are not necessary to make a great tincture. Flower can be used, but it’s almost too good and a waste to use for this. Instead, great value and good quality can be extracted from trim, shake, grinder kief, and even pressed rosin chips, pucks and bags. Making tinctures and tincture concentrates is a great way to realize and maximize the value of your material.
Unfortunately, the disadvantages are pretty significant as well. The tincture will be nearly all alcohol per volume and the potency then very low. The potency will not only be low, it will be impossible to even estimate as there are no visual or physical ques to indicate cannabinoid content in the solution. Additionally, the alcohol in the tincture will burn when administered under the tongue and can be quite unpleasant. If holding it under the tongue is painful, and it will be, you can swish it around in the mouth a bit as the soft tissue and gums will also help with absorption. Another way to administer this, that may be more agreeable, is using a small misting spray bottle and spay the tincture into the mouth to be absorbed. If all else fails you can just consume it orally by swallowing it or adding to food or drink. Finally, cannabinoid bioavailability has been shown to be most effective in the presence of saturated fats. The alcohol tincture obviously has no fat component so the absorption of cannabinoids will not be maximized.
The traditional tincture is historically significant and had been irreplaceable for hundreds of years but times do change and we have found ways to improve on it. By adjusting the alcohol content and components we have the ability to make superior end products. We will call these tincture derivatives “tincture concentrates” and “alcohol-free tincture concentrates.”
WHAT’S A TINCTURE CONCENTRATE?
When an alcohol based tincture is preferred the traditional tincture can be improved by removing a significant portion of the alcohol, leaving a much more concentrated alcohol tincture I call a “tincture concentrate.” Condensing the traditional tincture into a tincture concentrate will increase the potency significantly so you can use much less and reduce the amount of alcohol going into the mouth. Uptake with an alcohol based tincture administered like this can be as quick as 30-seconds with full effect maturation in 15-minutes. The effects last longer than smoking but are considerably shorter than with edibles and to my experience are more sublime and smooth than either. Like with edibles, there’s no combustion or vaporization so the inefficiency of the lungs is bypassed and the tincture is packed with the power of cannabis.
WHAT’S AN ALCOHOL-FREE TINCTURE CONCENTRATE?
For a similar use profile, but without the alcohol, you can medicate by using an alcohol-free tincture. People really like this form because it’s very easy to handle and use like a tincture concentrate but doesn’t have the burn from the high proof alcohol. While this may seem complicated it’s simply combining cannabis oil (CO) with a chosen carrier in a calculated ratio to achieve your desired potency for dosing. This sounds like a traditional infusion and it is similar but with a very important difference. Infusion is very rudimentary and there’s no way to know or control the potency so you end up with a very high volume of carrier oil and relatively low and unknown potency. The alcohol-free tincture is ostensibly the same as an infusion with the very important distinction that you are able to control exactly the ratio of cannabis to carrier and thus perfectly control the potency you desire.
You can use any fat based carriers like MCT oil, olive oil, grapeseed oil or any oil you find most appealing. Even sugar and maple syrups can be used as a base but that gets away from the tincture use profile a little. Alcohol-free tinctures are basically edibles and will metabolize as such through the stomach with a longer time to onset, last longer, and be a bit more intense with delta-11 conversion after passing through the liver.
TINCTURE CONCENTRATES ADVANTAGES
Both the alcohol based and alcohol-free tinctures share the great advantage of having a very high cannabinoid potency per volume. The very concentrated and smaller volume is easy to handle. Using a dropper to measure out only a few drops makes dosage easy, accurate, and repeatable. Good control and understanding of how much you’re using every time limits waste of your precious concoctions and eliminates unintended overindulgence. It’s so much quicker and easier than trying to make a brownie and other edibles to exact measure and effect every time. Administering meds discreetly with no smell, odor or otherwise outwardly distinguishing signs that you are medicating and not having to deal with smoking accessories or carry around edibles that will melt or get smashed into a crumbled mess is very liberating.
The alcohol-free version has a significant advantage over the alcohol based version. The fat component included in the carrier of the alcohol-free tincture provides enhanced cannabinoid bioavailability. The fat help the body to absorb cannabinoids much more easily. The higher bioavailability means less of the tincture can be used for the same medicinal effect. By simply combining the CO with the fat carrier you are getting better value from your starting material.
Lastly, like tinctures, tincture concentrates have a healthy shelf life. An alcohol base tincture can have a shelf life that extends into years and if stored in an air tight, dark glass container in a dark, cool place it will last almost forever. The shelf life of alcohol-free tincture concentrates aren’t quite as robust but are only limited to the shelf life of the carrier. Most carrier oils have a pretty significant shelf life if handled and stored appropriately.
CRAFTING TINCTURES AND THEIR CONCENTRATES
Making a traditional tincture is as easy as it gets. All you need is cannabis, 190-proof food-grade alcohol and a jar. You will see products for sale that complicate this process by adding heat and chopping mechanisms that are not only unnecessary but the exact opposite of what you need to make a high quality cannabis tincture. Room temperature or even cold ethanol alone is aggressive enough to harvest everything you need from cannabis.
Before crafting a tincture two decisions must be made: is decarboxylation (decarb) necessary and how “clean” does the end product need to be? Decarbing cannabis is a small deviation from the traditional method of letting it set for up to a year to fully activate the THC, but it’s going to save a lot of time and have the same end result. If the considerations and practices involved with decarbing cannabis are unfamiliar all that’s necessary to know can be found in my decarb post Decarboxylation (decarb) 101: Basic understanding and at home method comparison. It’s important to note here that if you decide to make a non-decarbed THC-A tincture it will decarb over time eventually becoming predominantly THC and psychoactive. The main way to slow the natural decarbing process is to store the finished tincture in the freezer.
The question of how clean the end product needs to be deals with how much plant matter will be included in the final tincture. Some people really want everything they can get from the plant resulting in a very dark green color with a plant heavy smell and taste. Other people, and the more modern approach, focuses on collecting only the cannabinoids, terpenes and other trichome contents, avoiding as much of the other plant matter as possible. There’s no right and wrong here, every user has a unique and personal relationship with the cannabis plant and should use what works best for them. If you are not sure which you prefer just make a small batch of each and decide from there.
To make the heavy, dark green tincture put whatever cannabis material you are using (decarbed or not) into a jar, pour in enough room temperature 190-proof ethanol to cover it then add about an extra inch on top of that and close the jar. Give the jar a shake periodically as it soaks for 1-24 hours, the longer it soaks the more green plant component will be collected. When it’s soaked long enough separate the plant matter with a mesh strainer, then pass the collected tincture through a couple coffee filters and the results will be a bright green cannabis tincture ready for use.
The “clean” golden tincture version is made by the same process with one difference. The difference lies in using cold temperatures to limit the collection of fats, waxes and chlorophyll. The cannabis and ethanol go into the freezer for 24 hours before combining them to soak. Once the ethanol and cannabis are sufficiently cold, add enough cold ethanol to cover the cannabis then add about an extra inch on top of that, close the jar and place it back in the freezer. Allow it to soak for 1-24 hours with periodic shaking and finish by straining and filtering.
The coolest thing is these aren’t only tinctures and the beginnings of a tincture concentrates. Believe it or not this is a primary extraction that could be made into all kinds of concentrates like oil, wax, crumble, pull-n-snap, shatter, and more. Making the tincture is the backbone of making concentrates, it all starts here.
The tincture concentrate takes tinctures to the next level by removing the majority of alcohol and creating a much more concentrated form. It contains the same medicine as the original tincture but much more condensed and potent. To remove the unwanted ethanol volume and concentrate the tincture I use the equipment from The DIY Vacuum Still posts (Part 1 Part 2). The tincture should be reduced down to about 1/5 – 1/10 of the original starting volume. The reduction under vacuum happens at low temperatures around 100°F to keep the cannabis components like terpenes strong and maximize the medicinal effects. This process results in a very potent tincture with a reduced sublingual burning sensation due to the much lowered alcohol volume.
Alcohol-Free Tincture Concentrate (edible)
Making an alcohol-free tincture concentrate begins the same as making a regular tincture concentrate but instead of reducing the tincture part way, you keep going until all the alcohol is removed and you’re left with just cannabis oil (CO).
The beautiful CO can be collected and combined with a carrier in any ratio that creates the desired potency level. The more carrier oil you use the more diluted and less potent your mixture will be. To estimate the strength of this tincture concentrate the approximate potency of CO is important . Every gram of CO used will be around 600 mg-700 mg cannabinoids (slightly lower if it’s super black and slightly higher if it’s super clean). Here’s an example calculation:
- 1oz (30 ml) dropper bottle
- 1g (1 ml) of CO 650 mg
- 29 ml of any carrier oil
- Ratio 29:1
- 650 mg/30 ml = 21.7 mg per 1ml
- 1 ml contains about 40 drops from a dropper (this varies widely, confirm drops per 1 ml with your dropper)
- 1 drop = 21.7/40 = 0.54 mg
1mg per drop and can be adjusted easily by adding more or less carrier to suit your needs.
Once the ratio of CO to carrier is determined, combine the two components in an appropriate and safe open container over very gentle heat continually stirring. The heat and stirring allow the two oil based compounds to bind together and avoid separation later. It doesn’t require much heat or time, only about 150°F for 10 minutes should do the trick. If it takes a little longer for your CO to dissolve just keep going until its fully incorporated. For a nice finishing touch on the clean version flavors like cinnamon and peppermint can be added. Unfortunately, for the darker green concoctions you will be stuck with the green plant flavor and nothing will mask it well.
There’s a big bonus to making a tincture concentrate and having it premade and on hand as well. In addition to consuming straight from the dropper, you can easily incorporate it into any culinary dish you prepare. It can be mixed into a salad dressing, sauces, mac & cheese, a peanut butter sandwich or whatever sounds good.
Note on Crafting Alcohol-Free Tincture Concentrates
The alcohol-free tincture, like alcohol-free beer, will contain a trace of alcohol that will not be detectable by smell or taste in the finished product. In terms of the complete formulation the alcohol content is very small but let’s take a look at the different remediation options you have with reference back to the details from the potency calculation example above.
Upper Boundary (no effort): Using CO straight out of the extraction machine when the oil is very loose, with no further effort to minimize alcohol content, would have a decent alcohol component remaining of around 5% (50,000 ppm). Once you combine the CO and carrier to make the 30ml mixture that alcohol component falls to 0.16% (1,600 ppm) for the entire formulation. The upper boundary is only 1,600 ppm which is very low and perfectly acceptable to me so I just use the CO straight out of the machine and call it a day.
Normal Execution (little effort): With a little effort the overall alcohol component can be reduced to essentially nothing. After making the CO it can air purge for a day or two to get the alcohol content down to around 2,000 ppm. Using 1g of CO at 2,000 ppm with 29 ml of carrier produces a formulation of approximately 70 ppm of alcohol. That’s 70/1,000,000 which is pretty darn negligible.
Lowest Boundary (most effort): With more effort the alcohol content can be lowered even further than darn negligible. There are a few options for doing this which I won’t even bother calculating.
- Purge the CO further before incorporating into the carrier by blowing a fan over it and setting it on very low heat, like a coffee warmer, while it purges.
- Boil the alcohol out of the combined CO and carrier oil mixture by heating the mixture to around 200°F. The boiling point of ethanol on its own is just above 170°F, but will increase when combined with the carrier oil, so while raising the mixture’s temp to 200°F all the alcohol that can be purged will boil/evaporate out.
- Decarb the CO after the extraction instead of decarbing the cannabis beforehand. This will eliminate as much alcohol as is possible. Again, the details on how to decarb the CO are included at the end of my decarb blog Decarboxylation (decarb) 101: Basic understanding and at home method comparison
YOU ARE READY, GET TO CRAFTING!
You are now armed with the knowledge to make yourself a wonderful way to medicate with your cannabis needs. I hope this has helped clear up any questions and provided the encouragement to give a tincture concentrate a try, I think you’ll like it. If you have any questions or comments let me know, I’m ready! Stay Lifted Friends.