The benefit from smoking as a route of administration is instant action and the ability of the patient to self titrate the dose needed for relief. Here we describe how patients can achieve similar quick acting relief and the ability to control dose without smoking. It is important that people understand that whole cannabis products are available today that provide significant relief without smoking. We don’t have to wait for a pharmaceutical pill to be developed years in the future in order to have the benefits of cannabis. The present pill (Marinol) has proven very unsatisfactory due to a long delay of action time, poor absorption in the GI tract, and its failure to include many of the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory cannabinoids present in whole cannabis and its extracts.
What Are Tinctures Edit
Tinctures are not new. Until cannabis was banned in 1937, tinctures were the primary type of cannabis medicines. Tinctures are essentially alcohol extractions of whole cannabis (usually the flowers and trim leaves). Tinctures are easy to make and very inexpensive. Tinctures contain all 80 of the essential cannabinoids instead of only one with Marinol. Some of the cannabinoids such as Cannabidiol (CBD) actually reduce the psychoactive effects of THC while increasing the overall efficacy of the preparation.
The best way to use tinctures is sub-lingually (under the tongue). Dose control is easily achieved by the number of drops a patient places under the tongue where the medicine is rapidly absorbed into the arterial system and is quickly transported to the brain and body. All a patient needs to do with tincture is use a few drops, wait for the desired medical effects, and either use more or stop as the situation indicates. Tinctures can be flavored for better taste. They are best stored in dark bottles in the refrigerator. Since tinctures average some 75% ethanol there is little worry of bacterial or other biological contamination. Those who wish to avoid alcohol can instead use their tincture as a base for making a concentrated elixir.
Many patients who utilize and benefit from medical cannabis do not wish to smoke due to the perceived health hazards of smoking or for other personal reasons. These patients are in something of a bind. Smoking cannabis delivers the active cannabinoids within seconds. Medicine is absorbed in the lungs and goes directly to the brain and general circulation. The same effect can be achieved with a Vaporizer, which is safer than smoking burning vegetable matter. Since the effects of inhaled cannabis are so quick, it is easy for patients to control their dose by simply waiting a minute or two in between puffs.
Oral cannabis is absorbed in a very different fashion from smoking or inhalation. The GI tract gradually absorbs cannabinoids over the course of one to two hours. Medicine is processed first by the liver, which converts some cannabinoids such as delta nine to delta 11 version of THC. Orally delivered cannabis requires four to ten times the amount of the smoked version in order to achieve the same effect. Orally delivered cannabis can present a problem in achieving the required or desired dose level in any consistent fashion.
Tincture is designed to address the problems of rapid medicine delivery and consistent dosing. Most tinctures are made to be used under the tongue or sub-lingually. English pharmaceutical companies are presently working on a cannabis extract "spray" that can be used under the tongue in a similar fashion. These sprays are not expected to be approved for use in the United States for years and will be very expensive. Absorption by the arterial blood supply under the tongue is completed in seconds. One trick is to not swallow the dose as, if swallowed, absorption will be in the GI tract. Many patients, though, add their tincture to a cup of tea or fruit juice for easy delivery. When tincture is used in a beverage, absorption will be slower than if absorbed under the tongue. While tincture absorbed in an empty stomach is accomplished in minutes, conversion in the liver remains, as does the difficulty in controlling the dose. Usually, a tincture dose is delivered by means of a medicine dropper or a teaspoon. A rule of thumb on dose is that patients receive benefit from 3-4 drops to a couple of full droppers depending upon the potency of the tincture and the patient’s own unique requirements among other factors.
The methods listed below will detail two major methods of preparing tincture. While the methods are optimized for purity and potency, ultimately these will largely be determined by the purity and potency of the cannabis from which the tincture is made. Another item of note in regard to starting material for tincture is the patient or caregiver selection of strain. A rough rule of thumb is to select Indica dominant strains for cramping and muscle spasticity and Sativa dominant strains for pain relief. The reality, though, is often that the strain is unknown or not well characterized. Trial and error is usually required to acquire the appropriate strain and the proper dose level.
General Rules Edit
Tincture is an extraction of active cannabinoids from plant material. Cannabis contains many chemicals that can either upset the stomach or taste nasty. One of the goals of extraction is to secure the cannabinoids while leaving out as much of the chlorophyll, Plant waxes, Nutrient salts, and any other soluables in the plant other than the medical components as possible. Heat, Oxygen and light adversely degrade cannabinoids and should be avoided or minimized. Tincture should be stored in airtight amber or cobalt glass containers to keep UV rays out, and kept at room temperature or below. Avoid plastic containers as the ethanol in the tincture may solubilize some of the free vinyls in the plastic.
To Make Tincture Edit
Cold Method Edit
Here is the recipe for highest quality tincture. This method does not use heat so keeps the integrity of the cannabinoids intact:
- Fill jar ¾ full of herb
- Fill rest of jar with alcohol; leave some room at top, stir.
- Shake jar (vigorously) one or two times a day for 2 weeks (or leave it until there is no green color left in the plant matter)
- Strain through metal tea strainer or silkscreen.
You can use whatever kind of clean glass, not plastic, jar you have with a tight lid. One-quart mason jars are ideal. Grind the herb thoroughly in a blender. It should be well ground but doesn’t have to be a powder. You can use leaf, bud, shake, joint leftover, or stems. Too many stems will wreck your blender and a provide a weaker tincture. Leaf works fine but for higher potency use shake or bud.
Fill the jar ¾ full of herb; it does not have to be exact. You can use anywhere from ½ to 2/3 part herb but ¾ will make a full strength tincture. Use the highest proof alcohol you can, Everclear is 180 proof, but hard to find. So just use the highest proof Vodka you can find.
Pour alcohol over the herb, filling the rest of the jar. Leave just enough space (an inch or so) at the top so that you will be able to shake the jar. Stir the mixture; the herb will absorb some of the alcohol so you may need to add more.
Put the lid on tightly; label the contents and the date you started. It takes two weeks for the alcohol to extract all the active elements from the herb. Shake the jar once or twice a day for 2 weeks. The alcohol will rise to the top and a deep green/red color will develop.
After 2 weeks of aging you can strain the tincture through a metal tea strainer or a silk screen into a small tincture bottle with a dropper. You can leave the rest in the jar if you want, it will age and mellow in flavor and you can strain off as much as you want at a time.
Alcohol is a strong preservative it will hold for a long time, be careful when handling the tincture, it stains and will turn everything it comes in contact with green. Use anti-bacterial dish soap to clean the glass, metal or other ceramic utensils, (do not use plastic) sinks and counter tops works best at dissolving THC residue.
Dosage varies per individual but start with half a dropper dissolved in hot tea or water. Hot tea will dissipate some of the alcohol and activate the THC a bit. It can be taken straight but may burn the tongue and has a very strong herbal taste. (If you cut it with equal parts water, you can hold the dosage under the tongue without burning. Takes effect in seconds.)
Hot Method Edit
1/8oz high quality cannabis
2 oz Bacardi Rum – 151 proof
1. Chop cannabis very fine (coffee grinder works great)
2. Place in a shallow pan (pie pan with aluminum foil works great) and bake at 325°F for 4-5 minutes.
3. Remove from oven and place cannabis and place in 2 oz of rum (use a small wide mouth mason jar)
4. Simmer in a water bath for 20 minutes. Maintain temperature of the rum/cannabis mixture between 150°F – 165°F.
5. Strain the mixture and store.
1. Chop the cannabis — more surface area means a faster and more efficient extraction. (You can literally chop it into a powder.)
2. Bake the cannabis (decarboxylate).
In whole-plant cannabis, THC content is expressed as THCA (tetrahydrocannabolic acid) prior to decarboxylation into THC, which takes place when cannabis is heated during cooking, and smoked or vaporized ingestion. THCA is a mild analgesic and anti-inflammatory but does not have good affinity with our CB1 receptors, so in order to make a THC-rich tincture that has many of the same therapeutic effects as smoked ingestion (including rapid absorption, quick relief and ease of self-titration), we must convert the THCA in the plant matter into THC prior to extracting it through an alcohol soak.
THC vaporizes at about 380°F. We want to heat the cannabis to convert THCA to THC, but keep the temperature under 380°F. That is why 325°F is used. Between four and five minutes your oven (and house) will start to smell very strong. This is the time to remove the cannabis from the oven.
Notice also that there is considerable misinformation regarding heating the cannabis. It is true that you don’t have to heat it to extract both THC and THCA, but the amount of THC in whole plant preparations is relatively small compared to after decarboxylation of the THCA. So if you want to maximize the strength of your tincture you must heat the cannabis prior to extraction.
3. Use the highest proof alcohol available. The more alcohol the more efficient the extraction will be.
4. Simmer the mixture.
This is one of the areas that seems to be most debated. Many recipes call for placing the cannabis (unbaked of course) into the alcohol and waiting 2 – 6 weeks. The main concern with heating the alcohol is that it is flammable.
The purpose of the simmering is to heat the alcohol mixture to improve extraction rates and efficiencies. Heating during extraction increases the motion of the molecules (basic physics/chemistry) and drastically decreases extraction times. The boiling point of pure ethanol is 173°F (78°C). We will use the water bath to heat the alcohol/cannabis mixture to just below the boiling point of ethanol.
Heating the alcohol mixture can be done very safely using a hot water bath. You will need an accurate candy or quick read thermometer. Place about 1 inch of water in a wide, vertical-edged pan (9” wide x 3” high). Bring the water to a low simmer. The alcohol/cannabis mixture should be in a small (1 pint) mason jar. Do NOT cover the jar.
Put the thermometer into the mason jar and place into the simmering water bath. Bring the temperature of the rum/cannabis mixture to about 165°F (I maintain it between 150°F and 165°F). You want the alcohol mixture to be just barely moving (not boiling, but showing active convection within the mixture). If the mixture starts to bubble too much, just turn down the water bath.
You should have the oven fan on high. You will notice that any alcohol fumes are mixed with water vapor from the water bath and vented out the fan. This combined with the fact that you are trying not to boil the ethanol makes the process quite safe.
5. Strain, bottle, and store.
When you are finished with the extraction you will be left with about 1 oz of green dragon tincture. Note that one ounce of the alcohol has evaporated.
Now you should test your eyedropper. In my test 34 full droppers equaled one ounce of liquid (this is a little less than one gram of liquid per dropper-ful as 29g equals 1 ounce).
The liquid should be dark green and smell like cannabis. 1/8oz of good cannabis yields about 30-34 doses of tincture.