If you’re researching cannabidiol (CBD) oil, you’ll likely stumble across information about CBD tinctures, too. You may wonder if both terms describe the same product. They don’t, but it’s an easy mistake to make.
“When the hemp/CBD industry began to ramp up in late 2017 and early 2018, many businesses used the terms interchangeably,” says Russell Markus, founder of Lily CBD. “A ‘tincture’ became associated with the dropper style bottle.”
While CBD oils and tinctures may be packaged in the same way, there are some important distinctions. Here’s what to understand about the differences between CBD oils and CBD tinctures so you can decide what’s best for your needs.
CBD is one of the many active compounds found in the cannabis plant. But unlike tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), CBD has no intoxicating effects — meaning it won’t get you “high.”
Research is limited, but CBD may offer some therapeutic benefits. These include relief from:
Different CBD products, including oils and tinctures, offer various ways to access these potential benefits.
CBD oil is most often a blend of CBD extract and an inert carrier oil like medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) coconut oil.
To make a CBD oil, CBD and sometimes other compounds like terpenes and flavonoids are extracted from the plant material. “These oils are typically extracted using a method called supercritical CO2, which maintain the quality, sustainability, and bioavailability of the plant,” says Markus.
After the desired compounds are extracted, they’re mixed with the carrier oil. Sometimes, essential oils are added for flavor.
A CBD tincture is an alcohol-based extract. High-proof alcohol is used as a solvent to extract the natural compounds of the cannabis plant, and it’s also used in the finished product.
“CBD in alcohol-based liquids will often contain approximately 60 to 70 percent alcohol,” says Markus. “Generally, alcohol-based tinctures have a longer shelf life (3 to 5 years) but exude a very bitter taste.”
To mask the bitterness, tinctures are often mixed with additives like sweeteners, flavoring, or vegetable glycerin. Some companies might also add vitamins, herbal extracts, or supplements like melatonin, depending on the goal of the product.
Both CBD oils and CBD tinctures can be effective. The biggest difference is the production process and the base ingredient. In deciding which one is best for your needs, it’s important to consider your preferences and goals.
“While some might select CBD oil because the taste of an alcohol-based tincture puts them off, others might select an alcohol-based tincture due to stomach sensitivities of ingesting oil,” says Markus.
A CBD oil will often contain fewer ingredients than a tincture. If you’re sensitive to alcohol, an oil may be a better choice.
CBD oils can be taken orally — note that it can take 1 to 2 hours for an oil to take effect. CBD tinctures are taken sublingually, or under the tongue, for the fastest and most efficient absorption. You can also add CBD oils and tinctures to food and drinks for oral ingestion.
Depending on the carrier oil, some CBD oils can even be used topically, or applied directly to the skin. However, CBD products designed specifically for topical use tend to be better used for on-the-spot relief rather than full-body effects.
Applying a CBD tincture topically won’t have any benefit, so don’t waste your product by rubbing it on your skin.
Just because you can buy CBD oils and tinctures at mall kiosks and drugstores doesn’t mean every product is safe. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t regulate CBD in the same way as it does drugs and supplements, which makes it crucial to shop wisely.
No matter what kind of CBD product you’re considering, it’s important to find a reputable CBD manufacturer that provides current and comprehensive certificates of analysis (COA) for all of their products. COAs should list:
Potency. The amount of CBD (and THC, if applicable) listed on the COA should match the amount that’s listed on the label. Batches can vary, so it may not be an exact match. But if it’s off by more than 10 to 20 percent, it may be best to choose a different product.Cannabinoid profile. Full-spectrum products will contain a small amount of THC (typically less than 0.3 percent). Broad-spectrum products shouldn’t contain THC, but they may contain other cannabinoids, like cannabigerol (CBG) or cannabinol (CBN)) and terpenes. CBD isolate products should contain CBD only. Contaminants. These will vary, but at a minimum, check that the product has been tested for heavy metals, pesticides, and molds.The date. Look for a recent COA — no more than a year old. Some brands will even provide COAs for each batch of product they sell.
In addition to selecting a brand that provides COAs, it’s important to look for a company that’s completely transparent about the sources of its hemp (organic, U.S.-grown hemp is best) and its manufacturing practices. Look into the brand’s reputation, including whether they’ve received any FDA warning letters.
“Do your research, and ask a lot of questions,” says Markus. “Don’t believe in a brand just because an influencer told you to do so! They were likely paid to make that recommendation. Instead, ask yourself, ‘Would I share this with mom or grandma?’”
If a CBD oil or tincture doesn’t appeal to you, there are other ways you can try CBD.
Edibles. Edibles are a discreet way to consume CBD, and they come in a variety of options, including gummies, mints, and truffles. However, eating CBD means it must pass through the digestive system, slowing down the onset of effects. It can take 2 to 3 hours to feel effects, and absorption rates are between 20 and 30 percent.Topicals. These products are designed to be applied directly to your skin. CBD-infused lotions, salves, creams, balms, and transdermal patches can be a good choice if you’re targeting specific skin conditions or localized pain.
At this time, CBD is generally considered safe. However, some people experience some side effects, such as:
fatiguediarrheachanges in weight or appetite
Before trying CBD, it’s a good idea to speak with your doctor, especially if you’re already taking any medications or supplements. CBD can interact with some of these.
Also, a 2020 study found that taking CBD by mouth alongside high fat meals can dramatically increase CBD blood concentrations, which means a greater chance of side effects.
While the terms are often used interchangeably, CBD oils and CBD tinctures are two different products.
CBD oils are generally made with just two ingredients: CBD and a carrier oil. CBD tinctures are alcohol-based extracts that use high-proof alcohol to steep the plant material. This is strained, and the entire solution is bottled, along with additional ingredients for flavor or specific benefits.
The right product for you will depend on your preferences, but make a point of shopping wisely. Be sure to talk with your doctor before trying CBD.
Is CBD Legal? Hemp-derived CBD products (with less than 0.3 percent THC) are legal on the federal level, but are still illegal under some state laws. Marijuana-derived CBD products are illegal on the federal level, but are legal under some state laws. Check your state’s laws and those of anywhere you travel. Keep in mind that nonprescription CBD products are not FDA-approved, and may be inaccurately labeled.
Jessica Timmons has been working as a freelance writer since 2007, covering everything from pregnancy and parenting to cannabis, chiropractic, stand-up paddling, fitness, martial arts, home decor, and much more. Her work has appeared in mindbodygreen, Pregnancy & Newborn, Modern Parents Messy Kids, and Coffee + Crumbs. See what she’s up to now at jessicatimmons.com.