Dispensaries hawk a wide range of cannabis products, from flowers and edibles to topicals and extracts for vaporizers and capsules. Medicinal cannabis tinctures, which are alcohol-based extracts that can be taken as drops directly on or under the tongue, or in a small cup of water or juice, have fast become a favorite for many cannabis users.
Cannabis tinctures can be a strong option for those who don’t want to smoke pot, but purchasing them can be costly. You can expect to spend anywhere from $60 to $150 for a one-ounce bottle.
Amy and Luc Charnay of Sonoma County make cannabis tinctures for their own personal use. Amy is a clinical herbalist with a background in environmental science and botany, and a master’s in herbal medicine and nutrition. She has worked as a product developer and formulator, and in quality control in product labs. She is also a master gardener.
Her husband, Luc, is a business consultant who spent 13 years working for General Hydroponics, a local manufacturer of hydroponic nutrients and systems for both indoor and outdoor farms. The Charnays have an urban farm in Santa Rosa where they use combined expertise to grow a few outdoor plants in their garden.
Amy says her first experience with medical cannabis was after an ankle surgery seven years ago. When her painkillers weren’t doing the trick, Luc suggested she try a cannabis topical. Amy says the topical helped calm her spasms and reduce pain.
“It was so effective and so helpful that I’ve managed every other surgical pain I’ve had since then with just cannabis,” she says.
Amy has since started a cannabis therapy consultant training that she plans to finish in the next year. She hopes this training will help support clients in her clinical practice.
Luc says he first used cannabis recreationally. Attending cannabis conferences and visiting dispensaries, he started learning about potential medical benefits from cannabis.
“That’s what opened my eyes, and also connecting with patients. Slowly I got into the more medical aspect of it and I really realized that it was making a huge difference,” says Luc. “Once there was more focus on the medical aspect of it, people were discovering and creating more strains that had wider range of medical applications.”
Amy says she loves that consumers who use tinctures can better control their dosing. People new to medical cannabis can start with just a single drop. She says tinctures can be a good option for those who don’t want to smoke pot or consume edibles, which sometimes involve a psychoactive response.
To make tinctures, the couple uses pure, high-proof alcohol as the solvent. The Charnays prefer grape alcohol, which can be purchased in bulk. Amy says that other herbalists sometimes use an organic sugarcane alcohol for making tinctures.
“Not that there’s anything wrong with brandy or tequila, but they’re not empty solvents,” says Amy. “They already have flavorings and other herbs — gin is infused with Juniper berries, so the holding capacity isn’t as strong as just an empty alcohol.”
Amy and Luc both say that using dried cannabis produces a more potent tincture. Because grinding or chopping exposes more surface area for extraction, the Charnays grind up the plant, spread it in a glass baking pan, and bake it at 200 degrees for an hour and 15 minutes. Heating the cannabis prompts decarboxylation, the process which converts THCA, the non-psychoactive cannabinoid, to THC.
“Something that is worth mentioning is that contrary to processing flowers, you have barely any trimming to do,” says Luc.
After the baking pan is removed from the oven and cooled, the next step is to weigh the cannabis and add it to a large mason jar. The Charnays recommend a 1:5 ratio; one part cannabis to five parts 80-proof alcohol. When using higher-proof alcohols, the Charnays will dilute the liquor slightly with water. For example, 800 ml of 100-proof alcohol is diluted with 200 ml of water.
“If you had 100 grams of cannabis you’d use 500 milliliters of your menstruum [solvent]. But sometimes that’s not enough. It depends on how finely ground it is,” says Amy. “You really have to look and play around with it. I like to remind people you can add more, you can’t take it away. It’s good to have a scale.”
The alcohol should be enough to completely cover the organic matter. Amy suggests using either a plastic lid or a piece of wax paper under a metal lid to prevent contamination.
Then, simply shake the jar once a day and let the process continue for at least two weeks before straining, bottling and labeling the tincture. If you can’t wait two weeks, Amy says there are still medicinal properties extracted from the cannabis in a matter of days. She also says that the tincture can sit unstrained for a long period of time, as alcohol acts as an excellent preservative.
Making tinctures is a simple process that anyone can do at home, but there are a few additional tips that should be taken into consideration:
- All instruments should be sterilized to avoid contamination.
- Because the gas from alcohol can settle into pools, it is important to ensure that your formulation space is well ventilated and to avoid lighting matches.
- If you are using a cloth pressing bag to strain the plant matter from the tincture, wet the bag so you don’t saturate it with your tincture.
- Start slowly when consuming tinctures. Some people might be sensitive to dropping tinctures made with high-proof alcohol directly onto or under the tongue.
- Label your bottles with the type of cannabis in your tincture so you know if you are taking a high CBD or THC product. It’s no fun to accidentally get high when you are just hoping to treat pain or inflammation.
- If you are interested in blending cannabis tincture with other herbs, prepare the plant tinctures individually and create the formula with the final products.
Disclaimer: The cannabis plant produces more than 80 different cannabinoids, or cannabis compounds. These compounds can have unexpected effects. Always check the math, measure carefully and be especially sure to not overdo it.