Cannabis tinctures are far and away the most underrated of all the methods of cannabis use that I’ve tried. There is something fundamentally medicinal about the act of using a tincture – it lacks the excitement of colorful, delicious edibles like baked goods or candy, as well as the cultural connotation smoking has built up over time. Unlike smoking or vaping, it doesn’t afford the tactile stress relief of holding something in your hand, and applying the effects gradually, as needed. But these factors don’t mean it’s less effective, but rather they are reasons why its potential is so often overlooked. For this article, I’ll offer a quick rundown of what tinctures are, why you should try them, what choices you’ll need to make, and then I’ll go on to give a short review of a Kind Drops tincture I tried recently.
Until cannabis prohibition went into effect in 1937, tinctures had been a favored method for ingesting medicinal cannabis for about 100 years – available in most drug stores throughout America. They became a popular method around 1840, when William O’Shaughnessy published his seminal study, "On The Preparations of the Indian Hemp, or Gunjah," which brought medicinal cannabis to its historical peak of popularity in the English speaking world. After 1840, tinctures became such a popular item in America, that most drugstores manufactured their own brands. Today this has led to an entire cohort of collectors who focus on antique cannabis packaging – mostly 19th century tincture containers.
Many people who find cannabis useful may have certain problems with smoking, medically or otherwise. There can be some short term detrimental effects on the lungs for some people, and smoking is never especially discreet. Vaporizers are a slight improvement in both these departments, but may not be absent of lung issues or noticeable odors entirely themselves. Older generations of potential cannabis users in particular, may simply have negative associations with smoking from the age of universal prohibition and deep social taboos.
Edibles are totally discreet and obviously leave the lungs untouched, but they have their own significant drawbacks. Gastrointestinal cannabis absorption happens gradually over the period of 2 hours. For one, this does not allow the patient to gently titrate the dose by taking short breaks between hits of vapor or smoke. Once you ingest your edible cannabis, you’re locked in to experience whatever is has to offer – which, furthermore, you can’t be sure of until 2 hours has gone by – and the effect is notoriously inconsistent. There is also a sense, for many patients including myself, a sense that edibles hit hard and suddenly, and last a long time, meaning that dosing too highly can really ruin a day. Last but not least, the way THC is processed in the liver means you need may 4 to 10 times the amount of cannabis to achieve the same effect – it is simply less efficient.
Personally – I could drop any number of train-wreck stories of edible consumption gone wrong I’ve heard or experienced over the years – sometimes as a result of recklessness (eating homemade brownies at a party where a few random buds were chucked into the batter to randomly distribute huge does of THC) or even just a result of the unpredictability of gastrointestinal consumption (an edible product that has consistently given the right effects the first 5 times, sends the user into a panic attack the 6th time with the same dose, for no apparent reason). If you’re not prone to panic and anxiety from high doses, this might not be a problem for you. Some people just get sleepy. But I always found high doses of edibles led to an extreme sense of bodily anxiety or discomfort, that at the very least made it hard to enjoy or focus on anything else.
Tinctures are the perfect middle ground, if used properly. If swallowed, tinctures are processed the exact same way as edibles – gastrointestinally. But when held under the tongue, the cannabis is processed sublingually, which can yield very different results. This is the best way to take a tincture. The first effects will often be felt within 20 minutes instead of the hour you’ll wait for edibles. As an outside limit, the cautious user might want to wait 45 minutes to be sure of the effects – compared to 2 full hours with edibles. This means the dose can still be adjusted to the needs of each patient and situation. On top of this, the effects of sublingual cannabis tend to flatten out after peaking – instead of remaining at peak for a few hours, as edibles might. A mistake with sublingual tinctures is far less likely to totally ruin a day.
Once you decide to try a tincture, there are some choices left to make. Tinctures can be made from either alcohol or vegetable oil. Vegetable oil/glycerin has been found to hold only 33 percent of the amount of cannabis oil that high percentage alcohol can, so alcohol tinctures are considered to be more efficient. However, many tincture producers use vegetable glycerin instead, to make tinctures available to patients with alcohol sensitivities. These may require higher doses for the same effect. Another choice to make is in the ratio of THC to CBD. Perhaps because of the primarily medicinal history of tinctures, most dispensaries that offer tinctures are likely to offer CBD heavy tinctures as well. Lacking in psychoactive effects, CBD treats a number of medical conditions such as PTSD and Chrone’s disease, is good for pain, and furthermore counters the anxiety causing effects of THC – especially in a one to one ratio.
At my dispensary, they offered Kind Drops tinctures, made from olive oil glycerin. I had tried a few tinctures before, all alcohol based and primarily THC, so this would be an experiment for me. I chose a tincture with about 3:1 CBD:THC ratio. I’m relatively new to CBD, and I thought it might have some desirable effects that might take action with a relatively small dose of THC. I started cautiously, and found that about half a dropper provided good mood-lifting but body oriented effects. I generally found the effects mild and more subtle, but certainly noticeable, since it still contained a fair amount of THC. I liked that the effect seemed to peak around 30 minutes, so I usually knew what I was getting into fairly a quickly – unlike the edible experiences I’ve had.
As far as the vegetable oil, it felt a little less even than an alcohol tincture in terms of the effect kicking in. There was a sensation of random peaks and valleys to the effect – but nothing debilitating. I also wasn’t a huge fan of repeatedly having a mouth full of olive oil, although the first time I tried it I thought the taste was great. The dropper seemed to provide pretty consistent dosing for the most part. I did feel as though alcohol tinctures take effect a small amount faster, but this was just my experience – I haven’t heard it said before.
After a couple weeks I went for a full dropper. By now I had used up a decent portion of the tincture, with about a third of the bottle left. Now either the effect really plateaued at the full dropper dose, or I was supposed to be shaking the bottle before use, which I mostly hadn’t bothered to do– because this time it turned out I had taken far too much. After about ten minutes I got a slight uneasy feeling like something was off. A few moments later I lost the ability to focus on what I was doing – and soon I was pacing around my living room with a feeling I can only describe as a total inability to concentrate and a sensation of my limbs being extremely heavy. I really braced for the worst at this point, having experienced similar, extended experiences with edibles. I drank a ton of water and exercised a bit which I’ve found helpful, and after maybe 20 minutes of this, I noticed the effect start to flatten out into a pleasant, comfortable, body sensation.
The lesson here is that while it’s still much easier to dose too highly than smoking, the consequences are not as dire as a misjudged edible dose. I was out commission for maybe 45 minutes, instead of 2 to 3 hours or more in the case of edibles. It also flattened out after the peak in a way that actually left me able to enjoy another hour or so of its effect – something I rarely recall happening with edibles. So while caution should still be taken, you will likely be able to ride out whatever happens without seriously changing your day’s plans. Despite 20 very uncomfortable minutes I would recommend tinctures to anyone who wants to avoid smoking for any reason – though next time I might try a different brand’s alcohol based tincture. And just to be safe – I plan on shaking it before use, next time.