CBD Tincture vs Oil: Which is Better?

Tincture vs oil
By Rebecca Olmos Updated May 14th

Fact-checked by Alexandra Arnett, MS

The non-intoxicating cannabinoid CBD has grown massively in popularity since it was legalized in 2018. In 2023, the global CBD market reached 9.4 billion dollars. The wide variety of products that consumers can get CBD in makes it easy for them to use the cannabinoid to potentially help with health issues related to pain, anxiety, depression, and sleep.1 CBD can be infused into all types of consumable products, including food and beverages, cartridges and concentrates, topicals, capsules, and oils and tinctures.

Tinctures and oils are some of the more popular ways to consume CBD.2 Orally administered tinctures are sometimes called oil, since the base of these products can sometimes be a medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) oil, like olive or coconut oil. The term, "cannabis oil," can also mean an extract or concentrate like a distillate that can be put into cartridges or edibles, since it has the consistency of an oil. The interchangeable terminology can make shopping confusing for some consumers.

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What are CBD Tinctures?

Tinctures have long played a role in the health and wellness of humans. Their history dates back to distilled alcohol produced by the ancient Egyptians. Since then, we have found many other plant materials like cannabis to create tinctures as medicines for various ailments.

Traditionally, tinctures are an infusion of alcohol or vinegar and dried plant material, like cannabis. The material soaks in the liquid, which draws out all the cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids, and chlorophylls of the plant. While an alcohol-based CBD tincture can be taken directly, many commercial brands blend it with an MCT oil, like olive or coconut, to cut the bitterness alcohol tinctures can have.

Maceration and percolation are two different extraction methods that can be used to make tinctures. Both can be easy, but one requires a little more time while the other requires more materials. 

Maceration is how most people make their tinctures at home. This is the process of grinding up the dried plant material (decarbed or not, depending on the cannabinoids you’re seeking to extract) and placing it into a jar with menstruum or solvent (like alcohol) poured over it. This is how the material will soak up all the cannabinoids to create the tincture. The jar is then agitated occasionally to help extract all the plant’s molecules and stored in a cool, dark place for 2 to 4 weeks. 

Percolation requires more materials but can be done in 24 hours. The cannabis material is ground up and packed into a percolation cone, which sits over another vessel. The solvent is poured over this material and slowly drips into the receiving vessel once every 2 to 4 seconds. This method typically requires the use of more solvents.

Tinctures are consumed orally – placed under the tongue, where they are held for a few moments to allow the cannabinoids to absorb through the mucous membranes of the mouth. This way of consuming the product usually results in the onset of effects within 15 to 45 minutes, lasting 6 to 8 hours. Tinctures can also be swallowed and ingested. This results in them being processed by the body like an edible, with onset occurring anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours. The effects can last 6 to 8 hours.3

There are a few really good advantages of consuming CBD via a tincture. Depending on where you are located and the legal status of cannabis in that area, you can easily find CBD tinctures in health and wellness stores, and CBD tinctures with various ratios of other cannabinoids, like THC, are generally pretty easy to find in dispensaries. These tinctures are great because they have been lab-tested for potency and contaminants, providing a starting point for accurate and safe dosing.

Tinctures can also be easily made at home using any amount of plant material, decarbed or not, depending on if you want cannabinoid acids like CBDA. If stored properly, it has a shelf life of a few years. They are an easy and discreet way to get your dosage with an onset time of under an hour and the effects lasting several hours. They can be used as is, consumed orally, or infused into other products like edibles or topicals.

The disadvantage is that if you purchase them in a dispensary, they can get costly, sometimes upwards of $100. They may also not be as consistently stocked as faster-moving products like flower, edibles, or cartridges. If made at home, it can be difficult to tell exactly how much each dose is, although there are online calculators and formulas to help you better understand your product. They don’t often taste great, with pungent earthy herby flavors, although some retail brands have more palatable flavors by adding essential oils like peppermint. Although tinctures have many healing properties, some people may not prefer the longer-lasting effects, and it can also be a less social way to consume cannabis.

What is CBD Oil?

What is CBD Oil

A cannabis oil is similar to a tincture in that it’s also a liquid which plant material has been infused or extracted into. The term ‘oil’ when referring to cannabis products has become an umbrella term that can mean two different products. One is a form of oil-based tinctures, where a carrier oil like MCT oil is used instead of alcohol for the infusion. Then, there are extracts that can also be labeled as CBD oil since they often resemble oil in consistency when dabbed or placed into vaporizers. Understanding this nuance is important as it may help avoid confusion when shopping for products.

Non-tincture extractions, also categorized as oil, are “extracted using a solvent such as ethanol or a hydrocarbon gas (e.g., butane or propane), CO2, a pressurized heat press, or ice water.”2 These products can be consumed in various ways — through the use of a dab rig, infused into edible, or most commonly, cartridges. CBD oil found in vape cartridge pens outside the legal medical or recreational cannabis market will typically be distillate, as it has to contain less than 0.3% delta-9 THC. 

Transferring these concentrates into a cartridge vape pen can be tricky, as not every concentrate consistency is suitable to be heated through cartridge vape pens, particularly when it comes to distillate, so there is often an extra step where terpenes and additives such as flavors and MCT oil are added to give it a more oil-like consistency. This practice is not desirable as many additives can have adverse risks to health, and there is no regulation on flavor agents many companies add. For this reason, solventless concentrates and cartridge vapes have risen in popularity over the last few years, but they are often limited to states with medical and recreational cannabis.

The onset effects of consuming these types of cannabis oils depend on the method used. If consumed through smoking methods (like dabs or cartridge vapes), the effect can take 5 to 10 minutes and last 2 to 4 hours. If consumed through edibles, effects can take up to 30 minutes to two hours and last 6 to 8 hours.3

One of the main benefits of cannabis oil concentrates is their potency and quick onset time. These, combined with the ease of use in a cartridge vape pen, have contributed to cartridge vape pens rising in popularity over the last few years. Dabbing can be a little tricker for beginners, but it is still a popular way to consume concentrates. The disadvantages are similar: Its potency in smokable and edible forms may not be suitable for beginner users.

CBD Cannabis Tincture vs Oil: The Key Differences 

Tinctures and oils are both versions of extractions. The key difference between cannabis oil and tinctures is that the term "oil" can be an umbrella term that encompasses tinctures and vape cartridges. However, not all tinctures are CBD oils. Tinctures are traditionally made with a solvent like alcohol, but it has become more common for companies to infuse MCT or olive oil to create CBD tincture oils. CBD oil extracts that are not tinctures and are made using solvents such as ethanol, butane, and CO2 or are solventless, using heat and pressure instead. Tinctures can be administered orally in two ways – sublingually or ingested as an edible if infused into a food or beverage. CBD concentrate oils can be smoked, vaped in a cartridge, or consumed in edibles.

CBD Tincture vs Oil: Choosing the Right One

CBD Tincture vs cbd Oil

CBD tinctures and oil have been reported by patients to effectively treat various ailments, including pain, inflammation, and mood disorders.1 Which one will be right for you will depend on a few factors.

Tinctures may be better for those looking for discreet consumption and precise dosages that can be taken orally, with effects lasting several hours. Consumers who are newer to CBD may also enjoy tinctures. CBD oils, in cartridge form, are better for people who want to feel the effects sooner and have them only last a few hours. They also may be ideal for high-tolerance consumers. 

Depending on the dosage, tinctures can last a few weeks or months but are shelf-stable for up to a year. CBD oils, for cartridges, may also be good for up to a year but typically only last a few weeks, since their effects last only a few hours, leading to more frequent use.  

How to Use a CBD Tincture

Tinctures are very user-friendly. To consume sublingually, you’ll use the dropper (provided when purchased) to place the dose underneath the tongue. Hold the tincture under the tongue for 10-15 seconds, and then swallow the rest. Tinctures can also be infused directly into food or beverages as-is. Another way to use tinctures that are not alcohol based is to apply them topically. You can apply the tincture as the product is, or the tincture can be mixed into a lotion or balm and then applied.

How to Use CBD Oil

How to Use CBD Oil

CBD oils in cartridge form are typically distillate oil and are consumed by heating the cartridge with a vape battery. The cartridge can be either button or breath-operated. Once inhaled, there’s no need to hold in the smoke for more than a moment; then, you can exhale. The term "CBD oil" also includes concentrate extracts like live resin or rosin, which are consumed through a cartridge, dab rig, or ingested through edibles. These extract types often contain more than 0.3% THC, so they can be harder to find outside of the legal medical or recreational market.

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  1. Li J, Carvajal R, Bruner L, Kaminski NE. The Current Understanding of the benefits, safety, and Regulation of Cannabidiol in Consumer Products. Food and Chemical Toxicology. 2021;157:112600. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fct.2021.112600
  2. Spindle TR, Bonn-Miller MO, Vandrey R. Changing Landscape of cannabis: Novel products, formulations, and Methods of Administration. Current Opinion in Psychology. 2019;30:98-102. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.copsyc.2019.04.002
  3. MacCallum CA, Russo EB. Practical considerations in medical cannabis administration and dosing. European Journal of Internal Medicine. 2018;49(49):12-19. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ejim.2018.01.004

The information in this article and any included images or charts are for educational purposes only. This information is neither a substitute for, nor does it replace, professional legal advice or medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about laws, regulations, or your health, you should always consult with an attorney, physician or other licensed professional.

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