Ethanol extraction is the preferred method of many cannabis extractors, but it still has its drawbacks… Come learn how to make your own homemade cannabis tincture using a simple cold alcohol (ethanol) extraction method.
The Pros and Cons of Cannabis Ethanol Extraction
With the popularity of cannabis extracts burgeoning, there remains a huge market for products produced using solvents to extract desirable compounds from raw cannabis plants. While hydrocarbons and CO2 are preferred solvents for many producers, ethanol remains a solid option for small-scale and high-throughput producers alike.
Ethanol extraction has benefits and drawbacks over other types of extraction methods. But some of its pitfalls can be overcome by tweaking the type of ethanol extraction method used. For example, using cold ethanol will limit the levels of undesirable compounds that end up in solution. Opting for a warm ethanol process can provide a fuller plant profile, which may be considered beneficial for some products.
Ethanol extraction – why extractors choose it
One of the main reasons ethanol extraction is favored by many producers is the low cost of this method. As Rubin Torf, co-founder of Scientia Labs, explained to Analytical Cannabis:
“Ethanol/alcohol extraction is best for high throughput because it generally has the lowest electrical costs per pound, and almost always a lower labor cost per pound of biomass processed. It is likely the cheapest equipment to scale, especially when safety concerns are taken into consideration.”
Ethanol extraction can help an extractor pull a broader range of compounds from the plant than when using other solvents. Although, this is sometimes considered a drawback.
As such, cost and extract profile are some of the major factors to bear in mind when considering different types of ethanol extraction.
Note that other alcohols may be used in cannabis extraction as an alternative to ethanol. For example, isopropanol is particularly popular among producers.
Types of ethanol extraction used in cannabis applications
Choosing to use ethanol in your extraction is just one step in the decision-making process. You also need to select an ethanol extraction method that works for you. There are several options available, mainly differing with respect to the temperature of the ethanol. Here’s a rundown of those types, including the advantages and disadvantages of each.
Cold ethanol extraction
These two types of extraction follow the same basic steps. But, because of the difference in the temperature of the ethanol, they will yield different results. Both can be carried out using a relatively simple setup without requiring specialized equipment. Here are the main steps involved:
- The raw cannabis plant material is placed in a suitable vessel. It might be left loose or placed inside a bag (think of a very large teabag). The plant matter is completely covered with ethanol and left to soak. Soaking time will depend on the ethanol temperature and the desired profile of the product.
- During soaking, the ethanol will solubilize the cannabinoids (including THC and CBD) and possibly other compounds present in the plant, such as terpenes, pigments, and plant lipids. The specific compounds and their quantities will depend on the temperature of the ethanol, as well as various aspects of the plant matter, including strain, plant part, and condition of the raw material.
- After soaking, the plant material is separated from the ethanol solution. If a bag is used, this step might be as simple as removing the bag from the vessel. If loose plant matter is used, some type of filtration will be applied.
- The next stages will depend on a few factors including the temperature of the ethanol the desired final product. For example, a winterization step is often included to remove undesirable plant lipids from the extract. For some extracts, in particular those using cold ethanol, the solution will be acceptable as is.
- Now it’s time to remove the ethanol from the extract. This is often carried out using vacuum distillation in a rotary evaporator, but other methods include a falling film evaporator (often used in larger-scale production).
- Although most of the ethanol may be removed using those methods, there will usually still be an unacceptable level of ethanol in the extract. A vacuum oven is often used to purge the remaining alcohol, but a hotplate stirrer is another option.
By extracting at room temperature, an extractor can achieve a robust plant profile without the need for heating or cooling equipment. When Analytical Cannabis asked about the benefits of room temperature extraction, Torf revealed that lower equipment costs and a fuller product profile were major factors. He also explained:
“Most importantly, perhaps, is the overall extraction of CBD happens faster and more thoroughly at higher temperatures. We were achieving 90 percent plus CBD extraction from a range of biomass inputs.”
“I haven’t seen cold ethanol achieve these kinds of results from cold extraction, and it would seem to go counter to transport phenomena physics if cold extraction worked faster,” he added. “If we didn’t extract all CBD in the biomass, we would be leaving money on the table, so to speak.”
That said, an extractor will likely end up with some plant lipids in the room temperature extract, which, if undesirable, will need to be removed by a winterization step. This involves washing the extract with cold ethanol, allowing plant fats and waxes to precipitate out of the solution, and then filtering to remove them. Multiple winterization steps may be required to reach the desired final product.
When you opt for cold extraction, you have the task of keeping the mixture cold (usually below -30°C) for a long period of time while the plant soaks in the alcohol. This can be difficult if you want to work with larger quantities but are limited in terms of equipment. That said, one of the benefits is that cold ethanol won’t pull out plant lipids and pigments. This means you can avoid having to deal with a winterization step and may achieve a more optimal flavor profile.
Warm ethanol extraction
Warm or hot ethanol extraction typically requires special equipment. One popular method is the Soxhlet technique. The raw plant material is placed in a special piece of equipment called a Soxhlet extractor. Warm ethanol is passed over the material multiple times, and the solvent is recycled. Once the extraction is complete, additional steps such as winterization are carried out as needed and the ethanol is removed, usually via a rotary evaporator.
With warm ethanol extraction, an extractor can solubilize a border range of compounds from the plant matter. This means it can be a good choice if you want a full-spectrum extract. However, with high temperatures, you’ll solubilize pigments such as chlorophyll, which tends to have a bitter taste. You may also cause damage to sensitive compounds such as terpenes, further impacting the flavor of the extract. Removal of undesirable compounds is possible but can require multiple steps and a lengthy overall process.
Freelance Science Writer
Aimee is a freelance science writer with over a decade of experience as a development chemist. She has written for Analytical Cannabis since 2020.
Like what you just read? You can find similar content on the topic tags shown below.
Stay connected with the latest news in cannabis extraction, science and testing
Get the latest news with the FREE weekly Analytical Cannabis newsletter
How to Make a Cannabis Tincture: Easy Cold Alcohol Extraction
Come learn how to make your own homemade cannabis tincture using a simple cold alcohol (ethanol) extraction method with our step-by-step guide. I’ve included plenty of photos to make the process as clear and easy to follow as possible. There is also a printable summary at the end – though I don’t think you’ll want to miss the extra tips in the body of the post.
Tinctures are a convenient, discreet, and easy way to enjoy your plant medicine. It’s kinder to your lungs than smoking or vaporizing, and offers more controlled and consistent dosing compared to smoking or homemade edibles. (I love that I can take just a few drops if needed.) You can use this homemade cannabis tincture recipe with any of your favorite cannabis strains, with CBD hemp only, or like we do – with homegrown herb!
What is a cannabis tincture?
A cannabis tincture is a concentrated alcohol-based cannabis extract, often referred to as “Green Dragon” among the cannabis community. High percentage alcohol is used as a solvent to extract the medicinal compounds (cannabinoids and terpenes) from the plant flower or “buds”. Though tinctures are essentially cannabis-infused alcohol, you do not get drunk since only a tiny amount is consumed.
Cannabis tinctures are highly therapeutic. Studies show that cannabis can be used to soothe a wide variety of physical and mental ailments, including sleep disorders, stress, anxiety, ADD/ADHD, muscle tension, joint pain, migraine headaches, inflammation, seizures, cancer, chronic pain and more. Cannabis tinctures can contain THC only (such as THC isolate), a blend of THC and CBD, or CBD alone.
When it comes to CBD, I always use my favorite certified organic full-spectrum CBD oil from NuVita. It’s federally-legal and is the most effective, potent and pure CBD oil I’ve ever tried. It does wonders for my anxiety, TMJ, and sleep issues! (Use code “deannacat” or this link to save 10% off) But if we want something with THC, we make our own tinctures using homegrown cannabis. It’s fun, rewarding, and a great way to save money!
What type of alcohol to make homemade cannabis tincture?
It is best to use either 200-proof food grade ethanol (aka ethyl alcohol) or 190-proof Everclear alcohol for this cannabis tincture recipe. Both are strong natural solvents that will effectively strip and separate the desired cannabinoids from the plant material. We use USDA organic ethanol from Culinary Solvents. It is pure food-grade grain alcohol, and doesn’t contain any additives or water. Use code “deannacat” to save 10% off pints, quarts, and gallons of regular and organic ethanol from Culinary Solvents!
Lower-proof alcohol (e.g. 80 proof vodka) is a weaker solvent and also has a higher water content than ethanol, which can interfere with the extraction and tincture-making process. You technically can make homemade cannabis tincture with vodka or other lower proof liquor, but it requires additional steps that we aren’t going to cover in this article.
Do not use rubbing alcohol.
What type of cannabis should I use?
It’s important to use decarbed cannabis in this homemade cannabis tincture recipe. If you’re not familiar with decarboxylation, it’s essentially the process of heating cannabis to “activate” it (explained more below). When exposed to heat, raw forms of THCA, CBDA, and other cannabinoids are converted to their active forms of THC and CBD – making it psychoactive as well as more therapeutic. (It’s the same reaction that occurs when you heat cannabis via smoking or vaporizing, and why eating raw bud doesn’t get you high).
Aside from that, use whatever cannabis you prefer or have on hand! Choose a strain (or combination of a couple) with traits you personally desire from your homemade cannabis tincture. We use what we grow: well-rounded sativa/indica hybrids that also offer a good amount of CBD. Learn how to grow your own organic cannabis at home here, and shop for seeds here.
For the most therapeutic tincture, I recommend using strains with a well-balanced THC to CBD ratio. If you’re looking for daytime relief with less mental effects, choose a CBD-dominant strain. Yes, you can totally use this cannabis tincture recipe with CBD hemp alone!
Why freeze alcohol and cannabis for extraction?
This homemade cannabis tincture recipe uses a cold ethanol extraction method, also referred to as quick wash ethanol extraction or “QWET”. Freezing the cannabis makes the trichomes detach from the plant material more efficiently. When mixed with cold ethanol, the desirable cannabinoids and terpenes readily extract and combine with the alcohol – resulting in a stronger, better tincture.
Furthermore, keeping the mixture at a very low temperature helps reduce the amount of undesirable compounds in your tincture, such as lipids and chlorophyll. It’s a chemistry thing, but basically the freezing temperature influences the polarity of the lipids and chlorophyll so they’re more likely to stay bound to the plant material (and therefore get filtered out) rather than combining with the ethanol.
When done right, the resulting filtered tincture wash will be clear and golden in color rather than cloudy or green.
Supplies Needed to Make a Homemade Cannabis Tincture
- 8 grams of decarbed cannabis
- 6 ounces of 200-proof food grade ethyl alcohol (ethanol) or 190 proof Everclear
- Freezer-safe glass containers, such as wide-mouth pint mason jars or half-pint jars with lids.
- Small unbleached coffee filters, like these ones
- Dropper bottles to store your finished tincture. We like these 2-ounce amber bottles; the droppers have mL markers on them for accurate dosing.
Yields: 2 ounces of homemade cannabis tincture
Please note that this is a two-day process, though ingredients are just sitting in the freezer for 97% of that time.
Step 1: Decarb your cannabis
To decarb cannabis, start by tearing up the buds into fairly small pieces. Then spread it out evenly on a baking sheet. For THC-dominant strains, heat the cannabis in the oven at 250°F for 25 to 30 minutes. For high-CBD strains, bake it for 40 to 50 minutes at the same temperature. (It takes slightly longer for CBDA to convert to CBD than THCA to THC does.) If you’re using a well-balanced THC:CBD strain, meet in the middle at 30 to 35 minutes. See this article for a more in-depth look at decarbing cannabis.
Don’t want to stink up the house? Consider using an Ardent Nova device for an easy, nearly odor-free decarboxylation experience. We just got one recently and love it!
Note that your cannabis will decrease in weight slightly during the decarb process (as it gets more dry). So, start with a few extra grams so you’ll end up with the 8 grams needed for this cannabis tincture recipe. Or, bake plenty so you have enough leftover to make homemade cannabis oil or topical salve!
Step 2: Freeze Cannabis and Alcohol (separately)
Use a scale to weigh out 8 grams of decarbed cannabis. Add the cannabis to a freezer-safe glass container with a lid. We like to use a wide-mouth pint glass jar. (Even though it seems more than large enough, the extra room in the jar makes it easier to shake compared to a half-pint jar.) Next add 6 ounces of ethanol to a separate freezer-safe container. Do not mix the alcohol and cannabis yet. Put both containers in the freezer for at least 24 hours.
Step 3: Combine Cannabis and Alcohol (First Wash)
After the initial 24 hours (or longer) is up, remove the cannabis and alcohol from the freezer. Pour ONLY HALF of the cold alcohol (3 ounces) into the container of frozen cannabis. Add a lid and shake vigorously for 5 minutes. Wrap the jar in a kitchen towel if it’s too cold to comfortably hold.
This process extracts the cannabinoids and terpenes from the plant material, and is considered the “first wash”. We’ll do two rounds total.
Now return the cannabis-alcohol mixture as well as the separate remaining 3 ounces of plain alcohol to the freezer for an additional 2 hours.
Step 4: Shake and Strain
Once the two hours are up, it’s time for another shake – and then we strain! Remove the jar of mixed cannabis and alcohol from the freezer, and shake it again for an additional 5 minutes. (We don’t need the jar of plain alcohol at this time.)
Next we’re going to strain the tincture through two mediums: cheesecloth first to filter the larger plant material, and then a finer coffee filter to further remove unwanted lipids and other residue.
First set up the coffee filter straining station. We find it easiest to set a small coffee filter in the top of a separate clean pint glass jar, fold it over the rim of the jar, and then screw on a lid ring to hold it in place. The cannabis tincture takes a while to seep through the filter, so holding it by hand isn’t fun.
Next, put cheesecloth over the jar that contains the cannabis-alcohol mixture (we use the ring trick again) and slowly pour it through the cheesecloth and into the coffee filter jar. See the photos below.
Now return the jar of remaining cannabis to the freezer while the first wash liquid is straining through the coffee filter (about 10 minutes).
Step 5: Second Wash & Strain
Now it’s time for the second and final wash. This step helps extract any final remaining cannabinoids from the plant material into your homemade cannabis tincture.
Simply repeat steps 3 and 4. Add the remaining 3 ounces of cold plain alcohol to the cannabis jar, add a lid, shake vigorously for 5 minutes, and strain through the cheesecloth and coffee filter once again – pouring it into the same filter and jar as the first wash.
Step 6: Reduce
After all the liquid has strained through the coffee filter into the jar, it’s time to reduce it by about half the volume. Excess alcohol will easily evaporate off, and the result is a more concentrated and effective homemade cannabis texture.
Do this by simply allowing the jar to sit out at room temperature with the lid off for several hours. We place the jar in front of a fan to help expedite the process. Note the volume of liquid in the container when you start (use a rubber band around the jar, or a glass marking pen). Keep an eye on it! Once it reduces by half, add a lid to stop further evaporation – or go ahead and bottle your final homemade cannabis tincture.
Step 7: Bottle and Store
Once it’s reduced by half, transfer the strained cannabis extract to a final storage bottle – such as these amber glass dropper bottles. Amber bottles are ideal since they reduce light exposure, which degrades cannabinoids. Store the bottle in the refrigerator for the best long-lasting quality. Congratulations, you just made a homemade cannabis tincture! Keep reading for usage and dosing information.
How to Use or Take a Cannabis Tincture
You can consume your cannabis tincture either under your tongue (sublingually) or mixed with a beverage (oral ingestion). Sublingual consumption will result in more immediate effects, while oral ingestion will have a slower onset but longer-lasting results. See the graphic below.
However, proceed with some caution! 200 proof ethanol is very strong, and I find it causes a burning sensation when applied straight under my tongue. To avoid that, I put a very small amount of water in my mouth first, squirt in the tincture, hold the diluted mixture in my mouth for a few minutes, and then swallow. Therefore my intake is mostly sublingual, but with a little oral ingestion too.
Strength and Dosing for Homemade Cannabis Tincture
When first trying your tincture, I suggest to start low and go slow. Without lab testing, it’s difficult to say exactly how potent a homemade cannabis tincture is. There are simply too many factors: the initial cannabinoid concentration and strain you used, how long and hot you decarbed it, the efficacy of your ethanol extraction process, and how much it was reduced at the end.
Start with a few drops, and then gradually increase the amount to find your “sweet spot” and desired results. (But wait a couple hours to see how you feel before taking more.) With this recipe, a quarter dropper is a fairly conservative starting point. I personally like to take .25 mL or a quarter dropper (though I’ve taken more just fine) while Aaron prefers about .5 mL or half a dropper. That’s just enough to take the edge off, relax our muscles, and help us sleep better without being too stony.
That was fairly simple, right?
Well folks, I hope this tutorial was easy to follow – and will enable you to successfully make your own cannabis tinctures at home now. Let us know if you have any questions in the comments below. If you found this information useful, please consider leaving a rating/review and pinning or sharing this post. We greatly appreciate you tuning in today. Now go have fun making your own medicinal Green Dragon!
Don’t miss these related posts:
Homemade Cannabis Tincture Recipe
Come learn how to make your own homemade cannabis tincture (aka Green Dragon) using a simple cold alcohol (ethanol) extraction method.
Keyword: cannabis tincture alcohol, ethanol extraction cannabis tincture, green dragon recipe, homemade cannabis tincture, how to make cannabis tincture
- 8 grams decarbed cannabis
- 6 ounces 200-proof food grade eylth alcohol (ethanol) or 190-proof Everclear alcohol
Decarb your raw cannabis. Tear it up into fairly small pieces and spread on a baking sheet. For THC-dominant strains, heat the cannabis in the oven at 250°F for 25 to 30 minutes. For high-CBD strains, bake for 40 to 50 minutes and 30 to 35 minutes for a well-balanced THC:CBD strain. (I suggest starting with a few more than 8 grams since it will get lighter as it dries.)
Add 8 grams of decarbed cannabis to a freezer-safe glass container with a lid, and 6 ounces of ethanol to a separate freezer-safe container. Put both containers in the freezer for at least 24 hours.
First Wash: After the initial 24 hours (or longer), remove the cannabis and alcohol from the freezer. Pour only HALF of the cold alcohol (3 ounces) into the container of frozen cannabis. Add a lid and shake vigorously for 5 minutes. Now return the cannabis-alcohol mixture as well as the separate remaining 3 ounces of plain alcohol to the freezer for an additional 2 hours.
After two hours, remove the jar of mixed cannabis and alcohol from the freezer and shake it again for an additional 5 minutes. Then strain the mixture twice: first through a cheesecloth and then through a coffee filter into a separate clean container (as shown in this article). Return the jar of remaining cannabis to the freezer while the liquid is straining through the coffee filter (about 10 minutes).
Second Wash: Repeat steps 3 and 4. Add the remaining 3 ounces of cold plain alcohol to the cannabis jar, add a lid, shake vigorously for 5 minutes, and strain through the cheesecloth and coffee filter once again – pouring it into the same filter and jar as the first wash.
Reduce the liquid by half via evaporation. Simply set the jar out at room temperature with the lid off for several hours, or place in front of a fan to expedite the process. Note the volume of liquid in the container when you start. Once it reduces by half, add a lid to stop further evaporation – and/or transfer your finished tincture into it’s final storage bottle.
Store your homemade cannabis tincture in an opaque glass bottle in the refrigerator. We recommend 2-ounce amber dropper bottles.
Consume the tincture either under your tongue (sublingually) or mixed with a beverage (oral ingestion). Sublingual consumption will result in more immediate effects, while oral ingestion will have a slower onset but longer-lasting effects. **Please see notes of caution and additional information on usage/dosing below.