Distillates vs. Tinctures: What's the difference?
Seasoned cannabis connoisseurs might be surprised to hear that many people think distillates and tinctures are the same thing. Yet if you’re new to the scene, they sure do look a lot alike! So, here’s a flash course in how these two popular cannabis options contrast. (Spoiler alert, they’re practically opposites.)
By definition, to “distill” means: “to extract the most important aspect of.” In a nutshell, that’s what any cannabis concentrate is—an extraction of only the most valuable compounds found in the plant. The cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids are preserved, while everything else is eliminated through the application of specific temperatures and pressures. True distillates, however, are extra special because they’re even more pure and potent than some of their concentrated, oily cousins. Distillates go through extra refinement processes to remove additional compounds via boiling-point separation. Why? Because the goal is to isolate very specific plant pigment and bi-product. Once these cannabinoids have been distilled, they are recondensed into a precise ratio for a precise effect (a 6:1 ratio of THC:CBD, for example). When done well, the finished product can be up to 99% pure cannabinoid. Potent!
The other major benefit to distillates is versatility. Because you’re dealing with the purest of pure cannabis oil in its activated form, there’s no limit to how you can enjoy it. Distillates are often vaporized, but you can also take them under the tongue, dab them, smoke them, ingest them in a capsule, or infuse them into an edible. Creating a distillate is a very laborious process, so yes, they’re expensive! But the result is top-tier, and hard to beat.
Side-by-side—to the untrained eye—a cannabis tincture and a cannabis distillate look quite alike. Sure, they’re both in liquid form… but the similarities end there. While a distillate is the most intensive extract there is, a tincture isn’t an extract at all. Instead, it’s an infusion.
A tincture is made by soaking decarboxylated (activated) cannabis in a solvent. Traditionally, the solvent was always alcohol. Today, you’ll see all kinds of bases, like MCT (medium-chain triglyceride) oil, which is usually derived from coconuts. MCT is currently a popular solvent choice, both for its health reasons, and because cannabinoids are readily soluble within it. The plant matter is eventually removed from the solvent, yet the cannabinoids—and terpenes, and flavonoids—remain.
As you learned above, distillates don’t use a solvent. With a tincture, the solvent IS what remains as the finished product! Tinctures are generally taken sublingually (under the tongue) or added to a food or drink. This process highlights the natural tastes and aromas of the cannabis strain used, so they’re especially fun to pair with specific food flavors. Just as distillation is an involved and complicated process, making a tincture is relatively easy.
Distillates and tinctures may look similar, but looks can be deceiving! Distillates are pure, highly potent, concentrated extractions that can be taken in a variety of ways. Tinctures are flavorful, solvent-based infusions that are popularly consumed in edibles.
And now you know.