A tincture is a medicinal extract in an alcohol solution. The alcohol is used to extract and preserve the resins and other soluble material from the plant. Cannabis tinctures are an excellent way to utilize the plant’s medicinal ingredients, and a perfect alternative for those who find smoking difficult.
Until the 1920’s, Cannabis Indica tincture was available at your neighborhood pharmacy. Queen Victoria used medicinal cannabis extracts to deal with chronic pain. “Good for what ails ya,” cannabis tinctures and extracts commonly served as analgesics, sedatives and narcotics.
Tinctures connect us to our pharmacological past ? sepia-toned prescription memories and faded daguerreotypes of ancient potions, forgotten remedies, salves, lotions, ointments, syrups and miraculous elixirs.
Curious Alice pondered a small corked bottle labeled “Drink Me” in Lewis Carroll’s 1864 classic Alice’s Adventures Underground. “Well at least it doesn’t say ‘Poison,'” Alice wisely reflected. Yet Victorian magician Aleister Crowley’s bottle of laudanum was indeed labeled “Poison,” to impart a sense of danger and magic.
During the 18th century, absinthe drinkers mixed their wormwood extract with water, transforming it into the “Green Faerie” ? a thujone-rich instant psychedelic drink.
The alchemy of alcohol
Alchemy comes from the Arabic word Al-Kimiya. It is a scientific discipline with spiritual and mystical components connected to ancient teachings of metallurgy, smelting, chemistry, pharmacology and biology. Alchemy is the stepchild of chemistry and physics.
Alchemy and tincture medicines share a common heritage. Potions and poisons are all derived from plants grown and carefully tended. The ritual comes full circle in the growing, preparing, and ingesting of the plant medicine ? our bodies become the alchemical alembic.
Paraceselus, a 15th century Swiss alchemist, made medicinal tinctures and adopted the Arabic term al-kohl. He is also said to have invented laudanum, tincture of opium.
Alchemical procedures involve both wet and dry forms such as soaking, distillation and evaporation. The extraction of entheogenic plants requires similar steps. Distillation remained undiscovered until the 12th century, when alchemists first created aqua vitae ? aqueous alcohol concentrated by distillations.
In the ancient world, wines derived from fermentation reached a maximum of only 14%. Yet Graeco-Roman wines were customarily diluted by three or four parts, sometimes even by eight, and Homer mentions that cutting 20 parts of water to wine is sufficient for deep intoxication. It is obvious that an exceptionally potent concoction was being consumed. Indeed, the wines of Greek and Roman Bacchanalia were commonly infused with psychoactive plants like opium, mandragora, datura, henbane, cannabis, and belladonna to make a kind of vinous tincture.
The herbs were macerated in distilled spirits and then distilled again. Sometimes the distillate was then reinfused with a second batch of herbs.
Fruits were also used, along with minerals and precious stones like ground pearls, lapis lazuli, and gold leaf. Sometimes animals were used to make “man’s brains” and “viper” wine.
Bee tincture, listed in an early 1900 edition of Practical Formularies, involved capturing and drowning live bees in spirits. Scorpion tincture requires soaking the arachnid for six months in pure grain alcohol, resulting in a nutty flavored restorative. Scorpions feature often in Chinese medicine, along with snakes and other exotica.
Cannabis tincture works best with 90% pure alcohol, such as Everclear.
Mexican tincture, however, uses only 35% pure, while Parke Davies Pharmaceuticals ? distributors of the original medicinal pharmaceutical extract to pharmacies during the late 19th century ? used 80%.
Pure grain alcohol can be difficult to obtain, depending on where you are located. If it’s unavailable at your local liquor store, try a duty-free shop.
Most Canadian provinces sell only the highest potency navy rum at 75 proof (32% pure). Further distillation will increase the purity.
Confusion often exists around “proof” and “percent.” Percent is approximately half to proof. The origins of the term “proof” hearkens back to the practice of testing alcohol content by wetting gunpowder with it then lighting the powder. If the alcohol was more than 50% water, the explosive would not ignite.
When the gunpowder did spark it was “proof” that the booze in question was at least half alcohol. In the US, 100 proof is defined as 50% alcohol by volume.
Exercise extreme caution when evaporating high-proof alcohol due to its flammable nature. Remember “proof and poof!”
How to make tincture
The philosophy behind tincture is to capture the spiritual and physical essence of the plant. This is done by using the power of ethyl alcohol to dissolve and preserve the herb in question, in our case cannabis.
Ethyl alcohol, known as ethanol, is used for countless applications. Produced biologically by the fermentation of either sugar or starch, ethanol may be used as a solvent for organic chemicals, or as a starting compound for manufacturing dyes, drugs, perfumes, and explosives.
Different plant species demand different strengths of solvent or alcohol. For example, opium requires 70% pure grain for effective alkaloid leaching. Resinous plants such as cannabis, along with countless other alkaloid-rich botanicals, are ideally suited for extraction in high-proof spirits such as 90% pure grain alcohol (such as Everclear).
The cannabis used for soaking must be dry. When fresh bud is used, the end result is disappointing. Scissoring up the plant material effectively facilitates extracting all psychoactive constituents.
Cannabis should soak anywhere from one to 10 days. Some folks soak it for up to four weeks, following that up with a secondary five day soak in fresh ethanol just to ensure all cannabinoids have been leached.
However, some others insist that the buds remain in the solvent no longer than six hours. They claim that solvents instantly grab onto THC molecules, and anything after this time frame benefits only terpene, oils, and chlorophylls, contaminating the final product.
From my personal experience seven days is adequate, but you should experiment with different time frames to see what works for you and your buds.
The recommended minimum cannabis to alcohol ratio is one gram of bud per 35ml (one fluid ounce). Some prefer up to seven grams per 35ml but others might find this too strong. Individual needs vary. Cautious experimentation is the key.
Throughout the soaking period use only enough ethanol to cover the plant material and occasionally agitate. In a nod to the Goddess, herbs still in solution at this stage are referred to as the “Menstruum.”
After you’ve soaked the bud for the desired time, shake and strain the plant material. After filtering the cannabis solution, it is ready to be stored. This is done best within a blue apothecary medicine bottle. This will protect the precious mixture from degradation by light, while also imbuing mystery to the potion.
For further protection, the tincture should be kept in a cool, dark place. Yet cannabis preserved in ethanol has a long shelf life. Tincture medicines do not come with an expiry date. The fragrance and bouquet of mature tincture is floral akin to perfume.
As the mother tincture matures, new cannabis solution is added, and the final evaporated concentrate extract becomes a composite of many superior cannabis flowers.
The test for making sure all THC has been transferred into ethanol is to smoke the discarded plant material. If it tastes terrible, has a straw color, and is inactive, the operation has been successful.
The spent bud should be collected in a porcelain bowl for drying before mulching. Over several deposits, however, you will notice a residue mark from essential extracted cannabinoids adhering to the sides of the collection bowl. Simply add a small amount of alcohol, swirl, and redissolve this valuable material back into the original mother tincture. Waste not want not!
Other tincture varieties
Different plant species yield unique colors to individual tinctures, spanning a psychedelic spectrum. Cannabis, papavarer somniferum, salvia divinorum, san pedro, and psilocybe all lend themselves splendidly to tinctures.
A tincture may be prepared from psilocybe mushroom species with five dry grams to 35ml ethanol. The mushrooms yield a wonderful blue psilocybin solution known as “blue juice”.
Cannabis shows dark green, phalaris grass is red, peganum harmala and syrian rue display vivid yellow green, salvia divinorum glows lime green, and atropa belladonna shows pale purple.
The viscosity of solutions will change during evaporation and concentration, thus determining how much ethanol will be required.
How to use and consume
Cannabis tincture tastes positively Dionysian, with the sweet earthy flavor of cannabinoids and a lingering bitter aftertaste. The effects are noticeable within 15 minutes, and are felt completely within a half-hour.
An advantage of tincture and extract preparations is their ease of dispensing, consumption, and rapid absorption. Tinctures can become very potent when concentrated, so adjust according to individual dosage requirements.
Tincture comes on fast but soon flattens out, unlike the sustained build and longevity of cooked cannabis products. Throughout the tincture experience one is imbued with great tranquility, able to drift in and out of contemplative reverie.
Care must be exercised, as the delayed onset time may possibly encourage overdosing among those unfamiliar with cannabis tinctures. Orally administered cannabis products may be very uncomfortable when too much has been consumed. Possible panic and anxiety reactions or physical malaise may occur.
Heating the potion may also increase tincture strength. Tincture can be added to cooking recipes by concentrating the tincture into a syrup consistency, further enhancing efficacy. This becomes a commitment when considering the tincture experience’s duration and extended nature.
The imbibing vessel or chalice should be reserved for “ceremonial” tincturing. An accompanying dropper for drawing extract, along with small flask for dispensing water into the libation glass is necessary. Tincture first goes into the glass, followed by the water. Glorious green cannabis quintessence explodes upon mixing with water into cloudy green opalescence.
Ethanol represents the least toxic of all the alcohols. The toxicity of medicines, drugs, and poisons is calibrated by the LD50, meaning the lethal dose for 50 percent, signifying the amount of substance necessary to be fatal. Alcohol is considered in the highly dangerous category. Just five times the amount needed to get you happy can be lethal.
Unlike cannabis, ethanol shares no receptor sites to which it connects. Alcohol intoxication represents a true poisoning rather than a key to our cerebral natural paradises. Humans possess an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase which helps metabolize ethanol by oxidizing it to acetaldehyde. Other alcohols like methanol, propanol, phenol, and ethylene are extremely poisonous and can cause blindness and death.
The term “denatured alcohol” means poisonous methanol has been added to prevent drinking, rendering it unsuitable for tinctures ingested orally. When considering dealing with pure grain spirits, it is essential to dilute it with an equal part of water. I once subjected myself to an 0.70ml squirt of 95% ethanol ? my upper palette remained sensitive for days.
When it comes to making tinctures, solvent alcohols are essential. These methods require high-proof spirits. Although in small amounts they are indispensable to the extraction process, some individuals may have difficulty with this dual relationship and possibly slippery slope.
For example, absinthe drinkers regularly consumed high alcohol-containing beverages along with their psychoactive thujone-rich wormwood extract. As well, many poets from the Romantic and Gothic periods entertained the additional drug ethanol along with their daily dosages of opiate-ladened laudanum. Thomas D’Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium Eater eloquently portrays the heaven and hell of this dual addiction.
So be careful that you use alcohol for its true purpose, as a carrier for the essence of magic plants, and not for its poisonous intoxication.
A standard tincture is at a ratio of one gram of cannabis to 35ml (1 ounce) of pure grain ethanol. At this strength, a dosage of 1.4ml of extract (2 squirts) mixed with water is barely noticeable, although it is a very effective appetite stimulant.
A tincture of seven grams of cannabis flowers suspended in 50ml (1.5 ounces) of ethanol is definitely psychoactive at a dosage of 0.7oml (one squirt). Upon doubling the dosage to 1.4ml, I achieved a Buddha-trance state, ideal for serious meditation. It was a heavy physical sensation to experience, and I was able to go in and out of meditative state. I felt a warm glow to my extremities.
At this strength, a “heroic dose” is five squirts for the five points of the pentacle and five wounds of Christ. I felt a heightened sense of novelty, an oceanic quiet and inner peace. I was very contemplative.
Often a small amount of cannabis smoked after tincturing greatly potentiates the experience, but the desire for further cannabis smoking is usually lessened.