Tincture vs. extract: What's the difference?

Discover the key differences between tinctures and extracts, and how to use both. 

Tincture vs. extract: What's the difference?
minute read

The hemp marketplace is thriving like never before, thanks to regulatory shifts from the 2018 Farm Bill and a reinvigorated focus on innovation in product formulation. The winds of change are pointing in the right direction, but with renewed interest in hemp comes some important questions. 

Many of these questions center on product distinctions and definitions. For instance, many of us want to know the difference between products that appear similar in name and use case. Tinctures and extracts, while often used interchangeably, are perfect examples of products that could benefit from some clarification. 

Today, we’re zooming out and talking about the key differences between tinctures and extracts so you can understand these formats more deeply and find your next favorite product with ease.

What are hemp tinctures?

Browse any CBD selection at your local store or online, and no doubt you’ll encounter inventory filled with small bottles filled with liquid substances and medicinal droppers built in. More often than not, they’ll be labeled “hemp tinctures” or perhaps “CBD oils” — depending on the manufacturer and formulation.

While the specifics of each product may vary, hemp tinctures usually have some key defining factors. For starters, they contain hemp extract, meaning that the active plant materials of the hemp plant are contained within the substance to a certain degree. They also tend to be diluted with a carrier oil, alcohol, or a form of vegetable glycerin to add “body” to the liquid and help deliver the active ingredients.

Many tinctures are just that: hemp extract combined with another liquid that rounds out the formulation and makes it easy to use. However, some tinctures include other ingredients that add to the variety and efficacy of the formulation. For instance, Sunmed's Sleep CBN Tincture not only contains premium hemp extract but also has lavender and valerian root extracts for additional relaxing and sleep-supporting effects.*

Because the term “tincture” is used so loosely in the hemp market, it’s always worth looking twice to see what’s actually contained in the products you’re considering for purchase. Some tinctures are nothing more than CBD isolate with a basic carrier oil, while others are full spectrum hemp extract tinctures with a much broader cannabinoid profile and extra goodies.

We emphasize the importance of double-checking labels and verifying ingredient profiles with third-party lab tests for this exact reason. Tinctures are a dime a dozen in today’s world, but only the best hemp tinctures use premium hemp extracts and ingredients that make a difference.

How are tinctures made?

All hemp or CBD tinctures start with some form of hemp extract, meaning that hemp plant materials are required to get the process underway. With so many parts of the plant to choose from, discerning manufacturers make a point to utilize the whole plant in the extraction process. This ensures that the full range of medicinal properties make their way into the herbal extracts used as the basis of the tincture.

While other products like teas, herbal tinctures, and essential oils tend to require only the leaves of an herb, hemp is different. Beneficial cannabinoids are found throughout the entire plant, from stems and stalks to leaves, flowers, and even sometimes the seeds of the plant. This reiterates the point that whole-plant hemp extracts are always the best source material for liquid extracts.*

With that in mind, extraction processes can differ based on available technology and manufacturer practices. Some producers use CO2 to extract active ingredients from hemp, while others use ethanol to obtain key phytochemicals. Once the extract is isolated, it is recombined with the other ingredients required to complete the tincture “recipe,” which may include other herbs, vitamins, or even caffeine.*

How do you use tinctures?

Because tinctures are a category of hemp product and not a specific formulation, they have various use cases and effects. 

Tinctures are also versatile in their method of delivery, but the most common way to use them is through sublingual administration. This means using the medicine dropper tool to place the desired amount of tincture on the area beneath the tongue, where many sensitive membranes are located.

The tincture should sit and saturate this area for up to a minute before the remaining liquid is swallowed. While it might seem odd at first, this method becomes easy and natural after a few tries.

Alternatively, tinctures can be incorporated into drinks like smoothies, coffees, teas, or an ordinary glass of water. It can also be used in recipes that require oils, whether you’re baking muffins or making an oil-based dressing for a salad. Just be aware that some tinctures may lose their efficacy when heated, and it may be more efficient to simply take the sublingual route make proper use of your tinctures.

What are hemp extracts?

Hemp extracts are concentrated forms of the phytochemicals found in hemp plants, namely cannabinoids like CBD, THC, and others. Extracts can also include terpenes, flavonoids, and other beneficial compounds that contribute to the therapeutic effects of hemp products.*

While all tinctures utilize hemp extracts as the primary ingredient, not all hemp extracts end up in tinctures. Instead, extracts are far more versatile, as they can be mixed into a variety of products. From edibles and topicals to capsules and even vapes, hemp extracts cover a lot of ground in the hemp industry.

That’s why we often refer to hemp extracts as the critical active component of hemp products rather than the finished products themselves. You’ll rarely hear a product marketed as a hemp extract, but it’s still the most vital part of the hemp goodies you know and love.

How are hemp extracts made?

Hemp extracts can be obtained through C02 extraction, oil infusion, ethanol extraction, or even with butane or propane. Even some solventless methods are viable for hemp extraction — including rosin pressing with heat and pressure — though the average yields are typically not enough to use at scale.

Each extraction method has its pros and cons, with key factors to consider, like efficiency, purity, and safety of production. Ideally, a manufacturer will use clean and consistent methods to produce pure extracts without solvent residue and other unwanted additives.

Remember: extracts are only as good as the primary source plant material and the process followed to obtain them. Sunmed prioritizes quality hemp in the production of our extracts, whether they’re used for gummies, tinctures, topicals, and everything else.

How do you use extracts?

Because hemp extracts are the starting point for consumable hemp products, you have tons of options for use. While some prefer the simplicity and convenience of edibles like gummies, others find that the quick-acting effects of tinctures are worth the sublingual approach.

The most important part of using extracts is when and why you take them. You’ll get the most from hemp extracts by choosing the right formulation and using them to get more from daily life, whether that’s a morning boost, afternoon focus, or an evening on the couch with friends.

Sunmed encourages you to explore different extract types, including full spectrum and broad spectrum, and trying various delivery methods to discover your favorites. It’s an ongoing journey of discovery, and with so many great products to choose from, you can’t go wrong.*

Do tinctures and extracts have different effects?

Tinctures and extracts can have different effects, but it’s all about the formulation and delivery method. For example, the exact same extract can be used in a tincture and an edible, and the effects will vary only slightly in terms of metabolism and time of action.

On the other hand, tinctures often include extras like terpenes and essential oils that tend not to be included in products like CBD gummies and capsules. Your task is to identify the desired effects you want from a type of extract, then determine if tinctures or other formats are right for your lifestyle and personal preferences.

Which one provides the most benefits?

It’s hard to say whether tinctures and extracts provide more benefits because extracts are the main component of all tinctures. A better question to ask would be which tinctures contain the highest quality hemp extracts and how they can support your lifestyle goals in a sustainable way.

Other key considerations include the addition of herbal remedies from other plants, which may or may not be included in tinctures. These extra plant materials and alkaloids turn a standard hemp tincture into a more well-rounded herbal product that may benefit your immune system and more.* You’ll also want to weigh your options with alcohol-free tinctures, which may be cleaner and milder compared to alcohol-based versions.

When should you choose a tincture vs. an extract?

There’s a time and place for CBD products of all kinds, from energizing CBG formulations in the morning to sleepy CBN-focused blends at night. Tinctures can cover these bases, but so can gummies, capsules, and other delivery formats. It’s all about finding the extract you want and matching it with a format you can take consistently with your current regimen.

Tincture vs. extract: What's the difference?

Do tinctures and extracts contain THC?

THC can be found in trace amounts in full spectrum CBD extracts but is not included in broad spectrum and isolate formulas. In some cases, extracts include greater concentrations of THC, which puts them in a different category altogether. 

With so many products out there, we urge shoppers to reference lab reports and ratios to see exactly what’s contained in tinctures, edibles, extracts, and so on. Our Organic Full Spectrum CBD Tincture is a great place to start, offering the benefits of plant-rich hemp extract and a signature PowerTERP blend for an extra herbal boost. For a THC-free option, our Broad Spectrum CBD Tinctures can do the trick as well.*

The bottom line

Hemp extracts are the foundation of any great hemp product, while tinctures are just one of many finished products that end up on store shelves. Know the differences and understand the roles of each to further your hemp education. 

In the meantime, Sunmed has all the resources and products you need to use hemp the right way, no matter your starting point. Stay tuned to learn more about key hemp terms and discover life-changing wellness products you won’t want to miss.

Sources:

Processing and extraction methods of medicinal cannabis: a narrative review | NIH

Selective Extraction of Cannabinoid Compounds from Cannabis Seed Using Pressurized Hot Water Extraction | NIH

Quality Control of Traditional Cannabis Tinctures: Pattern, Markers, and Stability | NIH

Preparation of Medicinal Plants: Basic Extraction and Fractionation Procedures for Experimental Purposes | NIH

Potency and Therapeutic THC and CBD Ratios: U.S. Cannabis Markets Overshoot | NIH